When I was about 25, I was at my neighbor’s house for New Years Eve. As part of an activity we did that night, she asked everyone to write down their resolutions.
Jokingly, my neighbor wrote, “Get invited to Sarah’s house.”
Hosting people in my home was not something I was good at. I was a terrible cook, and my decorating skills were…to put it kindly…horrifying. I was okay with inviting young, single people over because I had perfected my friend, Ashlie’s, chocolate chip cake recipe, and college students graciously ate it over and over (at least it was better than cafeteria food). My couches were comfy, and I guess you could say that my decor was one step above the beauty of a dorm room.
I was not, however, comfortable having adults in my home, especially those who had kids older than mine (because I had no idea how to entertain them since my kids were teeny and had few toys.)
The neighbor who wrote that resolution and other friends invited me over to their homes all of the time, but I never reciprocated. That night, though, my resolution became to learn how to host people in my home with confidence.
I read any and every book I could find on hospitality. I paid attention to how others hosted when I visited their homes. I noted what I enjoyed and what I didn’t.
About five months after my third child, Luke, was born, my family and I relocated from Kansas to Florida. On our drive down to Florida, I decided that I was going to be the friend to others that my friends in Kansas had been to me. I sometimes would joke to them that I was the taker in our friendships, so I made the decision that I would become the giver in friendships once I arrived in my new home.
And I did. I finally put to use all of the information I had been gathering for the previous few years. By this time I had been married for five years, and I was finally starting to become a decent cook.
I still did not have much confidence in hosting people in my home, but I decided to fall back on a mantra I’ve used many times in life, “Just fake it til you make it”. I started inviting people over often.
Over time, I finally became confident with hosting people in my home, and now it has become one of my most favorite parts of life. I can now have a party of 50 people without a second thought, so it makes me laugh that I used to be so terrible (and terrified) of hosting.
I hear a lot of people say that they would like to invite friends over more, but for a variety of reasons, they don’t. Hospitality is a dying art in the American culture, so I would venture to say that most people’s hesitation is similar to mine…they just don’t know how.
Because you are probably busier than I was in my 20’s (I was mostly just a baby factory back then…so I had aaaaaaa looooooot of looooooooong days with babies and toddlers…so I read while they piddled around)…and don’t have time to read every book on hospitality, I will give you my condensed version of what I have come to learn…and in no time, you, too, can become confident in hosting people in your home.
The most important part about hospitality is to stop reading Pinterest. I am not kidding. The beauty and perfection of Pinterest will inhibit you from enjoying people because you will never invite people over if you are trying to achieve that standard. It’s too exhausting and too expensive.
You all know I am practically a professional when it comes to lowering standards. I hosted three families for dinner over the weekend, so I will use that night as an example.
I deep(ish) clean my bathroom for company usually the day before they’re coming over. Because I have three boys, I also have to touch up the bathroom about three minutes before my friends arrive. I Clorox (yes, it’s a verb when you have three boys who can’t aim) the toilet and sinks and take out the trash. And, of course, light a candle to mask the urine smell as much as possible.
Approximately two minutes before our friends were set to arrive, I discovered that one of my boys had PEED IN THE TRASH CAN (under the trash bag). Because why would you use a perfectly good toilet when a trash can is right there??
I filled the trash can with soap in my beautiful 80s bathtub, closed the shower curtain, and pretended like we are civilized people who use toilets and not trash cans.
Mishaps like these actually put me at ease because it reminds me to keep the bar low.
No one actually saw this, but sometimes my mishaps are a bit more obvious (the smell of burning food, a spilled drink, a naked child). I’ve heard that people prefer imperfections in others because it makes them feel more comfortable.
I have so many imperfections that I can only assume people are realllllllly comfy in my home.
I also think that when people see your imperfections, they’re more likely to invite you into their home where you will inevitably see their imperfections, as well.
On the subject of less than perfect, there are two things that I am very consistent in when inviting friends over:
1. I always forget to buy ice.
2. I never leave enough time to blow dry my hair.
My family is the largest consumers of ice ever, and our ice machine produces ice at the slowest possible pace. To have enough ice to last for an evening with friends, I have to buy a bag. Only I never remember to. 90% of the time I have to call my friend, Rosa, to grab a bag on the way to my house (she’s at most of my parties because she’s in many of my different friendship circles).
I also never plan enough time in my day to dry my hair. I can have eight hours to get ready for a party, and my hair will be wet when people arrive.
