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#532: Maybe throw a little money at this problem of holiday sleeping arrangements?

Dear Captain Awkward,

My bedroom is the house guestroom, and has been as long as I can remember. Usually this isn’t problematic, since I’m up at school most of the year. However, during the holidays it becomes a bit of a problem, when my sister and BIL come to visit. Her old room has been absorbed as storage space, so they stay in mine, while I sleep out on the recliner in the living room.

This comes with two problems for me, though. One, my dad and BIL usually stay up well past midnight talking and watching movies in the living room. This means that I can’t get to sleep until they finally turn in. Second, my clothes are stored in that room, so I can’t actually get dressed until they decide to get up, which ranges from a reasonable hour through almost noon. I’ve tried taking out the next day’s clothes ahead of time, only to have my mom put them back, saying that I shouldn’t “clutter up public space with guests over.”

Now, I love both Sister and BIL dearly, and I don’t want them to stop coming over, and my bedroom is really the only logical place to put them at this point, and I don’t want to begrudge Dad and BIL bonding time, but this situation gets more frustrating every year. What reasonable boundaries can I set there?

Thanks,
Not a night owl

Dear Not A Night Owl:

How long do they usually stay? It sounds like it’s more than a night or two. If so, my question is, could this be solved with an air mattress ($30-$40 from a quick search, may be able to find them even cheaper) on the floor of your room (or your parents’ room, or the now-storage room)? If that’s not an option, could you share the bed with your sister? Sister can have your bed or you can share it, or you can have the bedroll on the floor (and access to your clothes), brother in law has late nights with your dad + the recliner?

They are married and sleep in the same bed all the time, presumably, yes? You can pitch it as “I want time to talk to Sister!” and get her to be your ally. “I really love it when you guys come here, but we have to rework something about the sleeping arrangements and schedule.”  Maybe your sister can do the asking – “Can Night Owl bunk with me tonight? Husband, why don’t you stay up late with dad and then grab the couch.” Because yeah, this stinks. They can take over your room OR the living room but there has to be somehere you can a) sleep b) keep your clothes so you can get dressed.

The thing to think about is, is this a logistics problem or a family dynamic problem? Are you going to get a lot of pushback for being the squeaky wheel? Will your sister help you out? Are you going to have to deal with drama re: But This Is How It’s Always Been, Really Can’t You Be More Accommodating? Don’t You Want Your Sister To Be Comfortable Here? Do You Think You Are Some Kind Of Special Princess Or Something? Are you from a Yelling Family? Because one thing that might happen is that you speak up and your parents say, “You know what, you’re right. We didn’t realize how much this was inconveniencing you. Let’s solve this!”

Sometimes people have a weird resistance to changing ANYTHING about their Precious Sacred Holiday Traditions, even though a) those traditions suck for some people and b) with a tiny bit of thought and pre-planning, it can be worked out. But sometimes things don’t change because it hasn’t occurred to anyone to change it. I know $40 is not an insignificant amount of money, especially not a college student or a family with kids in college, but sometimes (hopefully?) it can be that simple with the added benefit of solving the “Where do guests sleep?” problem for the longer term. After all, pretty soon you are going to move out permanently and be a guest just as much as your sister is now, and I’m sure your parents would want you to be comfortable visiting home during the holidays. As I approach 40, let me tell you, the recliner is not a long-term solution.

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72 comments
  1. remi said:

    Is there some reason Sister and BIL can’t sleep in the living room? Like, is there only one sofa/recliner/pile of newspapers in the corner so only one person can sleep there, or is it just a case of “guests get the bedrooms, family gets kicked out”? My grandmother spends the night every so often, and when we went looking for a new-but-still-secondhand sofa when our old one finally got too full of dog hair to fully clean, we specifically went looking for and found a fold-out couch for her or other guests to sleep on. It saved me from having to disturb my grandmother when I went into my room where she was sleeping for clothes or my phone or just from wandering in and talking to myself in the middle of the night because I’d forgotten she was there. Our sofa was free, so the only real cost associated with it was finding sheets to fit it and being okay with there being furniture in the house that doesn’t match the rest of the furniture (none of our furniture matches so that doesn’t bother us at all, but I hear some people care about stuff like that).

  2. Matthew said:

    Wow. Something in the way LW says “guest room” and “long as I can remember” gives me this weird Harry-Potter-under-the-stairs-vibe.

    • ona555 said:

      Yeah, there is a difference between “my room is the one used as a guest room when people stay over” and “I am allowed to habitate in the guest room when no one else needs to use it.” I have a feeling that LW means the first thing, but if they mean the second, that’s whole ‘nother can o’worms.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      My room always was that room when we were growing up. I had a double bed and the other kids didn’t. So it just was that way. Sometimes it’s a furniture thing.

      Also, LW. have you laid out the problem to your parents? “Mom and dad, the sleeping arrangements at Christmas are really not working very well. [explain] Is there some way we can work another situation out? I love us all being here together, of course, but I need to be able to get to sleep and get to my stuff on a reasonable schedule.”

      Having to provide a solution is… it’s good to have one. But the space isn’t “your” space and it sounds like your mom and dad are in charge of determining how it gets used. In a way, offering the problem and asking for a solution keeps the space and space making decisions in the hands of the people who control the space most.

      (Does that make sense? I dunno.)

      ANYWAY. If they give you a blank look or protest, then you can say “well I was thinking x or y or z or…” and see what happens.

      Also, if your sister’s room is absorbed into storage, how absorbed are we talking. Are we talking warren of shelves? Impassible? Because maybe a day of reorganizing that space would make it so you could put a sleeping bag/ air mattress down in there and at least be able to sleep with a closed door and a place for your stuff. (Which is sounding cupboard under the stairs-ey, but it would be your cupboard, at least.) It might have the knock on benefit of making the room usable for your parents for other things, as well.

      It seems sort of counterproductive to have enough room for every person visiting to have their own space, and not use the space, you know?

      Also, as an intermediary, can you store your clothes and whatnot in a bag or basket in a cupboard in the bathroom? Hall coat closet? Somewhere out of sight so your mom can’t get fussy about public space? And really, if you have a spare room with stuff in it, you are that much of a tidy habit person that clothes on the floor in the living room for 9 hours is a problem? Hm.

