What does it take to be good enough? Thankfully, not all that much.
1. Consistently keep things picked up. Since we listed our former house in the spring, we have tried to hold on to some of the good habits required to keep it show ready. I am training the kids to pick their toys up before we go downstairs for the day, before nap time/bedtime, and before we leave the house. So this discipline, paired with the existence of a playroom, makes a big difference. Now, one toy on the floor does not a clutter emergency make. Keeping the house “picked up” most of the time helps immensely, especially in a neighborhood where people are prone to drop by. We want to be the kind of people who welcome family and friends for impromptu dinners, happy hours or playdates, and if the house is continually picked up, I don’t have to turn down company because my house is a disaster. The downside: I am almost constantly cleaning something.
2. Clean a little at a time. We have no carpet in our current house, just area rugs, tile and old hard wood floors, so I bought a Swiffer Vac to keep up with the dust and dog hair. I use it on an almost daily basis. Downside: there aren't many times when every inch of my house is clean, but this also means my house is rarely out of control and I don’t have to spend a whole day or weekend cleaning anymore. I am okay with the tradeoff.
3. Only deep clean when necessary. At our house, toilets and tubs are cleaned about once every other week. Wood floors are swept every couple days. Kitchen surfaces are multiple times daily, rugs and dusting once a week. The point: everything does not require the same cleaning frequency, so embrace it. An example: I clean our unsealed hardwood floors with a vinegar and water solution. Downside: this is best accomplished on hand and knees. Upside: I only have to do it once or twice a month at the most because it just doesn’t get very dirty. This is obviously helped by my frequent sweeping, but I can handle it if it’s only every few weeks.
4. Shop and plan with company in mind. Whether it’s out-of-town company coming for a weekend or more or a spontaneous dinner invite, I like to have the flexibility to be the go-to house. I plan my meals and shop about a week at a time. I know people who go far less frequently—even once per month! Though I am impressed, this is not something that would work for me now. From June to November, we get our produce once weekly, and I just don’t love freezing everything else. So I plan weekly meals, but with flexibility built in so it’s not a big deal to invite someone over for dinner on a whim. Keeping a well-stocked pantry and knowing how to cook several meals from scratch and memory helps here, because then it’s not necessary to stick to strict recipes. When guests are coming for a weekend or more, I plan for meals in and out (more in than out, since this enables me to visit with our guests too, instead of chasing my restless toddler around the lobby). That said, there is also absolutely nothing wrong with a pizza party or takeout. It's not only about the food.
5. Master a few good breakfast items. My Connecticut contingent taught me how to brunch, so I typically cook breakfast each morning we have guests (with the exception of long-term stays when I am working—sorry, dear mother-in-law!). I am not a short-order cook, so one morning might be honey banana oat muffins and yogurt parfaits, another might be cinnamon raisin French toast and turkey bacon, another might be western omelets or biscuits and gravy. I have a mental block against any sort of breakfast casserole—I have never once accomplished it successfully—but if this is not your Albatross, by all means, cook ahead of time.
6. Create an inviting space. This doesn’t require purchasing more stuff. Make sure you have seating in multiple rooms (that is, if you have multiple rooms), and outside if possible. Leave throw pillows and blankets on couches. Fresh cut flowers, music and candles work wonders. In the case of impromptu company on a day when the Swiffer isn’t charged (and there are dog hair tumbleweeds blowing across the floor), I hope attention will be drawn to my lemongrass candle and Mason jar of Gerbera daisies and not my lax cleaning schedule. Or the wall paper on my kitchen ceiling. You heard me.
7. Let go of the need to be perfect. I struggle with this one. I recently had ten people sleeping at my house—some of my very favorite people. Though I prefer smaller groups that are able to be contained in my guest room with its comfortable bed and flowers on the nightstand to children sleeping on the floor and friends with old comforters on pull-out sofas, the people should stay the focus. I want them to feel welcome in my home, of course, but mostly I just want them to know they are loved. And if I am frantically running around picking up toys as their children happily deposit them on the ground, I am not showing my love. So sit and enjoy your friends. That’s what they really want anyway.
See how okay I am with imperfection? This how-to list only has seven items, and it is not bothering me. At all.