When it comes to having houseguests, most people fall into one of two camps. There are those who adore hosting guests, and set up a sweet sanctuary complete with lovely linens, scented candles, and a guest bathroom stocked with fancy soaps, toothbrushes, and travel-size toiletries. At the other end of the spectrum are the people who would rather deal with an invasion of locusts than have their personal space invaded by guests.
If you’re in the second camp, it’s OK. Your home is your sanctuary, and you’re under no obligation to let anyone stay there. Of course, letting people know that without offending them can be a bit tricky. Fortunately, however, there are some perfectly nice ways to discourage uninvited houseguests.
1. Don’t buy a huge house
“If you’re not the type to have guests, then buy a small home,” says Lisa Grotts, an etiquette expert based in San Francisco.
Genius! Make sure you have enough rooms for those who live there and some entertaining space, but not enough space to comfortably house additional guests.
That way, Grotts explains, “If guests ask to stay over, you have an easy out: no space!”
2. Redefine your ‘guest’ room
If you do have an extra room or two, that doesn’t mean they have to be “guest” rooms. Turn them into an office, your crafting room, a library, or a workout room, and outfit them appropriately.
That means don’t have a comfy bed calling anyone’s name—and if you must put a couch in the room, make sure it’s the kind that doesn’t fold out into a cozy bed.
3. Don’t make things too inviting
If you want to have a bed at the ready for occasional invited guests, think about putting it in a high-traffic area so they don’t get too comfortable.
If their accommodations just happen to be in the kids’ playroom—which the kids just happen to start playing in (loudly!) at 6 a.m. every morning—they may rethink just how long they want to stay, and even revise plans for future visits. (Bonus tip: Don’t make the bed too comfy, either.)
4. Provide alternatives aplenty
When you know people are coming to town, be prepared with accommodation options for them.
Provide them with the names and contact information for several convenient hotels, as well as some Airbnb and bread-and-breakfast options. For close family and friends, you may even offer to help pay for their stay, if you’re able.
5. Don’t invite them in the first place
We’re all guilty of it, but bite your tongue the next time you want to blurt out, “If you’re ever in the area, we have plenty of room…”
You may think they’ll never take you up on it, but the next thing you know, they’re standing on your doorstep with suitcase in hand. If you don’t want them crashing at your pad, don’t invite them.
6. Just say no
And if they ask? Jodi RR Smith, an etiquette consultant with Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, MA, suggests you start by acknowledging their request and then being firm: “Darling, we would love to see you up at the lake, and we can definitely meet you for dinner and drinks, but we do not have room at the house. However, there are some fabulous B&Bs nearby. I can email you our faves right now.”
7. Don’t offer explanations
Smith says that under no circumstances should you tell the person why you are not allowing them to stay with you.
“Once you provide a reason, you open the negotiations,” she says. “‘We can’t have you due to the construction.’ They can then reply, ‘No worries, we love the smell of sawdust, and we will bring our own sleeping bags.’ Or ‘We have Arthur’s cousin already in the guest room.’ ‘OK, when does he leave? We are totally flexible and can arrive after he leaves.’”
Just tell them you’re sorry you can’t host them, provide alternative lodging options, and move on.
8. Be honest
With close friends and family, honesty may be the best approach.
“Good relationships are always based upon boundaries,” Smith says. “For those with whom you have a close relationship, you can be perfectly honest. ‘Sweetie, I would love having you in the house. But we both know that you being a night owl keeps me awake and me being a morning person rouses you from your sleep, and then we are both cranky all day. Stay at the Airbnb and come over whenever you wake up, the kettle will be on, and we will be waiting for you.’”
If you do cave and let houseguests stay, then set firm limits as to how long they can stay and what your expectations are while they are there, such as quiet hours, any chores you’d like them to help with, and when you may and may not be available to entertain, transport them, etc.
Plus, keep in mind that just because you’re not rolling out the welcome mat for any and all acquaintances to lodge with you doesn’t mean you can’t be a good host. You can have them over to your home for meals, arrange activities and otherwise spend time with them in and outside your home, but when the day is done, you can retreat back to your personal space to recharge.
In the end, not letting people crash with you when you’re not comfortable with it can be the best thing for your relationships.