  3. The bit about Mum tidying up LW’s clothes really got to me, because it seems like something my Mum would do. Shudder. Adding insult to injury. This is so not okay.

    I think the storage room is a big option here. The thing that I have found about storage is often it A) isn’t stored efficently and/or B) isn’t stuff that people actually want anyway, but because they don’t have to look at it, they don’t throw it out.
    There might be space on the floor for an air mattress, like the captain suggests. And if there’s not, maybe LW could shuffle some things around. Going through stuff with the view of throwing some of it out might be a bit more touchy.

    • Jae said:

      True. also, if camping out in the living room for a family member is ok, it might be ok to put a couple of boxes there and sleep in the storage room instead.
      Oh, well, likely not. The suggestion alone would have sent my mother into a screaming fit. But it would be logical, wouldn’t it?

    • egl said:

      Even if the storage room isn’t an option, at least this year, it might be a good place for the LW to stash their change of clothes overnight this holiday season. That would at least give them more time to work on changing mindsets about sleeping arrangements.

  4. Jae said:

    I think I’m going up on the soap box on this one. Sorry in advance.

    Why is it that there always has to be a pecking order in a family? Why is the youngest child always the one who has to move/give/deal? Over here where I live, if you check out houses to rent or see blueprints, it’s amazing that the smallest available room is always labelled the “kids” bedroom. Sometimes the cupboard in the “master bedroom” is bigger than that. Thinking that a child spends a lot of time in their room while parents usually only sleep in theirs, I always thought that was somewhat wrong.

    And my family is the same. When visitors came, I had to move. They took my bed, my bathroom, my space, while I slept on the sauna bench. Especially for my disabled aunt who needed “a proper mattress”. Funnily, my parents never even spent a thought on it that they could give up their bedroom instead, which has the far better mattress AND she wouldn’t have to climb stairs to reach it. See what I mean? It’s a pecking order and has nothing to do with logic.

    I hope you find a way to deal with this. I think it’s very unfair that you lose your room and then have no chance to retreat because your substitute room is also hijacked. They are the guests, let them camp out on the sofa for heaven’s sake.

    • Have to contradict you: as the older child and the girl, my needs have always been lowest priority. When we had guests, they would stay in my room. I remember one time my dad brought home a spread of bagels and stuff for breakfast. He and my brother piled a ton of lox on their bagels, but when the lox got to me Dad told me to remember that Mom would want some too. Meanwhile the two of them had already taken MOST of the lox. There was enough to spread on one sandwich, barely. If I took any at all, they would say I was selfish because I didn’t save enough for Mom.

      My dipshit therapist I’d seen at the time thought this was a funny story. It wasn’t an isolated incident, just one I remember clearly.

      • Golden Peanut said:

        “the girl” tells me a lot about the pecking order in your family. :) Any pecking order can be intersectional. My middle-older sister defers to her younger/my older brother, but throws fits at me (I’m a girl). She defers to the eldest-older sister, too. So we have both an age and a gender based pecking order.
        Family pecking orders are fracking stupid, that is for sure. In the house were I grew up, there was a master bedroom, a smaller bedroom, and an even smaller bedroom. How do you arrange two married adults, 3 girls and 1 boy? Parents got the master bedroom, two girls shared the middle bedroom, 1 girl got the smallest bedroom, and the boy slept in a half partitioned section of the family room. What would have made more sense? Put 3 girls in the largest room, parents in the middle room, boy in the smaller room. But nopenopenope, parents gotta be at the top, in the biggest bedroom.

        • Man, my parents have just moved into a new house with my brother and sister while I’ve been living out of town. I saw it for the first time a couple days ago when I got The Tour and their room is MASSIVE. It also has a dressing room and an en suite, and those three rooms combined are probably bigger than any place I could possibly afford if I manage to ditch flatmates next year. Meanwhile the room I’m sleeping in is smaller than the kitchen/their bathroom/maybe about the same as their dressing room, though I think it’s meant to be a study rather than a bedroom. But still, why are bedroom sizes so massively unequal? It’s so weird. A lot of households aren’t even nuclear families so having one room that’s twice as big as any other makes no sense.

      • Same here.
        My room had the double bed, therefore my room was the “guest” room – I slept in my brothers room when we had visitors, AND got in trouble when he played up.

      • M Dubz said:

        As a lover of both lox and healthy family dynamics, this story upset me greatly.

        • It’s annoying because it seems like a petty thing to hold on to, and then it seems like a ridiculously obvious metaphor. But it’s like… I was constantly thrown in this position where my father took the most, my brother got next dibs. I could avoid the issue entirely by pretending not to want something. Food, attention, a place to sit in the living room, use of the tv…didn’t matter, all basically the same.

          • Dr Sarah said:

            Susan, I just wanted to say that I don’t think that sounds petty at all. It sounds like a really mean, horrible, selfish way for them to have treated you.

            I’m wondering if the reason you feel it sounds petty is because you’re measuring it in terms of its actual tangible impact on your life (i.e. that you missed out on lox on one occasion)? Because if you measure it that way then it can indeed be made to sound petty. But the thing is, you didn’t miss out on lox because your family couldn’t afford it or because nobody bought any or because someone accidentally dropped the plate on the floor before it got to you. You missed out on the lox because two of the very people who should be loving and standing by you the most in this life blatantly put their wishes above yours even though it meant you missing out., and because the third of the three people in that category (I assume) stood by and did nothing whatsoever to stop them acting like this. That’s really hurtful. And, as you say, it’s also a pretty obvious metaphor (nothing ‘ridiculous’ about it, unless it’s their behaviour) for the fact that this horrible hurtful behaviour on their part was going on throughout your childhood.

            I hope your shitty family members get what they deserve in this life, and I hope that you have a great new Team You of people who love you and treat you properly and caringly and considerately. Oh, and a therapist who actually knows WTF zie’s doing (with hisses and boos to the one who was clueless enough to act as if such a hurtful story was a great big joke).

    • Marvel said:

      Chiming in here to say that it’s not always the youngest. I was always the scapegoat in my family and I’m the middle child, and it’s not for reasons of gender.

      I do agree, however, that pecking orders in families tend to lead to a fucked up family dynamic overall.

      • I’m the oldest, and I always had to give up my room because I had a bigger bed.

