Last night we had friends over for hot dogs and chips. It was simple, laid back and enjoyable. A far cry from the hosting I used to try to accomplish.
I used to be a stressball hostess.
I know it is because I was trying to impress. I would run down the list of all the points I had to hit to be "successful," pretending I could do it all and still be totally relaxed and sociable. I probably acted like a shipwrecked cat marooned amongst dirty dishes, trying not to burn the shallots. I was trying to host, but I didn't know much about being hospitable.
I know now that being "hospitable" isn't about having certain friends over. Or about food. It isn't about how wonderful my furniture and home look. It's not even about entertaining others. Don't get me wrong, those are great and lovely things, but they can also become the barriers of being hospitable in the first place. I mean, at this point in life, if I waited till my house is clean to throw a party I would never do it.
Being hospitable is more about welcoming others, as they are, to come share your life with you, as it is. It is about opening up your doors, putting out an extra plate, sharing your space and time and relaxing enough to enjoy the company of another person.
So, from one nerdy lady who has gone from being up all night repainting the entire living room before a party to hosting Christmas in the middle of kitchen renos -- I have had a few mind shifts that has made hosting less of a stress and more of a joy.
These are the myths I had to bust about being a good hostess:
1. I need to spend the day cooking.
I love cooking and making great food with friends, but I used to avoid having dinner parties if I didn't have the perfect dish in mind. I've also made the mistake of taking on new recipes for dinner parties. Let's just say it only takes one mishap with fried goat cheese to make you stick to your failsafes. I've found it helps to keep a list of recipes I can make up for a larger batch of people, use the slow cooker, make things ahead and, when I'm feeling cramped, I ask people to bring a side. It also helps to have some easy and delicious appies, keep some nibbles stocked in the freezer and, when in doubt, serve spaghetti.
2. I can't afford it.
Remember in college when you would all pile into someone's dank basement suite and eat Mr. Noodles on their futon? Sure, we are adults now and apparently "adulting" means no more multipurpose mattresses or instant ramen -- but we can never underestimate the power of something simple, like tea and cookies. Or popcorn and cocoa. Or little bowls full of nibbling things and smoothies. Or waffles and whiskey, same same. Food brings people together, it doesn't have to be elaborate to be enjoyed.
3. I need to spend a week cleaning.
If you are a mom like me, you probably want to spend 40 hours deep-cleaning your house then cover everything with drop cloths until company arrives Except we kinda need our house to live in in the meantime. And life is messy. One thing that has made me feel better about hosting is having a speed clean where we take all the items off the horizontal surfaces -- even if I load it all in a big laundry hamper and camp the bin out on my bed -- a clear floor, tables and counter give me a peace of mind. Then I wipe down the bathroom, do dishes (or at least hide them in the sink) and a quick vacuum. A tidy house feels clean, even if you forgot where your mop is.
4. I need to redecorate.
I think most of this myth goes along with the cheap decor purchases of my early 20s, I didn't have a home that reflected my life -- rather, a life I was trying to project with my home decor. Sure, I much prefer my modern sectional to the weird futon of questionable origin. I've had company around lawn furniture used in place of a dining set, and we gather just the same as we do now at the oversized dining table we made with my FIL when we first got married.
5. I have no decorations.
If decorating like a boss is your game, that is great for you. If it's not your passion or strength then don't feel the pressure and just do a couple simple things. A table runner, a bowl of ornaments, or even string up some Christmas cards. But hey, the best part about Christmas is the lighting -- you can dim the lighting to hide your lack of floor mopping and it's instant festive decor. For all the other times of year, light a few candles and play some background music. It is a simple way to say, "Hey, I'm responsible enough to have open flames and I have great taste in Songza."
6. I have no reason for a party.
Christmas is always a reason to party, #happybirthdayjesus #amirite. But if you want to gather for something more unique, centre your invites around something different, like: brunch, cookie decorating, cocoa party, weenie roast, ornament decorating, ugly sweatering, wine tasting, recycled gift exchange, care package stuffing, Christmas crafting, gift wrapping, advent theme, recipe exchange, clothing swap, house decorating, yard light up, or caroling.
7. I don't know how to host.
I remember an older co-worker telling me it was rude to eat until your host took their first bite. Seems like an archaic practice to protect oneself from poisoning. I mean, nowadays if we don't like someone we don't poison them, we just post bad group selfies where they are mid-sneeze. Either way, it made me realize there was this whole etiquette to hosting that I was clueless about. I've watched some classy lady friends over the years to pick up on some of the standards of being a hostess. Like offering your guests drinks, napkins and the good toilet paper. I don't want to get bogged down with rules, I think it's most important to pay attention to your guests and make sure they have enough of everything they need without being overbearing.
8. I have to entertain.
Sometimes the simple gathering is the best way to let everyone guide the day and the conversation. Sometimes it is fun to have a Nintendo Wii tournament with your grandparents, nieces and nephews. When else would you learn that your grandpa used to be a master bowler (sure that's a "thing," Grandpa!). Games can be tricky to incorporate when you have those certain Scrooges who don't really want to participate. My advice? Put them in the corner with some spiked punch and try out some of these ideas:
- Christmas crackers (always required around the table!)
- Have everyone write down their favourite memories of the year. Read them aloud. Maybe even guess who wrote it.
- Trivia -- on anything, the family, on Christmas, on your favourite movies. Make teams and play against each other, or read them aloud to the family to free guess.
- Guess Who board game -- or you can buy the Hedbanz version
- Catchphrase. One of THE funnest games ever invented, pretty tricky with smaller kids, though
- Pass around a Christmas song and have family take turns rewriting the lyrics then everyone can sing it
- This game, like telephone, where you take turns writing and drawing the message.
- Clothespin game. Give everyone five clothespins and when they 'break the rule' (usually saying a certain word), you can steal their pin and most pins at the end of the night wins
- Elf Yourself
- Gift Exchanges. Doesn't have to be new gifts, could be recycled, regifted or handmade. Adding the "stealing" factor to the game makes it very interactive and competitive.
- Video interview done by your iPhone-wielding niece, or you could use the One Day app.
- Minute to Win It. This one is all over Pinterest and looks like a lot of fun but does take some planning and coordination
- Two truths and a lie. This one can be done around the dining table, or written on papers and put in a jar.
- Karaoke. There are lots of apps on smart TVs and the iPad to have a karaoke party.
- Name that tune. You can use an app on your phone for this game, or have someone run it from the computer.
If you know the things about hosting that stress you out, plan for them. Even have a $20 to $50 slush fund to help you with these things. Whether it is hiring a cleaner, buying frozen appies, stocking your shelves with paper plates, buying all the scented candles to cover up that mystery smell in the bathroom. Choose a couple of priorities and let the rest be what it is.
I really believe that at its heart, hospitality is about relationships. And relationship are the most messy, humbling, and rewarding things we were made for. So hospitality must be all of those things too. If not, our hospitality is not about relationships, it is about us. When it is about us, we feel the need to make things perfect and that turns us into stressballs -- for ourselves, our family and our guests.
This post originally appeared as part of A Simple Christmas Series by Simple on Purpose. For more honest, ladynerd chat from a mom of three who is simultaneously failing and succeeding at minimalism, floor mopping and cooking gluten free then check out Shawna at Simple on Purpose.
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