The #1 Item You Need for House Guests

Caroline and I were chatting the other day about having guests visit during the summer, and after we covered the basics—clean sheets, the Sunday paper, extra eggs—we suddenly realized there’s one MAJOR thing you need when hosting out-of-towners…

A plunger. I know it sounds random (and kind of gross) but CAN YOU IMAGINE BEING AT SOMEONE’S HOUSE AND NEEDING ONE AND HAVING TO ASK. Horrifying. So there you go. Number one item needed.

Are you having any house guests this summer? How do you prepare for them? I’d love to hear your tips…

P.S. Crowd-pleasing breakfast, and three tips for having houseguests.

(Top photo from Homelife, photograph by Armelle Habib, styling by Julia Green. Plunger photo from here)

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  2. Catarina Batista says...

    Yes, I always keep one OMG !! But never thought it was a necessary thing. This certainly puts things into perspective !!

  3. Audrey says...

    OMG I just came across this post and this JUST happened to me last month. I was staying at a friends parents house (never met them before) and they were so lovely to host us. My husband clogged the toilet in the middle of the night and it started to overflow. So very embarrassing and there wasn’t a plunger in sight… this is great advice :)

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  6. Kim says...

    This is so true. I entertain a lot and have occasionally had guests have to ask for a plunger and everyone is uncomfortable. I have started keeping one in the powder room to avoid this. Target actually sells a stylish gray and white number.

  7. Sasha says...

    My husband and I are empty nesters, and for the first time, this week, have a real guest room and bath. I had no idea it would be so fun to re do things and outfit the rooms for guests (who will mostly be our daughters, lol). It’s been a good distraction project for me, our house feels awfully empty all of a sudden.
    Thanks for the plunger idea, a must!

  8. Jennifer says...

    That is SO TRUE. My husband and I were crashing at a friend’s apartment on Wall Street and the first night she was away on business. I had to text her to ask where she kept the plunger. HORRIFYING! Turns out, the apartment had some plumbing issues and she had stashed it before our arrival out of embarrassment. We all got a good chuckle.

  9. lindsay says...

    On our HONEYMOON, I clogged the toilet in our hotel room. There wasn’t a plunger to be found. I almost died of mortification. Way to kill the romance, large intestine!

  10. shopgirl says...

    Ha, ha, good one!

  11. Chuck says...

    ha, yes, a plunger is so useful. I, ahem, needed one at my AirBnB place in San Diego this summer. Had to text my host, and he arranged to have the building host bring one up.

    man, so embarrasing. Lucky for me, my AirBnB host was a 20 something investment banker “dude” so we totally related under the circumstances.

  12. Such a good advice….

  13. Casey says...

    Is it okay to comment when the post is a year old? lol The plunger is certainly number one, but I also hate putting used feminine products in a bathroom waste basket that doesn’t have a liner!! I’ve always used old plastic grocery bags for the small baskets in the bathroom, but some folks never line them.

    • Kim B. says...

      How about even HAVING a wastebasket in the bathroom? My husband’s parents do not have any wastebasket in the bathroom, so I’m always having to remember to bring a trashbag IN with me! ugh.

  14. It was so entertaining to read these comments and your advice is so spot on! Here’s my plunger story: A few years ago my husband had just taken over running a major Air Force command and I was having all the director’s wives over to our house for an organizational, let’s get to know each other meeting. The night before my husband had used the toilet plunger in a downstairs bathroom and without telling me had set it out on the front porch to dry. We use a side door to enter and leave the house and normally only used the front door for guests so it wasn’t until after the meeting was over that I discovered that toilet plunger in all it’s glory, proudly greeting all my guests right by the front door! And without even a bow to dress it up! I suppose all my guests were wondering if it was a new take on outdoor decorating….

    • Sherri says...

      BWAHAHAHAHAHA… I can just see the plunger now, on the front porch of that magnificant historic home…

    • That is hilarious!! Wonder if they were thinking the gathering was going to be so deep, you needed the plunger instead of boots? ;-)
      Which reminds me this would make a great Christmas gift for someone who is full of it. ha.

  15. I just reread this blog and definitely went out and bought 2 new toilet plungers, since apparently the plunger I have is wrong (according to the comments here!). Just in time since I’m getting ready to have a slew of guests!

