The perfect guest

I think this past weekend was one of the nicest we’ve had in a long time, so relaxed and peaceful.  I’m not sure that my kids would agree.  They like going places and always want to be doing things.  “Can we go fossil hunting?”  (“You mean, ‘May we go fossil hunting?’ “)  “How about fishing?”  No, on Saturday we hung around the house.  I tidied my bedroom.  We cleaned our front porch.  Our porch is maybe a little infamous amongst our friends because of how messy it gets, and how often I make excuses for the state of it.

Last week, on a day that I was feeling a bit upset about the front porch, the first thing anyone sees when they pull up to our house, I said to Jonny, “You guys make these messes, and I just can’t keep up with them.  You don’t ‘get’ why they bother me so much, but please try to understand that I feel like the state of our home is a reflection of me, and ultimately my inadequacy.”  I may or may not have been crying.

Jonny worked for years building our porch, laying flagstone and creating stacked stone columns.  During those years we dreamed of one day sitting there in rocking chairs on nice evenings.  I’d have my kitting, he’d be whittling a piece of wood.   That may happen someday, but it isn’t our current reality.  We don’t have any rocking chairs and it’s usually so messy out there that I would hardly choose it as a spot to relax.  Recently, a big part of the reason for the mess dawned on me:  we don’t have a garage.  The nine of us live in just under 1500 square feet, no basement, no garage.  There’s no place to store the kids’ sports equipment, extra shoes, more shoes (did I mention shoes?), and all those other things that people keep in garages.  We clean our porch, and it ever so quickly gets cluttered and dirty again.  That’s just our life.  It’s okay.  Our friends have seen it clean, but they have mostly seen it a disaster.  Nobody has refused to hang out with us yet because of it.

Sunday afternoon we had a few friends over.  I did do some cleaning up to prepare for them, but it wasn’t a crazed cleaning frenzy, just a relaxed, sweep the floors and get the downstairs bath looking good, deal.  I was glad the porch was already taken care of.  While I was cleaning, I asked myself if I was breaking my Sunday rule, and decided that I wasn’t.  I was excited to have friends over and happy to get the house in a reasonable amount of order beforehand. I’m a believer in cleaning for company when you’re able.  It’s courteous, and I think it contributes to a more relaxing environment which makes spending time with friends more fun.  For many years we only rarely had a guest.  It felt too stressful to prepare for company.  I think that’s because I was mentally connecting the preparing with avoiding judgement.  I was connecting the state of my house with who I am, cleaning up more for myself than for them.  The better my house looked, the better my own reflection.  It was just too much pressure.

As the time for our friends to arrive drew near on Sunday, I realized that there was no way I was going to be finished with all I would typically do when cleaning for guests.  I really needed to start on dinner though, so I had to stop.  All three of our guests on Sunday were men, two of them single, and not accustomed to having someone cook for them on a regular basis.  I felt completely relaxed about them arriving at our imperfectly kept house,  knowing that the meal was more important.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have been a little more anxious were we expecting women.  I have a few girlfriends whom I know love me just as I am regardless of the state of my house, but I do think I worry more about looking good for women who fall outside of that “safe friend” zone than I do other people.  I called one of my friends this evening, to see if she agreed.  To paraphrase her:  “Oh, yeah.  Definitely.”

Ladies, I wish we could all link hands and promise each other:  “I will never judge you because you are behind on laundry, or because I tripped over baseball cleats and power tools on my way into your house.  Book and toys scattered across the floor, crayon on the wall, I won’t even notice.  I’ll feel special that you let me into your real life, trusting that I want to be your friend not a source of anxiety or even worse someone to compare yourself to.  I’ll be thankful that you wiped the bathroom down just for me, and be super thrilled if you put the kettle on and clear a spot at your table for me too.”

I am not my house.  My house is a reflection of many things including, but not limited to myself, and an entire host of other things unique to my particular family and our living situation.

For those of you who don’t suffer from this “worried about what the neighbors (ahem, other women) would think” affliction, share your secrets with the rest of us insecure people, worried about what “they” would think if they saw the state of things at 11 a.m. on any given weekday.

p.s.  I’m laughing just a little about the fact that my house looks reasonably tidy in the photos in this post.  You’ll just have to forgive me for not taking more photos of the messes.  You know they’re there, until we clean them up, only to have them return.  And on, and on, and on.  Otherwise I wouldn’t go on (and on) about them.  This is life, but only a small part of it.  These messes, they shouldn’t get in the way of relationships because those are what really matter.

p.p.s.  Mom, Larkspur is wearing your old Girl Scout uniform!