        Also everything is always my fault. I don’t know if those two things are related.

        • tinyorc said:

          Oh, oldest child here, and I hear this so hard. I was always expected to be accommodating because I was “more mature”, i.e. less likely to kick up a fuss about deeply unfair family dynamics.

          • Emily said:

            Yup. Same here. Even more so in our extended family where I’m the oldest cousin. It’s not usually a big thing – I’m an adult & they are not, but it really frustrates me when I’m the one on the sofa at the cottage while teenage boys sleep in comfy beds.

          • Old Dan Tucker said:

            I’m the youngest and the only sister, and I was always the one expected to be accommodating fix all the problems by making them my problem, and then not complaining about them.

            But in my stepsister’s family, the youngest (and only boy) is the revered special one who can do no wrong. The oldest girl is expected to be the accommodating and helpful substitute momma, the middle girl is the sunshine child who gains occasional validation by never asking for attention, and the youngest girl is the scapegoat who can never doing anything right and is blamed for all the problems in the family. It’s soul-wrenching to watch.

            Broadly, I don’t think the oldest/youngest thing is likely to be an indication of where anyone sits in the pecking order. Trends for a particular number, gender or [insert other criteria] of child to fulfill a particular role may well run down the generations within a family. But this won’t necessarily apply to other families, who will have their own arbitrary rules about what the pecking order should be.

            Gah. Families. :/

          • mjh said:

            Try being the oldest single when your brother is married. I spent most of my 20s camped out on sofas while my brother and sis-in-law got the bed. It made sense, because two of them and one of me, but it was frustrating to never get the comfy space. And if I did take the comfy space (once) my brother freaked out about it and how stupid it was.

            I hate feeling irrational or petty, but grrr.

    • anewleaf said:

      This actually made me feel really good about my family.

      We have a two-bedroom apartment, the master with an office nook. Since my kiddo didn’t have a playroom, we made the office nook a “bed nook” and the master his playroom. We took the smaller for ourselves because, as Jae mentioned, we only sleep in it. Truth is, people don’t need a whole lot of room to sleep, but playing is a “roomful” endeavor. :)

      • Old Dan Tucker said:

        What an excellent setup! You have your main downstairs room as a you-controlled space to Do Stuff and Welcome Guests, with your bedroom as a private retreat. Kiddo gets the same deal in miniature. I love this. <3

    • Lu said:

      I hear you about the pecking orders, but it’s not always the youngest. I’m the oldest and I was *always* the one who had to give up her room. It made sense for a while as I was the only one with a double bed, and usually my brother’s top bunkbed was open but it got old very, very quickly. There was one year where I had to sleep on the floor under the dining room table. I threw a fit after that and we worked out better arrangements, which somehow still ended up with me being the one to give up her bed.

    • twomoogles said:

      It’s so hard to tell, sometimes, when a pecking order is happening, because I know so many situations where every single sibling thinks they are the ‘least favourite’…it’s very rare to get someone who will straight up admit “yep, I’m favoured, my sibling isn’t”. It can be so complicated–and things can change, too. I’ve seen it where one sibling is considered the ‘best’ when they’re children, but then it switches in high school often due to things like academic performance or ‘expected’ roles…

      • Old Dan Tucker said:

        Oh, amen to this. My brothers would say I am the revered favourite if asked; and to be fair they’re not wrong. I know that for many people, the expectation to subsume one’s own needs and be accommodating of everyone else’s goes hand-in-hand with the scapegoat role, which doubles down on the awfulness. For me, it’s much more of a mixed bag – I’m the golden child, the youngest who got lots of parental attention, the academic star… Which slides into me being the one who ‘doesn’t have’ (ie mustn’t show) any emotional problems, the one who should always make the social effort in terms of planning and travelling because other people’s lives are hard and complicated, and the one who should leap up to answer the doorbell / volunteer for the sofa / take care of everyone’s pets when they go on vacation / meet all the needs of anyone who is sick… the list goes on. But still, none of that stuff made me NOT the golden child and the favourite.

        Leastways, not till I went nuclear and cut them all off last year because I knew something was REALLY wrong and that it was inhibiting my growth into the confident badass I wanted to be. Now I’m the heinous black sheep of the family who adandoned them all in their hour of need, and it’s weird thinking how afraid I was of that label for the longest time, and how effective that fear was as keeping me in line. Because actually BEING the black sheep that that doesn’t have to deal with everyone’s bullshit anymore is AMAZING.

      • Caity said:

        My family dynamic actually got so messed up that I got to the point where I recognized that I was obviously the favored child (by my mother). And it took realizing that she clearly treated one child better for the light to dawn that my mother has some deep emotional struggles going on, and that our family is dysfunctional in some very real ways that we do not acknowledge. It didn’t help that my sister and I fought all the way through our childhoods (we’re twins,) and I think my mother’s favoritism pitted us against each other to some extent.
        And you know what? The dynamic did change, and similar to the way you described. This was in high school – I had the role of emotionally stable child and my sister was the disrespectful hellion. Then, a few years into college I became fairly sick and my sister took on the role of accommodating and sacrificing “mature” child, whereas I was viewed as making things very difficult for not dealing with my illness the way my mother wanted me to (and for not letting her emotions and needs dominate my illness and recovery process.) Now everything I do sets my mother off, and she goes on about how much my sister is doing to help out the family, etc.
        It’s done me a lot of good just realizing just how not okay this situation is, and how unrealistic my mother’s expectations are. I just wish my family would acknowledge that my needs are reasonable and that the situation is messed up.

  5. RP said:

    “I’ve tried taking out the next day’s clothes ahead of time, only to have my mom put them back, saying that I shouldn’t “clutter up public space with guests over.””

    Does she explicitly state that she wants you to keep them in the guest room or does she just want them not in the living room? Though I’d think a bag stowed underneath the couch would solve this problem, would she be OK with them on a hanger in the bathroom or them going in the bedroom that’s now storage? Because if not, it sounds like going into the room, whether they’re up or not, is actually what you’re supposed to do.

    I like the Captain’s suggestion of you sharing the room with your sister and BIL being in the living room since he’ll be there last. Hopefully suggesting it will at least get them out of the living room sooner even if he doesn’t want to switch rooms. (See if you can make room for that mattress in the living room if it goes that way.)

