Dear Linda: My In-Laws Are Coming. Help!

Interior designer Linda Merrill answers your decor questions in this brand new monthly column.

Posted by Linda Merrill | Feb 13, 2012
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Maybe your guest room doesn't look like this (yet). It's just inspiration. [Photo via Howdy, I'm H. Michael Karshis/Flickr]

Dear Linda, my in-laws are coming for a visit and I'm afraid they'll complain about our house. What can I do to spruce it up?

In truth, I don’t have in-laws so I have not had to face this challenge personally. But I do understand that ones in-laws are more than your average house guests and the fear of being judged can be a nerve wracking thing.  Judgment may come from two different directions. 1) That you’re not living up to the standards the in-laws think you should be (you don’t earn enough), or 2) You are living above the standard that your in-laws consider appropriate (you spend too much).

In reality, the majority of in-laws just want to spend time with their kids and their grandkids and don’t expect a whole lot of hoopla. You don't need to call a remodeling contractor. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s okay to do nothing. I always took the overnight stays of my parents to be opportunities to give the house a good cleaning. I wasn’t preparing for the classic “white glove test” or anything, but I wanted to make my house look like me at my best. And that’s really task number one; a good cleaning followed up by organizing all the stuff you may have had to move aside to clean under.  This may be the time you decide to purchase a new slipcover for the ratty old sofa, or perhaps add some festive throw pillows for a pop of color. Take the opportunity to do the little things that you’ve been meaning to do but keep putting off.

Unless you have a lovely guest bedroom all done up and at the ready, the question of where the in-laws will sleep is always a big one.  Personally, I believe that if there isn’t a private space with an available full size bed, or sleep sofa, that sleeps two, then it’s appropriate and kind to give up your own bedroom for your parents. As a young child, my parents bought me a lovely bedroom set with full size bed. Since I didn’t have to share a room like my two brothers, I was the one who moved out when visitors came to stay. I got the benefit of a nice bedroom (I’m still using that bedroom set many years later) all year long so the handful of nights I had to sleep on a cot in my parents' room was a small price to pay. So, task number two is defining a reasonably private space with a sufficiently comfortable bed.  Of course, fresh sheets, season-appropriate blankets and pillows are a must. It’s also nice to provide an alarm clock, drinking water and a side table with a reading light. 

Task number three: Always make sure that the bathroom is clean and there are plenty of visible towels, toiletries and toilet paper. If there isn’t sufficient space to leave out these items, make sure you point out where they are stored. If you are sharing the bathroom, it’s nice to move as many of your personal items out to leave room for everyone. No one but the most nosy in-law wants to hunt through your bathroom cabinets for towels or toilet paper and nothing will make them feel less welcome if they are made to do it on their own.

When it comes to meals and dinners, we obviously know our own parents. We usually know what they like and what they don’t. Task number four is to have on hand any special treats that the in-laws may like as well as coffee, tea or juices they prefer. Most of us have our routines in the morning. As a big coffee drinker, I’d be bummed if I was surprised to find there was no coffee and cream to be had in the house, especially if it’s something my hosts know I like. If you don’t drink coffee in the morning, but you know Dad does, then have it on hand, or plan on running out first thing to your local coffee shop to buy it ready made.

Be prepared to turn up the heat more than you usually do, especially for older parents. You might like to conserve energy, and for instance you might be able to tolerate St. Paul winters with minimal use of your heating system, but as we age, we simply get colder that we did when we were young. My mother, who is in her 80’s, routinely sets her heat at 74 while I prefer 66-68. I’ve simply learned to wear layers and put up with it. If your place tends to be drafty and you know the one or both of your visitors might get cold, keep some extra blankets on hand.

These are the basics of being a good host, whether you live in a mansion or a tiny walk-up apartment.   It’s about making your parents, or in laws, feel comfortable and as at-home as possible. Don’t feel the need to turn things upside down or pretend you’re someone you’re not. Just provide a clean, comfortable experience, and let the family memories begin. Good luck!

Linda Merrill

Do you have a decor question for Linda? Email your question to editor at networx dot com.

Linda Merrill is a Networx writer. Get home & garden ideas like this - - on Networx.

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