4 ways to organize guests

How to make cottage visits easier for everyone

By Corinna vanGerwenCorinna vanGerwen



Where but at the cottage do we so often have friends and family visit overnight? It’s a forced familiarity, beyond just hosting people for dinner. You see everyone in pyjamas, without makeup! To make guests more comfortable, plan ahead with these simple organizing tips. The payoff: Self-reliant guests equal a more relaxing weekend for you too.

Make things easier on yourself

Hosting can be taxing at times—you love your guests, but you don’t want to be their maid, mother, or 24-7 camp director. These tricks will help visitors be less reliant on you.

  • Instead of buying towels all in one colour, select sets in a variety of hues. With towels colour-coded for each person, it will be easier to keep them straight.
  • Store extra blankets in each bedroom, instead of keeping them in a central linen closet. Guests can then grab what they need whenever they get cold, without having to ask.
  • Outfit a cupboard with amusements for all ages, from toddler to teen to adult. In addition to cards and board games, include dress-up clothing, arts and crafts supplies, books, comics, and DVDs (if you have a television) to keep everyone occupied when it’s raining.

Stocking up

  • Guests rarely pack rainwear, so a hoard of inexpensive slickers and boots in several sizes means everyone stays dry. Buy some basic yellow rain jackets for about $13 to $30 each, or pick up plastic ponchos from the dollar store. You’ll find classic gumboots for as little as $15 a pair.
  • Stowed by the main door, extra sun hats, sunscreen, and beach towels are easy for bathing beauties to grab on their way to the dock. This is also a good spot to keep bug spray.
  • Who says no to a helping hand? Keep a selection of work gloves for generous guests who offer to pitch in on chores such as painting, chopping wood, or rebuilding the privy.
  • Put together a basket of toiletries for those who forget their own. Include toothpaste and new toothbrushes, a variety of feminine products (hidden in a decorative box if you’re the modest type), and antihistamines (for allergies and insect bites). If you collect hotel shampoos, this is a good way to use them, and the bottles can be refilled. Place the basket in a visible spot in the bathroom.

Where do I find…

There’s always a bit of awkwardness that comes with staying at someone else’s place — even the simplest actions raise questions. Can I take a shower? Should I have it in the morning or afternoon? Where do the plates go? Am I allowed to take the canoe out? You can put your guests at ease by showing them where things are, but why not go a step further?

  • You may detail all the cottage “rules” during the tour, but people tend to forget, so post a list of the important ones in an easy-to-spot place.
  • Draw and make copies of a personalized map to hand out to guests as needed. Include the surrounding area, marking the location of the nearest corner store, liquor and beer stores, movie rental place, marina, and gas station. When someone has a hankering for a chocolate bar or offers to fill up the boat, your map will be ready to go.
  • Avoid stubbed toes during midnight bathroom visits by having a nightlight in the hallway or personal flashlights on each bedside table.

The grand tour

Sure, you show visitors around after they arrive, but do you really give them a thorough tour of your cottage and the property? Beyond letting guests know where their bedrooms and the bathrooms are, also open cupboards and show them where things such as dishes, extra towels, fishing rods, and PFDs are kept. Point out light switches, tricky latches and taps, and patches of poison ivy. Also outline any rules, such as no soaping up in the lake. You may want to suggest shower times (staggered so you don’t run out of hot water) and mention when you’ll be up in the morning, plus what the breakfast plans are (cereal and bagels on everyone’s own schedule, or a pancake feast with the crew?). And don’t forget to talk boat safety, teach guests how to work the coffee machine, and demonstrate good jiggling technique on the toilet handle.

