Because I run a cleaning blog, I tend to get asked a lot of questions about a wide variety of housekeeping-related topics. I’m not going to lie; most of them deal with cat pee, but lots of them involve how best to quickly clean up before guests arrive.
And that’s totally fine; I’m more than happy to answer those questions, to tell you to make sure your bathroom is clean because it’s bright and people spend time alone in there, or not to bother with cleaning the floors until after people leave. But what I really want to do is ask a question in return: why don’t you think you deserve to live in a house that’s as nice for you as you want to make it for guests?
There’s this whole concept of “company ready” that I think most of us inherited from our parents or grandparents -- the idea that when someone is a guest in your house, everything should be cleaner, nicer, more appealing than it normally is.
So why does someone who only spends a short time in your home deserve a better version of it than what you live in every day?
Shouldn’t your home be as awesome and inviting to you as it is to people who drop by? Of course it should. But it’s never that easy, is it?
When we’re in our homes day in and day out, surrounded by the same things in the same places, letting the dishes pile up and the laundry languish in random baskets, we tend to file everything around us away as visual background noise. We don’t really register it on a conscious level. We look around and maybe see the mess, but really aren’t all that compelled to do anything about it.
When guests come into our homes, they see it with fresh eyes, and we’re afraid of what those eyes are going to see and how we’re going to be judged because of it. So we panic at the last minute and try to look at our surroundings with those fresh eyes, but by that point, it’s already too late to handle the situation calmly and rationally.
I have strong opinions about cleaning for company. First and foremost is that anyone who is invited into your home and then judges you based on some arbitrary measure of cleanliness is kind of a dick, and you’re better off meeting them for coffee and letting them mentally criticize whether or not Starbucks keeps the cream carafes wiped down and the sugar packets orderly.
That said, I also realize that sometimes people are going to have to come over. Sometimes you’ll be happy about it, and sometimes it’ll be your sister with her freakishly perfect hair and jeans that never have mystery stains on them, and you’ll just kind of have to deal with it.
But Sister CleanJeans doesn’t deserve to see a better version of your house than you do. She’s not the one you should be trying to make happy. You are.
This can be a radical shift in thinking for a lot of people. Many of us are perfectly content to live in sort-of (or very) messy homes, and prefer not to think about the state of them until someone’s due to come over. If you’re one of those people, imagine you just got a text saying someone’s on their way over and you don’t have any way to intercept them before they arrive.
Is your stomach doing that funny little flippy thing? Tiny spike in your heart rate, maybe? Cold sweats?
Yeah, that’s not a great feeling. If you were really, truly happy in the state of your home, you’d be perfectly content to let people come over without changing or cleaning a thing. But let’s be real here, people. The somewhat universal response to impending houseguests is panic. And we want to turn that shit right around.
How do we manage to do that? Well, that whole “looking around with fresh eyes” thing is actually pretty useful here. What you see when you do this are things that, on some level, are bothering you enough to think that someone else would be bothered by them. So rather than waiting until you’re worked up into a panic because the doorbell rang and you’re trying to figure out how to slip out the door and conduct an entire visit in the driveway, start small and start now.
Dishes. Dishes will always be an issue. If you have dirty dishes, you’re always going to be rushing to deal with them before company arrives.
You know what’s easier? Dealing with them as they happen. Even if it’s once a day. If once a day is more than you’re doing now, then doing dishes once a day is going to make a huge difference in how you see your house.
What else are you running around doing right before your company arrives? Probably clearing off your various flat surfaces: counters, coffee tables, dining tables, and such. So, maybe do that on a regular basis instead of letting it pile up?
Take 20 minutes a day and just work on clearing off surfaces. I’m pretty sure you’ll be surprised at how much time it actually takes as compared to how much time you were expecting it to.
Same in the bathroom. Clearing off the counter, putting things away instead of down, and wiping down the surfaces on a regular basis means that someone could actually use your bathroom without the unfortunate side effect of you dying of mortification.
Listen, the bottom line is that other people do not deserve a better version of your home than you do. You’re the one who lives there. You’re the one looking at it all the time. You deserve to have it be a haven for you, not a source of stress or embarrassment.
And once you’re on the road to accomplishing that, you’ll probably find that when guests are coming, you’re more worried about whether or not there’s enough cheese for everyone than you are about that random pile of month-old mail on the coffee table.