I throw on a pair of cute earrings and call it a day. No one cares what I look like, and my husband will look ridiculous in any selfie I take anyway.
Because this is the thing: no one is coming over to be impressed by you. They’re coming over to enjoy time with you. If you value growing friendships more than you value impressing people, the night will be awesome.
My kitchen is not Pinterest worthy at all, but exactly zero people care about that. We’ve somehow convinced ourselves that we need beautiful things in order to enjoy them. But it just isn’t true.
Another Pinterest obsession is beautiful tablescapes. Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be this expectation to have every little detail carefully planned out and executed. There are some people who are talented at this, and that is awesome. But as I so often lower the bar, my table is usually bare until plates are placed on it.
So even the ONE detail I try to include didn’t work. And, once again, exactly no one noticed or cared.
I can see on the clock that I had ten minutes until everyone arrived, and I had a lot to do. But because I’ve given myself permission to be an imperfect hostess, I did not miss this sweet moment from being too wrapped up in creating the perfect night.
In full disclosure, I made them leave the kitchen because there was hot food on the stove. Though they’re sweet, they’re also WILD. And I did not want to end up in the hospital on a Saturday night.
I am sure you’ve noticed, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to let go of perfection and enjoy being a human. Flaws and all.
An important part of hosting friends for a meal is to manage your expectations. The Saturday daytime leading up to our evening plans was filled with three ball games…and I hadn’t even been to the grocery store.
I knew I had to make an easy meal, and I had to keep it simple.
Chilis, soups, and the like feed a large crowd. So I went with chili even though it is approximately four million degrees outside.
A perfect hostess would have had a nice summer menu of chilled soup with a crisp salad and some yummy fruit.
But I am a hostess with a life, so chili worked just fine.
Store bought desserts are a super easy way to save time and effort…and I assure you that sugar in any form will be devoured…but I love to bake. In managing my expectations, I cooked an easy, effortless meal so I could spend more time on a yummy dessert.
But you could just as easily make a more intricate meal with store bought dessert.
Or you could just buy it all and forego any cooking.
Which is what I did for the kids’ meal:
I don’t always make a separate kids meal, but chili is not super kid friendly. So I got cheap pizzas for the kids.
The food portion of having friends over is completely flexible. Cook it all from scratch, buy all frozen food, get take out, or go potluck style and have everyone bring something.
Potluck style is a great, budget friendly choice. For my Saturday night meal, one friend brought an appetizer and one friend brought the chili toppings.
Sometimes I will host and everyone brings a side…and I supply the meat. That’s super simple.
Or you can have everyone bring something to create an entire meal…and you just provide the dinner table.
Do what works with your personality and budget. Once again, don’t try to be who you aren’t. If you hate to cook, you will never invite anyone over if you think you need to cook a meal from scratch. Order some pizzas and call it a day.
For me, personally, I prefer to make most of the meal myself. Part of my goal in hospitality is to give my friends a break from cooking that night (without breaking my budget). HOWEVER, that is my preference…that is NOT how everyone should be.
The important part of having people over is the people. People may notice touches of beauty should you choose to include those, but no one cares if you don’t. As long as your house is not about to be featured on Hoarders, no one cares if the bookshelf is a little dusty.
If my friends return to my home again and again after smelling my kids’ bathroom, I can assure you that people are less critical than you think. (And honestly, if you have friends that will criticize your home, you may want to consider getting new friends.)
Friendships are suffering because our culture has strayed away from inviting each other into our homes. We are too obsessed with impressing people and creating a perfect evening. And have somehow believed the lie that good enough isn’t good enough.
You could serve frozen pizza, and I promise people will still love coming over.
Because there are few things better in life than friends gathered around a table. On Saturday night, we laughed. We ate. We laughed some more. We ate some more. We mostly ignored our children unless there were tears.
And we ended as better friends. As did our children.
One friend, as he left, said, “Hey, just so you know, I think one of the kids left a chewed up cinnamon roll on the bathroom counter.”
“Figures,” I said, not even 1% embarrassed. Because I was not trying hard to impress him. And because he and his wife lingered with us around the table until nearly 2 am. The richness of the conversation (which included every topic under the sun, including my favorite: sex!) far outweighed the grossness of chewed up food.
Besides, I figured a little cinnamon roll was less offensive than the trash can of pee he could have discovered.
Labor Day weekend is coming up! That’s the perfect time to invite some friends over! Who will you know better this time next week, after hosting a little backyard BBQ??!!