How to carve out some guest-free time this summer


Sharing time at the cottage with friends and family is probably a big part of the reason you got a cottage in the first place. After all, taking your grandkids to the pond down the road to look at frogs, sitting down with your sister on the deck with a glass of wine and really talking, or playing cribbage until three in the morning with your best friends are all fantastic parts of the whole cottage experience.

But having guests all the time can be tiring. No matter how fantastic the guests are, no matter how many dinners they cook, beds they make, or kitchens they sweep, it’s still draining to be a host. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of a whole summer spent entertaining other people, here are a few hints for carving out some guest-free time at the cottage this year.

Don’t feel guilty

No, really. This is the most important step to creating some guest-free space in your summer. Owning a cottage is a big choice, and chances are, you’ve had to sacrifice to make that dream happen—so it’s not unreasonable to want to relax and enjoy it. If other people in your life don’t have cottages, well, that’s their choice, too. You don’t owe them endless hospitality simply because you made different choices. An invitation to a cottage should be treated as a lovely gift, not an expectation.

Don’t extend the invitation

This sounds so obvious, but it’s remarkably hard to do. Once people know you have a cottage, even the most casual “We should get together sometime” suddenly turns into a week-long invitation to the lake. But in the words of the immortal Dr. Phil, no one can take advantage of you without your permission. If you have guests, it’s probably because you invited them—even if it was against your better intentions. So just don’t. There’s nothing wrong with changing the subject if you feel that someone is angling for an invitation.

Be honest

If you’re having a tough time saying no to guests, practice saying this: “We’ve decided to take some time out at the cottage just for us. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to reconnect as a family. I’m sure you understand.” That’s it. You don’t need to justify or make excuses. Your cottage is your escape, and it’s OK to ask that people respect that.

Put limits on visits

When you do invite people to the cottage, make sure the invitation is specific: “We’ll be so happy to have you at the cottage from Friday evening until Sunday! We’re looking forward to letting you in on our secret to always catching fish.” That’s all there is to it. Don’t issue open-ended invitations unless you want permanent guests. You may also think about setting limits on who you’ll invite—for example, you can let those you think might be waiting for an invitation that you’re only hosting family this year. Again, be honest and open—it may be an uncomfortable conversation in the moment, but it’s better in the long run if you’re clear up-front.

Have a way to discourage drop-in visitors

Some folks love it when people drop in—and some are a little less enthusiastic. Think about a way to alert potential drop-ins that you’re not up for guests; perhaps a flag at the entrance to your property, with a little sign explaining that if it’s up, c’mon in. If it’s down, you’re not available. And avoid saying things like, “If you’re in the area, drop in anytime!” Because, you know, people will. Again, honesty is key.

Block time on your calendar for guest-free periods

Literally write yourself into your own calendar. That allows you to truthfully say, “I’m so sorry, but next weekend is all booked up” without having to explain any further. It’s also a good reminder in case you’re tempted to extend a spontaneous invitation.

Set early boundaries with your neighbours

Cottage neighbours can be a vital part of life at the lake—drinks on the dock, someone to watch over your place when you’re gone, and trading use of a chainsaw for a spin in the paddle boat are all standbys of the cottaging lifestyle. But boundaries need to be set early, or neighbours can end up uncomfortably comfortable. Avoid “open-door” policies with equipment or visits, and make sure you model the type of behaviour you’d like to receive from them.