It’s that time of year! Or at least historically now is the time of year when we put on our silly little velvet dresses and add some glitter to our eyeshadow and find some sparkly tights that make our legs look great and travel from house to house. for a form of holiday tatting. Instead of focusing on us getting into the third season of a pan dulce, why not go back in time with me.
Imagine it: 2019, all of your friends and a hot new friend from a friend you want to flirt with are coming in three days to toast for the New Year. And you couldn’t help but wonder if your house was clean enough for guests? What steps do you need to take in moving your home from a place that is clean enough for you to live in, to a place that uses cleanliness (among other things) as a sign of welcome and hospitality to your loved ones?
1. Smells matter
Have you ever walked into someone else’s house and it’s not dirty, strictly speaking, but it just doesn’t smell like home? Our noses are so, so sensitive, and whether they are conscious or not, it affects our ability to be comfortable. Think of the comforting smells of your favorite baked pie. Now think about the smell of New York on a hot August afternoon. I imagine that one of these smells (pie) makes you feel more cozy and comfortable than the other (trash city).
I’m not saying your house smells like rotten garbage in the summer for someone else! But I’m saying what might sound like a neutral scent to you is not neutral to someone else. When preparing guests, think about how you can neutralize the smells in your home, if not make them more pleasant. One quick and easy thing anyone can do is turn on all the fans, open some windows, and air the house for 30 minutes before guests start arriving. If you’re like me and have pets that live with you, consider getting an air purifier. I’ve noticed things smell a lot less musty when I run it for even 20 minutes a day (pro tip, run it after you scoop up the litter if that’s a thing you do).
While keeping in mind that some guests may be sensitive to smells (always check yourself), another thing you can do is light candles or install an essential oil diffuser. I like to stay away from chemical air fresheners before guests arrive as it can be a bit overwhelming, but in a pinch 15 minutes before they can be very helpful as well.
Are you making dinner? Organize your schedule so that something really delicious is in the oven or simmering on the stove when people come to your house. Nothing is more like the smell of boiling soup and baking bread.
2. Inhabited, not a museum
I have said it before and I will say it again: a house-museum is not a nice place to visit! Have you ever been to a friend’s house and it’s so clean you just like to sit on the edge of the sofa and be too afraid to ask for water and sit on the toilet on your phone for a few seconds of too much because you just need a moment to relax ?? Yeah, don’t be that friend’s house!
Leave a half-finished puzzle on the table – your guests can work on it while you put the finishing touches to dinner. The few toys your kids or cats leave on the floor are lovely, don’t take them with you. Now if the whole living room is covered in toys, try arguing for them somewhere before any company arrives, but signs of life in your house are reminding people that this is a house! He should feel right at home.
3. Okay, but clean your floors
I know I just said it’s good to have things on the floor, and yes it is. But if you’re like me and ask people to take off their shoes before walking through your house (because the streets of New York are disgusting and my cats eat on the floor of my house), then please at least sweep up before people come. I would love if you could mop the mop, I really would, but I also agree that it might not be an easy task.
My rule of thumb is that if the floor isn’t clean enough for someone to walk away with noticeably dirtier socks / feet, the floor isn’t clean enough for the guests. And I have to clarify, I speak like a dinner – so five or more people. If my floors aren’t spotless and a friend comes over, I would honestly just lend them a pair of my clean socks. Being hospitable doesn’t necessarily mean getting a 90s suburban mom.
4. Provide an (easy) task for early arrivals and those who stay late
I hosted friends for Shabbat in early September, and after chatting around the table for literally three hours, someone got up and started doing the dishes. And then someone else said “okay, where’s your tupperware”, and before I knew it all my friends had cleaned my kitchen and we had been chatting for 45 more minutes. They didn’t want to leave! And I needed to clean the kitchen before I went to bed. I could have said “no, no, I got it”, but then they would have left before they were ready to go, and I would have prepared to house, lodge and clean up afterwards.
Much of what I was taught about accommodation and being a good housewife / housekeeper by observation was ‘do it all on your own’. There was this idea that needing help around the house meant that the host was not good at lodging, that they had too much to do. What if, instead, we changed the way we think of accommodation as a way to invite someone into your home life.
What if instead of trying to have it all, you deliberately left the table unset and let someone else do it when they arrived? When a guest asks you how they can help you, offer them a few options! There is no gold medal for doing it all alone, and living together is so much more fun anyway.
5. When all else fails, close the door
Sometimes it is enough to close the door of a room and say that it is off-limits to guests. When I lived in a townhouse, it was my entire second floor. The first floor was blank. Shiny floors, clean walls, an incredible smell. The second floor was where I literally threw away anything that got in the way of presenting a clean, welcoming home.
Throwing things behind a closed door is not a permanent solution to a messy life, but it can be a solution for cleaning up before guests arrive. And here’s the reason: Not everyone needs to know your whole life! Inviting someone into your life doesn’t necessarily mean inviting them into your whole life. If you just have too much of a mess to really clean up but really want people to come and watch When Harry meets Sally on New Years Eve is permission to put a bunch of stuff in your room / under your bed and your host.
Opacity in life is healthy. Keep a little mystique. I know I like to take a little walk when my friends come by, but baby, nothing ruins the mood like an absolutely dirty room. So just close the door, point to it and say “this is my room” and keep moving.
Hopefully these tips make accommodation more accessible to more people (although please heed your local health authority guidelines now regarding accommodation, as Miss Omicron is really everywhere) . I wonder what are your tips for hosting? Do you like to invite people into your family life? If not, what is against it? What did I miss ???
Notes for a Queer Homemaker is a new column that will be published on the fourth Friday of each month!