Breaking down the steps to seamless overnight visitors

Out of town friend coming to couch surf? Family staying over for the holiday week? Even though I personally love having houseguests and we entertain guests regularly, it is still a lot of work having other people stay in your home. Check out my top tips to help you prepare for your upcoming visitors. Go above and beyond to make them feel special and right at home.

There are generally four areas on which to focus: cleaning, menus, activities, and special touches.


I personally never have time to get the whole house clean in a day or two, so I always break it down, starting a week or so before guests arrive. It's best to make a rough timeline of tasks (I prefer to get quite detailed) and work backwards. This way it's harder to forget something.

One week out

Don't neglect to clean the shower head and curtain

It's best to start with any large deep cleaning task that is only done annually or every few months. That way you ensure you have enough time. Generally, you can clean and prepare the guest bedroom and bathroom next. Freshen the linens, dust, sanitize doorknobs and remotes, and wipe down windows. For the bathroom, clean the toilet, sink, and shower. Wipe down baseboards and launder the shower curtain liner and bathmat. Now is also a great time to remove limescale from shower doors and shower head. If you have your own dedicated guest room space, it's easy not to use them for a few days to ensure they stay clean.

Then tackle the office. Straighten piles, file neglected piles away (or at least hide them), and dust. Dusting and wiping down windows is great to do ahead, as well (unless you have a toddler or dog who can't keep their hands / tongues / noses off the glass). Then dump all trashcans and try to consolidate trash use to your main bin for a few days.

Two days out

Then a day or two before arrival, clean the master bathroom, kid's bathrooms (especially if guests might use them), outside areas, and tidy areas like the living room. The night before, clean the kitchen after making dinner, tidy the master bedroom, tidy kid's rooms and the playrooms, if you have one. Vacuum either the day before or the day of, depending on when the guests are scheduled to arrive. I will also often vacuum the stairs a few days before and the downstairs a day or two before, since they don't get as much traffic as our upstairs. My Spring Cleaning Planner Kit can also help you with cleaning ideas and to stay on track with checklists ensuring you home is sparkling when your guests arrive!

Day before

Do all the laundry the day before. Often guests want to do laundry when they are here and not only is it nice to have the machines free for them, but also, you may want all of your clothes, clean and ironed for whatever occasion arises during the visit.

Also, set the table a day or two before guest arrival. Then it's one less thing to do during dinner. After dinner, clean everything up immediately and reset the table for the next day. If you're looking for more cleaning inspiration, one of my favorite resources for creative ideas is Alejandra Costello. Her videos are great at breaking down exactly how to make the most of your spaces.

Day of

If you follow this format, you will only have a few tasks per day and the only thing you will need to do the day of is make your bed!

See below for some of my holiday table settings. We do things a bit more formally than some. When someone goes out of their way to visit you, it's nice to show appreciation by making it a special event with table settings you've put thought and effort into.

A sample of our formal Easter setting.

A sample of our formal Easter setting.

Another Easter setting.

Another Easter setting.

Our formal Christmas setting.

Our formal Christmas setting.


Generally, guests come for three to four days. In that case, I like to provide all breakfasts and two home cooked dinners. We will go out for one dinner and already be out and about for lunch. If not, it's easy to whip a quick lunch up, eat leftovers, or grab takeout.

Some houseguests prefer to skip breakfast in favor of coffee.


For breakfast, I always have a quiche in the freezer that just needs to be heated, frozen muffins to thaw, homemade yogurt and granola. Then I generally make eggs and bacon, as well. Of course, find out what your guests like to eat for breakfast, if there are any allergies, or they are vegetarians / vegans. We often have guests who don't eat breakfast and just want that pot of coffee waiting for them, so it's important to know that before going to the trouble of putting together a breakfast spread. I learned this the hard way. Granola can be made quite ahead, which makes a great breakfast with some homemade yogurt (shockingly easy in an instant pot)!


I have mentioned in another post that I can't multitask, so my worst nightmare is entertaining guests WHILE COOKING! I just can't do it. Something will burn. I will forget things in the fridge. Things will boil over. It will be bad. Some people are amazing at this. So many of my friends can prepare a great meal while chopping and chatting and still remembering to top off people's drinks! What!!?? So, my best friends are make-ahead menus. If you know early that a guest is coming, start cooking and freezing a month or two before. I know that sounds insane, but it keeps things from being stressful closer to the visit. It's good to be ready for your guests arrival ahead of time as last minute complications often arise where you may not have had time to make those day-before-muffins.

For me, it's easiest to plan one entree for the slow cooker and one in the instant pot. This reduces cooking errors because you can get the entree cooking while guests are getting ready for the day. Aka not in the kitchen with you.

