Here is the thing about showing hospitality: it is not about you. It’s not about establishing your reputation as a woman-of-all-trades or showcasing your perfectly decorated home or parading your obedient children up and down the stairs like the Von Trapps. You’ll free yourself up from a lot of unnecessary obligations if you filter all of your preparations through the grid of “What will make this guest feel most comfortable?”
Here’s the wonderful answer: no one is “comfortable” eating seven courses around a table that looks like it belongs at Downton Abbey. Most people prefer simple food in a home that feels a lot like their own, that is to say: one that is a little messy and imperfect.
This means that my preparations are a little different every time depending on who is coming over. I have a simple ten-minute routine that I do every time we have company. After that, I ask myself: “Will these friends be most comfortable by joining into our family’s chaos?” If the answer is yes, I leave the rest of the house as-is: toys scattered around, kids’ rooms cluttered, floor crumby.
We have other friends who are accustomed to a little more serenity in their lives, and so for their sake I’ll make a few extra runs through the house, wiping the nastiest smudges off of the floor and glass doors, putting away the step stool and potty seat from the bathroom, collecting the toys into their bins in the corner of the living room. (There are some exceptions, of course, but usually guests with kids prefer chaos and guests who don’t have kids appreciate a little extra order.)
Now if you’ve just gotten home from a long vacation, or if someone in the family has been sick for a while, or if you’re coming off of one of those busy seasons where it’s hard to keep up with day-to-day maintenance, this ten-minute cleaning routine may not cut it. But assuming your house is a normal level of messy (that is to say, nice and “lived-in” but not needing to be condemned by the health department), this should do the trick.
1. Guest bathroom spot-clean. (Even your closest friends will appreciate a clean potty.) Clear off the counter and sink. If you have a bunch of kid clutter, stick it in the tub and close the shower curtain, or stash it all in the cabinet under the sink. Using a baby wipe, wipe down the counter, sink, and toilet. (Make sure to go in that order.) Get another wipe and go over the floor around the base of the toilet.
Make sure there’s plenty of TP on the roll and soap and a clean towel for hand-washing. For a special touch, light a candle.
Estimated time: 2 minutes
(To make this task as fast as possible, store wipes, extra towels, and maybe even a bottle of Windex in the bathroom. Don’t make yourself run across the house every time you need cleaning supplies!)
2. Clutter Triage. (This stage is where you’ll be really thankful for a small house!) Get an empty laundry basket and walk through your public spaces, looking at your clutter with the eyes of your guest. Remove anything that is for family eyes only. This includes but is not limited to: piles of bills/bank statements, dirty diapers, dirty laundry (especially underwear), and animal chew toys. Also think about the safety of your smallest guests: if you have toddlers coming over, be sure to pick up things that are sharp/pokey or tiny choking hazards.
Remove the clutter from your dining table (if that’s where you will be eating) and from your couches so you can invite your guests to sit down.
If you have some spare time, go ahead and put all that stuff where it belongs. If your guests are pulling into the driveway, just stash the whole basket in the laundry room or in your bedroom and shut the door. (Don’t forget where you put those bills, though!)
3. Kitchen touch-up. Fill up your sink with soapy water and submerge all the dirty dishes. (Bonus: they’ll be super easy to clean hours later when you come back to them!). If this still looks unappetizing, cover up your sink with your biggest wooden cutting board. (Conceal, don’t feel!) Oversized items like cookie sheets or mixing bowls can be hidden away in the dishwasher.
Clear non-essential clutter off of the counter and hide it in your laundry room or bedroom. (Or, you know, put it away, time permitting.)
If you still have time to spare, go ahead and tackle one of these projects that gives you good return for your time:
1. Sweep off the front porch (especially nice during June bug season)
2. Sweep/vacuum main living spaces (Or just go around and pick up big trash with your hands. And then wash them.)
3. Windex front glass door
4. Additional clutter pick up
Now take the kids outside until it’s time for your company to arrive!
Keep reading in this series: What’s for Dinner?