  16. A toilet auger works better than a plunger and is less messy. We have an old house and have learned how to unclog toilets and clear drains. However, a toilet auger is not attractive so you don’t want to leave it in the bathroom. Might be a good idea to use one before guests show up.

  17. Gross. For sure. But totally necessary. Our good friend, Chris, has one that is his personal one at our place. Since he is here so often. It’s the accordion one.


  18. Hahaha, I saw this recommeded at Tami Marie’s and she’s right, this is funny. And oh so true!

  19. Hehehe I will be sure to remember this!!

  20. Um, this happened at my house once. We had guests over who clogged the toilet but didn’t want to tell us. We found out about it because they BOUGHT A PLUNGER and smuggled it in without our knowing instead of asking us for one!!

  21. Couldn’t AGREE MORE! And nobody, I mean nobody ever has them! I was at a wedding shower at my aunt’s house whom I never see, and decided to #2 because when you gotta go, ya gotta go some times! ANYWAYS, I HAD TO ASK FOR A PLUNGER! THEEEEEN I had to plunge maybe 100 times w/ no success THEN my aunt had to go in and see my stuff floating around. The toilet must have already been clogged prior to that because I can usually unclog any of my toilet situations w/ a plunger. ANYWAYS, SO EMBARRASSING!

  22. Oh my god so true! I never would have thought of it!

  23. This happened recently when my wife’s father blocked our toilet. I gave him the plunger but that didn’t help. Eventually I had to unplug it myself. Believe me, fishing your rubber gloved hand past your father-in-law’s poop is a wonderful way to breakdown those remaining boundaries.

  24. I fell in love with my husband the night a friend of his clogged his toilet. We were newly dating, and my husband managed to remain calm, handle his flooded bathroom, and never made his friend feel more embarrassed than I’m sure he already was. I decided a man that could navigate a situation as awkward as that with such grace had to be a pretty good egg.

  25. SO true. One time my boyfriend and I were at a hotel and one of us clogged the toilet.. So awkward having to go down and ask the reception desk for a plunger! Air freshener is also important, definitely embarrassing to “go” at someone’s house and there is nothing to freshen up the bathroom after..

  26. In freshman year, I clogged my friend’s dorm room toilet. Soooo awkward telling her and asking for a plunger!!

  27. TOO TRUE. My husband and I were visiting NYC and staying at a coworker’s house who was out of town. Not a plunger to be found. I bought one in a Harlem grocery store, tried to discreetly haul it back to Brooklyn, and threw it out when we departed!

  28. My boyfriend and I took a trip to California together, where we stayed with his cousin and his wife. We’d only been dating for a couple months, so it was a very new and exciting trip. Our first night there, I went to use the restroom just as we were heading out the door. I did my business, and as I flushed, I thought, wouldn’t it be terrible if for some reason it clogged? And then it DID! I was horrified! I searched all over the bathroom and could find no plunger, but I also realized I wasn’t even sure how to use one. As I said, we’d barely been dating, and I was mortified to have to tell my boyfriend I’d clogged the toilet. I finally worked up the courage, and his response? “Oh, I should have told you, you just have to hold the handle down.” Except we’d already left…

  29. We just had a guest that clogged our toilet so bad we had to call the plumbers to snake the line. Poor thing was so embarrassed…maybe we should just have a snake with written instructions next to our toilet. Our plumbing is wretched.

  30. 1. plunger
    2. POO POURRI! Much nicer than “Just a Drop”…

  31. Oh lordy. The first time I went to visit my boyfriend’s mom in Liverpool, I was the guest who needed one and had to ask! In the end, she didn’t have one in the house at all. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life and figuring out how to fix the toilet without one was incredibly cringe-worthy.

  32. OMG, is there something wrong with toilets in NYC? I have never had to use that thing (I wouldn’t even know how), nor do I even know anyone who owns a plunger

  33. That scene from Dumb and Dumber always comes to mind…the one where Harry had a “situation” in the bathroom while visiting his lady friend’s home. I bet he wished there was a plunger in there…

  34. LOL!! Such good advice. I can’t believe I don’t have one. Yikes. I’m gonna get on that next trip to the store…

  35. I have an intestinal disorder and this just made me feel like so much less of a freak! There have been so many times I’ve been embarrassed beyond words to have to ask for something like a plunger, air freshener, ect.