Pureed soups, cookies, muffins, quiche, and casserole all freeze well and are easy to just take out and thaw or cook. I also love making cakes, so I'll usually have one in there, too. Items that are shelf stable for a few days are also great, like meringues and some cookies.

Cooking Strategy

For me, it's easiest to plan one entree for the slow cooker and one in the instant pot. This reduces cooking errors because you can get the entree cooking while guests are getting ready for the day. Aka not in the kitchen with you.

Chili and pulled pork are easy and hearty options. Pick an appetizer you can do the day before. Dips generally hold up well overnight. Store them in their serving bowl and all you have to do is unwrap and put out some crackers or chips. Pasta salad is also good a day ahead. Pro tip: make extra dressing for the pasta salad and add more the next day because it can dry out a bit overnight.

There are tons of recipes where you can assemble everything into a baking dish, stick it in the fridge, and then just throw it in the oven the next day. Check out Ina Garten's make ahead dishes. You can't go wrong with Ina!

For salads, pre-chop and assemble what you can. Make the dressing ahead. Then just throw it all together the day of. Usually when dinner time rolls around, I just have to put drinks on the table, and bring out the food in predetermined and labeled (with Post-Its) serveware. Then you get to spend the entire meal with your guests!

Just make sure you write a timeline of when each item needs to come out of the freezer and where it goes next: fridge, counter, oven, etc.


Cookies are always great to have on hand, because people like to snack on them during the day and also they can be part of or all of a dessert. I always keep frozen cookies so that even for an unexpected drop in, I have something to offer. Also, you can freeze the cookie dough if you want to slap them on a baking sheet and make your house smell amazing on your guests arrival. I personally don't like to have one more thing to remember to do, so I prefer to cook them ahead then freeze them. Then I just let them thaw on the counter for a bit. Easy peasy.

My Easter Planner Kit is helpful for houseguest visits, too! It features cooking timelines, day of timelines, and multiple checklists that will help you prepare for multiple occasions. Don't forget to check it out!


Plan houseguest activities in advanceAs soon as you know someone is coming to visit, begin planning activities. This is usually easy to do way ahead. Take into consideration whether the visitors have visited your city before, what their interests are, whether they need kid friendly activities. Make sure you plan enough things for the days they will be with you and for the correct season. I like to plan one to two activities per day, with the expectation that we will probably only make it to some of them.


I like to over-schedule because I've had guests who end up being tired and don't want to do anything and guests who want to be on the go the minute they step through our door. It's better to be prepared with options to offer rather than run out of activities with the busy guests.

I'll usually highlight a few options that I most highly recommend, then have other filler options. Of course, let them choose! But, most of the time, my guests don't want to make those decisions and are more than happy to have me take the lead. If you are super ambitious, you can make an activity list with all the most recommended options that you print out and leave in their room. Since I come from web design, I like to make a welcome website for my guests that features information about our city, things to do, the menu for their visit, WiFi information, directions, travel information, and weather. If we have guests coming in with complicated schedules, I'll even make a visual timeline with flight information.


Make the guestroom inviting and a tailored experience. Clearly clean linens are a must! But, you can also present the guest towels beautifully. Print off the WiFi information and stick it in a frame for easy access. If you are not techy, you can always buy a WiFi template printable from Etsy! If it is their first visit, leave a handwritten note on their bed with information about their stay and a thank you for visiting. Curate a station with water and personalized treats on the nightstand. Buy and arrange fresh flowers the day before. I usually place them in the guest bedroom, kitchen, and on the dining room table. Other niceties are Kleenex, chargers, and maps.

Our guest room with WiFi frame, flowers, and bottles of water on the nightstand.

Our guest room with WiFi frame, flowers, and bottles of water on the nightstand.

One way I like to arrange guest towels

One way I like to arrange our guest towels. Try to keep the room simple and clutter-free.

Another option for towels with the rolling and ribbon method.

Another option for towels with the rolling and ribbon method.

Leave guest toiletries under the guest bathroom sink, in the medicine cabinet, or on display on the counter, nicely arranged. Make sure to mention this in the note or they may not find the toiletries. Hang more towels in the bathroom.

It sounds like a lot, but the key is making a schedule, working backwards, and starting early! This process used to be so overwhelming to me. But, I've learned to streamline and learned just how much I can do ahead. It makes all the difference. You may want to take a look at my post, Top 12 Productivity Tips, to get some ideas of how best utilize your time to prepare for houseguests!

What are your best tips for when guests come knocking? How do you prepare?? Good luck!

As always, I'd love to hear any comments or questions you have about houseguests! Please share your progress with me, in the comments below, or on Instagram, with the hashtag #midniteoilmedia.

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