How to be a good host (in a tiny apartment)

A small apartment feels significantly smaller when there’s an extra person taking up space.

And yet, when you finally have a place all your own—a place that’s yours to decorate, and I’m talking grown-up, the-art-on-the-walls-is-actually-framed place—you want to invite the people you love into that home, no matter how small it might be. Still, it can be a challenge.

Last week, my randomly-paired-college-roommate-turned-best-friend Justine came to visit all the way from New York. My and John’s apartment is just big enough for two people (and a dog, ideally) to live comfortably, but with three people, it becomes a little tight. Luckily I had months to impatiently await and meticulously prepare for Justine’s arrival, and I learned a few key things.

how to be a good host in a tiny apartment

To be a good host in a tiny apartment…

Start with the bed. Whether your guest is staying a night or a week, they’re likely going to be exhausted, yet sleeping in an unfamiliar place can lend itself to crappy rest. If your parents or any older relatives or friends are coming to stay and you don’t have a spare private bedroom, offer them your bed with fresh sheets and take the couch. For other guests, make sure you have all the bedding essentials (don’t forget a pillow) and try to create some privacy. We have a $50 air mattress that we use while camping that Justine slept on, and every morning after she got up, she folded up her blankets and put them off to the side, and we leaned the mattress up against the back wall where it would be out of the way. That way, our living room didn’t feel like a bedroom the rest of the day.

Designate spaces for the basics. Outlets and closet space can be hard to come by in a small apartment, but make the effort to free up an outlet near where your guest will be sleeping so they don’t accidentally unplug your only light source or TV to charge their phone. If they’re staying for several nights, go the extra mile and make a few closet hangers available for them to use. When Justine was here, I also let her borrow my (clean) robe so she could go back and forth between the tiny bathroom and her suitcase comfortably. I let her change in the bedroom, too, so she didn’t have to get dressed in the small, steamy bathroom post-shower.

Show them how they can help (and how to help themselves). Dishwashers don’t come standard in most apartments in L.A., so we wash everything by hand here. After showing your guest where all the food, utensils and coffee are, encourage them to wash up afterward and show where clean dishes can dry. If they’re good houseguests, they’ll be happy to help out, and your apartment won’t suffer from piled-up clutter.

Help them spend as much time out of the apartment as possible. Even though they might be here to see you, it doesn’t mean your guest wants to spend their whole visit at your place. (We’re talking tiny apartments, not hillside villas.) Get a sense of the kinds of things they’d like to do before they arrive, and whether they’re exploring off on their own or you’re playing tour guide, have a loose itinerary planned. Think of your apartment as their crash pad to cater to their basic needs, not the main attraction.

And just some good hosting etiquette in general:

Stock up on snacks and toilet paper. Show your guest where they are and they won’t have to ask your permission to eat (or, y’know, wipe themselves).

Give them your Wifi password. Why make them use up their data plan unnecessarily? Their phone will likely feel like even more of a lifeline when they’re traveling away from home, so help them use it for free.

Recommend local publications/guides/resources beforehand. Whether they want to scope out the nightlife or learn something about your town, your favorite go-to sites will probably be helpful to them, too. For the best Los Angeles-centric lists (of rooftop bars, places to eat brunch, hikes to check out), I recommend LAist.

Give them options. While I had a loose itinerary planned when Justine came to visit, I also made it flexible enough to accommodate different moods. Mexican or Italian food? Fancy drinks out or a casual happy hour around the block? If they’re relying on you for getting around and seeing the sights, giving them the power to decide in the moment what they’d rather do makes them feel like they’re not completely at your mercy.

Finally, cook for them or treat them to a meal out. No one knows exactly what to expect the first night they’re staying in someone else’s home. Treating them to dinner is your way of welcoming them and showing that you value their company. Even if you have a tiny apartment, it’s a nice gesture to give them a home-cooked meal. (John made pizza one night and Justine politely offered to help. I told her, “It’s too tiny for you to be any help” and refilled her wine glass.) A night out—your treat—is also a perfect way to welcome them and show them your town. They’ll remember your generosity when they’re cleaning up after themselves at home.

Have you ever played host in a tiny apartment? How did you make your guests feel comfortable? Or, if you’ve been a guest in someone else’s home, what gestures have you most appreciated from your hosts?


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  1. Very helpful! I’m hosting my fiancé’s family (5 more people!) in our little apartment in a few weeks and these tips will come in handy! Thank you!


    • Cassie Paton says:

      Wow, go you! So glad this could help. I’m sure you’ll have a few tips of you own on hosting a whole family after that visit. Good luck! 🙂

  2. These are some really great tips, Cassie!

    Tacking onto your point in regard to spending time outside of the apartment, my experience of hosting people in my small NYC apartment has shown that hammering out expectations in regard to whether your guest is going to be exploring your city independently or whether they expect you to be their guide before your guest arrives makes for a much smoother visit. I’ve had a couple of visits from friends go very poorly because I was under the impression that they were asking for a place to crash and then would spending their visit exploring independently while occasionally making plans to do things out together, and they had expectation had been that I was going to spend their entire visit being a tour guide, either be planning all of the visit’s outings or accompanying them everywhere they wanted to go. A little communication up front can go a long way for a visit that makes everyone happy.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Yeah, that point can really not be over-emphasized. I was lucky that my schedule allowed for a few non-stop days of playing tour guide, but that’s often not the case for most people, and anyone visiting shouldn’t assume that unless it’s explicitly been said. That’s a lot to expect from someone!

  3. I live in a studio so this was wonderful! I so badly want to be a host and good one, even in my small space!

  4. Great ideas to keep in mind! I don’t plan on having too many guests in my dorm room this year (talk about cramped!) but when I do get an apartment I’ll be sure to follow this advice! I think it’s smart to inform them about local attractions and try to spend most of the time outside of the apartment. That way, they’ll feel like they’re coming back to a homely haven after a long day out 🙂
    ~ Samantha

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Haha Justine and I managed to have a handful of guests crash in our dorm back in the day thanks to a perfectly sized futon that we squeezed between the foot of her bed and my desk. I would not be psyched about that sleeping arrangement now, but for what those times were, it worked out.

      And yeah, at the end of a long day out, it’s nice to relax and have a drink at the crash pad!

  5. These are all good tips whether you’re in a tiny space or a larger space. It’s always important to respect one another’s space and privacy. Hope Justine had a great time and have a great one Cassie! -Iva

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Very true, the same applies as the square footage increases! According to Justine, I was a good host, so I am pleased. We had a great time!

  6. I this. I recently hosted my grandma and parents in my small-ish apartment so the living room got tight. I only realized last night after a friend pointed it out that I’m a terrible person for not offering my grandma my bed. Yes, I’m *that* granddaughter. But we still had a great time exploring ATX.

    I will definitely keep these in mind next time I have visitors! (you?)

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Awww haha NOT a terrible person. Good to remember for next time, but sounds like they were just fine with the sleeping arrangement. Glad you had fun! And I would LOVE to visit Austin (and you!). Still have never been but hope to one day fix that. 🙂

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