How do I be a good houseguest?
July 31, 2010 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Starting next week, I'm not going to have a home. I will be staying with friends anywhere from 1 week to 3 weeks while I find a place to stay. What are best practices for being a good houseguest in this situation? (I plan to stay at each place for a week.) I do not have a car, and will be renting a storage space to keep my stuff in for the duration. Please assume hotels, motels, and hostels are financially not an option. I do already plan to buy dinner specifically for these friends, and to pay for my own food the rest of the time.
posted by hopemeplease to Human Relations (32 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I did this last summer! Depends what kind of friends you have but all I said to each of them was 'As long as I'm here, there will always be beer in the fridge.' Everything worked out rather well.
posted by mannequito at 12:52 PM on July 31, 2010

Keep your stuff together if you're sleeping in a public spot, like on a sofabed. Don't let your crap explode everywhere in the house. (Do you sense my rancor? My sister does this when she visits.) When you're done in the bathroom, take all your stuff -- toothbrush, shampoo, etc -- back with you and put it in your suitcase.

If you're sleeping in an area they need to get into -- whether it's their spare room that they also use as an office, or the aforementioned sofabed, get yourself in to a sleep & wake rhythm that matches theirs. Don't sleep till noon if they need to use your area.

Clean the dishes in the sink, even if you didn't dirty them. Take out the trash. Stock up on a couple of inexpensive things they like and/or need -- whether it's a gallon of milk, or some fresh coffee beans, fresh flowers, or a bottle of wine.

Absent yourself, now and again. Take yourself out in the evening, even if it's just to go sit and have a cup of coffee somewhere by yourself. Let them still have "their" time in their home.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:01 PM on July 31, 2010 [23 favorites]

If it's relevant, offer to babysit; then you will be adored.

If you're sleeping in living areas, rather than a guest room, clear all your stuff out of the way first thing every morning.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:02 PM on July 31, 2010

Make sure you're cleaning up after yourself -- e.g., not leaving towels on the floor after taking a shower, not leaving glasses or dishes around the house (and perhaps volunteering to do the dishes), that sort of thing. I suppose this is less important if the people you're staying with tend toward the messy side of things in the first place, but even then, I think the most considerate thing to do is to minimize the amount of work you'll be creating for anyone else.
posted by scody at 1:02 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Get a good idea of the schedule, so you can make sure your hosts are always able to use the shower (and have hot water), wash clothes, get to bed on time for work, etc. w/out you being in the way.
2. Clean up after yourself--keep your toiletries self contained (a little plastic basket from the dollar store is good for this) so you can tuck them away in a cabinet and not take up bathroom real estate. Don't leave hairs, toothpaste or whatever in the sink.
3. Providing beer or wine is good if they like them.
4. Don't hog the TV/couch/bathroom
5, Clean up the kitchen and volunteer for any other household chores you can. Take out the trash. Wipe down the counters/oven after you cook or run the dishwasher if it's full.

Basically, leave the place better than you found it and make your stay there as little of an imposition on them as possible.

The fact that you're asking, though, means you probably will do just fine. I wish some of our houseguests had cared enough to ask :(
posted by emjaybee at 1:04 PM on July 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also though, to make things extra tricky (!), you can go too far —don't spend the whole time apologizing for your presence whether in words or in ceaseless chore-doing around the house.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:05 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Depending on when your friends work, they may want to sleep when you are awake, and vice versa—and people widely differ in their ability to sleep through noise. To avoid creating stress, make sure that when you're on the phone, even if it's about important things like where you're going to live, you try to keep your voice to a reasonable volume. If people are sleeping, take the conversation outside or behind a closed door (as much as is possible). Basically, be polite. Don't make your hosts' common space your office for the duration.

2. You'll be buying most of your own food, it sounds like, but if you happen to need an ingredient your hosts have, always ask about the specific item, even if they've given a general wave of the hand toward the pantry/fridge and said "Eat whatever you want." They may not have been thinking about X item that they were planning to use for Y occasion that's coming up next week, etc. It's never bad to check, even if your hosts have assured you otherwise. Also, don't crowd out or crush their food with yours; be courteous.

