I want my home to be a place where people can feel comfortable. I want people to feel free to just drop in because they happened to be in the area. I want my home to be welcoming to everyone, including my own family. Yet I find it difficult to make that a reality. In our culture, it’s considered weird to just drop in on people. I’ve never seen that kind of hospitality modeled until I interacted with some Italian locals.
People were extremely welcoming, open, and hospitable.
Many times near strangers invited us in for coffee. We were always told that the house was a little bit “messy” (when in reality it was almost immaculate) and then cookies and coffee and fruit just came out of the woodwork and onto plates in front of us while we sat and visited.
Italian hospitality is quite an experience and the experience inspired me to want to be more hospitable. I want my home to be a place where people can come together to inspire community.
As I considered, I decided there are 5 traits I observed in those gracious Italians that are essential in order to have the type of welcoming home that I want as well.
1. Be Willing to Change Plans
People never seem to want to come over when you’re actually free. I seriously think Murphy’s Law of Hospitality states that people never want to come over when you’re completely available. No, usually people want to come over when you had other plans, whether that be going somewhere or just trying to get that last load of laundry done. But people are more important than the things we thought we wanted to get done today. Having an open door and continuing relationships demand a sacrifice of our own agenda. Setting aside other things for people sends a message that the person and your relationship are valuable.
2. Be Home
It’s hard to make a “Our doors are always open to you” statement if, in fact, you’re never there to open the door. Being home enables people to not feel nervous about calling or dropping by. I think this tends to be where I struggle with the open hospitality concept. Between work, church, activities, and social occasions it often feels like we’re never home. I think that’s true for a lot of people in our work and production oriented society. How much you want to be available at home is something to consider when setting up your lifestyle, but being home at least somewhat is essential.
3. Keep a Neat Home
Keeping your home clean and neat creates an inviting atmosphere for the guests (and your own family for that matter). Ooohhh, ouch… I struggle with this one.
I want to change my attitude about why I clean. I always thought the reason people cleaned was out of pride and self-image. We don’t want other people to see how messy we really are. I hate how surface-y that reasoning is and don’t care if people know the real me. I didn’t like going to all this effort to keep up appearances and retain my own sinful pride. I still believe that the self-image reason for cleaning up is wrong. But I’ve recently realized that there are better reasons to keep a house clean. I believe the right reason is because a neat house creates a welcoming atmosphere for the guest. When someone comes over to a messy house, it gives the impression that I was in the middle of something. It makes them feel like they’ve interrupted a busy, stressful day. It makes things feel cluttered and hectic, rather than peaceful and welcoming. So with that knowledge, I’ve decided I’m not going to keep my house clean to retain some sort of semblance of pride any longer. Instead, I will desire to keep my house clean because it is an act of service for the people coming over.
I’ve also realized that I need to change when and how I clean. I grew up letting things get very messy and then once in a while (often before people come over) I would clean it all up at once. But there are a couple of problems with that method. Using that method to clean means that the house is only truly clean just before company arrives. That might work ok as long as you know when to expect people, but it makes the prospect of having people over much more much more work. It also leaves less opportunity to have people over on a whim or for them to drop by.
The alternative is, of course, to clean the house less thoroughly but more regularly, thus keeping it neater and cleaner all the time, which of course is easier said than done.
4. Keep Some Snacks & Drinks Available
Food and drink somehow magically makes everyone more relaxed and open to conversation. It also provides a reason for people to stay. They may have just been dropping something off at your house, but offer them a lemonade or tea and suddenly they have to stay to drink it, thus enabling further relationship development. While I may never be an Italian grandmother (“Oh, glad you stopped by … I make some lamb!”), I would like to have some type of snack or cookie on hand to share. The only problem is that things tend to get eaten, so I’m thinking that I may need to have a special “company drawer” with goodies in it.
5. Accept Less Than Perfection
My life is never going to be perfect. My house is never going to be perfect. I will never be the perfect hostess. But the reality is that hospitality isn’t really about that. People and relationships are more important than perfection. Opening up your life is more important than “entertaining”. So after having said all the above, I’m just not going to stress about it or put undue pressure on myself. Besides, I don’t know about you, but personally I prefer an atmosphere that is a little less than perfect because it feels lived in rather than like a museum. I will have people over and invite people in even if I don’t have a snack prepared and even if the house is messy. I will make time for relationships even if it can’t be perfect. Spending the time together is more important than where or how you spend it.
Do you have any tips for hospitality and making your home welcoming?