Open House

It has been a while since I’ve been able to write, because we have had house guests for the better part of two months. Actually, since moving to Vancouver, our house has been the site of various visits from friends and family members. We’ve lived here for six months, and we’ve had house guests here for a tally of seven weeks! Since we dearly miss everybody back home, it’s always comforting to know that another visit is just around the corner. As much as we love seeing beloved faces from back home, however, we also enjoy getting back to our little threesome.

All of these house guests have led me to think about what makes a visit more pleasant for everyone. We’re in fairly cramped quarters here, and between work and baby, Steve and I are both pretty busy, so house guests who are able to help lighten the load are more than welcome! The most important thing house guests can do, in my opinion, is to observe what their hosts do, and to fit themselves into the routine of the household. Some people are able to do this as though by osmosis: they slip into the shower after Steve has gone to work and before I have finished getting Callum ready for the day, offer to make dinner, or to take Callum on his afternoon walk while I get some work done. Others have difficulty not being in their own homes, and so become somewhat of a difficulty in the homes of others: they can’t figure out how to make coffee for themselves in the morning, how to load the dishwasher, how to turn the shower on and off, and so on.

It seems to me that, however helpful a house guest might be, we all have our limits when it come to how long we can live happily with people other than our nuclear families under our roofs. These limits, for me, increase with my level of familiarity with whomever is visiting and shrink with the number of bathrooms in a house. The reason for this is a desire for privacy: the more I know people, the less I need to cultivate privacy from them. I need very little privacy from my sister, say, but a relative of Steve’s that I’ve never met before in my house for too long might make me run to my room, slam the door, and crank some music like a teenager.

To prevent this kind of drastic behaviour, it’s a good idea, I think, for those of us who have a lot of house guests, to establish boundaries. For starters, make it clear how long a visit is long enough for you and your family. Also, let house guests know that certain times are off-limits for visitors, and that back-to-back visits are a bad idea. Instead of expecting guests to miraculously fall in step with your routine, let them know what that routine is and alert them to how they might facilitate it. Accept help when it’s offered and don’t be afraid to ask for more!

Having written this, I pause to think that I must be a terrible hostess to expect so much from my guests. At the same time, though, I know that I can’t take a vacation from my PhD work (which I do at home) to accommodate the needs of so many house guests, and that trying to be the perfect hostess to everyone who stays here only leaves me a frazzled person who is terribly unpleasant by the time said guests make their way back home. Maybe some house rules for house guests would help make having them a more pleasant experience all ‘round.

So… anyone up for a visit?