3. Clean up after yourself. Don't leave your stuff in their common areas. Don't leave dishes in the guest bedroom. Plan to wash the dishes you use entirely or rinse 'em and put 'em in the dishwasher—don't back up your hosts' countertop/sink workflow with unwashed stuff.

You don't have to walk on eggshells the entire time you're staying at someone's place, but it's good to be mindful of your impact on their little ecosystem.
posted by limeonaire at 1:12 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

All good suggestions above. I would also add, be sure that you provide yourself with quiet things to do (specifically, avoid having the TV or music blaring while the others are trying to read/work/sleep). As already mentioned above, this would apply to your phone conversations as well.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 1:16 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

To be really super-duper out of the way something I've suggested in other questions like this is borrowing a tent and camping in someone's back yard. But I haven't done it myself and I would probably wimp out and want to go inside. Also, if you're lucky you know someone who owns an RV to borrow and do this with.
posted by XMLicious at 1:19 PM on July 31, 2010

Babysitting for the win. Otherwise, borrowing something refillable? Refill it to the brim, no matter how much you actually took.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:22 PM on July 31, 2010

"Pay the rent" by cleaning and doing the dishes. You will be taking some of their workload off of them and I am sure they will appreciate it and see you being there as a benefit, not just a favor.
posted by Vaike at 1:25 PM on July 31, 2010

Just thought of a few more (which are probably no-brainers for most normal people):

1. Don't criticize your hosts' decorating choices and/or explain to them how much more efficiently they could order their stuff in their own space and/or ask them when they're going to get rid of X, Y, or Z thing. Don't judge. Treat living there as an ethnographic study if you have to—just be mindful not to impose your personal organizational structure on your hosts.

2. Make sure to lock the door behind you when you go out.

3. And, ah, don't leave the stove burners on. Seems simple, but I've seen that happen several times when new people were staying in the unfamiliar space of my apartment. Being out of one's element can disrupt observance of the usual safety routines...
posted by limeonaire at 1:26 PM on July 31, 2010

I just moved across the country, and due to my friend's accident, I spent 3 weeks sleeping on her couch rather than housesitting for her before I left.
I pretty much will nth what everyone else said: tried to be helpful and low-maintenance without being overbearing about it.

Be conscientious about your stuff, not letting it spread everyone. I tried to make sure my toiletries stuff was all packed up, and that my blanket/pillow were off the couch and packed away once I got up.

Keep lines of communication open - both my friend and I are pretty direct folks, so I told her straight up, if she wants some alone time in the house or whatever .. just tell me! I tried to make sure I wasn't always around, either.

Whenever I head out of the house, I always check-in with a "hey, do you want me to grab anything while I'm out?" - sometimes it's a no, sometimes it turns out we need some yogurt or Sluggo or something.

Dishes and sweeping. I've spent years at this point surfing around different housing situations, and the common thread is that everyone appreciates people who do dishes and sweeping - it will take you far in many places. Being the person who empties the trash/recycling before it overflows is also nice, as it's the job no one really likes. If there's a project at the house that needs doing or motivating on (caulking something? fixing some hole? building a compost bin?) and you have the time/ability, that's always a really nice thing to do.

Lastly, to emphasize game warden's point - don't apologize for being there. you're their friend, and presumably, you staying with them should be nice/fun/painless for them too, not some kind of burden you need apologize for.
posted by circle_b at 1:40 PM on July 31, 2010

I just thought of this too - probably a no-brainer, but relevant: Ascertain what your hosts' feelings are toward you bringing other friends back to their space. Some of them will probably veto this instantly, and others will be cool with it, but I would still exercise extreme discretion. Namely, anyone who you know has a history of becoming obnoxiously intoxicated, or might be in possession of something that the hosts wouldn't want on their premises is probably best met out or going to their place.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 1:44 PM on July 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

All the above are great.

I'm going to add: wash the linens if you're going to be in any one place longer than a week. Ask your friends how they want them washed and wash them. They're probably going to slightly protest, because that's what you do, but they really, really will appreciate it. And if you're only at someone's house for a week or less, bundle up your linens when you're ready to leave and take them to wherever it makes sense in that situation (the laundry room/closet, the laundry basket for the communal laundry room, folded and neatly placed on the couch, etc.). I do this whenever I stay at a friend's house and I am always surprised by how grateful people are that I took the time to think about the linens they're going to have to wash.