  6. 30ish said:

    Wow, this really isn’t OK. You’re not even allowed to bring clothes with you to the living room so you can get dressed in time the next morning, when the fact that you can’t access your clothes is due to your having to relocate to the living room? You are absolutely within your rights to ask for some space for yourself. Your family should either make some space for you in the storage room (it has to be possible) or in your bedroom. And if it must be the living room, then your dad and BIL should at least leave that room to you whenever you want to go to sleep and you should get to bring everything you need, including clothes.

  7. charmed.omega said:

    Not mentioned here is another piece of The Captains advice for dealing with tricky bosses, the “What do you think I should do?”
    This probably won’t work with the late night (“Can’t you just be more accommodating?”) but getting dressed is just such an obvious basic. (“Mom, I need to be able to get dressed in the morning. Sister is not always awake when I need to access my clothes. What do you think I should do?”) Suddenly keeping your clothes in a box under the coffee table sounds like a super-reasonable plan.

    That said, if you can get an air mattress in Sister’s old room that sounds ideal.

    • Dr Sarah said:

      Good thinking – and I’d think it could, in fact, be applied to sleep, since that’s actually an even more basic need than getting dressed. If you frame it in terms of how you get sleep rather than expecting them to move (“Mom, I’ve been trying to think about where I could get to sleep when BIL and Dad want to watch movies at night. What would you think of us trying to clear enough space in Sister’s room for me to sleep there? Or have you any other ideas?”) then it’s a bit hard for anyone to frame that as you being excessively demanding.

      • Fish said:

        This is a reasonable thing to try. Though, honestly in my family I got for many years “But *I* don’t need 8 hours of sleep, so you don’t either” (or, to extend the pattern to this situation “But *I*’m ok walking around in my jammies until noon, so, you’re just being over sensitive.”)

        So, I would recommend having a plan for both the good case and the bad case if I tried this (I don’t think quick on my feet and not having a plan for “so what?” has flabbergasted me many times). I’m no expert, and it never goes well, but as a straw man example “I understand that this isn’t a need for you, but it is a need for me. If this was a need for you, what would you do?” and if there is push back perhaps followed by “It is important to me that you respect that I have needs. I need your help if we’re to come up with a resolution for my needs that you’re also comfortable with.” and if push back “you’re clearly making a value judgement of (cleanliness/sister’s privacy) over my health. That’s unfair.” perhaps followed later by “If my needs can’t be met here, I’m unable to stay here.” and stay in the dorm over the winter break if that’s an option to you.

        Hopefully none of these get triggered and there is a wonderfully normal conversation with normal people and I am just incorrectly projecting my experiences.

  8. attica said:

    At the very least, it would seem to me that putting your change of clothes in the former bedroom/now storage room would keep them away from Mom’s ClutterVision. And I emphasize: this is the absolute least. Much more should be done.

  9. bearcatbanana said:

    In my area, air mattresses show up for free on freecycle all the time. You could try that. Hell, if you’re in my area, I’ll give you my air mattress. I have a spare bedroom (with bed!!!) now.

  10. LW 532 said:

    LW here! Thanks for getting back so quickly! The air-mattress idea seems like a very good one. I suspect that we still have one in storage, from the days when we’d still go camping. My family’s not one for yelling, but they’re kind of hard to shake, tradition-wise. They don’t have guests over very often at all, so when they do, they make a big show of being hospitable to them. I will try asking my sister if I can share the room with her this time, or failing that move some stuff around in the bedroom-turned-storage.

    • Right, but – if you are coming home from college, then, YOU are a guest too, and they are not being hospitable to YOU.

      I host friends and grown children (sometimes both at the same time) several times a year, and juggling the varied needs and comfort levels of several guests at the same time is a skill, and, if as you say they don’t host guests much then maybe it’s a skill they haven’t fully learned. It’s worth learning, and **if one is going to have guests staying in one’s home, it is one’s responsibility to learn.** It seems there’s implicit pressure on you to help/facilitate other people’s comfort at the expense of your own, which a.) was a shitty position to put you in when you were a child, lacking control or agency in your own home, and b.) is a shitty position to put you in now that you are making the effort to travel home and are also a guest.

      This doesn’t make them awful people, or toxic, or abusive – but it does make them terribly inconsiderate, and it is, in the long run, a kindness (to them and to yourself) to call them out on it.

      • wol said:

        This this this! It sounds as if there’s a bit of reframing needed in terms of what roles people play in the family: if the LW is usually away and their room is the ‘guest room’, then to my mind, that makes them a guest who should be accommodated just as much as their sister. If they are part of the regular household, they should be included in the discussions about how to accommodate extra people without inconveniencing anyone more than is reasonable. As it stands, it sounds as if they’re falling down the gap in between and ending up with the worst of both worlds.

        I’m also wondering where Dad is in all this? There are quite a few comments about how to make various suggestions to Mum and to sister, but it’s Dad who is physically sitting up in the LW’s sleeping space until past midnight. Depending on the OP’s relationship with him, maybe he could be part of finding an alternative sleeping space, or have some kind of ‘secret signal’ by which the LW indicates that they’d like to go to bed now and Dad wraps up the conversation with BiL and bundles him off to bed. Or as a last resort, the OP says to Dad “I’m really tired and I need to go to bed now – are you ready to go, or can I have your room?”

  11. duck-billed placelot said:

    Another option would be to share with your mom. If your dad is literally sitting on the place you’re supposed to sleep, just go crawl into their room. Then when he comes to wake you up, be loud and talkative. Hang some clothes in her closet. Make it her problem, too, and a solution will be forthcoming.

    Maybe said solution will be ‘whoever is up last sleeps on the couch’ (fair) or ‘huh, let’s clear out some space in the storage room’ (reasonable). Maybe the solution will be a frank talk about whether your parents still think you live there or not – if yes, they need a different way to handle guests. If not, well, you’re a guest. They should treat you like one, and go out of their way to make you comfortable.

  12. piny1 said:

    I’m not sure I agree with this advice. I mean, I don’t think this is a tradition problem or a we had no idea problem. I think it’s a we don’t care problem. And I don’t think the parents are going to be remotely helpful.

