People end up in the kitchen. You can try to keep them out, but they'll find a way to get in there anyhow. Put away the random stuff on the countertop (hide paperwork, bills, anything personal you don't want on display) and wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe or spray. If you have dirty dishes in the sink, load up the dishwasher and turn it on. If you don't have a dishwasher, handwash the dishes if you have enough time, or hide them. Seriously. It's okay, I won't tell. Put them in a box in the garage, or in the oven (remember to take them out before preheating!!!!). Wet a dishtowel and quickly mop up any noticeable crumbs from the floor.
Do not attempt to clean the play room, or the kids' bedrooms unless you have time to do so. Kids make messes, it's part of their job, and if you're inviting more kids into your home, it's pretty much a waste of valuable time and energy to tidy before they arrive. The best thing to do is to let them loose then have a 10-Minute Tidy before they leave. The parents won't know who made what mess and your toy room will actually be in better shape than it was before the company came. If you have little kids on the way over, it's always a good idea to make sure the marble games and other small-piece games are put up high and out of reach.
Make the House Smell Good
This is the last thing to do before company arrives. Light a smelly candle (I like vanilla, apple, cinnamon, or similar food-smells) or Windex something. The smell of Windex smells like clean. Vinegar works just as well to clean windows and smudges off of doorknobs and light switches, but Windex will create a powerful punch in the air, and your guests will think you've spent HOURS cleaning. This is a trick that realtors do right before showing a house that's not in the best-of-shape. They Windex the front doorknob or the lightswitch right by the front door, so the second people arrive to tour the home they get a whiff of "clean"—that smell triggers something psychologically and visitors feel/believe that even if the home is in disrepair, it's clean.
There's a school of thought that believes (and rightfully so!) that a good friend will not care what condition your home is in, the friend is there just to see you, and to enjoy your company. This is true. But you will be more comfortable, and will entertain more often if your home is put-together and ready for guests. You won't have a sinking feeling in your stomach when you run into an old friend shopping and she wants to get together for coffee to catch up. You'll invite the neighborhood kids in for a snack rather than watching from the window as they destroy your newly-sprouted bulbs. You won't fly off the handle when your husband calls to say he's invited his co-workers over for dinner. You'll offer to host the next book club meeting.
A good friend will appreciate everything you do to make her feel comfortable, and will offer to help clear dishes at the end of a fun night and will make an effort to get the kids to help clean up. And then she'll invite you to her house.
Stephanie O'Dea is a New York Times best-selling author of the Make it Fast, Cook it Slow cookbooks, blogger, slow-cookerer, and shortcut queen.