Hospitality for Introverts

I am forever wondering if our quest for self-exploration has become burdensome, backwards. Enneagrams, Myers-Briggs – the idea of whittling down our complex personalities to a number and a few letters. Are we placing boundaries where they weren’t intended; living within confines that needn’t be there? While I love nothing better than a tidy definition and simple explanation, I sometimes fear I’m placing too much stake in the label.

A few labels, specifically: Introvert and Enneagram 9. Drawn to white space and margin, boundaries. Avoider of conflict, chaos, mess. Give me a book and a sofa, an open window and a rainy day. Shh, quiet please. Let there be peace.

It’s the way I’m wired, I’ll justify, and yet – the way in which we’re wired is always available for tweaking.

And so: in my efforts to be less selfish this fall, I’ve been tweaking.

More last-minute invites, more dirty dishes. More inconvenience (more joy). More mayhem, more adventures. Less time to myself, of course. Less energy. But energy is like manna, isn’t it? More arrives in the morning, doesn’t it?

Best not to save it for later.

And so: if you’re an introvert like me and need a few friendly pushes toward practicing hospitality this fall, might I suggest a handful of tips to make the transition a bit less rocky?

Cook one dish.

Come up with one foolproof meal that you can’t possibly fail at (mine is breakfast-for-dinner, because even if you burn the potatoes and the sausage and the eggs, you can smear the whole plate with ketchup or hot sauce and call it a day). Something you cook often, something you love to eat and is simple to share. My friend is always serving her famous cilantro pot roast, and we never get sick of it. Another friend servers a killer grilled cheese at least once weekly. And of course, there’s always Friday Night Meatballs. Whatever your dish is, stick with it. Refuse to let recipe anxiety keep your front door shut. Instead, think of your same-old recipe as your signature dish — someday, it will become a comfort food associated with you, your family and your home. A worthwhile legacy, if ever there was one.

Consider timing.

I’m a forever fan of weekend brunches, because dinner parties with kids are less “dinner party” and more “grab-a-breadstick-whilst-standing-and-yell-out-the-backdoor-to-watch-out-for-the-broken-tire-swing.” But brunch? Brunch is the sweet spot. Pajamas and pancakes, hot coffee, bedhead. The kids are still in good spirits, freshly rested. Full bellies and full spirits before everyone heads out to start busy days of soccer games/grocery runs/birthday parties. It’s so simple it’s impossible to over-think, so all energy can be preserved for the conversation, the hosting, the unexpected. My standby rule? Morning-of invites. Simply send a few texts to your neighbors early that morning – Want to come over for sweet potato hash? After all, you’ve got to eat breakfast; might as well crack a few more eggs.

Game the system.

Games offer the perfect playing field for introverts and extroverts alike. (We love this one, especially.) My favorite hospitality trick? Keep a jigsaw puzzle going on the living room coffee table. It’s an instant connector for all ages, and gives the quieter crowd something to do while they’re recharging from the buzzing energy in the kitchen.

Switch the venue.

Hospitality doesn’t need to start at home, or even involve cooking. When we lived in L.A., we had a standing Tuesday night kickball game at an abandoned baseball diamond in our neighborhood. Everyone brought blankets and drinks and the kids took turns on the monkey bars. After a game or two, part of the group would leave in search of tacos while others headed home for bubble baths and story time. It was free, and fun, and hospitable as ever.

End well.

Sometimes, up-front communication diffuses any anxiety for hosts and guests alike. If you’ve had a long week and are low on energy, it’s perfectly acceptable to offer a “closing time.” Dinner from 6-9, brunch until noon – whatever works best for your schedule. And if you forget to establish an end time up front? No worries; just offer tea. My aunt famously suggests tea to her guests when there’s a lull in the evening. It’s the perfect exit for friends to decline if they need to leave, or a simple pick-me-up if they’re in it for the long haul. (Favorite teas here.)

Tell me, what are your go-to hospitality tricks? Or: what do you find keeps you from hosting friends/family on a regular basis? I’d love to hear, fellow introverts and extroverts alike! (And if you’re in the podcast mood, I chatted with my friend Tsh about hospitality earlier this year! Feel free to listen here.)

p.s. Want to kick it up a notch? Throw a resource party.

  • I’m an introvert who, surprisingly, likes to entertain (most of the time). My tricks are to:
    1) move outdoors, whenever possible! Obviously, this only works for part of the year, but it’s amazing how much less stressful outdoor gatherings can be when chaos/noise bug you.
    2) opt for small gatherings over large ones. Not always possible, and kind of an obvious one, but it works for me.
    3) build your recharge time into the schedule!

  • I struggle with overdoing it when having people over. I feel like I need appetizers AND a salad AND an entree AND bread/cheese AND dessert, what about wine pairings?! (I don’t even drink) etc. No one really eats like that normally! I’m learning to scale back. Vegetable / starch / protein / something sweet. The End. Everyone leaves full and happy and it was so easy I’m more likely to do it again and soon :) I don’t know why this is so hard, but it is!
    My go to is cilantro-lime chicken skewers with vegetables. Grill them while rice steams away in the rice cooker. Store-bought ice cream for dessert. Everyone loves it and it makes almost no mess! Win/win!

