So this is the pressing question when it comes to hospitality,
“How clean does my home need to be in order to have people over?”
We’ve probably all heard the spectrum of answers. Lately what I hear most is that we all need to be real with each other and have people into our home whenever and at whatever time, no matter how it looks and whether or not the laundry is piled high on the couch or not. It’s the idea that we need to just be real with each other about how our homes normally look.
Others would say, perhaps from an older generation, that your guests should be able to walk into any area of the house and it be cleaned and tidy, closets included. They might even say you should plan for enough time to have your home cleaned well and a good meal ready, even down to where the last 30 minutes before your guests arrive you can sit calmly on your couch and wait for your guests to arrive (enter all sorts of laughing out loud right now).
I think my philosophy falls somewhere in between the two spectrums:
Your home should be clean enough to where you feel comfortable in it and aren’t worried about it while your guests are there, and to where they feel wanted and not like an added burden to all that you already have going on in your home.
But it doesn’t have to be perfect, and the preparations for hospitality don’t have to take all day.
Here’s what I mean:
For me, a messy house can really stress me out, and that’s the last way I want to feel when guests are coming over. To have dinner guests over when my counters are loaded with piles and there’s no room to sit at the table and the laundry has to literally be pushed aside for anyone to sit on the couch makes me a nervous wreck. It’s a huge distraction and takes away from the real focus: your guests.
Hospitality should be about you guests, looking to their needs and loving them and building new friendships or strengthening old ones, and not about your mess.
I don’t feel like I can host well when I’m worried about all that stuff. I want to be able to have friends gathered around my island with drinks and plates full of food and not have to wonder where to put everything. I want friends to be able to sit comfortably on the couch without wondering if they should help me fold my laundry. I want kids to be able to find toys to play with without having to forage through all of my kids junk all over their bedroom floor.
If all of these things were the case and I was faced with having friends over for dinner even if the house stayed messy, I think I would have to say yes. People over things, every time.
Which brings me to the heart of things–
I don’t want my desire for an orderly home to get in the way of our hospitality. I don’t want to say No just because I can’t fathom how to get our house in order and dinner cooked by then. I don’t want to miss out on relationship building because I’m too concerned about what people will think of my messy home.
And I think this is what that first group of people is getting at–you will avoid hospitality if everything in your home has to be perfect first; it just won’t happen. And then if you can only have people into your home if it’s perfect, you are possibly setting a standard that is unmeetable and unreasonable, both for yourself and for others who want to return the favor of hospitality.
But I think it’s possible to quickly make it comfortable before even last minute guests arrive, enabling you to say Yes more often, and to not feel panicky about it.
What I’ve learned over the years of having people into our home is that I have to lower my expectations for what a “guest-ready” home looks like. I’ve lowered it way down.
I used to spend all day cleaning before people came for dinner, and honestly I was exhausted by the time they arrived. In recent years, though, we’ve gotten really efficient at tidying up our home, and it’s a team effort.
Pretty much it involves a quick family clean-up of all surfaces and anything that’s on the floor, perhaps a quick sweep or vacuum, and a fast sending of the kids to their rooms to clean up.
I sometimes don’t even wipe down the toilet. I know, it’s scandalous.
But, maybe you feel like your house is way messier than that and would take 8 hours to clean up surfaces and floors. And you may have little children who can’t really help. I know, we all have different baselines for what is tidy for our own home and we all have different scenarios going on, so it’s going to be different for everyone.
Maybe there should be a few rules of thumb:
- Clean up the gross. If it’s just gross, clean it up. Clorox wipes are your best friend. And honestly little children seem to love taking a wipe and wiping anything they can get their hands on, so take advantage of that!
- Chose the most important surface for having guests over and clear that space.
- Chose the most important seating area and clear that space.
- Flush the toilet. At the very least.
- Set a timer for the whole family to participate in the clean-up, including your husband.
- Your garage is your friend.
- The top of your washing machine is your friend (with the lid closed, of course)
- Don’t apologize for the messy house…Just welcome people in with a warm smile and a good meal.
In my heart I agree with the first idea I mentioned, about letting everyone into our real lives. And I definitely think there is a place for that realness. I want people to know my home is open whenever they need to stop by, and that it’s not always perfect and far from it. My neighbor actually thinks my home feels cozy when it’s messy, so there’s that.
But there is nothing wrong with quickly creating a relaxing space for guests to hang out, even if it means shoving all the laundry baskets in your bedroom and dumping all the piles of papers in a box and sticking it into the garage.
I don’t think that is hiding the real us, it’s just making the house more comfortable for other people. I don’t think it means I’m trying to put on a show for my guests and make them think that my house is always this put together, it’s just taking a couple of minutes to make the space where guests hang out more relaxing and welcoming.
All in all I want to be pursuing people, having them into my home, enjoying my time with them, and building relationships that will hopefully last a long, long time.
And it doesn’t have to be perfect to accomplish that.
*This post is second in a series on Hospitality. Read the first post here about being obedient to God’s call and saying Yes to hospitality. Up to come–What role do men have in this hospitality thing? And what should our attitude be like as the recipients of hospitality? Also, we’ll talk about food and making things pretty, because I like both of those things.
As always, thanks for reading!