Sunday, January 3, 2010

Houseguest Nirvana

Notes on shacking up for the holidays

Respectful, self-aware and unarmed are some of the qualities I require of houseguests after being baptized by fire. I posed the question "What makes a good houseguest?" - out loud, to anyone, while writing this piece in a bustling downtown Heritage Coffee. Instantly people were at my table, pouring out houseguest and house-sitter stories; the good, bad, ugly and really funny.

Because Juneau's remote location makes it a desirable destination, people save considerable money by staying with friends and family. This can be a wonderful bonding experience but without clear communication, the potential for disaster is great.

Then there are special circumstances like homes with small children who rely greatly on routine.

Here are some condensed survival tips from those who have been both guests and hosts.


• Thank you. Upon arrival, immediately express your gratitude for the hospitality. Continue to shower your hosts with gratefulness throughout your stay in the "inner circle."

• Bring something to the party. Offer a small gift or state your intention to contribute some fun. If your hosts have little ones, consider offering to baby-sit for a little while. If you really want to start off right, throw the door open and exclaim "go skiing, I'll watch the kids!"

• Ask thoughtful questions. Bedtimes, pet habits, good showering times? If someone wanted to purchase you a massage gift certificate where would they go?

• Leave no trace. Keep your things cornered up like a soldier ready for deployment. Wash dishes, replace food, no perfumes. I had to create a no firearms rule. Kurt Cobain, a heroin addict rock star, actually combined the best and worst qualities of guests. He was neat and tidy, according to his host, rolling up his small sleeping bag every night and upon waking asking what he could do for the house. Then he turned a one-night stay into a year.

• No space invading. If you get up early and down a pot of coffee before your host gets up, don't talk in a stream of consciousness while they are still in their robe fumbling to pour their first cup of Joe. Vibrate your phones. Strange loud ringtones can make one feel like they've been shot out of a cannon.

• Disclose your schedule and stick to it. This will help your host plan. Don't create a ruckus by returning home late, inebriated and loud. Don't invite criminals over.

• Conform to the house. Let your presence interfere as little as possible with your host's normal routine, household duties, and career. Don't impose on their time. Courtney Love, wife of the polite Cobain, tended to break all these rules by getting drunk, insulting her hosts, and then sucker-punching them on the way out.

• Invite and include. If the purpose of your trip is both to visit with your host and to see the sights and/or shop, you need to walk the line. Sightsee while your friend is at work, plan activities together for when they are not, and invite your host on your excursions.

After spending blissful quality time together by following these golden rules, one should part company wanting more. Not hiding in a closet calling anyone that will listen to lament the horror.


• Write it down. Never assume people know how to be good houseguests, especially if you have small children. State the household boundaries in writing then sit back and enjoy the magic of intimate stories, group cooked meals, restful sleep, long walks catching up with people you love. Like river rocks jostled together, you should smooth each other out.

And to all those that have put up with my clueless houseguest habits, I thank you with a short heart felt bow.

• Courtney Nelson is a Juneau resident breaking it down with sassy, sensible truths. She can be reached at

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