It’s officially “What are you doing for Christmas?” season. Right now, across the country, lots of people are having The Conversation, like one I overheard on a train between a father and daughter last week: “So, we’ll come to yours for dinner, stay til about three and then we’ll need to leave for Mum’s because she wants to see the kids before they go to bed, and we have to leave for Jean’s at the crack of dawn the next day, so she won’t have much time with them...” (Incidentally, this discussion was long and protracted, and Dad was getting very irate that he was only being given half a day with his grandchildren. For the record, I am on Dad’s side.)
All over the land, people are negotiating their way through the intricacies of balancing family obligations with finding time to see friends. Christmas may be about coming together, but it’s only a few days and no one sees enough of each other the rest of the year. It takes the diplomacy of Kofi Annan to keep everyone happy and, if you’re not careful, soon every minute of spare time from now on in until the big day will be booked up and planned with military precision – even if you didn’t intend it to be. Holiday? That starts 2 January, when you’re back at work.
And people come and visit – which for many, including me, can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, turning the season into my own personal pressure cooker. Life is so busy, Christmas so precious and special, I suddenly find myself whipped up into a hysteria of wanting everything to be special. This means, at the merest whiff of any kind of house guest, you’ll see me haring round Waitrose like a madwoman, snapping up all the posh stuff in sight, seriously weighing up whether I should buy the expensive Christmas tree-quilted loo roll and fancy fruit for the fruit bowl. “Oh, yes, we always like to have fresh kumquats on our porridge for breakfast...” And that’s before I even start the 24-hour intensive, bleach-everything-in-sight deep clean to make my house “guest-ready”.
This means, at the merest whiff of any kind of house guest, you’ll see me haring round Waitrose like a madwoman, snapping up all the posh stuff in sight
Of course, no one is *telling* me do any of this stuff – they are my own self-imposed rules. But, while no one likes to be thought of a bad host, experts say there is a happy medium. So, I did some research and here’s what I found:
WHAT GUESTS SEE AND DON’T SEE
- They see mess. But mess puts them instantly at ease because they will automatically compare it to their own less-than-perfect homes. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule (I can think of one family member who will remain unnamed here), but the simple answer to that is don’t invite them over next time.
- Guests see a hallway. First impressions count, so if you only have time to tidy and/or vacuum one room, make it this.
- They see table clutter. While this is perfectly fine, remember that a lot of clutter around your house is often private stuff like bank statements that you maybe don’t want the world to see...
- They register nice smells – and pick up on bad ones, so wash the dog before they come and make sure the bin’s been emptied from last night’s takeaway curry. Light some scented candles and they won’t notice that you haven’t bleached the bathroom to oblivion just before they arrived.
- On that note, everyone likes a clean bathroom and, no, it doesn’t have to be scrubbed to operation-room standards. Replacing your hand soap, hand towels and bath mat with some fresh ones won’t take long to do either and these are make a room look instantly cleaner.
- House guests pick up on weird stuff, like a broken loo-door handle. These might have been there so long you don’t notice them any more, but point these out to your house guests. There’s nothing worse than being locked in a loo for half an hour at a party (personal experience) or being led to think you’ve broken something that was already damaged.
- Guests like clean sheets (no-brainer), but don’t go to the expense of buying posh new ones – back-of-the-linen cupboard ones will be fine, as apparently people like cosy sheets that feel part of your home. Please make sure your pillows are in good nick however – stained ones are ick. Collect mini hotel bathroom freebies from your travels for their rooms, place a bottle or carafe of water by their bed – and don’t forget a set of towels per person.
- Guests don’t notice unfinished DIY projects, flaking paint work and dust. They won’t see master bedroom or junk cupboard – or that you haven’t vacuumed underneath your sofa for five months. Keep telling yourself this before you kill yourself on a pre-guest clean-up.
- They *will* notice fresh flowers because these tell them you are “a grown-up who buys fresh flowers”.
- Finally, I did not find one piece of research that says that guests give a crap (sorry) about quilted loo roll or fancy fruit in the fruit bowl. Which is good news, especially given that I loathe kumquats and have never seen the point of them. Bananas are fine, only not ones that are so ripe they’re crawling around the kitchen, having their own little party on the side. That wouldn’t go down well with your official guests, naturally.