24 May 2014

on managing appearances

The moment the doorbell rang, I froze. She wasn't supposed to be here yet, was she? Hadn't we said 6:30? And here it was barely past 6, but my doorbell was ringing. She must be here, of course, and the door must be answered, but I hadn't eaten dinner yet and there was that final pass-through of the house to do still—the one where you sweep everything you don't want someone else to see into a closet or under a bed. Anywhere is fine so long as it's not visible.

I am not hyper obsessed with appearances, although I do realize that by saying that, I have just discredited myself. By saying that, I have made you equate me with Martha Stewart, my hostess smile pasted on as I coo gently about how quickly I threw this party together when really what everyone at the party is thinking is: "Are those centerpieces made out of hand-carved acorns? I didn't know you could get such detailed pictures onto something as small as an acorn."

Let's be clear: I am not Martha Stewart, my smile is real, I can't carve acorns, and I am not hyper obsessed with appearances. It's just that when someone comes over, I like to look like I put some effort into getting ready for their visit.

Move the mail pile.

Fold the blanket on the couch, still laying there from when I fell asleep on the couch the other night (because I have apparently become my mother, who falls asleep many a night in her easy chair).

Wash up the wine glass, also leftover from the other night and perhaps related to the falling asleep on the couch.

Okay, wine glassES, plural, because it's been a couple of nights that I've been working on that bottle of red wine.

I know that if my friends saw that I'm sometimes messy and that I don't always pick up after myself, they'd still love me. They'd still have a lovely time at my house (unless we got in a fight, which is highly unlikely). They wouldn't look at my mail pile and think: This girl disgusts me.

I do that final pass-through for the same reason I plan menus for meals for friends: because in the very act of planning or cleaning, I get to spend time thinking about whoever is coming over. I get to anticipate the conversation and think about the last time we saw each other and what we need to catch up on. I get to think about our friendship and celebrate—in my own little planning way—what that friend brings to my life. By being prepared for the visit, food-wise and clean home-wise, I get to thrive in those hospitality gifts I seem to have.

I know what you're thinking: You get all that from planning out what you'll eat with a friend and moving your mail pile? Yeah, right. You're just trying to justify yourself and make this inability to invite people into messiness sound like a deep and good thing.


Maybe it is more about a control thing and not wanting people to see the unpolished edges or the unwashed wine glasses.

The night that my doorbell rang 30 minutes early, I looked around at the dog toys strewn around the living room. I saw the recycling I needed to take out and the dust rag I had left where it was last used (because throwing it into the laundry basket would be a step too far, I guess). Through my open bedroom door, I saw the laundry that had yet to be put away. And before Katie came over, I had wanted to wipe down the kitchen table and counters.

Never mind that now—no time for it. Katie was at my door, and when I opened it, her eyes didn't sweep over the mess and then flicker with disappointment. Instead, they lit up as she said, arms reaching out for a hug, "Hello, friend. So good to see you!" And she stepped into my home—my not-company-ready-home—and continued, "I always love coming over here. You always make me feel so at home."

What am I trying to get at here? That we shouldn't both cleaning up for guests? That I need to relax and let some mess exist? That I have wonderful friends?

What I'm trying to get at is this: It's okay that I like to do that final pass-through and make sure everything is just so before someone comes over. For me, it really is about welcoming people into my home and wanting them to feel at home there.

But what I need to remember before I get tripped up on expending too much energy "managing appearances" is that people don't come over to see my shining surfaces. They come to see me, and you know what? I can be a little messy at times, and it can be so good to have someone step into the middle of that with me and say, "Hello, friend. So good to see you!"

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