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Cramped Hospitality

  • Marcia Washburn Home School Enrichment
  • 2008 19 Dec
Cramped Hospitality

Holidays and houseguests! They go together like love and marriage, don’t they? But what if you don’t have much room for extras? Our three-bedroom farmhouse worked fine for our family of five boys, thanks to bunk beds. When guests came, the boys willingly (for the most part) took to the couches, recliners, and floor.

But now that our sons are bringing home wives and children, our house is bursting at the seams when everyone visits. And no one wants to stay at a motel—they would miss out on swapping stories about childhood pranks and challenging each other to board games late into the evening.

Last summer when we hosted fourteen overnighters and uncounted day guests for four days, I jotted down some tips that worked for us. See if you can find a fresh idea or two for sheltering your guests with ease.

Sleeping Arrangements

     •   Evaluate your options. If your sleepers outnumber your beds, get creative. For adults, we have successfully used air beds (the modern ones are surprisingly comfortable), couches, recliners, a tent, a camper trailer, and the back of a station wagon padded with lawn chair cushions. For young children we’ve faced two living room chairs together to improvise sleeping space. Once we padded a dresser drawer with blankets for a tiny baby, setting it on the floor next to his parents. We’ve used borrowed cribs and playpens, too.

     •   Since we have lots of houseguests, I’ve set aside large bins to store extra bedding. It is handy to store one complete set in each bin so you don’t have to dig through several bins to get sheets, blankets, and pillows. Some rooms have dressers or closet shelves to store bedding.

     •   If your temporary beds, such as couches, will have other daytime purposes, decide where the bedding will be stored during the day. Likewise, think through where guests whose bedrooms vanish at dawn can keep their luggage.

     •   Select a place for guests to place coats, cameras, and other items they will use during the day. A cell phone charging area is essential with a dozen wired adults in the house.

     •   Think about what you can provide for your guests’ comfort: perhaps an extra blanket or pillow, a reading light and selection of books and magazines, a coaster for a bedside glass of water, an alarm clock, a night-light, or a flashlight.


Lots of people sharing the same bathroom? Here are some ideas:

     •   Place a set of bath linens on each person’s bed; let them know where to hang their wet towels after use. When folded in thirds lengthwise, we can fit three bath towels on each towel bar. We supplement towel rod space with a plastic hanger (doesn’t rust) to hang on a bathroom or bedroom door hook.

     •   Set a pad of sticky notes and a pencil on the bathroom counter. Each guest posts his name on the wall above his towel. This really helps if all of your towels are the same color.

     •   Check each bathroom at least twice daily. If you have lots of ladies in the house, expect the toilet paper to vanish at an astonishing rate.

     •   Keep a stash of new toothbrushes, toothpaste, feminine supplies, shampoo, over-the-counter pain medications, etc., in case someone has forgotten an item.

Food For a Crowd

No room around the table for your crowd? Here are some hints that work even in a small house.

     •   Consider folding card tables or TV trays. Borrow or invest in some folding chairs. Pull out large floor pillows for teens and tweens. Drag in the benches from your picnic table or your lawn chairs.

     •   Serve al fresco. Outdoor meals work great if the weather cooperates.

     •   Serve in shifts; everyone doesn’t have to eat at the same time.

     •   Select menus that can be prepared in advance so you can enjoy your company, too.

     •   Try lap meals. If you’re using disposable plates, be sure they’re sturdy. Any food that doesn’t require cutting with a knife can qualify. Some favorites:

     •   A baked potato bar with topping options such as taco meat, pizza sauce, pepperoni slices, cheese sauce, steamed broccoli, bacon, sour cream, or butter.

     •   A salad buffet with fruit, veggie, and pasta salads. Serve with crusty bread. Offer grilled chicken strips or taco meat with chili beans to beef up the meal for the carnivores on your guest list.

     •   Try African Chop, an old missionary recipe that is great for using up leftovers; prepare the meat in advance and let your guests help with the chopping or even bring part of the meal. See below to request the recipe.

     •   Serve the meal buffet-style from the kitchen counter so you won’t need duplicate serving dishes on every table. Plan meals that you can prepare ahead of time so your kitchen isn’t cluttered with pots and pans. Set the table(s) and ask guests to select a seat; following the blessing, they can select food and beverages from the buffet line without juggling silverware and napkins.

Involve Your Children

“Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (Phil. 2:4) As you serve your guests, teach your children to joyfully join you.

     •   Have your children accompany you to the door when your guests arrive. Teach them to look into the guests’ eyes, smile, and offer a handshake or a hug. Guests are especially pleased when older children and teens stay to visit instead of vanishing into their rooms.

     •   Help your children practice introducing people. Teach them to say the name of the more honored person first: older to younger, female to male. For example: “Mr. Johnson, I would like you to meet my brother, Samuel. Samuel, this is Mr. Johnson, our new neighbor.”

     •   Children can help freshen the guest room, set out towels, and do some advance food preparation. Help them think of conversation starters keyed to the interests of the guests. Ask them to get out toys and games appropriate for young guests who will be coming.

     •   Children often enjoy selecting table decorations to match the menu of a meal. Put them to work and watch their creativity blossom. Napkin rings add to the fun and needn’t be expensive; at different times we have tied raffia, thick yarn, twine, and curling ribbon around cloth napkins for a festive look.

Feel like there’s no room at the inn? Think again. Hospitality is more a matter of the size of your heart than the size of your home. Ask God to enlarge your heart to receive all of those He wants to bless through your hospitality. It’s a prayer He loves to honor. 

©2008 by Marcia K. Washburn, homeschooling mother of five sons. For information about workshops, articles, or books, please contact her at

This article was published in the Nov/Dec ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Get more great homeschooling help by downloading our FREE report entitled “The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom” by visiting