  36. Oh this is too funny.
    We actually had this situation crop up with former house guests and we had to find the plunger for them….so embarrassing. Good for you to think ahead.

  37. YES! So true. We’ve had a lot of house guests since buying our home, and though I have never once needed it, several of our guests have. UGGGH… So gross.

  38. Hilarious! And totally NOT what I was expecting when I scrolled down past the cute guest bedroom photo. Lol. Awesome. And so true!

    V @ Life+1

  39. Yes, I can imagine how mortifying this would be…happened to me while meeting and staying at my boyfriend’s parents’ house for the first time.

  40. Yes.. our plunger resides in the bathroom most often used by guests. I also collect toiletries from travels and keep them in a basket in the guest bath. Making sure there is extra toilet paper.. also vital! Basically, you don’t want your guests to have to ask you about toilet/personal hygiene issues. My parents also used to have a dorm fridge in the guest room stocked with a selection of water, juice, sodas and beer. The guest could easily get themselves a drink without worry or bother to the host. If you are a guest, you can sometimes feel bad… like you are imposing on the host when you have to keep asking for things.

  41. Been in that position. SO AWKWARD!

  42. so amazingly accurate!

  43. This is so true. My boyfriend and I were visiting my parents in their new home they JUST (two days prior) moved in to. Well my boyfriend was in need of a plunger and since my parents just moved I had zero idea where one was. In the end my boyfriend got my 16 year old brother to drive to the store to buy one so we didn’t have to ask my parents. The irony was we found one in the guest bath the day we left.

  44. These comments are hilarious! I never would have thought to leave one out for guests. I wouldn’t care if someone asked me (or I asked someone for one), but I can imagine it being mortifying for some people.

  45. Here Here! And air freshener/candle. We always leave a scented candle burning in the guest bath when we have people over, even if just for dinner. We always get compliments and thanks for this. :)

  46. So true. And thanks too to Designade for the other tip, didn’t knew there were different kinds of plungers :)

  47. When we are having large groups of people over, we switch from the nice tp to the cheap kind so people don’t overly pamper their butt so we won’t need the plunger!

  48. Wow. I have never needed one in my entire life!

  49. That is a really thoughtful idea. But I won’t do that – lest they think I’ve left it out because I have recently needed it – or regularly need it. I can’t.

  50. My husband must’ve been the houseguest that inspired this LOL! He’s had to ask before, and because he’s shy and I have no shame, he sends me in his stead!

    I also always have this thing called one drop deodoriser for guests in case they’ve got to drop some kids off at the pool and don’t want to let everyone know hehe It works remarkably well, and I carry it when I travel!

  51. I have been THAT person that needed one at someone’s house I was staying at. My friend and I walked to the corner market and bought one. AND decorated it with Easter stickers..

  52. MATCHES. or air freshener. it’s the wooorst to try to sidle out of a bathroom that smells!

  53. This is hilarious! The things I always like to have in my guest room are:

    -phone charger
    -a little note with the wi-fi password (I usually just have it written out on a post-it and stuck onto the dresser, but how cute would it be to type it up nicely and put in a simple frame?)

  54. K says...

    Guests or not..Plunger is No.1 item PERIOD. It is hilarious how my father, visiting us from India, asked me if i can take him to Home Depot for some back home shopping and he buys a plunger…HE claims that after visiting many countries his conclusion is,that Americans make best plungers :P.
    It is a story that is going to be passed on for generation in our family…What did your father get from USA ..A plunger!

  55. I totally agree. OXO makes one that isn’t too terribly ugly – you can find it at Target, it has a white plastic case that hides the plunger end. I have one in all of my bathrooms.

