Part II of The Hostess Series: Strategic Cleaning
This is the second post in The Hostess Series. This post is about hosting parties and scheduled gatherings, not about having people over for things like play dates, movie nights, book clubs, or a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.
I had a real break-through moment a few years ago after one of our family celebrations. One of our friends commented, "Terri, you always work so hard for these get-togethers and then you never get to enjoy them because you're busy the whole time."
It really gave my pause to think about how I did things. I thought back to memories of Mama with guests and remembered her spending most of her time visiting with them. I was also a regular viewer of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa series at that time. Ina spoke frequently about how to make your guests comfortable and welcome in your home. They aren't going to feel comfortable is you're standing there flustered, sweating, and acting as if the event--and their appearance--is a source of stress for you. You don't want to make people feel guilty for being there.
So, I began to focus less on my menus and to focus more on what should be the first thought of a host or hostess: the guests, whether that be family gathered for a birthday party or friends gathered for a dinner party. Below are some of things I learned about cleaning and preparing my home for guests.
Cleaning is the part of entertaining that is the least fun. In my first years of marriage, I would focus on my menu and cooking when I planned to have company. The cleaning was a necessary action that got in the way of my cooking fun. It was usually both a secondary thought and action for me. Over the years, though, I've learned some strategies for cleaning before guests arrive. I'm still learning, but at least I have more of a plan and focus now.
1. Think like a guest. This will only take once in your home and then you'll have this information. It may even be helpful to keep a Hostess Journal where you can record your observations and keep it as a checklist for future events. Go through your public spaces like a guest would. Start with the front door and enter go through your home like a guest would. For example, stand in your doorway and notice the space in your line of vision. I *try* to keep this space presentable and when I know someone is stopping by just to drop something off, I quickly straighten up this area since I know it will be visible. Sit on your living room furniture and notice what you see when you look around. Spider webs in the fireplace? Dust along the floorboards?
2. Prioritize. The spaces that need deep cleaning are bathrooms and the kitchen. Messy is one thing; reasonable people expect some messiness, but not dirtiness. Bedrooms should be tiny, but people won't feel uncomfortable eating food from your kitchen just because your child's room isn't showroom-ready.
Kitchen counters need to be clean and neat. Your landing or desk area should be tidied up, but you don't have to remove it all. Don't forget the edges and overhangs of your counter tops. If people like to gather in your kitchen, they're going to hold on to the counter tops or grip the edges. Try to keep the sink empty. No one wants to fill his plates or glasses from a buffet next to a sink full of dirty dishes. Also, one of the first things I try to do is make sure my dishwasher will be empty, or nearly, so before company arrives. The floors need to be clean. In my kitchen, I try to sit at the bar and look around to see what things look like from that vantage. I clean the controls panels of the appliances and make sure the handles are clean. Then, there's the refrigerator. There's a chance someone will open your refrigerator, or in my case, since two doors open, one facing the dining room and one facing the bar and breakfast area, there's a good chance guests will get a glimpse inside. Make sure they aren't horrified.
In the bathroom, make sure the mirrors and counter tops are clean. You're usually rewarded with a nice shiny surface. Clean the faucet and the handles on the sink. This is especially important when little ones are in the house! Clean not only the toilet bowl, but also the handle, seat, and well, all the surfaces. Now, this may sound funny, but sit on the toilet and look around to see what needs cleaning. It's the one place where guests may have more time to ...er...focus their attentions. Our bathroom for guests is also the one our children use. I rarely use that bathroom, so I have to check things closely. Amazing what they can do in there! Make sure the hand towels are clean and placed in a place easy for guests to see and access. Oh, and for those of us with little ones, clean the doorknobs, also! Ugh.
3. Grunt work first. I'm relying heavily on this at present, since my house has not been in its normal state for the past year. I have to work a little harder to get things ready. Clean the floors, scrub the stove, etc. first. Dusting and vacuuming (in theory) aren't as strenuous as scrubbing and deep cleaning. I do all of this and then I shower and dress afterward. Then, I can just focus on food and arranging decorations and such. Since I love preparing food, it's like an incentive to get all the hard cleaning done before I get to start cooking.
I hope that people feel that I want them in my home. I hope they can sense that I enjoy visiting with them and feeding them. A strategy and plan for what's important and what you can let slide will help reduce stress, for you and your guests!
After writing this, I am convicted about the way I show hospitality to my own family. Do my kids get the idea that I'm glad to join them at the table or do they just sense that their hunger and expectation for three meals a day is just stress and aggravation for me?