Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Cousin's Extra Houseguests Cause Imposition

DEAR HARRIETTE: My cousin called to say she was coming to town for the weekend and asked if she could stay with me. I live in the Big Apple, so I understand that it is expensive to stay here. Plus, she's my cousin. So I agreed, even though it was short notice.

What happened was ridiculous. My cousin came to town with three of her friends. She hadn't mentioned bringing people. They went out for most of the day, and then all three of them came and crashed at my place. I live in a studio apartment. I was taken aback by her behavior. I feel like she totally abused the privilege of staying at my place. What should I say to her? -- Outdone, New York City

DEAR OUTDONE: By all means, contact your cousin and tell you want to talk to her. Ask her how she enjoyed her stay when she came to visit. Tell her that you were very surprised that she came to your home with friends in tow and had them all spend the night. Explain that had she asked you if this was OK, you would have been reluctant to agree to four houseguests. Point out that she did not ever tell you that she was coming with others. Be clear that you believe she took advantage of your generosity by bringing her friends without clearing it with you.

I will add that because you live in New York City, this could happen again with other friends or family. What you should do in the future is to be crystal clear about your boundaries and stick to them. When you don't mind a big sleepover, go for it. When it is an imposition, draw the line.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My mother is coming to visit me, and my house is a wreck. I have been working seven days a week for months now, and I have done very little cleaning. I know my mother is going to be disappointed in me. I have about a week to get it together, but that's not enough time. What can I do to save face? -- Dirty, Memphis, Tenn.

DEAR DIRTY: Map out the days between now and when your mother will arrive. Clean the common areas first. Start with the bathroom and the kitchen. Be thorough in cleaning these areas. Throw away absolutely everything that you do not need. If you have a storage area in your house, use that as a location to put all of the items that you can stash away to clear space. Feel comfortable locking that door or making it clear to your mother that certain areas are off-limits.

If you can afford it, hire a housekeeper to come and assist you in your cleaning duties. If not, enlist the support of any friends you may have who would be willing to help you to make your home tidy.