It’s that time of the year! Or at least, historically, now is the time of the year when we put on our silly little velvet dresses and add glitter to our eyeshadow and find sparkly tights that make our legs look great and travel from house to house for some form of holiday frivolity. Instead of focusing on the fact that we’re going on season three of a pan dulce, why not go back in time with me.
Picture it: 2019, all your friends and a new hot friend of a friend you want to flirt with are coming over in three days to toast for the new year. And you couldn’t help but wonder, is your house clean enough for guests? What steps do you need to take your home from a place that’s clean enough for you to live in to a place that uses cleanliness (amongst other things) as a sign of welcome and hospitality towards your loved ones?
1. Smells matter
Have you ever walked into someone else’s home and it’s not dirty, per say, but it just… doesn’t smell like your home? Our noses are so, so sensitive, and whether or not it’s conscious, they affect our ability to be comfortable. Think about the comforting smells of your favorite pie cooking in the oven. Now think about the smell of New York City on a hot August afternoon. I imagine that one of these smells (pie) makes you feel more cozy and comfortable than the other (garbage city).
I’m not saying your house smells like rotting garbage in the summer to someone else! But I am saying, what may feel like a neutral smell to you is not neutral to someone else. When preparing for guests, think about how you can neutralize the smells in your home, or even make them more pleasant. A quick and easy thing that everyone can do is turn on all the fans, open some windows, and air out the home for 30 minutes before guests begin to arrive. If you’re like me, and have pets who live with you, think about getting an air purifier. I have noticed that things smell so much less stale when I run it for even 20 minutes a day (pro-tip, run it after scooping litter if that’s a thing you do).
While keeping in mind that some guests might be scent sensitive (always check in), another thing you can do is light some candles or set up an essential oil diffuser. I like to stay away from things like chemical air fresheners before guests come because it can be a bit overpowering, but in a pinch, 15 minutes before, they can be really useful as well.
Are you cooking dinner? Set up your schedule so that something really delicious is in the oven or simmering on the stove when folks come over. Nothing feels heimish (homey) quite like the smell of soup boiling and bread baking.
2. Lived in, not a museum
I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it: a museum house is not a fun place to visit! Do you ever go over to a friend’s place and it’s so clean that you just like, sit on the edge of the couch and are too afraid to ask for water and sit on the toilet on your phone for just a few seconds too long because you just need a moment to let loose?? 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 on dinner. The few toys your kids or your cats left on the floor are charming, do not take them away. Now, if the entire living room is covered in toys, please try to wrangle them somewhere before any company arrives, but signs of life in your home remind people that this is a home! It should feel home-like.
3. Okay but do clean your floors
I know I just said it’s okay to have things on the floor, and yes, it is. But if you’re like me, and you ask people to take off their shoes before walking through your home (because the streets of New York are disgusting and my cats eat off the floor of my home), then please at least sweep before folks come over. I’d love it if you could mop, I really would, but I also recognize that may not be an easy task.
My general rule is that if the floor is not clean enough that someone will either leave with noticeably dirtier socks/feet then the floor is not clean enough for guests. And I should clarify, I’m talking like a dinner party — so five or more people. If my floors aren’t pristine and a friend is coming over, honestly, I’d just lend them a pair of my clean socks. Being hospitable doesn’t have to mean pulling a 90s suburban mom.
4. Offer an (easy) task for early arrivals and folks who stay late
I hosted some friends for Shabbat in early September, and after talking around the dinner table for literally three hours, someone got up and started washing the dinner dishes. And then someone else was like “okay where’s your tupperware,” and then before I knew it, all my friends had cleaned my kitchen and we’d talked for 45 more minutes. They didn’t want to leave! And I needed to clean the kitchen before bed. I could’ve said “no, no, I got it,” but then they would’ve left before they were ready to leave, and I would’ve prepped to host, hosted, and cleaned up after.
A lot of what I was taught about hosting and being a good homemaker/housekeeper by observation was “do it all by yourself.” There was this idea that needing help around the house meant that the host wasn’t good at hosting, that they had too much on their plate. What if instead we changed the way we thought about hosting as a way to invite someone into your life at home.
What if instead of trying to have it all, you purposefully left the table unset and let someone else do it when they arrived? When a guest asks you how they can help, have a few options for them! There is no gold medal for doing it all on your own, and life together is so much more fun anyway.
5. When all else fails, close the door
Sometimes, you just need to close the door to a room and say that it is off limits for guests. When I lived in a townhouse, that was my entire second floor. The first floor was pristine. Shiny floors, clean walls, smelled amazing. The second floor was where I threw literally everything that stood in the way of presenting a clean and welcoming home.
Throwing things behind a closed door is not a permanent solution to untidy living, but it can be a solution to cleaning up before guests arrive. And here’s the reason: everyone doesn’t need to know your whole life! Inviting someone into your life doesn’t have to mean inviting them into your entire life. If you’ve just got too much clutter to truly clean up but you really want people to come over and watch When Harry Met Sally on New Year’s Eve, this is permission to shove a bunch of stuff in your room/under your bed and host.
Opacity in life is healthy. Keep a little mystique. I know I love to give a little tour when my friends come over, but babe, nothing ruins the vibe like an absolutely filthy room. So just close the door, point to it and say “that’s my room” and keep it moving.
Hopefully these tips make hosting feel more accessible to more people (although, please heed the guidelines of your local health authorities right now about hosting because Miss Omicron is truly everywhere). I wonder what are your go-to tips for hosting? Do you enjoy inviting people into your home life? If not, what stands in the way of that? What did I miss???
Notes for a Queer Homemaker is a new column that will publish on the fourth Friday of every month!