  56. After living for a few years in a house with 1905 plumbing, I couldn’t agree more in regards to the plunger.

    Matches, however, I have a story. My brother stayed at our apartment in Vienna, Austria. We always left matches and little candles by the toilet. I would quickly light them and blow them out when guests came. Well, he was staying there alone and apparently had a bathroom issue at midnight (jet lag and all) and lit a tea light candle, went to sleep and forgot about it. The toilet tank in our apartment was plastic and caught fire, the doors are so thick that he didn’t realize the toilet room was on fire for a long time. Apparently, the toilet tank burned down and once it hit the water it burned out (luckily) but not before ruining our apartment with smoke, flames and water. I’m just glad his bedroom door was closed as he probably could have died from smoke inhalation. Dealing with a fire and smoke damage sucks. Needless to say, we don’t supply matches in the bathroom anymore. We still can’t figure out why the heck he lit a candle when he was alone in the apartment, who cares if it stinks! But to this day, he claims it was just him.

  57. This happened to me! I was at my bf’s family’s when things just wouldn’t go down! I had to walk downstairs and ask for a plunger in front of about 12 people! Talk about mortifying!! It would have been great to have one on-hand.

  58. Haha! So true! And I’m the one who tends to clog the toilet! I think someone needs to come up with a prettier plunger that can be ‘displayed’ and looks less gross.

  59. Haha, yes! As a couple others have said, I was in need of one the first time I stayed over at my in-laws’ house… so embarrassing!

  60. SO TRUE! ;)

  61. Hahah I thought it was going to be something really elegant and then its a plunger! :P

  62. SB says...

    YES. I thought I was the only person who, first thing after I move in, buys a plunger. Life necessity!

  63. YES.

    I have been known to make sure to check out the flushing situation of whatever toilet I’m using when traveling–just to scope out the situation. Does the toilet flush and nearly suck everything in the bathroom down with it? Does the toilet bowl’s contents swirl and swirl and swirl and swirl and then baaaaarely slide down the pipe at the end? I test the water, so to speak, with pee first to know what I might be up against.

    Easily accessible plungers for everyone!

  64. I bought one for each bathroom the minute I moved into our place. For us – let alone a poor guest.

    That would be the worst thing in the world to ask for.

  65. haha! this is amazing! I was totally not expecting it after the jump. how horrible would it be to need a plunger and have to ask… mortifying!

  66. Couldn’t agree more! This is our best friend’s go-to housewarming gift – because you never want to be in a situation where you don’t already have one!

  67. haha. i can attest to that. the first time my boyfriend came home with me, he was freaking out after i got in from walking my dog. apparently he needed one and couldn’t find it. we managed to get it taken care of before his secret was discovered.

  68. So true! My handsome and I were visiting friends in Jerusalem last year and after a few meals my body wasn’t used to and a minor panic attack, I needed to ask them for one. To my horror, they didn’t have one! And, the store across the street didn’t have one! After some TMI, it all ended up ok, but I was pretty horrified.

  69. This actually happened to me once and it was a TERRIBLE experience: At my ex’s parents. At a gathering they were having. I stayed for hours in the bathroom trying to figure out what to do. Can’t tell you anymore because it doesn’t end well :(

    Great post!

  70. hahahaha i was laughing when i saw this article.

    but so true. i think i feel shy to ask if they have plunger at home….LOL

  71. Oh my goodness – I just read David Sedaris’ short story called Big Boy and about peed my pants laughing. Totally relates to this post about having a plunger for guests. From his book “Me Talk Pretty One Day.”

  72. That’s very pragmatic of you. No, wouldn’t want to have to ask. Rather it be setting right there covered in dust. And no one the wiser…

  73. So timely!

    We are staying at my parents’ house this weekend while they are out of town and my dad texted me, “You might need the plunger. It’s next to the toilet in the guest bath.” Thanks, Dad!

  74. So true!!! A few years ago my husband and I were staying with two female friends in NYC… and my husband NEEDED one… and they didnt even have one! He not only had to tell our host— but we had to scour the city to find one– He was SO embarrassed. Now, it is funny– but in the moment… not so much! Ha!!

  75. An extra little tip if you are the houseguest who has a..ahem..need for air freshener, but none are around – leave the bathroom door open after you are done!
    I am trying to teach this to my young boys, it is really awful to be next into a bathroom that had the small locked in. Flush right away, leave the door open to air it out, peeps! :)

  76. This must be a problem with American toilets because I have never heard about anybody needing to use one in Sweden.

  77. Oh my gosh, so true! I would add that extra toilet paper is another necessity. So embarrassing to ask for it.

  78. This made me laugh because I did NOT see that coming. Ha! A plunger! I don’t think my family have ever had one, let alone left it nearby in case of an issue for someone else. Brilliant though. Genius.