    The reason Sister and Husband they’re getting the guest room is that they’re Maaaaaaaaaarried. The LW is not married, therefore she does not need privacy or space. My family does the same thing to me, as the only unpaired kid, whenever we have gatherings, and my solution is that I’m never going anywhere with them again. That’s a bit drastic for most people, I know, but I feel for you: camping on the couch is stressful and exhausting, especially when you do it with people who have no respect for quiet hours or your belongings.

    I would talk to your sister. Explain to her that you love her, but that the way things are working is making it impossible for you to enjoy their visits. You have no privacy and get no sleep. Tell her that you need to lay out some ground rules for the next visit. One, you need to make sure that you get to bed at a decent hour, so you need people to vacate the living room at x time. Two, you need to collect your belongings in the morning, so you need to go into your bedroom at x time. (Your sister and her partner do not have to leave! You need to come in. To retrieve your clothes.)

    If she seems receptive, enlist her in the subsequent group discussion you have with your parents. Otherwise, just get her to help rein in her husband.

    These are some passive-aggressive measures you can take to protect your sleep:

    If your BiL and dad stay up in the living room talking until all hours, wander into a vacant bedroom and curl up like a tired child at a holiday party. When they complain, explain that you needed to sleep. Alternatively, try curling up on the nearest floorspace. If you get an air mattress, make a point of carrying it into the family room and setting it up as though you are going to sleep. Tell your family that you are going to sleep, and that you need them to let you sleep. If they have agreed to vacate the living room at x time, go in there a quarter of an hour earlier and start preparing for bed.

    Also, do not treat your bedroom as their bedroom for the duration of the visit. If you need to go in there, go in there, even if you think they’re asleep. (Knock first.)

    Also also, try bothering your parents with this. If your BiL and Dad are in the living room, go into your parents’ bedroom and visit your mom. Ask if you can curl up with her just for a little while. Ask if you can sleep on the floor. In the morning, when they’ve gotten up, go into their bedroom, and go to sleep on their bed. Act like you are fucking tired and did not get very much sleep. Ask if you can store your clothes in their bedroom.

    I mean, there’s no easy way to do this, but this is the thing: you want to be asleep, and they haven’t given you anyplace to do it in. You want to get dressed, but they haven’t provided you with access to your clothing. Start doing a variation on the tired-hosts thing: you’re going to bed, and they’re in the way.

  13. Baytree said:

    That’s a really frustrating situation to be in, LW. I’ve lived on sofas for several years at a stretch and it can be very comfortable if the situation is good. This situation? Not good.

    For the clothing problem, I suggest you simply stop giving your Sister and BIL the level of privacy you’re giving them. When you need something, knock quietly and go in… whether they’re sleeping or not. They should know the situation you’re in re: clothes and also be grateful they get the privacy of a room at all.

    As for sleeping. You need to have a discussion with the parents about this, and possibly with BIL. Getting a full night’s sleep is critical to your health and happiness. Is there another room in the house they could hang out in? Maybe a patio or something? If not, they will have to leave the room you sleep in when you need to sleep. I’m not quite sure from your letter – have you asked them about this yet? It may be one of those things where they didn’t know it was a problem until you bring it up. Hopefully.

  14. earthboundmisfit said:

    So familiar! As the only unmarried/childfree of four siblings, I’m always sent to the pullout sofa when we get together at holidays. This year I’m facing sleeping on the couch – NOT a pullout – while my parents sleep on the floor on an air mattress beside me, and given that my mother snores like a freight train I’m seriously considering sleeping in the unheated garage.
    My point is that I’m used to dealing with the night owl member of the family who wants to watch TV until 2 am in the living room serving as my bedroom. I just say out, I’m going to bed. He bitches, but he goes.

    • SunnySide said:

      Yes, yes to the just saying out. Something along the lines of, “hey, guys, you’re in my bedroom! and boy am I tired. So scoot, because I’m going to sleep. Right now. With the lights and TV off” is my speed.

      As far as the clothes go…is there a drawer somewhere? Entertainment center, storage thingy in a hallway? Maybe enough space can be found for a stack of clothes. Or put a box/bag in a closet. If mom has an issue, let her know you see your options as waking sis and BIL on your schedule (who wants that?) or just repurposing some storage space for a few days. It makes it an easy choice.

      The SO and I have a one bedroom with almost zero storage and every once in a while someone sleeps on our couch. Our small living room looks like chaos with someone using it as a bedroom – a little bit of clothes, pillows, blankets can look really messy. So I put a little chest in the room that fits the bedding with a little room leftover for extra storage and a flat top so they can put their bags there. It works nicely – maybe there’s a similar solution here.

  15. pip said:

    I had a similar situation resolve recently! I live the closest to my father, and I have lived with him for amounts of time best measured in months, and there is a room in his house that contains some of my things semi-permanently and is referred to as my room when I am there alone. There are two other bedrooms in the house, one of which is my father’s. When my two sets of married siblings and I visited our [then single] father, I was the one on the couch every night. I called it fair at first, but then my health started deteriorating. I medically require a certain amount of (quality!) sleep every night, and I was not getting enough any time I was in that situation; it was making me physically and neurologically ill to stay there, so I began avoiding family gatherings even though I absolutely love seeing all my siblings at once.

    Father was not sympathetic when I brought up the sleeping arrangements, though he is the only one who could share the living room sleeping duties without disrupting others. Brother made a smart remark about there not being enough room in the bed with him & his wife, but really it’s not like I would be comfortable sharing a bed with either of them (gender thing with brother, don’t know sister in law quite that well). Brother in law was actually the one who suggested that he take a turn on the couch and let me & sister share a bed. Voila, we had a solution! Since then, we’ve tried to coordinate such that everybody is there for the fewest number of nights in common with the greatest number of days in common, and he and I take turns on the couch. When I’m the one on the couch, siblings try to keep track of time and get out of the common spaces earlier, and they try not to get up in the mornings too early. (And I can go crash in a bed if there’s an empty one before I’m really ready to get up.)

    LW, I don’t know if you have an ally in your BIL like I did; it’s probably not super-common for guys to offer for the wives to share the bed with someone else. But you never know until you try! And I wish all the best for you with whatever solution works for your people.

