House Rules for the Holidays
My first Christmas away from home was in a ten-bedroom log cabin style hunting lodge in rural Idaho. Some of the “guest bedrooms” had 4-6 beds per room, others had bunk beds, and one or two had a single king-sized bed with private bathroom. I can’t remember how many bathrooms, half-baths, sitting rooms and fireplaces there were. It was the family home of a college roommate of mine and was well over 100-years old, situated at the base of a mountain, only a few hundred feet from a river. During hunting season, the family rented rooms to hunters, and as remote as the place seemed to be, it was never empty.
After a verbal invite from my friend I received a written invitation from her parents, along with a one-page, front and back, list of “house rules,” for my pending four-day stay. The list included instructions on everything from what to do with a bear sighting to stripping the beds and putting the sheets in the laundry.
They packed a lot of information on that one piece of paper and I was grateful for it. It clearly set forth my host’s expectations of their guests, their behavior, and their house rules. Granted, being a hunting lodge and moving hundreds of guests through the lodge every year made rules a necessity, but it did three things:
- It cut out the number of repetitive questions the hosts received
- It spelled things out clearly, and in writing, so no one misunderstood the rules
- It ensured order and efficiency and guests knew what was expected from the beginning
Knowing what was happening, what was expected to happen, and what my options were made me feel included. It was one of the best holiday visits of my life.
Being a Great Host
When I tell friends about that Christmas week they confess they’d love to have a “rules” list but are afraid of offending their guests. The thing is, rules relax people, not offend them. If you haven’t done so already, create a one-page list of rules for your holiday guests. Include rules and policies too:
- Curfew and/or lights out limits
- Sheets and towels (where to find clean items or toss used ones)
- Kitchen rules (what food is off-limits, what’s for anyone to use.
- Policy regarding borrowing your car, or not.
- List of public transportation, buses, and taxis
- A list of nearby restaurants and fast food places, menus for takeout/pizza
- Use of items, tools etc. in the house you don’t want or don’t mind guests using. (My aunt has rules around the use of the jet skis, fishing equipment, boats, canoes etc.)
- A list of cell phone numbers, the procedure for letting people know where you are if you’re leaving for a few hours,
- Keys and locking up policies. Some families don’t lock doors, others are obsessive about security
- Pet Policy. This should be clear before friends arrive with their animals.
- Smoking, drug or alcohol use
Loving friends and family is one thing, but living with them for more than a day or two can bring out habits and issues you had no idea they had. Communicating your boundaries early, clearly and in writing can make your guests and you more comfortable. If you’re not comfortable handing them the list, place it on the guest bed with some chocolate, or pin it to a fresh towel. Then let them know, “I left a list of the house rules on your bed. If you have any questions, let me know.”
Being a Guest in Someone’s House
Being invited to stay with someone doesn’t mean you’re being asked to be queen or king for a day while your host waits on you hand and foot, although some guests presume that it does. If you are a guest in someone’s house act in a way that you’ll be invited back:
- Help with meals. That can mean chopping vegetables, opening cans, buying groceries or wine, or clearing the table and doing the dishes.
- Don’t be a slob. Even if you don’t do it at home, pick up after yourself. Clean up after yourself. Rinse out the tub or shower after you use it. Put used dishes in the sink, or better yet, wash them.
- Entertain yourself. You’re not a helpless infant who needs round the clock caretaking. Your hosts have lives and jobs and probably don’t want to see the local tourist attractions for the fifth time. Plan on renting a car, Ubering, taking public transportation or walking if you want to sightsee.
- Bring your own toiletries, snacks, liquor etc. This is not a hotel. If your friend provides those items great, but you should have your own toothbrush, toothpaste, nail clippers, etc.
- Offer to help with their kids (If they have them), or their pets (Feed, walk or water).
- Leave your room cleaner than you found it. Strip your bed and leave your sheets in a pillowcase at the foot of the bed.
- Rinse out the bathroom sink and tub before you leave. Scrubbing is optional unless you’ve seriously soiled it, but don’t leave stray hairs and a soap ring in the tub.
- Bring or leave a gift. It doesn’t have to be big, but a bottle of wine, a video, CD or vase of flowers is nice.
Expectations around the holidays are high enough without us having to worry about violating an unspoken house rule. If you’re a guest, ask about policies. If you’re a host, express your policies, preferably in writing, but as guests arrive will work too. Happy holidays!
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