To be an excellent host, try becoming a picky guest. In your own home.

Give your guest quarters — even if that means the sofa — a test run for an evening or two each year.

Don't hit the pre-holidays panic button yet. You still have a few weeks to make sure your home provides enough comfort and joy for family and friends who will spend a few nights or (gulp) weeks with you.

"Being a guest in your home is a great idea because as nice and tricked out as your guest bedroom may be, there are things you don't notice unless you spend a little time there," says Sarah Gray Miller, editor in chief of Country Living magazine. "Like perhaps there's no place for guests to set a dopp kit. Or it would be good to put an extra chair in there so guests can sit down and put on their shoes. Add any of the things you'd want if you were staying somewhere."

Miller takes a few cues (and travel-sized toiletries) from hotels: unused shampoo and soap, water glasses and plenty of towels and toilet paper. And her guest room has a hair dryer and an iron — travelers don't want to pack those in weight-restricted suitcases. But you'll never spot slippers and robes in her guest rooms.

"I'd feel nervous by all that overdoing, like the host isn't relaxed," Miller says. "It's a hard balance to strike between anticipating guests' needs and not paying so much attention to the details that you make people feel uncomfortable."

The key is making sure the sleeping quarters are comfortable, says Nancy Miller Reichle, who with her husband, Mark, runs Southmoreland on the Plaza Urban Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in Kansas City, Mo.

"Some people are hot sleepers, and some people are cold sleepers," Reichle says. "So it's good to have a variety of covers such as a light blanket and a heavier duvet."

Reichle also likes having extra pillows because some people use them under their backs or knees. There are four down pillows on the beds and two fiber-filled pillows in the closets in her guest rooms.

So what about air mattresses if you don't have enough beds? You know, the inflatable ones that look like oversized swim toys.

"I'm not a fan when two people have to sleep on them," Miller says. "One person always ends up bouncing off and sleeping on the floor. But they're OK when you're sleeping alone."

Kids' bedrooms can work for guests (younger children think it's fun to camp out on Mom and Dad's floor a few nights). Just as long as the room is clean and straightened for guests.

"No popcorn or crayons in the bed or on the floor," Reichle says. "No one wants that."

Regardless of the location in the home or type of mattress, all accommodations should be made up before guests arrive. So should a meal plan.

"Besides asking how long they're staying, we always ask our guests — including personal houseguests — if there are any dietary restrictions like allergies or if they're vegetarians," Reichle says. "We ask them things they like to drink or eat. Maybe they prefer decaf coffees and sodas. Or skim milk instead of 2 percent. That way they can help themselves."

Reichle also puts bottles of water and snacks such as chocolates and granola bars in the room because guests might be afraid they're going to make noise if they get a midnight case of the munchies.

Miller fills glass canisters with mixed party nuts, crackers, pretzels and cookies so guests can help themselves during the day while she's at work. She also sets out wine on a sideboard and a cooler of sodas and water for guests.

"Guests feel comfortable taking things that are out in the open," Miller says. "They don't want to have to ask hosts for anything. Not even for a Diet Coke. They'll feel like they're intruding."

If you're not going out for dinner, Miller recommends one-pot meals such as chili or lasagna. Or if it's warm enough, throw burgers, steaks and veggies on the grill. She keeps it simple at breakfast time, too — no seven-course brunches.

"I don't over-twirl it up," Miller says. "I keep it very help-yourself. That way, guests feel like they can sleep in and get ready at their own pace."

Miller and Reichle advocate taking guests on a quick tour of the house, showing them where the coffee and drinks are and how to adjust the heat, doing a quick show-and-tell about working the remote and digital video recorder and pointing out quirks such as the noisy train that passes by (the foam ear plugs are on the nightstand).

"One of the most important things is telling your guests they can use your computer," Reichle says. "They want to check their flights, e-mail messages, tourist attractions and restaurant information."

Lots of people travel with laptops and most of us have cell phones, so provide a power strip or enough outlets in the bedroom for them to charge their electronic devices.

"It may sound silly, but it's also good to give guests a rundown of the daily agenda, like what time you're leaving for work, what time you'll be back and what dinner plans are," Reichle says. "Otherwise, it's discombobulating for people. It gives the guests some control so they can go off and do their own exploring."

(c) 2010, Stacy Downs,The Kansas City Star.