Hospitality and Cleanliness

The wonderful Elsie over at Sweet Baby Cadillac is discussing Hospitality this week. I am immensely enjoying her little tips and suggestions- especially as someone who enjoys hosting events at her own residence (oh what I would give to have such a glorious woman over for Tea one of these days!). One thing she said really struck me, however.

While discussing cleanliness in the first of her posts on the subject, Elsie states quite clearly that Hospitality is more than just hosting events and opening your home to others; true Hospitality is a willingness to welcome a person into your home under any circumstance.

“And let us be honest, even the best housewives have days where they simply can’t cut it. We are all human. So if the floors are dirty, and the dishes piled up, does this mean you should turn away someone from your home? No, no, and no!”

Well said, Elsie!

Hospitality itself is defined as the warm, friendly, and generous act of receiving, entertaining, and sometimes housing visitors in one’s own home. For all intents and purposes, at surface value the state of one’s home play no role. And yet while I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that Elsie expresses in her article, I cannot help but feel as if we do indeed downplay the role that cleanliness actually has in it- but that might just be because I was raised Southern in more ways than one, and to us our homes (and the state of them) are important.

Our homes, if we are to live well in them, require and deserve a lifetime of the most careful attention. A home absorbs caretaking like a sponge. All the hours we spend tending to it are never in vain, for everything we give to our home, is in turn, given back to us. Our homes will be only as generous and nurturing as the effort we invest in them. 

– Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping: Timeless Wisdom and Practical Advice

There is no doubt that our housekeeping skills have faltered with the progression of work outside of the home- especially for women whose “job” throughout history has traditionally been the household upkeep and maintenance. We routinely allow our housework to take a back seat to other matters that we deem more important- either because of a lack of drive, energy, skill or any number of reasons. It is not particularly uncommon, now, to walk into anothers’ home to see the dishes piled and the laundry undone, and not bat an eye at it. To us it has become commonplace; we have put housework last so frequently in our lives over the last half century that this practice has become borderline acceptable in the modern era.

But while as truly hospitable people we certainly should not be turning others away from our homes simply because it is a mess, welcoming a person into your home under any circumstances (including the state of it) is only a great concept in theory. I do fully believe that having a home that remains ready to welcome anyone at any moment is equally as important as the willingness to welcome them into it despite its state in the first place. The point of Hospitality, after all, is to host a guest- and hosting a guest means both attending to their needs as they arise and providing a warm, welcoming environment which is entertaining and joyful to them.

To invite a person to your house is to take charge of his happiness for as long as he is under your roof.

– A. Brillat-Savarin

When we remove the emphasis on keeping a house clean, though, we do remove some portion of the ability to be truly hospitable; to provide a welcoming space in which a person may be hosted to the fullest potential and ability of both the Hostess and the environment. To do so properly, hygiene absolutely must be something that a Hostess takes in to consideration- both personally and in terms of their home.

Do not neglect [the] little things if they can affect the comfort of others.

– The Manners and Customs of Polite Society

That is not to say that I expect a perfect and immaculate environment from others, however! It is unrealistic with today’s often hectic schedule to expect others to keep their house in the utmost shape. Often I also find that an environment that is too clean is equally as uncomfortable and offputting as an environment that is unkempt- albeit for very different reasons. Instead, I find that a balance without being completely dirty or immaculately clean is the most optimal and provides the largest amount of warmth and comfort for guests.

Homekeeping is an ongoing art, a process, not an end product. It will never be “all done”. Bathrooms, clothes, and dishes, once clean, have a way of getting dirty again. But home is meant to be lived in, in the fullest, most potentially fulfilling way for everyone in it. That means that every room does not need to be picture perfect and waiting for a perfect display, but rather, each room has a sense of order and calmness to it. The home looks like someone lives there, without appearing messy or cluttered. There is an order and a method which is followed faithfully. There is a “place” for everything and everything is in its place.

– Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping: Timeless Wisdom and Practical Advice

In other words, the most visible areas of the environment should be considered clean according to at least the minimum standards of cleanliness- and this cleanliness should be maintained so that they remain ready to welcome a person into under even the most short notice or dire of circumstances… But one may also get away with skimping in some areas.

Knickknacks, the occasional (small) pile of laundry or dishes, and the like are perfectly acceptable to a point; a certain level of clutter and “lived-in” appearance is not detrimental so long as it does not impact the actual functionality of the house or the Hostess’s ability to receive and entertain guests. Laundry piled up on the couch in much need of folding, however, provides your guests with no place to sit. Likewise, if you are serving food, then a dirty kitchen makes it difficult to prepare and serve food in a timely manner- and a dirty dining room or living room likewise makes it difficult to eat. A dirty space in general also begins to smell, and a stale smelling or otherwise malodorous environment is offputting to both yourself and your guests.

Not all rooms, though, have to be maintained to such a clean standard- especially if there is little likelihood of the gusts visiting those rooms. I am not ashamed to say that in my own house it is only the Livingroom and Bathroom that are maintained to such standards. The Kitchen is truthfully only maintained because guests must pass directly through it to reach our bathroom- but even then I keep the curtain divider drawn when they are present and I am more apt to stuff dirty dishes in the oven and wipe the counters down 20 minutes before they arrive than actually clean the room from top to bottom like the other two. The rest of the rooms, though, are often a travesty that I would never willingly welcome a guest into. I take great care to keep the doors to those rooms shut or otherwise blocked off when guests are present.

So no, immaculacy is certainly not necessary. But the fact honestly is that a truly dirty, unorganized environment is not often one that offers pleasure- only discomfort and a lessened ability to navigate and attend to the needs of those you are hosting. Ergo, at least basic personal and environmental hygiene becomes something that is mandatory to participate it, and a necessary consideration for someone wishing to truly be hospitable.

“Taking care of our home enables us all to feel nurtured and safe; it brings comfort and solace both in the fruits of our labor and in the freedom it affords to experience life to its fullest. It is important work, and others will suffer if you do not attend to it properly”.

– Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping: Timeless Wisdom and Practical Advice

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