    • oh your go-to sounds so so good! and you’re right – any meal tastes so much better when someone else makes it (even if you know the recipe!). it’s like your mom’s pb & j sandwiches – you can taste the love and care above all the other flavors. :)

  • This is amazing!! I too am an introvert, while my husband is an extrovert. We decided this fall we were going to try and host more people in our home for dinners. Did I mention I am a pastors wife? haha kind of comes with the territory a little bit I guess lol Getting me out of my comfort zone a little bit but still within reason — our home is not very big, so automatically we are unable to host a large group of people on any given night.
    This list of tips is great! I have been processing and trying to figure out how this would all work for me and I came to a lot of these same conclusions and realizations! So thank you! Nothing like a good confirmation to help during some times of personal growth and discovery :)

    • Two of the things I have learned already so far
      1.] choose a meal that either doesn’t take a long time to prep and cook. I don’t want to spend my day preparing for 3-4 hours of my evening. That can be exhausting. Instead, I like to choose a meal that can either do all the work itself (crockpot) or one that is just simple.
      2.] My house does not have to be completely and perfectly spotless. It is unrealistic and again, I do not want to spend my day preparing for these few hours with friends. Also, I know that I feel much more comfortable when I go to other people’s homes and I don’t feel as though I have walked into a museum. I want my guests to feel comfortable and like they are dining with REAL people. This has been hard for me but I just do a quick tidy (full bathroom clean*) and try to not let my anxiety take over lol

    • hahah yes – a pastor’s wife is a tricky role, i’m assuming! :) what a gift you’ll be giving to your husband’s congregation as you open your doors!

  • Introvert here, though I actually like to host big things like Thanksgiving at our place so at that moment I’ve had enough of people I can duck out for 10 minutes in my own room, with my own book and my own pillow, and recharge as needed. Also, make lots of lists, and refine them, and adjust as needed the day of when your husband went to bed sick and you’re now solely in charge of the 25-lb turkey…

    • yes to the duck out for 10 minutes! i’m always the one volunteering to walk the dogs for some fresh air. ;) and ha – adjust, adjust, adjust. isn’t that a solid mantra for everything?

  • The other day I had the privilege of experiencing one of my friend’s “Friday night get-togethers.” Her family opens up their home to any neighbors that feel like dropping by at some point in the evening. The invitation is open, but nothing is ever really planned. They’ll order pizza, someone might bring dessert, there’s always wine — but it’s all very casual and free of expectations. I commented to her how much it saddened me that I don’t host more in our narrow townhouse. I feel confined by our space and a little overwhelmed in general when it comes to entertaining. My host said something that will stick with me for a long time: she said, “People don’t care how big or small your space is, or what food you serve. They’re just grateful that someone is facilitating. People need community and the opportunity to socialize.” <3 Thanks for these great tips and the reminder of how important it is to practice hospitality!! (p.s. – one way to be a great guest: do the dishes!)

    • i can so, so relate, laura – and i’d absolutely agree with your host! we had some of the best get-togethers when we were renovating this house. we had no furniture and some of the walls were missing, but that didn’t stop us from swinging the door wide open for pizza and friends. (looking back, the kids loved the unfinished house more than the finished one, as there were endless roller skating surfaces!) :)

  • A friend of ours started inviting us for brunch and that is indeed genius with kids!
    And further I am starting to learn your number one. No more trying-to-hard being kitchen princess and just stick with my vegetable curry. ALWAYS good. Or making pizza together! You just cut the vegetables and the dough and then the visitors can make their own pizza’s! I can so relate to what you’re writing. I thought I was an introvert, but maybe not, because I get so much energy from friends coming over (if I resist in trying to do it perfect).

    • I hear you, Liesbeth — I love having friends over, too. I’ve always thought of myself as a social introvert – I think people are fascinating and lovely and I love my time with others, I just need a bit of recharge time afterward. ;) (Also: your veg curry sounds amazing!)

  • Better yet…Schedule your get- togethers on ONE day and invite your guests in shifts making sure there is ONE INVITED guest who will be responsible for crowd control, preparation, cleanup and general gofer duties. Thank you for inviting me to one of your successful b-day events.

  • Remind yourself you don’t have to be “on” the entire time! My husband reminds me this when I talk too much to everyone and at the end of the event and depleted! I’ll.notice he doesn’t feel the need to socialize the entire time and is left with more energy at the end of the event! When inviting friends invite more than one so when you get tirrred, they can talk to each other not just you!

    Btw I love what the previous poster wrote about facilitating! I too live in a narrow town house wne inviting my friends with kids over sometimes, okay Often!, Intimidates me!

  • Remember:
    People visit homes not houses
    They love you not your stuff
    Embrace the illusion of clean, scented candles and GASP! already prepared food from the grocery store.
    Freeze ahead pound cake, lasagna or baked ziti, chili, soup…etc
    Sometimes “cleaning up” is shoving things in a trash bag and putting them in a garage , closet, or your fave hiding place;)
    Card games, scavenger hunts, flashlight tag, And don’t forget about your favorite teenage sitter/mother’s helper to entertain your kids while you’re getting ready for your guests or while you have guests–good training for the young teen who is not quite ready to babysit solo.

    Good luck!

  • I don’t consider myself an introvert, but I have to say I can relate…I find it hard to invite people over and relax and enjoy the event I create. Now, maybe– I can give these ideas a try and enjoy entertaining.

    Thanks for the wonderful book, the blog, just the wonder and wisdom you share with us all!

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