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May 26, 2009 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Etiquette for the long-term guest

I'm going to be housesitting for some acquaintances (a married couple in their 30s -- I'm a young woman in my mid-20s) for a month and a half this summer while they're out of the country. We're not close friends, but we have mutual friends and we socialize occasionally. They have generously offered to let me stay with them for 2.5 weeks before they leave and the actual housesitting begins. (I'll be moving out of my apartment at the end of this month and moving into their place on June 1.)

I'm getting anxious thinking about that old adage about guests and fish starting to smell after 3 days. I don't want to stink up the joint! I've read over some previous questions about houseguest etiquette and roommate etiquette, but my problem is really that I don't know whether I'm a guest or a roommate for these 2.5 weeks. So: how can I make this living situation as pleasant as possible for everyone involved?
posted by delayed-reaction android to Human Relations (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm... it sounds like these two are pretty welcoming. I'm sure you can relax somewhat but I would err on the side of "guest" and take up as little space as possible for 2.5 weeks.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:14 AM on May 26, 2009

Best answer: You're more like a guest than a roommate unless you'll be paying bills and whatnot. So, in this situation you're better off following their lead and asking a lot of questions and using this opportunity to get an idea of how the household runs with them in it so you can get an idea of how to run it with them not in it. So, while they're there you'll want to figure out

- what the general rhythm of the place is. When people get up, go to bed, take showers, etc so that you can smoothly interact with everyone.
- things that need to happen on a schedule like trash, mail, pet care, plant watering
- funny things about the house like the right way to work with major appliances [in case there's a "you have to turn this knob just so otherwise the oven doesn't go off completely..."]
- their level of cleanliness and attention to details
- how much home time vs away time they spend there. Unless they're super social, they'll probably appreciate some personal/private time in their house so make sure you have things to do either in your room (if you have one) or better yet, out of the house on some sort of schedule ["hey I'm going to the movies, back at around 10"]
- what the deal on having other people over is. Is having people over okay? What about a few people? Are there ground rules?

Try not to be too anxious but also try to be relatively innocuous while you're all there together as well as finding a way to make your presence useful/helpful. Offer to cook dinner, or get take out [depending on their preferences], clean up not only after yourself but in the common spaces as well [put away dishes, take out trash/recycling]. Once they come back from their trip, make sure you're ready to move out to wherever your next place is or make sure that's very very clear beforehand. Granted these folks may be totally super happy to have you do whatever so follow their lead, but I think it's always a better first step to try to be as polite and "hey is it okay if I ...." as possible at the outset and as you get to know each other better you can adjust this.
posted by jessamyn at 8:17 AM on May 26, 2009 [6 favorites]

I would try to plan time for yourself out of the house - this will let you explore your new area and also lets them have some downtime. It's really nice to give them a heads up, like "I'm going to check out the new art museum downtown and then find a place to have dinner - I should be back by eight or so." Definitely ask their advice for things to do, places to pick up public transit, etc., but don't expect them to play tour guide or drive you around.

Try to fit yourself around their schedules for showering, laundry, etc. That means you might need to get up earlier or leave the house later than you would ordinarily do. Make a point of asking if they need anything from the grocery store when you head out - definitely replace any shared items (milk, bread, etc), and bring home the occasional treat to share.
posted by handful of rain at 8:18 AM on May 26, 2009

I completey agree with the statements above about fitting into their schedule. You need to respect their sleeping and waking times. I once had houseguests that did not do this and it was a very tense couple of weeks because they expected me to accomodate them. If you are not paying rent, you are a guest and need to go by their schedule. If they have tight busy mornings getting ready for work, don't shower until after they do.
posted by archimago at 8:41 AM on May 26, 2009

Be able to entertain yourself. Always be on your way to or from somewhere.
posted by hermitosis at 9:02 AM on May 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

clean up not only after yourself but in the common spaces as well [put away dishes, take out trash/recycling].
This is great advice, but please don't over do it. I'm sure what Jessamyn means is that if you notice the trash bag is full, don't hesitate to take it out and put in a fresh one; or when you're clearing your plate from the dinner table, offer to take the others' as well.

Don't be the person that follows along picking up items behind your hosts. I've lived with a freaky type of neat-freak, and it gets old fast.
posted by purpletangerine at 9:04 AM on May 26, 2009

I'm a frequent guest as well as a frequent host. My other word of advice that purpletangerine reminded me of is to try to be conscientious of your hosts' level of contact/rules etc. So, some people like being asked a lot of questions so they can tell you their long list of rules and tips and whatever. Some people like you to figure things out. I call this the "Do you want this door open or shut?" phenomenon, where someone staying at my house (hi Mom!) would ask this about, I swear, every door she walked through or light switch she turned on or off, or thing she was "helping" me put away.

I finally had to tell her "Look, please generally leave things the way you found them and assume I will be okay with that and will not give you a hard time if a light is left on or a door is left open" So, while asking questions is generally a good thing, try to find a balance between getting a feel for the place, and making your presence there a sort of a chore for them.
posted by jessamyn at 9:19 AM on May 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Above is all good advice.
I'd add that anytime you see a dirty dish, you should clean it. Also, if you can afford it, bring home some small casual gifts here and there like bakery cookies or strawberries or something for the house.
The best houseguest gift I got was actually a huge pack of toilet paper (she even looked to see which kind we buy). We just finished the last roll of it, but everytime I took out a new one I thought "It is so awesome that I don't have to go out and buy more yet!"

Go for practical things that will be used up instead of things that might take up space or not match the host's taste (like a painting or bowl or something). They'll probably appreciate you contributing to household things like that, and give them confidence that you'll take good care of their place once they're gone.
posted by rmless at 9:33 AM on May 26, 2009

Best answer: We've just had the perfect house guest go home after staying for two weeks and not causing any stress whatsoever. My advice, based on that:

Bring your own laptop if you have one, so you don't have to ask for passwords to use the host's computer (you can also avoid the temptation of snooping in their history or folders).

Try not to be underfoot all the time, unless they make it clear that they want to hang out and chat or watch TV or whatever.

Offer to cook dinner on a night when you will all be home, but make sure you take into account the hosts' preferences. You could also do what our guest did, which was to get yummy fruit and bread from the farmers' market for weekend brunches.

Do the dishes even when there aren't that many.

Clean up the bathroom after yourself.

Take extra care to lock the front door/entry gate/security gate, if you have your own keys.
posted by vickyverky at 11:28 AM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just make sure you give them lots of space to do their thing, whatever that may be. And the basics: Don't eat all their food, don't party hard (unless they're into it) and always leave the place looking like you weren't there.

My former roommate's mom used to stay with us the odd weekend and her "helping out around the house" was a bit much. All her dusting and sweeping made me feel like the world's worst dirtbag housekeeper, and she even folded my laundry (I barely knew this woman). But she'd also bake like it was going out of style, so I couldn't really complain.

Ask if you can help, and how. Don't just assume you can.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:55 AM on May 26, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I'm feeling significantly calmed about this.
posted by delayed-reaction android at 7:04 AM on May 27, 2009

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