When You’re A Guest, Leave It Better Than You Found It

We’ve all encountered the guest who knocks something over and pretends like he didn’t see it. Or the overnight guest who leaves her wet towels in a heap in the corner of the bathroom.

When you are traveling, and you are a guest in someone’s home, there is no specific manual with a list of bullet points to follow on how to be a good house guest. And there is no rule on how to be a good host. However, no matter what your relationship is with whomever you are visiting, near or far, you will leave a lasting impression on your hosts with every step of your behavior, and most notably how you treat someone’s space while you are there.

I’d like to believe that most hosts  prepare their home even just a little when they know they have guests coming to stay, whether it’s for a few hours or many days. When arriving at a host’s house and it looks clean, it’s easy to forget how much work it took to get it to all look so effortless for your arrival and enjoyment. Remember: it took a whole lot of work and love to get it that way, probably several hours and many, many dollars.

In terms of how a guest should conduct ones self in the space being allotted to place things, to sleep, to shower and dine, I have, over the years, whittled down the non-existent, formal, bulleted list to one key point that’s also an old adage:

leave it better than you found it

I take this life lesson’s meaning in a couple of ways:

1) If you must use/move/do to something that is not yours, make sure you return whatever it is to its original state, at the very least, or even better than it was originally to show your respect for the item that wasn’t yours.


2) If the thing you are contemplating using/moving/doing will require you to then have to leave it better than you found it, then maybe the best course of action is not to use/move/do anything in the first place.

A Personal Account

Some family came to visit my home, which I share with my parents. Since the family visiting consisted of two parents and a toddler, I gave up my large bedroom for them because a) I felt it was the courteous thing to do and b) I figured they would appreciate the extra space. I wiped down everything, put unsafe things away from the child’s reach, switched out the bedding, put coasters on my desk, and placed runners on top of my dressers, desk and nightstand. All of this was in an effort to make things comfortable for them and so I wouldn’t have to say common sense things like, “Please don’t put drinks directly on my furniture… again.” These visual cues would surely do the talking for me, right?

One day they left to visit other family for a few hours. While they were gone, my father said I should open the door to their bedroom so more heat could flow into that room for their comfort.



I stood shocked upon opening the door. There were dirty diapers hanging out of the filled-to-capacity trash can. The runner I had purposefully covered the nightstand with was violently shoved back to the wall; in its stead were the wife’s used earplugs sitting flush on the bare nightstand. My dresser had been visibly moved away from the wall. A large mirror that normally leaned against the wall on top of my dresser had been moved across the room, and was now lying flat on my desk. And the pièce de résistance… a painting that has been mounted on my wall for at least 15 years had been taken down. It was replaced with a video camera to monitor the
baby. Because of the height of where the camera was, I knew this meant someone had to stand on the dresser in order to mount the camera. The wife had asked me if she could use the blow dryer that was clearly made available for any and all guests in the bathroom, but logic told her that climbing on furniture to remove a painting required no such similar permission.

When they left our home to return to their own home and I went to change my bedding, I was given the lingering gift of a used earplug. I swear I threw it out, but it somehow wound up in my washing machine.

Overflowing trash

Overflowing trash

In prior visits, these guests have left behind breast milk stains on my dressers, nightstand, and computer, as well as breast milk inside one of our daily use drinking glasses that was left sitting on my father’s desk in his office. They’ve spilled coffee on both the dining room carpet and my bedroom carpet years ago, both of which still shine bright today. Plates are left with food on them on the dining room table. When the air conditioning blew too cold near them in the summer, vents were closed, leaving my father to worry about a possible mechanical issue. And when the air temperature in their bedroom was too cold in the winter, the thermostat was jacked up to as high as 76 degrees in order to warm up one room in a large house, leaving my father to jump up out of his sleep in a sweat. And my favorite has to be the overflowing trash can in the bathroom, where our guests were clearly trying to make a basket from the other side of the house.

All that said…

leave it better than you found it

When you travel to stay at someone else’s home, your manners and etiquette do matter – they do affect people. They affect the people who have to clean up in your wake, it creates hostile feelings when a mess is left behind, it leaves behind a feeling of hurt that your hosts weren’t respected. And it forces a writer to write an entire story about it.

Most importantly, make sure that you feel proud of the positive impression you make on others while visiting their home. Make sure that you’re proud of yourself and that you respect yourself for the behavior you put forth towards anyone you encounter in this lifetime, but especially if you’re a guest in their home.

Categories: Advice, Memoirs | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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