It's not news to anyone that the holidays are a fusion of sentimental traditions, delicious food, festive decorations, family…and stress.
While we love having out-of-town family and friends spend time with us over the holidays, you'll get no argument that it can be taxing. It's a delicate dance — you want your guests to have a warm and comfortable experience, but you're disinclined to spend your holidays as a live-in maid and chef, and rightfully so.
"I want to enjoy the holidays along with my family, and I want my guests to be comfortable," said Billings resident and hostess, Shelley Van Atta. "It doesn't have to be perfect, but with some planning, I can reduce my stress level substantially."
Consider where your guests will stay, plan menus and start cooking and freezing as much as possible ahead of time. And begin preparing your home early to allow yourself more breathing room for last-minute details closer to the arrival of your guests.
Ideally, guests have a private guest room with a bathroom attached. But whether guests have the luxury of their own room, the room of a displaced child, a fold-out sofa bed or an inflatable mattress, there are a number of niceties you can provide to make their stay more pleasurable and comfortable.
• Provide freshly laundered sheets and blankets.
• Ensure the room has extra blankets and two pillows per person.
• Clear out some closet and drawer space, and provide hangers.
• Have a full-length mirror in the bedroom.
• Provide an alarm clock.
• De-clutter the space as much as possible, particularly dresser and night table surfaces to allow space for your guests' personal items.
• If possible, provide a small sitting area with pillow, throw and adjacent table with reading lamp.
• Provide reading material including several magazines and a daily newspaper.
• La pièce de résistance: fresh flowers, bottled water, fresh fruit, candles and matches, holiday potpourri (being mindful that it isn't too overpowering), a favorite novel and mints or a seasonal candy treat.
"When I have guests at Christmas, I put a fresh poinsettia in their bedroom," said Van Atta. "And I like to add small dishes or trays of pretty foil-wrapped chocolate in the bedroom. I like to spoil them a bit."
Again, it would be ideal if your guests could have a bathroom to themselves, but if not, work with family members to pick up after themselves and make an extra effort to keep the bathroom fresh and tidy.
• Stock enough towels, washcloths and hand towels for all guests. Try tying a wide grosgrain ribbon around the stack of guest towels for a sophisticated presentation.
• Provide a small basket of travel-sized shampoo, conditioner, liquid soap, lotion or body butter, new toothbrush and toothpaste for your guests' convenience and pampering. Include a short note to greet them.
• Have plenty of extra toilet paper on hand and make sure your guests know where to find it to avoid the embarrassment of having to ask.
• Limited luggage space often prohibits guests from bringing a bathrobe and slippers. A kimono-style bathrobe and warm, fuzzy slippers are a thoughtful touch.
Van Atta continues to spoil her guests by placing dishes of holiday chocolates in the bathroom as well. "There is no life situation that chocolate doesn't make better. I also have potpourri in every room of the house in a combination of holiday scents — cinnamon, cookies, vanilla and apples."
Making meals easy
Plan well ahead of time and create a schedule of meals for the time your guests will be with you. If your guests will be staying for more than just a few days, search for recipes that can be made ahead of time and frozen. In the event of a longer visit, include dinner-out options, ordering in and enlist the help of everyone in the house.
"Whatever meal I'm planning, I always find a few things that I can freeze ahead of time, whether it's a side dish, dessert…I find something to freeze," said Van Atta. "On that day, it's a really big deal to have a few things already done."
• Be sure to factor in your guests' food preferences and allergies and have options available for those individuals.
• Have all grocery shopping done by the time your guests arrive so you can enjoy their company in comfort and not in the aisles of the grocery store.
• Have a stocked refrigerator of snacks and beverages and guide your guests to them, ensuring their comfort in accessing them whenever they would like.
One sure way to make your guests feel uncomfortable is for you to be constantly working, cleaning and cooking while guests are sitting in the family room. Give yourself a break and take every offer to set the table, chop vegetables or help with dishes.
And set idealized perfection aside. "I spent too many years stressing about preparing for house guests. It doesn't have to be perfect." explained Van Atta. "Planning helps so much, but it helps to allow for some spontaneity too."