Everyday Hospitality

Head’s Up: Sponsored by Nest

This is how it would go: the doorbell rings and the dogs bark and I shush the kids, army-crawl over to the corner of my kitchen where I sneak onto my tiptoes to peek above the half-wall – ever-slowly – so I can see the doorbell-ringer but the doorbell-ringer can’t see me.

I wouldn’t call it efficient, this predisposition toward screening solicitors or unannounced guests. Inevitably, the toddler trots right up to the front door, waves happily and I’m outed, left powerless to purchase Boy Scout popcorn or a fundraiser magazine, flip through the Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet.

I am well aware I could say, “No, thank you; we’re not interested.” Or simply point to the friendly No Soliciting sign with a smile. Draw the shades, come what may. But for some reason, the crawl-and-peek is what it had come to, though it rarely worked.

What, again, was Einstein’s definition of insanity?

Years ago, a girlfriend witnessed this waltz of avoidance while over for a visit, and she laughed incredulously, offered her best impression of the whole song-and-dance during our next dinner party.

It did look rather silly, now that I was seeing someone else do it.

And yet, if the alternative is unanticipated confrontation with a stranger in which I must decline their product/service/God, I’ll take the song-and-dance every time.

But about a year ago, something shifted and I began vowing to leave my door ajar, in the metaphorical sense. I welcomed absolute strangers into my home, offered dinner invitations to random acquaintances I’d see in the coffee shop, or mothers I ran into in the library parking lot. People I’d see regularly but didn’t know. People I’d known forever but didn’t see.

Come over, I’d say, open invite. The one with the yellow door. Yes, anytime.

The why is clear; we all know the benefits of extending our social circle, of eating communally, of swapping stories and serving dishes with those who are like us, with those who are not. We know there is much to learn from each other. We know that, in an increasingly wired world, many of us are floating around relatively alone, connected, but tetherless.

We know there is pain, hurt, longing. We know a friendly face can’t solve it all, but we know that sometimes hibiscus tea can.

nest doorbell

Still, the how can get fuzzy for me, an introvert predisposed to spending any stretch of free time on the sofa with a Joan Didion spine. How to do it? How to swing the door open wide, wide, wider still, amidst crazed schedules or last-minute commitments or, for me, sheer selfishness?

A few tips I’m learning as of late:

It’s not about you.

Surprise, surprise. You’d think we’d have this down by now, yes? Still, the mornings in which I’m unshowered, braless, and flipping pancakes are certainly the times in which a visitor or neighbor will drop in. Whenever I fret over the state of my home/hair/etc, I’m always reminded of Haven Kimmel’s writing: “But I think that what you’ll discover more and more as you get older is that most people aren’t thinking about you at all.”

What people are thinking about? Themselves, of course. How they’re feeling. If they’re warmed, if they’re safe, if they’re loved.

Forget the bra and offer a hug, a welcome, a pancake or three.

Be as prepared as you can.

Our doorbell, surprisingly, is a master at this, anticipating even the most unanticipated guests. Designed to show you everything at your front door – from people to packages –  The Nest detects motion even before anyone rings the bell, so I have plenty of time to usher the dogs outside and avoid a barkfest. Or, if we’re in the backyard kicking around a soccer ball, I can switch on a pre-recorded response for visitors: Come around back! (And maybe duck.)

Beyond that? A well-stocked supply of tea will do just fine.

No need for apologies.

Yep, no one’s coming to see your toilets. Our house is relatively clean (relatively = loose interpretation), but on any given Tuesday there’s likely a string of blocks littering the hallway, laundry piled high on the dining room table. Half-eaten crayons on the office floor, sticky syrup on the counter. Currently, as I type this, there are three power drills lining the basement stairs. It’s a home, not a house, so I am forever resisting the temptation to apologize for the very stuff of life.

nest doorbell

Be honest.

I love a good pop-in visit, but there are days the timing just doesn’t work. We often rely on Nest’s Quiet Time when Scout is napping – a simple Do Not Disturb mode that keeps the doorbell from ringing (which keeps the dogs from barking, which keeps the baby from waking!) and sends an alert to our phone instead.