  16. Marvel said:

    So, what I’m getting from this is, you and your sister are both gone most of the year and your bedrooms have been converted into spaces that are not yours anymore. But your sister somehow counts as a guest (to the point where you can’t even put clothes out so you can get dressed in the morning, which, frankly, is completely bizarre and not okay) but you don’t?

    This sounds like a really messed up family dynamic, to me. I have no additional advice for you, but I did want to express the fact that this isn’t okay.

  17. Drew said:

    I endorse all the suggestions about talking to family and proposing alternate arrangements, starting with “why don’t I just blow up an air mattress in the other bedroom, and everyone will be happy?” (assuming LW can sleep on an air mattress comfortably — getting a high-quality one is crucial!).

    But I think LW needs to be ready with a fallback if the family is adamant that she sleeps on the couch and she doesn’t sleep until other family members are damn good and ready to vacate her sleeping space and oh yeah having tomorrow’s clothes out is “clutter” (LOLWUT?) and of course we can’t clear the bedroom, that’s storage. That fallback is “Then I’m staying at a hotel/friend’s place, or sister/BIL are, or I’m not coming.” Being unmarried shouldn’t mean your right to privacy is always surrendered when a married sibling/relative/friend’s privacy is involved — it’s OK, sometimes, to say, “No, actually, this time I’d prefer to keep my room.”

    I’m willing to bet that it would only take one time of the LW following through on “Nope, not traveling all the way home to get three hours of crappy couch sleep every night for a week” for the situation to change. The threat itself might be leverage enough, in fact, if LW’s family places a premium on family togetherness.

    I would hope that LW’s parents would be reasonable when she points out that she’s feeling like a second-tier child, and find her an alternative that honors everyone’s privacy and place in the family. Best of luck to you.

  18. Depending on the duration of stays, another solution might be available in the form of priceline.com or hotwire.com. (I emphasize might because hotel prices can vary so widely)

    My partner’s family are lovely people, but for a long time they didn’t have a guest room, and now they have a guest room and a couch. Grandma and Grandpa get the guest room (TOTALLY FINE.) But I’m not about to act like at 31 I want to be sleeping on your couch when there is a perfectly good hotel a few miles a way where rooms cost about $30 a night.

    It sounds to me like there are just not enough beds or rooms in your parents house. So they need to make the space, or find another way to make everyone comfortable. Perhaps even the idea that you are considering getting a hotel room so you can get some sleep would be a good card in the negotiating game. It’s not that you don’t want to be there, it’s that you deserve to be comfortable.

    • tinyorc said:

      My family use this solution, as we are Large Family of Chronic Snorers™. We used to manage because a lot of the younger cousins were happy to be bundled up into one room together together, because it was like a fun holiday sleepover, but now that they are becoming fully-fledged people who need privacy and space, the logistics of musical beds in our house have just become impossible. It’s like that riddle where you have chicken and a fox and a horse where you have to get them across the river, and you can only have two in the boat at any one time, but also certain members of the party cannot be left alone together.

      One branch of our family usually end up staying in a nearby B&B or cheap hotel over the holidays. I believe all the sisters share the costs equally because the whole point is that we want to see each other and spend time together, and we’ll have a much nicer time if half of us are not exhausted and cranky from sleeping in pretzel position on dodgy lawn furniture. It works quite well, but obviously totally we’re in a privileged position to be able to afford it and it’s not a financially viable solution of every family.

  19. misspiggy said:

    A really great set of parents would have asked the LW how best to manage her losing her room over the holiday; or they would have made the LW feel comfortable enough in her home to kick people out of the living room and go in and get her clothes when she wanted. Why is it on her to facilitate her father’s bonding with BIL at the cost of a basic need like sleep? Why do her parents treat her sister like a guest who mustn’t know how little space they really have?

    I wonder whether there is also an assumption that the youngest genuinely won’t mind discomfort and inconvenience. In which case, the LW might want to start presenting a different self to her family, so that the dynamic doesn’t continue forever.

  20. I’ve had similar issues over the years, of which I’ll highlight two. In my teens I shared a room with my sister; the room was partitioned by a 3/4 height wall and she had the half closest to the door, which was also where both of our desks were (basically the room was split two thirds – one third). For a while she was having some problems – I can’t actually remember if it was a physical health thing (if so probably post-concussive disorder) or an emotional thing – but she was spending a lot of time in our room sleeping or aggressively wanting to be alone or whatever. And I was not allowed to disturb her. So for a lot of the day I didn’t have access to my room, and everywhere else in the house is public space. I’m an extreme introvert and I have MAJOR issues now about personal space, so it was incredibly stressful for me to have nowhere to retreat to, but my needs were pretty much subsumed by everyone else’s the entire time I spent growing up. That situation really only resolved itself when my sister’s needs changed.

    The second situation is, actually, right now. I moved out of town six months ago to escape the disaster zone and finish my studies, but was expected to come back over Christmas to visit. While I was gone, the repairs on my parents’ house were finally due to start, and they decided it would be easier to just move to an entirely new place rather than move everything into storage, find temporary accommodation (which there is VERY little of), then move everything back. So we’re in a completely new place now and there was some debate over where I was going to sleep. Originally there was going to be a mattress in what’s eventually going to be a spare room, but is currently filled with boxes. However last weekend there was another sharp aftershock, so it was decided we should probably give due deference to the stack of heavy things with corners and I could sleep on a couch in the living room.

    However this time they actually realised without me needing to say so that that wouldn’t work. My father, like the LW’s father and BiL, stays up REALLY late, albeit normally he’s working (self-employed). That means lights on, computer usage noise, possibly even phone calls, plus just the annoyingness of someone sitting there working when you’re trying to sleep and my general need to hide by myself for a not insignificant portion of the day. So my mother made room in her little study for a single mattress. I suspect my sister may have had something to do with this since we both have problems sleeping and, also like the LW, I go to bed earlier and also get up earlier than everyone else. I mean here we’re talking, I’m awake and thinking about playing games or checking my mail before my father goes to bed sometimes, which I suspect is more drastic than the LW, but it highlights how the living room idea REALLY wouldn’t have worked. It’s unfair to expect it of people and just assume they’ll be okay with it. And honestly, even having seen the enormous piles of stuff my father accumulates that expand to fill any given space, I find it unlikely that it would be impossible to find room for a mattress or something in the spare storage room. Considering how inconvenient the living room is, both for the LW and for the family (having her want to put her clothes nearby or sitting around waiting for father and BiL to go to bed), the storage room can’t really be any worse. Unless LW also lives on top of a grumbling active fault line, I guess.