OH! Even better: bring your own linens with you! Including a blanket you can throw in the wash. That'd be fantastic.
posted by cooker girl at 2:03 PM on July 31, 2010

Don't treat every conversation that your hosts have like dinner-table social talk. If they need to talk about whether to take the cat to the vet or something, stay out of the conversation and let them work it out.
posted by zinfandel at 2:15 PM on July 31, 2010

I put up a friend for a few weeks recently while he sorted out his marriage.

10 Good Things he did:

1. Brought beers and good wine home every night (I had stuff in but this was cool)
2. Took me out for dinner on the first night (nothing fancy, just local pub).
3. Bought juice, bagels, eggs etc in for breakfast and made it sometimes.
4. Gave me space by being out working all day and doing his own thing elsewhere most evenings.
5. Made the effort to be "up" and talkative when we hung out when I'm sure he was feeling miserable.
5. Offered to pay me rent (I refused).
6. He kept all his stuff in his room and tidied up daily.
7. Laundered the bedclothes and towels he used when he moved out.
8. And left a nice bottle of malt whisky on the table with a note saying thanks.
9. Sent me a card to say thanks again and how he'd never forget the favour.

So yeah, generally he was courteous, tactful, discrete, generous and thoughtful.

Actually, I was quite disgruntled that he patched things up with his missus and left...

posted by R.Stornoway at 2:46 PM on July 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

Make sure you know what's okay to put in the dishwasher and what's not, and if you empty the dishwasher and don't know where something goes, ask, or leave it somewhere obvious.
posted by rtha at 2:48 PM on July 31, 2010

The "transitional" houseguests I liked best that have been inflicted on me by my honey were the ones who weren't around much BUT LET ME KNOW. That way I didn't plan dinner for 3 when it would only be two, and felt like I could leave the house without worrying about someone who didn't have a key getting locked out.

Also, do remember that no matter how warmly you are encouraged to join in by the person who is letting you stay, there may be a third party who probably doesn't feel comfortable saying, "Hellooo, this was supposed to be US time??!" in front of you.

Joining in is fine, but not EVERY time. It's like offering someone the last slice of cake: It's the polite thing to do, so people offer, but there's a little green sprig of hope on the part of some offerers that you'll say no & they can do what they originally wanted to do without interference or further negotiations.

yeah, I don't really enjoy hosting houseguest. You'd be surprised by how many of us their are. But hosting when you'd rather not is just one of those things that life hands you. You do your best to make the guest feel welcome & heave a sigh of relief when things go back to normal after they're gone.
posted by Ys at 2:50 PM on July 31, 2010

Oh yeah, one more: He'd call or text ahead of coming "home" to let me know his plans, if he was staying out etc. he'd also always ask if I need anything brought back.

Damn, I wish he still lived here!
posted by R.Stornoway at 2:51 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing that comes to mind is figuring out how much to be around, and that's going to be different for each person. Some might like you to be more like a roommate, mostly doing your own thing with a bit of socializing when you're together. Others might find it rude if you go out and don't include them in something. Still another might not like it if you're home when they're not, which could mean time spent at the library or something. I guess it comes down to how much privacy and alone time vs social interaction a person desires.

Be extra mindful if you're staying with a friend that has roommates or a SO since things that are tolerable from a friend may be less so if it's from your roommates friend who's been on the couch a week. You sound like a respectful person already, though.
posted by 6550 at 2:53 PM on July 31, 2010

Don't leave puddles in the bathroom! If you wash your face and get water everywhere, clean it up. Dry yourself off in the shower so that you don't soak the rug/floor. Don't leave the toilet seat up if you're a guy. (Can you tell I had a slightly annoying houseguest recently?)

And, yes, gather up your linens and towels and either wash/dry them or at least get them in or near the washer. No one really wants to be confronted with your dirty linens especially after a long stay.

Buy them a thank you gift -- bottle of wine, scented candle, tickets to a nearby movie theater.
posted by amanda at 2:56 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't buy them dinner and stuff. They will appreciate it a hell a more if u just put up a note on the fridge that says "grocery to get". Tell them to add it. It will actually save you money to do $60 worth of grocery/week rather han taking them out to dinner every so often.

