Turn up the cell phone ringer
With texts, calls, and emails buzzing for attention, it's tempting to keep a cell perpetually silent. This is the time, however, to turn up the volume. "Make sure you have your phone nearby where you can hear it, in case your guests get lost," says Rachel Isgar, etiquette expert and owner of Please Pass the Manners. "Sometimes navigation systems don't bring you to exactly the right spot." This also lets guests ask you about parking or give you a heads-up if they're running late.
Flip on outdoor lights
Make your home visible. "Late in the year, it gets dark very early. Make the house easy to spot, especially if this is the first time someone is coming to your home," says Thomas P. Farley, Boston Market etiquette expert. If you have festive decorations, hang a wreath on the front door or tie a bow around the doorknob. This let guests know you're ready for an event.
Tidy the coatroom
When coatrooms aren't large enough to accommodate guests' outerwear, a spare bedroom is often used by default. Before guests arrive, do a quick sweep of the room. Put away any strewn socks, spritz an air freshener, and flick on the lights. "That room really says as much about you as the table you lovingly prepared," says Farley. If you'd like guests to remove shoes, place a chair or bench by the entryway so they can easily take them off.
Spot-check the kitchen
Double check for utensils or dishware that didn't come out of the dishwasher sparkling. Run the garbage disposal to dispel of any smells from food preparation (you can add lemon or orange peels for extra scent). Wipe down the counter, put extra dishes away, and close open food containers. "People are always going to hang out in the kitchen," says Farley. "Don't let it look like a chemistry experiment."
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Brush up the bathroom
Wipe down fixtures, faucet handles, mirrors, and counters. Add festive hand towels to the towel racks. Importantly: Stock up on toilet paper. "It's so much easier than your guests coming and asking you for more," says Isgar. "Add a few extra rolls on top of the toilet, or allocate them to a basket on the ground."
Play your favorite music playlist slightly before guests arrive. Make sure it's a few hours long, so that it won't run out of songs or repeat. If you have dimmers, lower the lights. "Think about how inviting a restaurant is when you walk into that lower-level lighting," says Farley. "Everybody looks better and it's more intimate." No dimmers? Light a few candles, which produce not only a nice glow, but also a welcoming scent.
Stash medicines and paperwork
Take a quick glance at your medicine cabinet, checking for anything you may not want someone else to peek at. Do the same for financial records, bills, or medical records that may be left in the kitchen, spare room, or home office.
Set out snacks and drinks
Don't put out your entire spread (certain items may not last long at room temperature), but have a few goodies ready for the first guests. Serve a bowl of nuts or chips, along with water and other beverages. Slide a cocktail recipe into a frame, and place it next to ingredients for the drink. "It's a really fun touch, and you don't get stuck playing bartender all night," says Farley.
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Personalize for overnight guests
Hosting a guest in your spare bedroom? Take a moment to write down your home's WiFi password, instructions for the thermostat, and place a spare key in the room if they'll be exploring on their own. "Another nice touch is to put a framed photo of you with that person in the room," says Farley. "That shows that the person is honored and valued as a friend or family member."
Locate emergency meds
In case one of your guests falls sick, find allergy medicine (for any allergic reactions to the food) and soothing medicine for stomachaches. Keep it in one easy-to-find spot in your kitchen.
Schedule time for you
The food is ready, and the house is clean. Now is your chance to relax for a minute. Have a snack (it will be difficult to eat once things get going), enjoy a glass of wine, and get some fresh air by stepping outside. When you return, enjoy your guests and the holidays. You deserve it.