  21. Erika said:

    This sounds so stressful, and I think you’ve been given some great ideas on how to tackle the problem.

    I wanted to share a story of a woman I used to work with as an example of how things SHOULD be done: She has two grown children that she is crazy over–they are her life. When said children both married and moved out, she and her husband down-sized their home to a one-bedroom, as people are wont to do. Three months later, they sold the smaller home and bought a larger home with four bedrooms and three baths. Her reasoning? She wanted her family to be all together as much as possible, and realized that there was no where for everyone to sleep in the smaller home, esp. once grandchildren were born. So the new home has a room for each couple plus a room for future grandchildren to sleep in once they got big enough for sleep-overs. Yes, this is a definite example of throwing money at the problem, but I have always found it sweet the way they planned ahead to make sure that their kids were all comfortable–and that they acknowledged that comfortable people make longer visits!

    • wondering said:

      Wow, it’s wonderful that they were able to do that, but it seems that buying a new house so that you can fit guests is a bit extreme? In that, the average family would not be able to afford it.

      • piny1 said:

        Yes, definitely. But the impulse is nice – I mean, understanding that if you want your family members to come and visit, you can’t make the experience miserable.

      • I renovated my basement to create an extra guest room. I’m NOT rich, nor even middle-middle-class, more just holding on to the bottom edge of middle class by my fingertips.

        See: if you are going to have people staying in your house on a regular basis, it’s your responsibility to HOST. Having a house that is welcoming to overnight guests, within reason given whatever financial situation you happen to have, is a lifestyle choice that takes work and prioritizing and investment, just like having yard furniture and a grill because you like to grill out on nice summer evenings, or living within X distance of whatever amenities are important to you. And yes, when priorities and lifestyle choices change, homes need to be adapted, and sometimes adapting is not enough and moving house is the thing to do.

        I really think if the LW’s parents wanted to MAKE THAT CHOICE, they would do something about that “storage” bedroom in November knowing that she’s coming home for the holidays. But that’s me being judgmental, which I was trying not to do in my original comment upthread.

      • Erika said:

        Remember, they’d just sold one house and moved into a smaller house, so they had cash on hand. And then they sold the smaller house for more than they paid for it in the first place, so they were able to go to the larger house fairly easily. As I said above, it’s an extreme example of throwing money at the problem, but the thought behind it is sound.

  22. Emma said:

    Do you know anyone nearby who might be traveling away from your town for Christmas, and might let Sister/BIL or you stay in their house? Especially anyone with pets that you could take care of while they’re gone? I know I always have trouble finding someone to feed the cats over Christmas, and I would be more than happy to have someone stay in my apartment while visiting family if they would help out there.

    This could also be a good way to sell it to the family, if you were helping out a family friend with pets or shoveling to keep their driveway from icing up etc.

    • LW 532 said:

      I wish! I live in a kind of isolated area (my high school bus stop was roughly a mile from the house), and I didn’t keep in touch with people I knew from high school. It would be more than a little weird to just contact them out of the blue.
      In retrospect, my dad would probably move if I asked. I’m just really hesitant to intrude. I think I’ve inherited my mom’s tendency to assume I’m the one in the way, regardless of whether or not it’s the case.

    • This is a brilliant Idea and if anyone needs a place to stay over Holidays on the north side of chicago, let me know! Holiday pet care is expensive.

      • JenniferP said:

        Ha! I’ve made arrangements for the cat already, but I also read this and thought: DAMN, GOOD IDEA.

  23. KitS said:

    This letter really hits close to home right now, and I deeply sympathize with the LW. LW, your family has put you in a completely untenable position for years, and you definitively have the right to ask for a place to sleep that isn’t occupied by other people being awake. You have the right to keep to your routines, even if they do not coincide with others – and getting up and dressed at your chosen time is one of those things.

    I myself am a bit apprehensive about Christmas and sleeping places. For the first time in several years, my sister and her family (two kids) are coming to stay at Christmas. My mother has two guest rooms, and a small room now converted into a study. Before, each of us siblings got one room each – I would sleep in the study, usually with the smallest child – leading to that most memorable of Christmas moments, when I had pneumonia and my sister admonished me for coughing so loud because I was disturbing the baby.

    However, there’s only two guest rooms, and 6 people, and I’m afraid my sister will claim the kids are too big for them all to stay in one room. My brother, the only one who lives in town, will most likely sleep on the couch for the one night he stays (Christmas Eve), or perhaps even go home. But I am really, really scared my sister will insist my niece (7) sleep with me. I will refuse, and that will be a Big Thing. But I cannot sleep with her – she is an octopus in bed, and the only time I tried sleeping with her, about a year ago, I ended up fleeing to the couch. I cannot function with little sleep. It just doesn’t work for me.

    Add to that the fact that my mother just had surgery, to which my sister’s reaction was – you’re on sick leave, I’ll send the kids up early so that I can clean house! My mom said no, understandably. I don’t want to cause a scene, but I am definitely doing to use my words.

    Uff da, I didn’t think I was this anxious about it all.

    • monologue said:

      This sounds like it’s going to be tough. You’re not wrong to want your own kid free room. This probably sounds harsh, but they aren’t your kids so. If I was one of the siblings in your family I would probably advocate for 1 sibling in each room, kids go with their parents or living room/basement/other room when your bro leaves. Good luck and I hope it works out for you!

      • KitS said:

        Thank you for the advice. I do think/hope my brother in law sees the problem (he usually does) and sleeps at his Mom’s couch in her tiny apartment, leaving my sister with the 7- and 9-year old, perhaps even one of them on a fold-up bed in their room. I think there might be room, even if it will be crowded. But it is good to get the validation that I am not unreasonable in this.

        I am extremely sound sensitive when sleeping, and I wake up really early as is, so there’s a good chance I will be getting less sleep than usual anyway.