This article was originally published on April 6, 2010


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May. 29, 2011

10:19 pm

Barb, I can't recall from whom we purchased our composting toilet in 2003. But I really love it, compared to the alternatives. (Prior to getting it, we had an old outhouse. At our cottage, any septic tank would have to be above ground, and then the toilet would be one more plumbing concern, over the all-too-cold winters.) ****We have the fully non-electric, waterless model, although there are several kinds of composting toilet. I believe ours was around $1,200. The toilet is installed with a vent which goes outside. Inside the plastic housing, there's a drum which holds the composting material (sold separately). (I suspect it is very much like the Lee Valley compost drum.) There is an opening in the drum, with a hinged door that self-closes when the drum is turned in the direction to mix the compost material, but remains open in the opposite direction, for dropping a small amount into "the finisher." ****Periodically, you turn the handle on the front of the unit, to turn the drum and mix the composting material, but it's not necessary to do so after very use. One turn in the opposite direction drops some of the material into "the finisher," where it dries further, and can later be removed and used as fertilizer. ****Because of the design and venting, it really doesn't smell at all, in the space where the toilet is. True, if you look into the drum, you'll see compost material and maybe some bathroom tissue. When you have a bowel movement, the manufacturer instructs the user to deposit about a cup of composting material into the drum (presumably to cover it. I try to aim, if you catch my drift. You can always give the drum a spin, too.). I keep some 1-cup size tupperware dishes pre-filled with compost material, under the sink next to the toilet. I also keep a bag of It near the toilet, with a small scoop. ****Sometimes, when turning the drum, there can be an odour coming from the exterior vent, for a short time. Knowing what is in the finisher, removing that and disposing of it isn't for the less-than-mature. But it is dry and essentially odour-free, so not too bad at all. ...Nowhere-near as bad as changing a poopy diaper. ****Overall, I'd say composting toilets aren't for the squeamish, but I was extremely, pleasantly surprised by how clean and odour-free they actually are. If there is a practical concern for the NE model, it might be the size. It's approx. a metre cubed, in size, and comes with a small step, given the height of the seat. (We keep meaning to build a larger, removable step, so less-mobile users will feel more secure. But because the finishing tray comes out the front, it has to be a removable step.) ****As I mentioned, there can be a bit of a learning curve for new users, in terms of what is and isn't appropriate. Also, last year, we discovered (too late) that, despite all the clear directions about no one (but my husband and I) using the handle to turn the drum, one of my sister's boys had been repeatedly turning the drum IN THE WRONG DIRECTION. That left us with the joy of cleaning out mounds of overflowing compost material from under the toilet, as the finisher quickly filled and overflowed because of his antics. (Myself, I only do one turn, then remove the dried material on our next visit...usually two weeks or so later.) ****So far, the unit has been completely problem-free, and is a welcomed solution to our remote, island cottage's bathroom needs. We do have a couple of friends who, given our openess about the composting toilet, have yet to visit our cottage. They don't care for insects, either, so....they may never visit... ;-)


May. 28, 2011

11:29 pm

Jody! I would love to know how you like your composting toilet! I have "admired" them in the cottage life magazine & would love to add one to our loft in the garage for guests.....just wasn't sure how it all worked ......and would love to hear from someone who has one. (any little tips you can give me would be appreciated!) Thanks!


May. 26, 2011

8:22 pm

All great tips! I rarely have guests, but am fully stocked, including extra toiletries (incl. little toothpastes, toothbrushes, shaving and sewing kits, antiperspirant, etc.), as well as a basket filled with new pairs of slippers, hats, loads of linens, and on and on. We have a composting toilet (which I adore!), so I made a little 'how to' list for those who are new to the concept, framed it, and posted it at eye level on the wall next to the toilet (so everyone is sure to read it). Still, despite all the warnings about only disposing of human waste and bathroom tissue in the toilet, I find inappropriate things in the drying bin (into which some of the composting material is periodically dropped, so it can fully dry and be used as fertilizer). It's no fun picking out garbage from there. I sometimes think the only way some people will learn is if they're charged with toilet maintenance for a season. Alas, it is likely entirely guests who do this, and not family members (who should know better). But yuck! ...Seriously!

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Corinna vanGerwen