A reader asks, “Is it okay to assign house guests clean-up duty?”

I have not researched what Miss Manners or Emily Post or other etiquette experts have to say on this topic, but as an organizational and logistical enthusiast and one who has been privileged to be a house guest many a time, my humble perspective on this topic is as follows.

As a rule of thumb, your house guests should be included in aspects of your clean-up processes. That said, there are times when this would be entirely inappropriate. As the host or hostess, you know your guests best. You know when it’s ideal to ask for assistance and when that’s a big “no-no.” Following are some tips you may want to consider:

For the times when it seems appropriate to ask guests to pitch in, you’ll want to steer clear of having them fold your entire collection of household laundry, clean your gutters, or snake out the bathroom drain. Instead it’s more appropriate to ask them to help clear the table or wash dishes after a meal or remove their bed sheets and re-make their bed on their departure day.

Last month (was that only four-ish weeks ago?!), the hubster and I visited my in-laws for Christmas. At the end of our stay we stripped our bed, made the comforter and pillows look attractive, and brought our sheets and towels downstairs to be laundered. I’d wanted to re-make the bed with fresh linens but I didn’t know where the sheets were stored. When my mother-in-law (MIL) asked us if we would mind re-making the bed, I was not offended. And after she told us where she stores clean sheets, off we went to make the bed. This was a small thing for the hubster and me to do, and by doing it, my MIL wasn’t stuck with yet another thing to take care of after she had entertained us and other folks for several days.

We also emptied our bathroom trash can and then we did something that I’ve rarely thought to do as a houseguest. We cleaned the bathroom we had used so my MIL didn’t have to scrub yet another surface after we winged our way home. This was a simple thing for us to do, and it made a difference to the hubster’s parents.

I don’t tell you about this to suggest that the hubster and I are gold star house guests. I only mention this because it served as an interesting lesson to me. I realized that it took us just a few moments to help out and it saved our host and hostess from having to do that on top of everything else on their clean-up list. I’m tucking this idea away to use in the future when I’m a house guest…you may want to do the same, depending on where you’re staying and whether that would be appropriate. You’ll know what’s best in any given situation.

When family is visiting…

The number of family members staying with you may help you decide if you’ll encourage them to lend a hand with simple chores. Greater numbers of guests can increase the amount of cleaning, food preparation, laundry, etc. to which you need to attend when you’re the host or hostess.

Take into account the obligations that you have on your radar before, during, and after your family’s visit. What are your “endurance capabilities” for handling an extended visit or a large number of family guests?

Depending on your answer to this question and family members’ relationships with one another, you may decide to hire cleaning help the day after everyone leaves and make no clean-up requests of your guests during their stay. Or your visiting family members may decide to contribute to a cleaning or cooking fund to help out, thereby giving everyone a true vacation. Or you may wish to divide up cooking and cleaning duties during the visit so that every family member pitches in a bit. If your guests help out with chores, be sure to have the necessary supplies on-hand to make things easy for everyone involved. Every family is different, and you will know what works best for your relatives’ visits.

When friends – who are frequent visitors – are in your home…

Hopefully these good friends will offer to help with meal preparations. If your friendship is a close one, there’s no need to be bashful. Request help as needed if no offers are made and if you’d welcome an extra set of hands.

When friends or acquaintances come for a one-time, brief visit…

You may consider declining their offers to change beds or clean bathrooms, but you may wish to accept their offers to help with meal preparations or kitchen clean-up. Then again, it may be best to decline all offers of assistance. You’ll know what feels right.

When friends stay for several days…

As the host or hostess, you may want to offer them use of your washer and dryer. You may wish to accept their offers to help cook or do dishes, and change the bed or clean their bathroom the day of their departure. Again, you know what’s appropriate for each set of guests that you welcome into your home and it may be best to decline all offers of assistance.

Generally speaking…
Each of us can appreciate that there are times when asking a guest – either a family member or friend – to help out would be inappropriate. Or there may be times when we’re happy doing everything while our guests enjoy a true vacation.

You know your guests far better than I do – so be flexible in your thought and before your house guests ring the doorbell, take some time to decide whether it’s appropriate for these particular guests and some chores to co-mingle. Follow your intuition. As always, you’ll be glad that you did.

* Photo by Jonathan Eggers

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