    • Katrien said:

      As an additional option, could the kids camp out on the couch? I don’t know how old they are, but I know that I always thought it was an awesome adventure when I got to sleep in a place that’s normally off-limits. (And kids tend to be both a) smaller than adults, so they fit better on couches, and b) much less sensitive to imperfect sleeping surfaces for a few nights).

      Whatever you go with, I hope things work out! Your sister sounds like a real pain over the holidays.

    • Drew said:

      Another suggestion: could you stay with your brother at his place? Sounds like it’s close enough for him to go back and forth easily, and if he’s only planning one night at the ol’ homestead, max, then maybe he feels the same way about sister’s brood as you do. It could be bonding time!

      • KitS said:

        Unfortunately, my brother is even more of an introvert than I am, which is why I think he will be lobbying to go home late Christmas Eve (which is when we celebrate Christmas.) That will mean that either my Dad or my BiL cannot drink alcohol with their Christmas dinner to drive him. I just don’t think that he will be able to sleep on the couch, which he has never done before, because it will be out of his comfort zone. As it is, his apartment is too tiny to accommodate guests. He loves the kids, and I am sure the kids will have no problems with whatever arrangement we come up with – it’s their mother who is slightly problematic. And like in the LW’s family, the singles are supposed to yield, With my brother’s issues, however, it is recognized that he is less capable of being flexible than I am, so it’s usually me who have to yield.

  24. acr said:

    OP, what would happen if you just waited to a certain time, and told your BiL, “I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed. You can sleep in the recliner so you and dad can stay up as long as you want!” Do so in a cheerful tone and just act like this is just the logical thing to do.

    Captain Awkward’s wording is super nice, but one thing I have found is that using words that are harsher and angrier can work better. Sometimes you have to become the squeaking wheel. So perhaps you can say to mom, “So, basically I’m not allowed to sleep more than 5 hours a night, because dad and BiL take over the living room until midnight, then you’re up and starting your day at 5 am.” You don’t need to scream, but you can let your tone sound angry. Just see what your mom does with that. Sometimes you get results by refusing to be pleasant. Don’t be a huge jackass, but be touchy enough that your parents will actually stop and weigh whether or not it’s worth it to irritate or inconvienence you.

    Example for how this worked for me: My parents have a 3-bedroom lakehouse. The first summer they had it, of course everyone wanted to be there Labor Day weekend. My sister and her husband and his 2 kids were going to be there Friday through Sunday, then they would return home and I would be there Sunday and Monday. That way everyone got time at the lakehouse and we weren’t trying to cram as many people into bedrooms. Well, my sister and her family were having so much fun that they asked momk if they c ould stay sunday night. She (of course) said yes without even bothering to ask me. I was sent to my aunt’s to sleep that night. I didn’t have my car with me, so I missed a huge amount of that weekend, which included dwatching our puppies fall into the lake a few dozen times.

    I got pretty ugly about it. That and one other incident made me refuse to be at the lake house when my sister and her husband were. Both of my parents scolded me for making things so uncomfortable and said I was being unreasonable. But I always brought up that weekend. I even said something like, “You got to see our dogs find the lake and fall into the lake and I will never see that. I missed it and I don’t know if I will ever fully forgive that. I already yielded 2/3 of the weekend to Sister and her family. But that wasn’t enough.” I admit – I deliberately made my mom feel really bad and guilty about it. But my mom is an enabler and I knew that if I didn’t draw that line HARD, I would fall into a pattern of enabling her enabling.

    Now my mom is much more respectful and has never done that to me again. My parents are usually much more equitable than they were in this situation – neither my mom or sis thought it through.

  25. They threw the money in our case and it hurt a lot. My parents’ house had one master bedroom; a second room with two singles and a sewing machine; and lots of other rooms full of furniture. They were happy to host the daughter of a childhood friend in the second room over the winter holidays.

    When they invited us for New Year’s they put us up in a motel in ready walking distance to their house. They liked it so well they continued to underwrite a motel room whenever we visited, even when the second room was empty.

    Less time with the parents is better time, yet this still hurt deeply. I felt unloved and disregarded. MyGuy reminded me that I was unloved and disregarded–by them, but not by him–and this way we got nicer cotton sheets we could mess up in interesting ways.

    Staying in a motel room can be like the only kid at the card table in the kitchen.

  26. ona555 said:

    Re: the storage bedroom, it just occurred to me, isn’t that what basements, garages, attics and sheds are for? I know not everyone has sufficient space in their home, and not everyone has a home with storage built in, but one can purchase a shed for not all that much money if one has an outdoor place to put it. LW didn’t say whether their parents’ home was a single family, a condo, or apartment, so I went with single family, but even barring a place to put a shed, there are these amazing things called rental storage units that one can rent short term so that once yearly visitors will have somewhere to sleep on that air mattress. Is getting the stored items out of the storage room to make room for guests not an option for some reason?

    • LW 532 said:

      The short answer is that the space doesn’t exist: it’s a single-story, single family home, with no basement and an attic that can’t be accessed at this point. As for a shed or external rented storage, I don’t think it’s really my place to dictate that anymore, since I don’t live there for the vast majority of the year. Maybe they’ll move things around after I graduate, or maybe the space will be likewise absorbed. Unless they ask for my help, I don’t think I can give it.

  27. Marna Nightingale said:

    LW, I hear you so much. This is one of those situations where it’s bringing up a lot of my stuff and I don’t want to get my stuff all over you so I’m not going to try to tackle the major issues.

    But I have a small, practical idea about clothes, etc. This is a Christmas problem, yes? Maybe this?

    Procure one largeish, sturdy box, ideally something like a filing box with a separate lid. Wrap box and lid – individually – with cheerful Christmas paper and perhaps a gift-tag that says TO LW FROM RUDOLF AND THE GANG or something. Store box under or near Christmas tree, full of whatever you need for the next day.

    If your family complains about THAT, well, at least then you can officially stop wondering who the unreasonable one is?

  28. LW 532 said:

    Just one last update: I still spent the night on the recliner, but we did establish more reasonable sleeping times, and after pointing out that I need to be able to change in the morning, I was able to keep a backpack with the next day’s clothes in the living room. Thanks again! I hope you all had a great holiday. :)

    • Yay! Thanks for the update.

    • Excellent! Well done you, and thanks for reporting back, it’s so great when LW’s let us know how things shook out. :)

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