Why you should invite people over when your house is a mess

invite people over, cleaning for guests

“Couldn’t we meet at your house?” your sister-in-law asks.

You say, “Ummm let me just check if that will work…maybe we can meet at Olive Garden instead?” feeling you are nowhere near ready to have people over.

If your guts seize when you think of having people inside your home, you are not alone. People everywhere meet at coffee shops and restaurants rather than bringing guests home.

Won’t our friends judge us slatterns and slobs if they see how we really live?

We imagine others have immaculate updated kitchens and polite children, hosting Swedish koffeklatches with tiny open-faced sandwiches. Couldn’t we be like that if we just tried a bit harder?

I see you, person who believes HGTV is real.

My husband’s family is coming into town and we are hosting breakfast. But, partially painted kitchen cabinets fill the living room. Our displaced kitchenware sits on counters. There’s a defunct sewing project spread about and an old mattress leaning against the wall.

How could we possibly invite people into this? We’re doing it anyway.

Decorative edging not required

A vintage ’50s ad for shelf liners assured “Royledge shelf paper keeps your closets ready for your most critical audience!” Seventy years ago, this company alarmed my grandma by suggesting people would look in her closet and criticize her lack of decorative edging.

Is that any different than today’s fear that my friends will come into my home and despise me for my messy cupboards and lack of reclaimed barn wood floors?

Like having a distorted body image, it’s easy to develop a distorted house image. Images of homes perfectly staged to entertain are everywhere, homes that are full of props and professional photographic lighting, and that don’t really look that good in real life.

The implication is that real houses with real faults are just not ready for guests. But resist manufactured perfectionism; real or imagined deficiencies are not a reason to deny yourself company in your home.

You are not alone

A few years ago, a study found that over a third of Americans worry about house clutter when they invite people over. Organizing guru Marla Cilley, aka Flylady, calls this situation CHAOS, or “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome”.

At the same time, about half of Americans report feeling lonely or left out, according to a 2018 Cigna study. About half of adults say they don’t have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis. Single parents and guardians are even more lonely than those who live alone.

Social media doesn’t help. The solution is to build relationships with people in real life.

Having people over is about people

Forget fancy notions of “entertaining” and just open your home to the people you would like to know better.

Close friendships don’t get built at Olive Garden

According to a study from the University of Kansas, it takes oodles of time to build a friendship. It takes 40–60 hours of friend time to move from “acquaintance” to “casual friend”, 80–100 more hours to become a “simple friend” and 200 hours to build a close friendship.

It’s hard to build up that kind of friend time in a restaurant.

Love me, love my chickens

My women’s garden and homestead group holds meetings in members’ homes. Everyone feels closer to the hostess when we meet her family and animals.

Having people in your home is a form of self-disclosure, one of the elements that build deep friendships. Make it easy by hosting game or crafting nights or by cooking together.

Our members visit at home to learn how to set up a beehive or make herbal tinctures or share hard jobs. Sharing tasks and fun make encounters feel more significant.

Hosting resets “normal” for everyone

Hosting in your messy house makes it okay for people to host you in their own messy home. It’s freeing to be hosted by people who care more about being with you than about showing off their perfect decor.

The earth doesn’t swallow you up if your house is messy when other people cross the threshold.

You might live longer

Those with solid social ties live longer, healthier lives. This is true independent of factors such as obesity, smoking and drinking, diet, exercise and socioeconomic status.

Guess what’s not on the list-whether or not your house is clean.

It’s a risky decision to let the state of your house dictate whether or not you build stronger relationships. Friends and family are real assets that keep on giving the more you invest time, trust and reciprocity.

Start at square one

You don’t need to invite your most persnickety friend straight out of the gate. Build your comfort level gradually and let the experience motivate you to open up to others.

Invite the loving and the indifferent

Begin with down-to-earth people and people who love you.

Invite your most easy-going family members in for dessert; have some of the neighborhood kids in to make cookies; order takeout and watch a movie with a friend.

People remember if they felt taken care of and welcome.

Expand your friend zone

In the “Tidying Up” Netflix series, families welcomed Marie Kondo into relatively well organized living rooms before revealing their hoards in the back rooms.

It’s fine to host friends in a relatively clear common area when the rest of the house is still in process. Call it “the friend zone”.

Check in with yourself

When you do host people, ask yourself what you would like to work on to make it easier and more comfortable next time.

Does the hall closet need room for guest coats? Do you want to declutter an adjoining room for next time? Use your experience to motivate your house habits.

Also celebrate what went well—do you feel closer to your friends and family? Really take a moment to feel proud of yourself when you stretch your comfort zone to build connections with other people.

Plan your next occasion while you still feel good about the last one. Who do you want to invite? When?

The more you host people the better equipped you’ll be and the more fun you’ll have.

Feel the love

Imagine how good it will feel to have people over regularly and to enjoy spending time with people you like and love and want to know better.

You’ll no longer suffer embarrassment or angst, instead you’ll be able to invite friends and neighbors over on the spur of the moment. Envision welcoming people in when they drop by.

How much deeper will your relationships be when you can relax and spend all the time you want hanging out?

You can do this just by taking the first step. All it takes to get started is to pick one person you want to know better, get it on the calendar and go.

The more you practice the easier it will get and the deeper your relationships will be.

4 thoughts on “Why you should invite people over when your house is a mess”

  1. Thank you for this wonderful article! I have decided to task my group with hosting each other with the express directive – “Clean if you must, but leave the clutter where it is.” While my world seems to shrink smaller and smaller, I am filled with anxiety about people coming over. While I know I’m easing up a lot on myself and my home, I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be in terms of tidiness or comfortable hospitality despite my lack thereof. Your wise words help so much and are exactly what I needed to read.

    1. I’m so glad the article was helpful! What a good idea to make sure your group members know it’s OK to actually live in your house. Your comment makes me remember a family I was close with as a kid. Their house wasn’t tidy or Instagram-worthy but I remember being welcome and important there. People remember how they feel with you in your house, not really anything else. Thank you for your kind words.

  2. Cindy Bonner-Evans

    I hesitate to invite people over to my home because I have only one real bathroom and it’s upstairs. My basement is neat but there’s is only a toilet and a utility sink. My home is almost 100 yrs. old and that’s how many of the homes were built then. I enjoyed your article. Do you have any suggestions for my particular case. Thank you

    1. Hi there,
      Thank you for this question. I agree, it can be a barrier if you would need to let people into an area you don’t feel good about. It sounds like your basement restroom is fine for people as long as it’s private. A toilet and a utility sink is all anyone really needs after all. Could you start by inviting your close friends and family that love you and just let them know the basement bathroom is the best option right now? That way you can get more comfortable having people over. Then, if the upstairs is currently off-limits because of clutter or safety maybe you can just work on the route to the upstairs bathroom. If possible, maybe you could make the hallway acceptable to you and just shut all the other doors? If possible, I recommend starting where you are with the people who are most positive and accepting and then spend some time improving the situation so you’re comfortable enough. It doesn’t need to be perfect, or spotless, or updated, just safe and free of tripping hazards. Most of the time you will be far more judgmental of your space than other people, since most people don’t actually live in a magazine-ready home. Good luck!

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