“Hey, it’s me . . . Debbie/Sheila/Rebecca/Whomever! We’re on our way to Colorado/California/Massachusetts/Wherever and I just realized we’re passing through your town. We’d love to stop by!”
“Uhhh, ummmm, that’s WONderful! Why don’t we just meet you somewhere, y’know, so it’s easier for you . . . ”
“Oh, but we want to sit and talk, and let the kids play, and maybe let the dogs run around in your backyard. We don’t mind at all just hanging out at your house!”
“What time do you think you’ll come through?”
“We should be there in about 15 minutes!”
“Great, see you then.”
I’ve written before about getting my messy house ready for guests that I know are coming . . . like, in a month. But the reality is that you don’t always have that much time to plan. Or even any time to plan.
Pre-blog, moments like these made me feel sick to my stomach. I would go on living my little closed-door life, thinking it wasn’t hurting anything all that much. Then, in the time it took for the phone to ring, I despised my home and my slob-problem because it kept me from being the spontaneous, fun-loving, welcoming friend that I otherwise think I am.
These moments still make my heart speed up, but I no longer confuse my physical reaction with food-poisoning. While the reality is that I still have random-items-randomly-left-on-random-surfaces strewn throughout the house at any given time, the decluttering I’ve done and the habits I’ve developed have paid off and there are fewer items than there used to be.
Here’s my abbreviated plan for little-to-no-warning/delightfully-unexpected guests, the basic principles of which can be adjusted for a house in any state, and expanded or contracted according to the time available between the phone brrrrringing, and the doorbell ringing.
1. Self-talk. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is an unexpected guest and that unexpected guests need to expect a certain level of every-dayness going on in the house where they’re popping in. If they’re the kind of friends who feel free to pop in, they should also be the kind of friends who can handle seeing that your house isn’t party ready on a random Tuesday.
(It doesn’t always work, but I give myself this talk anyway.)
2. Trash. Grab a trash bag and start stuffing it with anything that’s trash. Then fling the bag into the garage or the backyard or the master bedroom closet. No, it’s not ideal, but desperate times call for . . . you know the rest.
3. Clutter. Find an empty laundry basket. Maybe it’s just me . . . but the main things I don’t want people seeing are the things that reveal embarrassing family habits. Like getting undressed in the living room. Grab those undies out of the corner, the shoes off the coffee table, the toys-with-teeny-tiny-parts off the floor, and throw them all in the basket. Toss the basket in the master bedroom and slam the door.
(Depending on how bad things are, steps 2 and 3 can be combined. Not ideal for the person who tends to leave the basket full of trash/random-non-trash-items sitting in a corner of the master bedroom for . . . ummm . . . a while, but sometimes you have to do what you have to . . . again, you know the rest.)
4. Bathroom. Get the dirty laundry off the floor and into the hamper. Straighten the counter and wipe it down. Wipe off the toilet (and the walls, and the sides, and the floor . . . if you have boys).
5. Kitchen. Hopefully, you picked up the trash in step one, but if not . . . do it now. Shove the dishes in the dishwasher (even if it’s half full of clean dishes you never finished emptying) or into the sink. Start the dishwasher.
Mmmm-hmmmm. That’s right.
The sound of a dishwasher running gives the impression that you were in the middle of cleaning the kitchen. Dishes in the sink look you have the goal of cleaning the kitchen more than dishes spread across the counter. Let the cleared surfaces be deceiving. It’s ok.
WIpe down the counters, or at least wet a washcloth and put it on the counter so it looks like that was what you were doing.
6. Papers. Walk (or run) through the house and straighten paper clutter into piles. Again, we’re going for “Wow, she has so many projects going on,” instead of “Wow, there was paper everywhere.” (You could include the paper in the laundry-basket clutter collecting, but mixing important papers in with clutter is a recipe for long-term disaster for me.)
7. Scent. Light a candle, or spray something, or plug something in. Whatever you have that will make your house smell good . . . do it. Yes, the goal is to cover up any smell you may have grown used to, but it’s more than that.
Just last week, I got a warm fuzzy feeling walking past a house that we looked at with our realtor when we first moved to this town. It’s a cute house, but nothing special. It would NOT have worked for us. For one thing (and this one thing might as well be the only thing), the only bathroom accessible to guests was also the master bathroom . . . connected to the master bedroom.
Unless this is your first time on my blog . . . you know that wouldn’t work for us.
I don’t remember the house’s decor, or the kitchen or anything else . . . but I remember the scent of the candle that was burning. It smelled so good in there that I wanted to buy the house. Nowhere-to-hide-master-bedroom-disaster-waiting-to-happen and everything.
Ever since we looked at that house, I’ve used the scent trick. I have no idea how it works psychologically, but if you walk into a place and say (or even just think), “Mmmm, it smells good in here,” you automatically also think . . . “I like it here.” For a slob, even a recovering one, it may not be possible to make a good impression visually, so I have no problem with going for the nose.
8. Perspective. In any last remaining moments, stand at the front door, looking into your home the way your guest will first it. See what they see, and do what you can to make that first impression the best it can be. For me, it’s my dining room. Somehow, it’s the room that seems to collect the most clutter, but it’s ALSO the room that guests see as soon as they walk through the door. Any extra moments I have before the doorbell rings are spent on this room. Even if I have to move a major project into another, less first-moment-obvious room, it’s worth it. A cleared table in there makes a huge difference in the first impression for someone entering our home.
And that’s what this is really all of these things are about. The first impression. The sound of the running dishwasher, the pleasant scent, the sight of a clear table . . . all are for the purpose of giving off the vibe that this is an in-the-midst-of-living happy home. Once that feeling is established, the less likely it is that a forgotten pile of clutter or an undusted/fingerprinted television will be the thing they most remember about your home.
Hopefully . . . it will be the time spent with you that they remember.