Comments

  1. Andrea says:

    ““You guys make these messes, and I just can’t keep up with them. You don’t ‘get’ why they bother me so much, but please try to understand that I feel like the state of our home is a reflection of me, and ultimately my inadequacy.” I may or may not have been crying.” That’s my thoughts putting on words…. that’s how I’ve felt: inadequate, but also learning God’s sufficient Grace and that my circumstances are not your circumstances or anybody else, and viceversea.

    ginny, I saw your bookshelves on the first photo, and how do you organize books?? do you have a “system” or Theme for books in every room of your house. I’m trying to organize our books which have been in boxes for months!! Time for some shelves!!

  2. Ruby says:

    Amen. I am always most worried about the state of my yard due to the free-ranging chickens that choose to stay right next to the house and poo poo poo everywhere. I am forever apologizing for that to guests. I especially get worked up/upset when they choose to hang out on our front stoop and poo all over it and always just before a guest is to arrive. This is a wonderful post–linking hands with you, Ginny!

  3. Cyndy says:

    Yes, yes, and yes! ;)

  4. Jodi says:

    Thank you! I feel exactly the same way bit why? Our real friends come to see us and will ignore the pile of whatever in the corner. And yet I still frantically clean.

  5. Heather says:

    For four years I lived In a nice walking Catholic community. There was an unspoken rule there that people were welcome to drop by and everyone’s house would just be how it was. The emphasis was on not letting messes bar us from being neighborly and enjoy one another’s company. We all did clean house, but we lived real lives with kids. It totally taught me how to relax and change my perspective. I still tidy up for planned company but my attitude is more relaxed and I think that makes the biggest difference. If people see you relaxed and comfortable then they are more likely to be as well!

  6. tara says:

    I will absolutely link hands with you on that one! When I was younger, I always hated having my parent’s friends over for dinner because it meant I had to clean haha. If we’re friends, that means I don’t care about your house being clean, otherwise why would we be friends? :D

    PS: Love Johnny’s Tough Mudder shirt! I forget he did one.

  7. Maria Elisabeth says:

    “With no loss or sacrifice, we can’t appreciate what we have.” ― Mitch Albom,Book: The Time Keeper

    The Time Keeper is a work of inspirational fiction by author Mitch Albom.

  8. amy says:

    Oh, I know that anxiety all too well. Like you, I struggle with the feelings that the state of my home is a reflection of me/ the state of my mind, etc. And, like you, I think I’m more anxious about my home when the visitors are women or a woman whom I’m not completely comfortable with.

    However, I don’t think that the way out of this is for all of us women who get anxious about our homes/ selves dyad to commit to accept each other as imperfect housekeepers (among many other roles & titles) women and not judge each other.

    When I think about myself as a visitor to other women’s homes, including women I don’t know well, I don’t judge them when they homes are messy or chaotic. I don’t think that someone else’s messy home means anything beyond the fact that they live busy, at times chaotic lives that require times when laundry or dishes or organization or all of those things suffer.

    I think that as challenging as it is the solution for my anxiety about this issue lies not in a group pact. It’s more emotionally difficult, at least for me, but I think I’m the only one judging myself regardless of who is visiting and just how bad off my home is looking.

    For me the underlying problem is inconstancy of my self-esteem/ confidence in who I am. It’s a much bigger challenge for me to work on that only in the context of messy home + visitors situation. I believe that my anxiety is my projection of my own self-judgement onto the eyes and minds of my unsuspecting visitors who most likely have the same attitude that I have when visiting someone else’s home that shows how much living happens within the walls.

    That said, I promise that I will continue not to judge other women for their untidy homes or the size of their laundry pile or their dirty bathroom sink. I’m confident that their housekeeping is no greater an indicator than of how busy their lives are. My problem is that I attach a layer of self-recrimination and/or a shame cycle to the situation when it’s my home and housekeeping in question. But those are problems in my mind — not in the minds of my visitors.

  9. Margret says:

    Oh Ginny I am just so grateful you mentioned Clutterfree With Kids a while ago. I bought the Kindle edition and loved it. It has made me realise the only hope I have of having a tidy house is to have less stuff to constantly put away. I have a long way to go, but it is helping me so much. Thank you! I don’t know if I’d ever be considered a minimillist but I’m enjoying heading in that direction.

  10. Traci says:

    Over 50 comments, this is close to our hearts as homemakers, yes? I am not sure you will see this, but somebody might. My kids are 21 and 17, both at home still. And I have just recently came to a more peaceful place in my attitude and heart about welcoming guest over. We live on a gravel road, have animals, do not have a real garage and most visitors use the back door. Four feet from our washer and everything else one imagines at the back door. I hope we all are encouraged by your sweet, true words. But mostly for parents of young children, or maybe none yet, please don’t wait for 20 years to get this. Such a waste of time. It truly does not matter.

  11. Absolutely, yes! This is a struggle for me. I have a hard time separating myself from my home. Thank you for sharing your heart, Ginny!

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