  79. Completely agree! We keep one under our guest bathroom sink for this reason.

  80. Most definitely true! My now brother in law stayed with us for a bit when he and my sister got engaged and he clogged our toilet. Instead of telling us he tried to fix it and ended up flooding our apartment with his poopy water. He cleaned it up but I went over the whole place with bleach again after he left.

  81. LOL!! Thats not what I thought you were going to say but it makes sense!!

  82. It really is true! :)

  83. Very true! Reminds me of that scene from Along Came Polly.

  84. yes. we have our nephews staying with us this week, ages 12 & 8. we’ve had one clogging and there was a near clog on Monday. *shudder*

  85. i learned this this very week. our nephews are visiting, ages 12 & 8 and gawd help us, the toilet has been clogged once and there was a near clog on monday.

  86. Good call!

    Did you know the “standard” plunger pictured is actually for sinks? A toilet plunger has a couple more plastic ridges. Just one more hot tip!

  87. YES. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’M the one who has had to ask before– how embarrassing when they have to dig it out of the basement as if they NEVER clog their own toilet….
    I always leave my plunger in the bathroom, in case guests need it. <3

  88. I completely agree with the plunger idea but I would also add some sort of spray air freshener – it cuts down on the awkward factor a bit more for guests, especially if there are a lot of people having to share one bathroom!

  89. Oh my goodness, so true! We had a house guest once that had to ask for one and I felt SO BAD! Smart.

  90. My grandparents usually come from out of state during the summer. Uusally my mum goes crazy buying everything new, she buys new linen, plates and furnishings. Also lots of food more than enough for everyone.

  91. bahaha the comments here are making my day!

  92. So true!!!!! This happened to me in a hotel once and I had to call down to the front desk and ask for one. I couldn’t make eye contact with the man that came to the room.

  93. This is too true! I hate that feeling if I’m at someone else’s house and the toilet doesn’t flush correctly! As others have said, I too keep air freshener around.

  94. So true! My in laws just stayed with us and needed to use one. Ew. but yes.

  95. I just had 6 guests this weekend at one time! So 8 total people in our new house in Atlanta! It went really well. I made plans for activities and for meals and did all my grocery shopping ahead of time. I even planned which furniture I could move from room to room to accommodate everyone since we don’t have a large dining table yet. And made sure to stock each bathroom with lots of toilet paper (and even a plunger in the upstairs guest bath). haha! What a funny but totally true thought.

  96. Haha. I second Eileen though… That style of plunger is for a sink. A toilet needs the kind with a tube-like part at the bottom.
    I keep mine behind the toilet to hide it from my baby so I hope anyone who needs it can find it as our toilet is often “failing.”

  97. Along this same line, I ALWAYS have air freshener in every bathroom, because I HATE when I have to go #2 in someone else’s bathroom (even when I don’t clog and need a plunger) and there’s no air freshener!

  98. Towels! It’s awkward not to have enough towels for everyone and you never know if the ladies will want to use two towels, one for hair, one for body. We always make sure to stock each bathroom with plenty of fluffy clean towels :)

  99. I keep a binder for houseguests with all the fun things to see in Boston (where we live) including how to get there on the train, hours and cost and my own tips. It also has all our house info like wi fi password and where the towels are!

  100. SO true! We always leave a box of matches and some air freshener near the toilet for similar potty-related reasons.

  101. So true! For some reason my mother-in-law hides the plunger all the way in the garage..I guess because she thinks it looks ugly in the bathroom, but my goodness it’s embarrassing to ask for it! Another pet peeve- guest baths with no where to put trash. Am I supposed to put a tampon in the little wicker basket that has no trash bag?!

  102. The Sunday paper – I’m coming to stay at your house! I do have plungers in both my bathrooms, but when you stay at mine, you’re going to get a homecooked meal, good conversation and good libations. I stayed with family this summer though, and had to fly there, and they bought toothpaste, shampoo and everything that could be considered “liquid” on a plane. After wrangling two kids at the airport, it was nice not to have to go to the drugstore.

