(RealSimple.com) -- Think-ahead ideas and systems that can make your houseguests' visit enjoyable.
Guest room alternatives
Problem: You don't have a spare bedroom.
Solution: You can invest in an inflatable air mattress, but most air beds are still made of vinyl, which can be punctured by a stray safety pin or a cat's claw. Look for models with thicker padded tops like the AeroBed Premier Pillowtop or cover the bed with a mattress pad to provide a protective layer of cushioning.
A simpler solution? A feather bed like the Pacific Coast CuddleSoft Feather Bed.
"It can be rolled up tight for easy storage, and the extra layer of cushioning makes the couch -- or the floor -- that much more comfortable," says Meryl Starr, author of "The Home Organizing Workbook: Clearing Your Clutter, Step by Step."
Finally, instead of tossing out an old mattress, consider storing it under your bed (if space allows) so you can just slide it out when guests arrive.
Tip: Look for zippered allergen-proof pillow-cases. "They reduce exposure to dust mites, which are one of the most common allergens," says James Seltzer, an allergist in Oceanside, California.
Mini-toiletries for guest use
Problem: You'd rather not share everything -- that is, your soap, toothpaste, towels, and, yes, your pricey salon shampoo.
Solution: A new bar of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, a toothbrush, a razor, and body lotion should cover anyone's basic needs. The next time you're staying at a hotel or a resort, remember to take away the small toiletry bottles. The sample sizes are perfect for weekend guests, and visitors won't wonder where that soap has been.
Or stock up on travel-size toiletries on your next trip to the drugstore or at Minimus.biz, a Web site devoted to mini products, including toiletries. To keep track of towels and washcloths, provide a different color for each guest so everyone can always identify his own.
When the guests drive away, wash and store the towels (along with sheets, a light cotton blanket, and a heavier comforter for cold nights) until the next visitors arrive.
Closet space for guests
Problem: You don't have enough closet space
Solution: While most out-of-towners expect to be living out of a suitcase, guests will feel more at home if they can unpack the essentials. Also, providing them with a place to unpack means they'll be less likely to drape clothes all over the spare bedroom or living room.
A clothes butler provides an extra three feet of hanging space and folds up neatly for easy storage. You can also use it to hang damp clothes in the laundry room or as a makeshift coat rack the next time you host a party.
A suitcase stand makes the case more accessible than it would be on the floor, so guests will be more likely to keep their stuff in order.
If you have a spare bedroom, store linens, towels, and other items reserved for guests in one or two dresser drawers. When you make the bed for guests and set out the towels, you'll immediately have two empty drawers for their clothing.
Guest entertainment ideas
Problem: You want to entertain your guests, but you don't have time. (That, or you just can't handle the local marina's "Sharks!" attraction one more time.)
Solution: Point them in the right direction. First, provide street, bus, and subway maps so they'll know how to get around. For activity ideas, start with the entertainment or About Town section of the local paper, says Stacy DeBroff, coauthor of "Mom Central: The Ultimate Family Organizer." Guests can check out play, movie, or concert listings, as well as those for other local events.
Also, offer guests local magazines for inspiration, plus other magazines and books, so they'll have something to flip through before bedtime. With paperbacks you finished years ago, write "Please take me home" on them, says DeBroff. "Guests start reading and may want to finish them."
Provide houseguests with emergency-contact information and general phone numbers, as well as any other essential details about the house and the neighborhood in case you're not there to explain that the hot water runs out after -- yikes! -- 20 minutes. E-mail to a friend
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