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?