Photo: James Bombales, design by Rebecca Hay

My trick for cleaning my studio apartment is simple: I leave it. When I’m expecting guests, I like to think as they would when entering my home. So I take my dog for a walk around the neighborhood and re-enter the space with a pair of fresh eyes and a renewed sense of smell. 

Are there food odors lingering about? Is the coffee table covered with clutter? Are the baseboards due for a dusting? These are all things we routinely overlook, but our houseguests may pick up on right away. A recent report conducted by the Independent Network powered by VEKA found that it takes only 38 seconds for a visitor to make a snap judgement about our space. 

Want to make a great first impression? Concentrate your cleaning efforts on remedying the top 10 things guests notice most about your home.

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1. The smell

Photo: James Bombales, design by Jaclyn Harper

Unsurprisingly, the smell of your home is the first thing people notice when stepping through the front door. Olfactory adaptation, which prevents us from smelling our own perfume or foul breath, makes it nearly impossible to adequately evaluate whether or not your home still smells of yesterday’s fish tacos. For this reason, it’s best to burn a scented candle or run an essential oil diffuser before the doorbell rings.

2. The temperature

We all have strong opinions about what temperature the thermostat should be set at (looking at you, Dad), but it’s important to consider the comfort of your guests over your own personal preferences. Remember that young children and the elderly require slightly warmer room temperatures, typically 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 to 22 degrees Celsius.

3. Whether or not the house has been vacuumed

Photo: James Bombales, design by Cynthia Soda

Fifty percent of respondents say they give their home a quick vacuum before guests arrive, but if you’re not part of this cohort, you may want to consider adopting the habit. Regular vacuuming can reduce allergy symptoms — particularly helpful if your cats often cause your sister-in-law to break into fits of sneezing. 

4. How comfortable the furniture is

You might think your 20-year-old leather recliner is the most comfortable seat in the house, but if your guests have trouble climbing out of it, it’s best to relocate it to another room. The living room is the most judged area of the house, so reserve your best furnishings for that space and banish the others to the rec room in the basement. 

5. If the dishes have been done or not

Photo: James Bombales, design by Clare Kumar

As someone who does not have a dishwasher, I can empathize with the homeowner when it comes to this guest gripe. Sometimes the plates you were using to prep hors d’oeuvres wind up sitting in the sink — it happens! While frantically scrubbing and towel-drying the dishes is always an option, in a pinch you could also use an over-the-sink cutting board to disguise your mess.

6. Dirty windows

Only a fifth of respondents say they clean the windows before guests arrive, but a whopping 70 percent believe windows are important to the aesthetic of the home. Maybe this is a British thing? Like calling french fries ‘chips’ or sweaters ‘jumpers?’ Personally, I’ve never gone to someone else’s house and carefully inspected the cleanliness of their windows, but I am willing to accept cultural differences.

7. The books you own

Photo: James Bombales, design by Jo Alcorn

Who among us hasn’t browsed the hosts’ bookshelves during a house party? Books can be powerful conversation starters, but you may want to think about which titles you choose to display in the common areas of your home. Frankly, your Aunt Susan does not need to discover your copy of the The Kama Sutra.

8. How well-kept the furniture is

I lack the willpower to tell my dog to her impossibly cute and scruffy face that she cannot share the velvet sofa with me. This means I also do a lot of lint rolling! If your cat has scratched up the side of your lounge chair or your toddler has spilled orange juice all over the sectional, a strategically-placed throw blanket or pillow will do the trick.

9. The color of the walls

Photo: James Bombales, design by Karin Bennett

Color is completely subjective — if you love bright red walls, I say, tomayto, tomahto. Don’t let other people’s opinions dictate how you design your home (unless it’s for sale). That being said, white paint is always a safe bet and you can find five designer-favorite shades here

10. If the decor is dusty

A fifth of houseguests will inspect for dust when they pop by, according to the Independent Network report. While they might not give your space the white glove test, they may notice dust accumulating on your porcelain tchotchkes. Pro tip: Always do the dusting last as vacuum cleaners and brooms can kick up dust particles while you clean!

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