Tips to Prep for Unexpected Guests

From Parents Magazine

You might love having people over to your house—in theory. But when your floors (and all other flat surfaces) are covered by hats, coats, socks, magazines, last week's mail and a cat or two, it's hard to get excited about company—especially when you only have a few minutes to clean up. Don't admit defeat; it's surprising how quickly you can straighten up when you only have five minutes. Put your efforts into the following speed-cleaning strategies, and even Great-Aunt Sylvia won't find fault with your house.

When friends or relatives call out of the blue and want to stop by.

Don't panic if you're caught off guard; simply take a deep breath, and...

  • Think horizontal. The quickest way to create order is to get junk off countertops, coffee tables and floors. Clearing your counter gives your kitchen an instant makeover. Surfaces automatically look cleaner if they're clutter-free.
  • Use your dishwasher. But not to wash dishes; it's a fantastic short-term hiding space for clutter. Another option: a large dishpan under the sink.
  • Break out the laundry baskets. They're big, cheap and a better option than shoving odds and ends into a closet. Instead, sweep through each room to gather clothes, magazines and the hideous (but comfortable) blanket you use to curl up with on the couch. Set baskets on the washer and dryer, where no one will notice them. Or go one step further, and label a basket for each room—the bathroom, the den, the bedroom and so on. You can return each room's contents to it after your guests depart. 

Extra credit: Hit the sink. Sparkling faucets give guests the instant illusion of clean. Just wipe with plain white vinegar, then dry with a soft, clean cloth. While you're in the bathroom, check the toilet paper supply, and make sure all commodes are flushed. 

If out-of-town visitors want to pop by and stay for the night.

If your out-of-town visitors have kids, you can relax a bit; they'll probably bring some clutter with them. But other guests (especially elderly ones), might appreciate the following quick fixes.

  • Do a quick once-over. If you have time for nothing else, at least wipe toothpaste and soap residue from the guest sink. (Clorox or Lysol cleaning wipes are lifesavers.) Also high on the priority list: cleaning gunky hair out of the shower drain.
  • Provide towels. Stack clean towels in the room where guests are staying so there's no confusion about whose towel is whose.
  • Change the sheets. Quickly make the bed and straighten pillows and covers.

Extra credit: Tidy bedroom bookcases. Aligning books or DVDs toward the front of each shelf makes the whole room look neater. And set up a suitcase valet so guests can stash their stuff without putting it on the bed or floor. If you really don't have a moment to spare, try giving your guests a task. If your house is a wreck because you just had a baby, ask your guest to hold him or her. Chances are, your baby is one of the main reasons they've stopped by to see you—and this is a great distraction technique while you freshen up a forgotten room.

When unexpected guests invite themselves over for dinner.

Whether your guests called ahead of time or not, here's how to pull it together for dinner guests.

  • Fake the clean. Spritz some of your favorite cleaning product onto a cloth or paper towel, and run it quickly over any piece of furniture. The fresh scent will banish any lingering odors of your dog or the kid who got sick last week. Another option: light a scented candle.
  • Rinse out the wineglasses. People notice wineglasses more than other tableware, and they unfortunately have a way of attracting extra dust in the cupboard. A quick rinse in hot soapy water takes just 10 seconds.
  • Remember: takeout is always an option, particularly when a friend calls out of the blue and invites herself over for dinner.
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