Your friends will miss you when you leave.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:57 PM on July 31, 2010

Oh! And before you do any cooking in the kitchen -- it's great to say, "I'd love to make you guys breakfast in the morning and cook some meals -- anything I should know about your cookware?" Some people take awfully good care of their cookware and/or have certain things that shouldn't be used with metal utensils/can only be handwashed, etc. Give them the opportunity to point this out.
posted by amanda at 2:59 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh also...if u hear them saying stuff like " this shelf has always been a day I'll have time". Ask to do it. Do it when they're not home. They will not only be surprised when they see it..but wont feel as if they're putting you to work if they don't see you doing it.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:00 PM on July 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I recently had my best friend living on my couch for 6 months and we're still best friends. This is why (repeats from above for emphasis):

- Every morning her bedding was folded and put in a corner out of the way so the couch was usable.
- She kept the kitchen clean (even my stuff left from breakfast and things like that).

Yes there were other things and we slipped into more of a roommate situation (she gave me cash for utilities and bought her own food, etc) because of the length of time but really those two things made it bearable for me.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:12 PM on July 31, 2010

In addition to all that was said above, one little but not insignificant thing (that I thought was common knowledge courtesy)

Leave doors as you find them. Especially if their are pets. And verify the Pet Rules first. There is nothing more devastating than a beloved, declawed indoor cat being lost outside, or a not-quite-so-housetrained dog being let into the formal living room. Or a cat being locked in a bedroom without a litterbox all day.

A discourteous houseguest was ignorant of these things, and then had the gall to complain to a friend about how "uptight" and "weird" we were, who love our animals dearly and feel like they are (albeit sometimes not always perfectly house-trained) members of the family.

And on that note, if there are any things you don't agree with ... keep them to yourself. Remember first and foremost you are a guest. But it sounds like you are already on the path to being a thoughtful, courteous and welcome guest. Good luck.
posted by keasby at 3:55 PM on July 31, 2010

Everyone has secrets and private matters. If you should happen to run across those of your hosts, be politely blind to them while you are staying and forever silent about them after you leave.

Also, if your hosts retreat to an inner sanctum -- bedroom, office, workshop, what-have-you -- don't follow them in unless you're specifically invited.
posted by timeo danaos at 6:31 PM on July 31, 2010

1) Try hard to be up and dressed with the linens folded neatly if you're sleeping in a public area. If you can get out of the house, even if it's just to take a walk, while they're all getting ready in the morning, you will be a treasure.

2) Do the washing up. The one houseguest I had under protest won me over because every time I walked into the kitchen, it was spotless. (They won permanent 'stay whenever you need to' by SCRUBBING THE TUB before they left! I never get it that clean!)

3) Try to come back *after* dinner, so there's no awkwardness about needing to feed you ever night. Or go to the library, or something. Unless you have a specific financial arrangement worked out in advance about meals.

4) Biggest pet peeve: don't keep the TV on all night. Even with headphones the white noise can bother people who aren't used to it.
posted by micawber at 9:55 PM on July 31, 2010

Answered here brilliantly.
posted by ellieBOA at 11:57 AM on August 1, 2010

There's a lot to be said for having some intentional, structured time with your hosts. This provides a lower-stress natural way for you all to communicate.

Dear friends of mine host long-term houseguests frequently, and I've seen a couple of extremes of houseguesting.

The guests who take "make yourself at home" too literally and include themselves in every single family activity. The boundary-setting discussions never go well.

The guests who take their own promise to "not be any trouble" too literally and seem like ghosts who hide in a locked bedroom. If the hosts do need to let them know something, it practically requires an appointment, which imbues the information with more seriousness than is needed.

Also though, to make things extra tricky (!), you can go too far —don't spend the whole time apologizing for your presence whether in words or in ceaseless chore-doing around the house.

Seconding this.
posted by desuetude at 1:32 PM on August 1, 2010

I've taken in a variety of people over the years. The ones that impacted my life the least were the ones who woke up, put away their bedding, got ready for their day, etc. BEFORE I got up. Not having to see someone asleep on my couch every morning made it seem like much less of an imposition.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:20 PM on August 2, 2010

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