Having guests to stay when you live alone

I had friends staying this week, visiting from the US. I had taken leave so I could show them around and spend time with them, but it didn’t work out quite like that. I got sick and had to take to my bed. Fortunately they were quite happy to explore on their own so I pointed them in the right direction and sent them off. I managed to drag myself out the next day, and we spent a very enjoyable day having lunch in a quirky café and enjoying the sights. 

They were here four nights. That’s quite a long time when you live on your own the other 361 days of the year. 

Some observations about the experience:

  1. Don’t underestimate the impact. Having two people to stay is a big increase in the household. If you normally lived in a family of 4, it’s the equivalent of suddenly having 12 people in your house. The additional laundry when they leave will feel mountainous. 
  2. Buy more of everything you plan to eat. I’d normally buy 3 bananas at a time because they get overripe too quickly. But with two other people in the house that’s only one day’s serving. I struggled to get my head around this. I expect it’s the same problem in reverse for people downsizing – they can’t believe one litre of milk is enough for a week. 
  3. Be prepared for other people to do things differently. My friends left doors open where I would close them, lights on when I’d turn them off.  Unless it’s a big deal (electricity is super expensive, heat or animals are escaping), it’s probably not worth mentioning. Especially if it’s just a couple of days. 
  4. Get organised. It takes work to feed two extra people when you are set up to feed one. For some reason, despite my urging, they were reluctant to help themselves and get their own breakfast so I prepared them all. My usual routines that work for one serving didn’t work so well for three. We weren’t under any time pressure so it didn’t matter but I did notice it. 
  5. Sharing a bathroom requires negotiation if it’s not going to annoy everyone. My friend offered to have a bath at the end of the day rather than a shower at the beginning, and that eased the pressure. 

The other big lesson was that I came face to face with the fact that I am at this point in my life completely habituated to my own routines and would be a complete nightmare to live with for any duration. 

It got me thinking about how to be a good guest. Do I pay attention to the existing house routines and fit with them? Do I look after myself as much as I can? My friend’s offer to have a bath at night is a good example of how to be a great guest: adapt your routine to suit the house and take the pressure off. 

“Leave things as (or better than) you found them”is a good rule of thumb. While my friends didn’t help themselves to breakfast they did make cups of tea etc and put things back where they found them (including dishes in the dishwasher etc). It’s surprising what a difference this makes in terms of how “easy” it feels to have guests. 

I’m not suggesting guests should be invisible nor that guests are an unwelcome disruption. But when you live alone, the impact of visitors is much more keenly felt simply because even one extra person in the house is a very noticeable impact on “normal” life. 

Having easy guests makes a big difference, and it’s always good to be reminded of what makes someone an easy guest so I can imitate when the favour is reciprocated. 

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