Alternately, my friend lives on a beautiful, sprawling farm, and she’s often fielding drive-by visitors who are curious, pining for “a quick tour” of her gardens. Sure, she wants to be hospitable, but as a busy mother of 6, she doesn’t always have the capacity. Her solution? Thursdays. She tells passersby that she’s “open” on Thursday, that they’re welcome to come back as often or as little as they’d like.

Perhaps you work from home, or have an infant in the house, or an aging parent who needs rest. Perhaps you live with a whole slew of introverts who’d like an ample head’s up before guests march in. Whatever the case, be honest about said limitations with those on either sides of the front door.

nest doorbell

Attitude is everything.

When Bee was a newborn, I used to stroll her in loops around the neighborhood nightly to stave off the infamous witching hour tears. Once, a neighbor flagged me over and invited us into her backyard, where we talked and talked and talked while the crickets grew loud and the moon grew high. When Bee finally fell asleep, my neighbor asked if I wanted to come inside and stay for family dinner. Ever of the “I don’t want to impose!” school of thought, I nearly declined. But then she says, with absolute excitement: It’s cereal night! Her kids jump up and down, run to grab spoons, and twenty minutes later, I am amazed at how fed I feel from a bare bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

nest doorbell

Try it once.

That’s all it takes – one time.

A few weeks ago, during a rousing game of Snap with Bee in the kitchen, the Nest chimed. Right there on my front stoop stood a new acquaintance with her even-newer baby. I welcomed her in, set the car seat on our kitchen counter, warmed water for tea.

I’m sorry to barge in, she’d said tearfully. It was this or Target.

We laughed. I have rarely felt more honored.

nest doorbell

I suppose it comes down to this: it has been no small thing for an introvert like me to swing open the door so wide. It has made our home infinitely richer. (It has made our home infinitely louder.)

And even though I haven’t needed to perform my crawl-and-peek in forever, I’m unsurprised to report Bee has picked up my old habit of dodging knocks, hiding from the mailman.

I’m giving her time.

Turns out it can take decades to understand the mere beauty of opening your own front door.

This post was written for Nest Hello, a genius doorbell we use and love in our own home. Thanks for reading!

  • Hi friend. I absolutely loved this post and needed this read today. I most often dodge the door not because of an introverted side…. rather, because of the constant clutter/cleaning battle and embarrassment tied with it. Loved the reminder that hospitality is not about me. I want to love well in this way….. AND train these yahoos to pick up their stuff, too. 😉

  • one of my fav posts…
    i have the coolest, wise older neighbor that teaches me so much, knowingly and unknowingly. i now use his attitude and his words about house messiness. he said to me on one of my visits. “come in , come in… the house is a mess. it’s not an apology, it’s an advisement!’ and he welcomed me in, proudly!

  • We just moved to a new town and have chopped both our belongings and our living space in half. All around us people are getting bigger, more beautiful houses, new furniture and upgrades for days. We are in an apartment until we figure out the next step. We have taken a few steps back, and that is ok. But hosting has been more difficult for me as I adjust to a smaller, more plain space. This post reminded me that I need to be welcoming to all who enter my space. Even if they have a much nicer house. That shouldn’t change how I make tea, offer cookies, or host a dinner party for 8. Thank you for keeping it real.

    • Oh M, I love hearing this! It can be so challenging to welcome others into a home that feels cramped and less-than, but I’m so happy to hear you’re tackling it head-on. I firmly believe you’ll be rewarded in so many ways!!!

  • Love this Erin. A couple of years ago we had some friends who were living and working abroad. They wanted to come home for the summer for 6 weeks, but there place here was currently rented out and they couldn’t find a place to rent in the area. So, I talked with my husband about this and we offered them to stay with us. They would be travelling 3 of those 6 weeks elsewhere. They needed a place to stay for the first 2 weeks and then 1 week at the end of their 6 weeks. They accepted. I had read this verse from 2 Cor 6 Msg 11-13 “Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!” I felt challenged to live openly and expansively. Well our friends arrived that summer and it was such an amazing time together. It was crazy and messy and fun. The following year my friend’s husband became very sick while living abroad so we offered to take their two boys for a few weeks while their dad received treatment. So the boys flew from the other side of the world to our home. Our kids also bonded during that one summer we all lived together. This year they are returning home from living abroad and we can’t wait to welcome they home with open arms. Big hugs Erin. Warmly, Ginny

    • I couldn’t possibly love this more, Ginny! What a gift you gave to your friends, and what a gift you received in return. Living in community can feel inconvenient and uncomfortable, but I’m fully convinced daily — even despite my introvert tendencies — that it’s the intended way for us.

