Don't be the worst houseguest your host has ever had. / Thinkstock
Being a houseguest can involve more discomfort than than a fold-out couch and a lumpy pillow. Sharing space with friends and family is often a given during the holiday season, but it doesn't have to be as awkward as a midnight trip to an unknown bathroom. As the CEO and founder of the design and lifestyle blog Apartment Therapy, Maxwell Ryan knows his way around a cramped apartment, which is why we asked him for his best advice on how to survive a stay at the in-laws (or anywhere else).
A smooth arrival
The first step of any stay as a guest is the planes, trains and automobiles that get you there. Ryan says these transitional moments can be loaded with tension for hosts, and it's on guests to be clear and consistent about their arrival times. "If you're supposed to be arriving at 6 p.m. on a Friday and you don't get there until 7 and there are multiple text messages about where you are and being on your way, it's exhausting," he says. "What's really helpful to a host is if you arrive and depart on time" — meaning that guests should figure out how to get to where they're going.
Arriving with a gift in hand is another thing Ryan recommends: "I think it’s better to show up with a gift than to leave a gift. A gift given at the beginning 'covers' your stay, if you will. There's no reciprocity if you give first." Sure, leaving a bottle of wine isn't an insult, but arriving with a token of appreciation shows a host that you thought of them beforehand (though Ryan agrees with your mom — don't skip the thank you note.)
During your stay
Routines and schedules can seem like no big deal until you're hopping and dodging them like a game of double dutch. Ryan says the simplest way to ease scheduling mayhem as a houseguest is to respect and adapt to the routines of the hosts, which can mean asking for specifics and communicating clearly about schedules. "What’s interesting perhaps is that the point of it is to be a great guest, because you might not have a great host," he says. "There are going to be some geat people out there in the world who are not the best hosts."
Towels on the floor might work in your apartment, but they'll render you persona non grata in another person's home. Ryan's advice is simple: "Leave the house cleaner than you found it. Put away all the dishes, wipe down the counters, clean the floors." While you're at it, get in on some sous chef duties — or whip up your own contribution to any shared meals. It doesn't hurt, Ryan says, to offer to chip in for groceries or pick up a nice dessert or bottle of wine to go with a meal.
Giving your host some time off can be key to making a stay comfortable for all parties involved, Ryan says. "No matter what your situation is, plan to have some time away from your hosts, and let them know that they don't have to take care of you the whole time," he suggests. "Being independent is a really nice strong signal to send."
Quick tips to houseguest heaven
Be observant of how your host's household runs. If you're observant, you won't have to ask too many questions.
Keep the bathroom clean and dry. "In our own homes we don't mind if the water sputters so much, but when you're a guest it means you probably are using the bathroom more than it would be used, so give everything a little wipe down when you're done."
Offer to chip in for groceries. "[The offer] doesn't have to be accepted to be effective — some hosts like to do everything themselves and that's OK, but at least you can say you offered."
Always make a good effort to figure something out before asking your host — be a quick study.