It's not about whether or not your baseboards are clean, or if fresh flowers adorn every table surface. There's really only a short list of things that really truly make a difference to your guests. Nail these things down and you guarantee a good visit every time.
If you have toilet paper in the bathroom, shampoo in the shower, and fresh towels for them to use, you are good to go. It doesn't have to be 4-ply toilet paper, Aveda shampoo, or Egyptian cotton towels: they just need to be present.
Pet Smell & Hair
If you are a dog owner, chances are really good that your house smells like dog. You don't think it does, but it most likely does. Likewise, if your furniture is covered in cat hair, your friends aren't going to want to sit down and make themselves comfortable. At the very least, light a candle before your guests arrive. And go to town on your sofa and chairs to make the evidence go away.
If the floor lamp is shining right in their eyes while you chat on the sofa, or there's no bedside lamp to read by in bed, your guest will know. They won't say to themselves, "Dabney doesn't know proper lighting techniques, jeez" but they will be bored sitting in the dark waiting to fall asleep, or squinting during your conversations. Not the end of the world certainly, but also not fun.
Even if you all are thick as thieves, comfortable in your own skin, and all extroverts who can engage until the sun comes up, guests sometimes like to have a little buffer. Be sure the guest bathroom has window film so the perve across the street won't watch them shower, and try your best to give them a little space while they are changing or sleeping— even in a small space.
Other Weird Stuff
If the third step on your staircase is a sprained ankle waiting to happen, or if the bedroom door knob falls out all the time, you might want to give your guests a quick heads up. It doesn't mean they will be horrified, but nobody wants to have to call you when they accidentally lock themselves in a room, or if they think they broke something that was already broken.
What other things truly bother you when visiting other peoples' homes? Or what else should be on this list?
Re-edited from a post originally published 8.12.15. — AH