  • This is a hard topic for numerous people. Props to you for tackling it head on. Good advice. Sounds like a useful product to. Will have to check it out.

  • I have always told people they were welcome to stop if they came to town. But I find most people aren’t comfortable with dropping in. I’m sure it’s concern of interrupting my day. But I am a widow, living alone. I love company and would love the interruption. I laughed at being invited to cereal night dinner. What a secure woman! How I would like her for a friend. Love your writing.

  • First, let me say — proclaim! — your email is one of the first, if not the first, one I read. I adore your perspective and your conveyance of it. Yours isn’t so much as writing as it is conversation; I can give it no higher praise. (I read your writing the first time for the joy of it and a second time to see the art in it.)

    Second, this was the most lovely endorsement of a product without feeling like a pitch. Thank you! You gave me your perspective — created a feeling, told me a story — and shared a product that helped you. I love it when people share; when they tell me what / how to do it, not so much. Thank you again!

    • Oh goodness, Deborah, this is such a kind and thoughtful note. Thank you for the encouragement! What a gift your words are to me this morning.

  • Hi Erin!. Discovered your blog few days ago and since then, life has become little more worthwhile (I eagerly await your posts). Though we are continents apart, your beautiful writing has touched a chord. This everyday hospitality you talk about was a part of our growing years and we (3 kids) detested it with all our heart. Yet, there was no stopping my parents. They welcomed all, friends and strangers, alike. The home was thrown open with all the heart, even during our exam times. Most of our time was spent in the kitchen, making and serving snacks and tea (In India, tea is not a choice, it is a lifestyle).
    When I got married, I did the same thing as my parents. It was then that I understood the importance of welcoming people home, albeit a louder and cluttered home, but a very welcoming and lovable home. All those childhood experiences made for great life learnings too.

    • Oh Deepti, thank you for your kind comment! I spent some time in Jaipur a few years ago and find myself grinning ear to ear remembering the tea and cookie ritual. I’ll never have a better chai in all my days. :)

      What a gift your parents instilled in you! And I love hearing how you’re learning to adapt the tradition in your own life. Thank you again for your kind note — it’s a blessing to have you here!

  • I am on the introverted side, but I dodge the door (and sometimes get a little freaked out) because we’re in the country, the last on a mile-long gravel road that doesn’t keep going, so when strangers show up it’s alarming. We now have a goofy dog who barks at all new cars (and old, and at us, and at people he’s seen daily for a week) so at least I have some warning. = )

  • 4 kids later, this post feels quite relatable! I’ve noted the decline of my organized house and the increase in clutter with dismay, but wouldn’t trade it for my pre-family semblance of order. I remember a friend came over and said “hey, your place is a bit messier since you had a kid…but I think I like it better!” I think of that comment often to remind myself that it’s not a pristine house that puts people at ease.

  • Such a beautiful post. Thank you for this. I struggle so severely with hospitality (which makes life hard as a preacher’s wife!). I also struggle with the pride of wanting others to think of my house as clean, the fear the someone will see our mess of a lived-in living room and well-worn front entry way. This post was such a good reminder about the importance of honesty in these areas. You are so right; most often others aren’t thinking about me or my house anyway, so why should I be! I pray for the day that I can joyfully open the door to unexpected visitors and not be thinking of a list of excuses for the mess in the back of my mind, but instead just be genuinely glad to see them!

    • It’s a practice, that’s for sure! Been there! I find that hospitality, like most things, certainly takes trial. Practice, practice, practice. You’ll find that even if you burn dinner, the world won’t end. Even if the dog pees on the floor, the world won’t end. Even if your front stoop plants are all dying and your dining room table is small and none of your throw pillows match, the world won’t end.

      Sending grace to you as you take small steps toward joyfully opening the door and shooing all of those anxieties away with it. ;)

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