Let’s talk housekeeping. Not ordinary housekeeping. Not “Do the Laundry on Wednesday and Clean the Bathrooms on Fridays” housekeeping. But, rather, “Friends are Coming Over Tonight, and We Need to Get the House Ready” housekeeping. What exactly, in that scenario does “get the house ready” mean?
This is an important question, because how you answer it determines: 1) How free you feel to have people over; and 2) How crazy you make yourself and everyone in your household prior to your guests’ arrival.
In recent weeks, lots of people I’ve talked to on Facebook and Instagram about this are under the impression that before anyone crosses the threshold of their homes, they need to do their best impersonation of this lady.
This is a bad idea. If you think you have to deep clean your house every time friends come over, you will either never have friends over or everyone in your family, including you, will dread it when you do.
On the other hand, we all want to honor our guests as best we can, and sending them into a bathroom visibly frequented by a three-year-old boy in the middle of potty-training seems…well…less than honoring.
So, when hosting, what do you need to do? What is the absolute minimum for pre-guest cleaning?
Obviously, different people will have different answers to that question. But, presuming your house does get the occasional actual cleaning (your floors have been mopped or vacuumed and bathrooms scrubbed sometime in the last 30 days) and that no one has called you about being on an episode of Hoarders…here’s how I answer that question for an ordinary gathering of friends or when someone joins us for dinner.
Must Do (For Guests)
For the personal comfort and enjoyment of guests, only two (sometimes three) things absolutely need to get done before anyone arrives at my door for dinner.
- In the bathroom guests will use, I quickly wipe down the toilet, sink, and the floor in front of the toilet (because men). I might put out a fresh hand towel if necessary. If I think guests will use our upstairs hall bathroom, in addition to the downstairs powder room, I do all that again, ignoring the bathtub. That’s what shower curtains are for.
- I clear off the dining room table and/or living room chairs, moving laundry, papers, books, etc. (even if that means just temporarily relocating them to a closet or bedroom). Because guests need a place to sit.
- If there is a crawling baby numbered among our guests, I clear the floor of any items on which they could possibly choke.
Must Do (For Me)
The above three things are my absolute minimum. They’re all I know I have to do. And they’re all I think anyone else has to do either. But over the years, I have found that for my own sanity doing a few more things helps if I have time. These things make it easier for me to cook and host and clean up afterwards. This is just me, though. Your mileage will vary.
- Clear kitchen counters of dirty dishes used earlier in the day (or week);
- Wash dirty dishes and run the dishwasher;
- Wipe down kitchen counters;
- Sweep kitchen floor;
- Straighten pillows in living room and den;
- Take mail on the entry table up to my office;
- Make our bed if it’s not already made (but, it almost always is, because I’m one of those people);
- Shut doors to any rooms I don’t want people entering.
Things I Do Not Worry About
Unless I’m hosting my husband’s boss or inviting 400 strangers to traipse through my home and judge me (like I did this past Christmas), there is a whole host of things I simply don’t do or worry about. Like…
- Bedrooms: If they’re messy, I just close the door.
- Offices: If it’s messy (mine always is), I just close the door.
- Bathrooms guests won’t use: If they’re messy, I just close the door (you should be sensing a theme here).
- Mudrooms and Laundry Rooms: These are utility rooms; it’s okay for them to look like that.
- Playrooms/Kid’s Rooms; Regardless if other kids are coming over or not, kids will re-trash these in .25 seconds. If it’s clean, great. If it’s not, why bother cleaning it now? (Note: I didn’t even check the playroom before the kids arrived last night. That’s how much I cared about that space.)
- Marks, handprints, and “artwork” on walls: I usually clean these things off when I find them. But right before guests arrive is not the time to worry about this.
- Visible toys: If kids live in your house, my theory is you don’t have to hide it. Just create a Lego-free path about your house, move any large items that guests might trip over, and call it good.
- Dusting: You should dust your house from time to time. But right before guests arrive does not need to be that time. As long as clouds of dust don’t rise up when people sit down on the sofa, some dust bunnies aren’t going to kill anyone.
- Windows: Just in case anyone is crazy enough to think cleaning windows is a necessary part of pre-hosting prep…it’s not.
As a general rule, even for big parties I never spend more than an hour these days straightening up the house before people come. It’s usually more like 20-30 minutes, because that’s really all I’ve got time for. I call this “Power Straightening.” It involves Chris keeping Toby occupied while I move through the house like a redheaded tornado, tidying things up in the main rooms and closing doors upstairs. Note: I straighten. I tidy. I do not clean. And I really do ignore rooms with doors. For evidence, see below.
Adapt my lists as you see fit. Some people need to do more for their sanity; others less. But, when in doubt, put yourself in your guests’ shoes. Imagine you’re new in town and looking to make friends…or longing for adult conversation after a week alone with the kids…or the last single friend, who is struggling with the loneliness that comes when everyone else has a house full of littles and you have none. So, imagine you’re them…and then imagine how all your excuses for not inviting them over for supper sound.
Host: I’m sorry, I can’t have you over tonight. My kids’ bedrooms aren’t clean.
Guest: Um…are we eating in your kids’ bedrooms?
Host: I’m sorry, I can’t have you over, I have laundry on the dining room table.
Guest: We can eat in the kitchen.
Host: I’m sorry, I can’t have you over, but there are toys everywhere.
Guest: You have five kids. Of course there are toys everywhere. I don’t care.
Host: I can’t have you over because my bed isn’t made…my floors aren’t mopped…my walls haven’t been scrubbed…
Guest: I’m coming to see you. I don’t care about the rest.
You get the idea. The point is, ordinary, healthy human beings don’t go over to their friends’ houses to see picture perfect homes and eat five star cuisine. We have Instagram and actual restaurants for those things. We go to our friends’ houses to be with our friends—to talk with them, laugh with them, and love them. And your ability to give that to people is not dependent on your housekeeping skills. It’s dependent on your willingness to let people into your home, be real with them, and love them where they are.
I said this on Instagram earlier this week, and I’ll say it again here: Right now, someone you know is lonely and struggling and longing to be included in your crazy family life….or just have a break from cooking dinner. Let them in. Even if all you have room for is one extra person. Don’t worry about the toys in the living room or the broken dining room chairs. Serve them pizza on paper plates if you need to. Your guests won’t care. You are so much more than your housekeeping or cooking or decorating skills. If your guests have your time and your attention, they’ll have the best you can give.