Holiday Cheer: Prepare Your Home for Guests…Without the Stress!

Holiday Cheer: Prepare Your Home for Guests…Without the Stress!

By Andy Cook

Ahh, the holidays… Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa – the season in general. The time of year when we open up our homes and gather with family and close friends and share the warmth, love and friendship and the sense of connection we have with one another. Does the mere reading of this sentence make you anxious or bring on stress? Are you wishing that we were already in 2014 and the holidays were a distant memory? If so, let me share some thoughts from a couple of experts who can provide you with strategies to make these holidays even better.

One of the first things to recognize is that we all live with a certain degree of stress. The thing is, though, is that many of us think that stress of any kind is a bad thing, says Stuart Horowitz, LCSW, of St. Luke’s University Health Network. What we need to be aware of is that we don’t want stress to become distress, as that could have physical, as well as emotional, impacts. “You can’t control everything, but you can control yourself,” Horowitz shared. “There are three primary causes of stress: family, the need for perfection, and a perceived lack of time.”

Family includes things like your family dynamics and individual behaviors. How many of us have reverted to childhood roles when we get together with parents, siblings, and cousins at major holidays?

Perfection relates to a desire to create the perfect meal, find the perfect gift, host the perfect memorable event. We want our guests to give us a perfect score on some imaginary customer satisfaction survey.

Time refers to time management issues that may cause stress because we feel there’s not enough time or resources to accomplish everything on your to-do list. Examples include completing all the components of meal preparation, getting all your decorating done, or cleaning your home for guests who may only visit once a year. The feeling of being overwhelmed may even create more self-imposed pressure.

There are many coping strategies for managing stress.  Horowitz suggests that “One of the best ones is to lower your expectations. Finding the perfect gift is okay; why not go one better and ask the person what they’d like versus trying to guess?” He also advises you work on setting priorities and know your limits. “It’s okay to ask for help, whether it’s by assigning people tasks when they show up (e.g. setting the table, answering the door, hanging up coats, etc.).

The season is about taking time to reflect on its true meaning and spending time with family and close friends.

Don’t feel you have to do everything by yourself.” In these economic times, I’ve been to many gatherings myself where the host or hostess provides the main dish, and the guests bring along side dishes. This way, the cost of feeding a dozen or 20 people is shared among all who are participating. Everyone shares in the success of a wonderful gathering, and it’s not reliant on the host or hostess bearing the brunt of the responsibility.

Now, as to preparing your home for the arrival of welcome guests, let’s turn to Diane Albright, Certified Professional Organizer and founder of All Bright Ideas. Her expertise lends itself to how to get your home ready. Let’s go through some of those bright ideas!

First, do your best to get your shopping (as well as wrapping) done well in advance. “This way, you won’t feel stressed and you can enjoy your company. The season is about taking time to reflect on its true meaning and spending time with family and close friends,” Albright says. One of my personal suggestions is to buy things all during the year when you happen to see something which reminds you of someone special. My tip is to put a post-it note on it indicating who it’s for and then put it away in your gift closet or wherever you stash such items in your home.

Second, will you be having guests staying over in your home? Albright suggests that a month ahead of time, spend the night in the room your guests will use as well as use the bathroom that will be for them. “Pretend you are a guest. Are there sufficient towels, soap and shampoo?  Perhaps you want to create a basket of supplies with shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, an unwrapped toothbrush, which makes your guests feel welcome,” she added. Also, if they are staying awhile, it’s nice to create hanging space in a closet as well as emptying a drawer or two, too.

If you don’t have an actual guest room (meaning you’re making up the sofa, sofa bed, sleeping bag or inflatable mattress), be sure to have prepared the sheets, pillowcases, and pillows you’ll use for these “mobile guests,” as Albright calls them, since their sleeping quarters disappear during the day.  “Keep a large tote bag that makes up their room – pillow, blankets, etc. This way your guests won’t have to pack their suitcase every morning. Designate an area in a closet that your guest can use as a temporary guest closet. Nothing’s worse than feeling like you are living out of a suitcase,” Albright added.

I like to create a list of the places in the Lehigh Valley I personally recommend, and why. This way, when I have friends or family staying with me, they can venture out on their own without feeling like they are a burden. Also be sure to create a list of important information and contact numbers so guests know things like the code for your wireless network (a favorite for my two nieces and their electronic gear), or where the closest gas station, grocery store and pizza shop are located.

Another point to consider is that when you are a guest in someone else’s home, you take the proactive approach and ask the hosts upon arrival what you can do to help. Assume there is something you can take off their plate, whether it’s entertaining the children, helping people with beverages, or being in charge of the music. If you are staying one night or several at this home, whether it’s the home of friends or family, also don’t assume everyone is there to serve you as if you were at a five-star hotel! Clean up after yourself, keep your room tidy, and don’t hog the remote control for the big screen TV.

Remember, opening up your home is one of the most generous gestures you can make. Having a strategy to keep stress at bay will enable you to enjoy the holidays and celebrate!

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