Short-term guests won’t expect your home to be hotel-room perfect. If everything is clean and usable, who cares about slightly worn linens? Some scratches on the hardwood floor? A few unread magazines or overfilled shelves? But holes in the walls, broken windows, badly stained sheets, torn sofa cushions, door and faucet handles that come off in your hands, nonworking appliances, or so much clutter that there’s no place to put anything down are another matter. No one wants to live in a dump.
Walk through your home as if you’re seeing it for the first time. You might be amazed by what you notice. While showing our garden to a friend, I saw that our once-beautiful wrought iron and wood garden set, conveniently tucked away behind a bush, is falling apart. And a close look at our overstuffed kitchen pantry revealed at least six half-empty packages and far too many dusty spice jars. Those things are now on the running “to do” list we keep to prepare our home for our short-term guests.
Repair and Replace
Given time and budget constraints, you may not be able to to repair or replace everything that is in bad shape. But fix anything that could be dangerous, such as a broken stair tread or a cabinet door that falls off when it’s opened, and if you can’t, warn your guests.
What to watch for
- Potential dangers – broken stairs, collapsing chairs, nails sticking out from walls or up from the floor, carpets that slip or bunch up
- Things that smell or look disgusting, such as moldy shower curtains, bath mats, dish drainers, or grout
- Sofa cushions and mattresses that sag, smell, are badly stained, and/or leak stuffing
- Running toilets, leaking faucets, and dribbling shower heads
- Nonworking heating or air conditioning systems
- Window coverings that won’t open or raise dust clouds when they’re touched
- Windows that are cracked, stick badly, won’t open, or won’t close completely
- Doors that are loose on their hinges, badly misaligned, or squeak
- Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms that need new batteries
- Lamps and light fixtures that do not work or need new bulbs – or collapse when they’re moved
- Nonworking appliances, TVs, stereos, modems, or routers, especially those mentioned as amenities in your listing
- Cracked or broken dishware, chipped cups and glasses, and badly scratched, bent, or rusty cookware
- Torn, extremely worn, or badly stained towels and sheets
- Rusty barbecue grills and other outdoor equipment
- Deck boards that need replacing or patio stones that wobble when you step on them
Clear away clutter and make space for guests’ things
When our grandson was an infant, we spent a month in a large floor-through brownstone apartment on New York’s Upper West Side overlooking the Central Park stables (since closed, sadly). There was one closet and one three-drawer dresser, both crammed with our host’s belongings. She’d even stored her shoes under the sink (this was New York, after all.) To make room for our things, we moved some of hers into plastic storage boxes, something, we thought, she could have done before we arrived. There was also the charming apartment near Sacre Coeur in Paris where every surface was covered with porcelain figurines and other fragile tchotchkes. The perfectly located Chicago flat where out-of-date food packages and spice bottles tumbled out of the cabinets and the bathroom counters were littered with empty bottles and flattened toothpaste tubes… I could go on.
Do your guests a favor by clearing away things that proliferate while your back is turned: clothes you never wear, ancient cereal boxes, moldy leftovers, empty shampoo bottles, old newspapers and outdated catalogs, all the dried-up pens, postcards, souvenirs and other things that have taken over the surfaces of your home. You’ll be glad you did!
Bedrooms: Free up some closet and drawer space for guests’ clothes, and clear your things off the tops of nightstands and bureaus. If space is tight, put some of your things in plastic boxes and store them in the garage or an out-of-the way corner. Be sure to leave some empty hangars.
Bathrooms: Straighten up the shelves and clear space for your guests’ use. Move cosmetics, toothbrushes, deodorant tubes, razors, medicine bottles, and other personal items where they’ll be out of the way. Reduce the number of decorative items such as china figurines and sprays of paper flowers. Replace old soap bars, shampoo bottles, and empty tubes of hand cream.
Kitchen: Make enough room on the counters so guests can prepare food. Toss outdated and nearly empty food packages, cans, and bottles, and clear a cabinet shelf or large space for your guests’ use.
Scour your fridge. Throw away food that is no longer edible. If guests are due to arrive more than a day or two after you leave, discard or give away perishables so they don’t have to open the refrigerator to moldy or smelly food. Store any foodstuffs you don’t want guests to use, or put them on a shelf clearly marked, “Please do not use.”
If necessary, clean or replace the dish-drying rack and dish soap containers. Replenish dish soap, dishwasher detergent, and cleaning supplies so guests will not have to run out and buy their own.
Living areas: In my mother’s house, if you absentmindedly set your water glass on a side table or left the newspaper on the sofa, it would be gone in 30 seconds. I see my mother’s house again when I tour a home that has been staged for sale, everything so perfect, such a wonderful sense of space and organization. But I don’t understand how anyone could actually live there.
Like most people, we live with a certain amount of clutter – books, magazines and catalogs we haven’t gotten around to, souvenirs, family photos, odd-shaped stones we picked up somewhere, burned-down candles, pens and pencils, remote controls… Looking through a stranger eyes, we realize that there’s far too much, so before our guests arrive, we clear a lot of it away. Our house will never look as if it’s been staged. But we try to create the sense of space and organization that we appreciate ourselves in a rental or exchange home.
Tips for clearing away the clutter
- It’s okay to leave books (well dusted and neatly arranged) – people appreciate having a “library” in a temporary home
- You can put your family photos away or leave a few (operative word: few) to give your guests a sense of the people who live in the house.
- A few decorative objects and souvenirs are fine. But arrange them so guests can put things down without shoving yours aside. And put away anything you don’t want broken.
- Recycle or store the magazines and newspapers you’re saving to read “someday,” leaving only the latest issues for your guests.
- Move children’s toys from the floor to baskets or bins. Put away anything don’t want guests’ kids to play with.
What’s Next: How to protect your privacy and your valuables