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10 Steps to Hassle-free Holiday Hosting

Making room for houseguests doesn’t have to be stressful. Our 10 simple tips will keep you and your visitors happy.

The season of merriment and joy also can be a time for houseguests and headaches. But turning over little Joey’s room to Aunt Karen and Uncle Bill for a long weekend needn’t be a traumatic experience. We gathered 10 stress-prevention tips for living with (and enjoying) your holiday visitors.

 Set a “help yourself” tone. Think of that old Spanish saw as your motto: Mi casa es su casa. “My friends know they can help themselves to anything because I’ve told them they can,” says Alexandra Hedin, an entertaining expert who wrote Entertaining at Home. “I’ve reinforced the idea by having them help prepare dinner, make drinks, set the table.” Point out the coffee maker and the spare beans, and show them the washer-dryer, along with the detergent and instructions. If you make it easy for them to help themselves, it’ll be easier on you, too.

Put toiletries within reach. “Leave any extra amenities they might need in a visible space so they don’t have to ask or search awkwardly,” says S. Tia Brown, a licensed therapist and life-skills expert. This eliminates late-night requests for toothpaste and makes everyone feel at home.

Get them oriented. Early in the visit, take your houseguests to a few of your favorite spots, Hedin says: “It's a nice way to introduce them to your town and have some fun.” But you don’t need to be a type-A travel agent. Ask them what they’d like to do, then leave a map or guidebook in their room so they can plan excursions on their own. It’s a gesture (and some alone time) they’ll likely appreciate as much as you do.

Provide transportation options. Give your guests a key to the house (and maybe the car, if you’re so inclined) so they can come and go as they please. “If you have good public transit,” Hedin says, “give them a bus or train schedule.” If not, mention ahead of time that they’ll need to rent a car, Brown recommends, to avoid any awkwardness once they arrive.

Send them shopping. If there’s a great farmers market nearby, it’ll be fun—and helpful—to have guests pick up some fresh produce or meats for that evening’s supper. “When guests help choose ingredients, they feel more a part of the meal, and it's easier to assign them a task when cooking,” Hedin says.

Keep idle hands busy. Figure out how much help you actually want, then plan accordingly. “I’m someone who wants help and who hates help,” Hedin says. If you just want company, then put out some easy hors d’oeuvres (bowls of olives, nuts, hummus) for guests to nibble while you cook. If you do want help, decide which tasks would be most useful. Do green beans need to be snipped? Can someone stir the gravy while you tackle the turkey?

Assign big tasks. There’s nothing wrong with appointing a family member as the head of a particular meal. “My aunt and uncle are often assigned one night’s dinner, and my cousin is in charge of cocktail hour,” Hedin says. “Everyone jumps into action because they know what their job is.”

Don’t over-cook. We’re not talking turkey. Rather, don’t feel like you have to prepare every single meal during your guests’ stay. “Let go of antiquated expectations,” Brown says. “You simply cannot wait on people 24/7, so don't kill yourself trying.” Ring a nice Italian restaurant or the local pizza joint for an informal takeout meal, which could be the tension-breaker everyone is craving.

Take a break at breakfast. No need to be a short-order cook: The morning meal lends itself to a casual approach, Brown says. Foods that can be eaten at room temperature (muffins, pastries, dry cereal) are a host’s friend when you have an eat-when-you-get-up arrangement. Plus, people appreciate the freedom to sleep in, especially anyone who’s still dragging from jet lag.

Think ahead for lunches. You don’t have to pack lunches or snacks for your guests, but if you provide the ingredients and containers, your visitors can tailor a sandwich to their own tastes (ensuring the right peanut butter-to-jelly ratio). If that feels like too much effort and cost, then recommend a few lunch spots—at various price points—in the area of town where they’ll be touring.

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