  103. Yes, I can imagine. Because I have had this happen to me – I was a guest and needed a plunger and couldn’t find one. It gets worse – I asked and the couple who were hosting me DID NOT OWN ONE – AT ALL. They had to go to their landlord’s house (he lived next door) and borrow one. Um. Yup. So I agree this is a CRUCIAL item to have!

  104. Oh yes! You don’t want your guests cowering in the bathroom, bargaining with God, haha.

  105. Very true, but I’d up it a bit. Get a GOOD plunger that has more ridges (that may cost a little more initially). The classic ones that you think of (like the picture shown) have never worked well for me. The one I have currently works the first time, every time. And when you’re desperate for it not to overflow, you need it to work right away!

  106. CC says...

    This is hysterical and very true! I was visiting friends in Cape Cod over the weekend and was very thankful to see a plunger in a time of need

  107. hahaha laughing out loud at these comments. too funny.

  108. Ha ha, we have a dodgy toilet in our basement that can only handle liquid waste. We learned this the hard way after having some guests to stay. They mentioned the problem with “the loo” on the way out the door. I was wondering if perhaps I should make a nice little sign to let people know. I try to work it into conversation casually, but I always feel so awkward!

  109. This goes along with the plunger, but I always thought #1 was leaving your guests tiny bottles of Pepto Bismol or some other stomach relief. Can you imagine staying at someone’s house with an upset stomach?

  110. Don’t you mean…the number two item?

    • Amy P says...

      Hahaha I was just thinking the same thing :D

  111. One of the funniest/most embarrassing vacation memories includes staying with a few girlfriends at one of their guy friend’s houses. One of the girls needed a plunger, and we devised a plan to steal it from the master bedroom, while creating a diversion in the other room, as one of the girls ran it around outside, into the other entrance. Because asking is TOO awkward we had to act like CIA spies!

  112. Haha! First time meeting my future in-laws and I had to ask for one! That’s made a great story over the years…

  113. Hahaha, anything to do with the toilet should just be automatically supplied! Plungers, toilet brushes, matches (to light and blow out to mask any smells…)
    I hate going in any toilet that isn’t my own! xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua Italy

  114. hahahahaha this is too good.

    reminds me of dumb and dumber!!!!!! hahahahahah that scene is SO CRINGE-WORTHY!

  115. Ha! Very good idea and I’ve never thought of it. Also never had a clog jn this house so maybe the plumbing is up just up to the challenge. I’m glad, because plungers give me the willies – so ugly and unless you’re cleaning them thoroughly, quite disgusting as well. We have guests year round – we joke that we run a B&B (so much laundry!). I do, however, make sure there is plenty of leftover toilet paper and a trash can for feminine products or any other detritus travels pick up along the way. That and making sure guests have a full length mirror and extra blankets. I find people won’t always speak up I they’re cold, so you should make sure they have the option of remedying the situation on their own.

  116. This is so, so true.
    Awkwardness on so many levels that I can barely stand to think about it!

  117. Can we talk about how you listed this as your “number one” item to have? I don’t think it was intentional, but it made me laugh.

  118. Haha! This just happened to me at my in-law’s house a few weeks ago. I shouted to my husband who was chatting on the deck to quickly and quietly run upstairs to grab the plunger. Luckily no one batted an eye at his departure.

  119. I get sample products all the time from Birch Box but have never used most of them, so I got a giant glass jar and filled it with sample bath products from Birch Box and hotels and stuff and then I threw in a few travel tooth pastes and tooth brushes. I put the jar in the guest bedroom with a note on it that says “forget something? take what you need!” I’m not sure if anyone has used anything from it yet, but that’s the beauty of it, they can just take something without having to ask and I never have to know!

  120. As soon as the post started, I was going to say air freshener! I think it’s a must-have – same idea as the plunger though :)

  121. LK says...

    Thank you for this! My biggest fear when at someone’s house is dealing with an unfortunate toilet situation. I hope everyone takes your advice!!!

  122. True! I keep mine in a closet outside of my bathroom because my bathroom is so small but I always put it on the floor when someone is over so they don’t have to ask me. I also have been putting a fan near the bathroom door for “white noise” since my apartment is so tiny – guests can do their business without being heard! :)

  123. Haha! Oh my gosh, this is hilarious. But so true!