It was late on a Thursday afternoon when I got a knock on my apartment door. Myself, my husband, and my 1 year old son had been living in the apartment for over 4 years at this point as I worked full time in higher education as a Resident Director.
There, at my front door, was one of my students. She glanced up, wordless, mascara streaked down her face, almost trembling from the weight of what she carried. It had been a hard week, that had turned into a hard month, that was quickly turning into a hard semester.
I ushered her inside, tossing the piles of laundry I was folding on the floor and dusting crumbs from the table. She didn't even seem to notice that she was sitting on a teething toy and that her hand was dangerously close to getting stuck in unidentifiable goo from this morning.
My house was a mess. But then again, so was she. So there we sat, both making very conscious decisions to allow each other into our own messes. I listened as she spilled forth whatever she could get out, large insomnia induced circles under worn eyes. She was on a marathon, and I had the honor of being her pit stop. I knew at the moment she didn't need wisdom, or cute pinterest crafts, or well brewed coffee. She needed solace and sleep. I led her to my room, tucked her into my bed (unwashed sheets and all) and hid her there. I took her phone and turned it off. I lied when people came to the door looking for her.
I became her guardian and her resting place.
This was only one of many many stories I have from my 8 years living in the dorm as a Resident Director (don't know what that is? Check out wiki for a quick summary) . My husband and I and our two children lived in a tiny apartment surrounded on every side by around 200 students. We had no bathtubs, one closet for the entire apartment, and 3 1/2 feet of countertop space. Yet, in this modest dwelling we consistently hosted parties for students, sometimes cramming 30 people at time into our apartment.
More importantly, we had the beautiful honor of being a resting place for many, including the story above.
It was within this pressurized, unique living circumstance that I think I learned the most about hospitality and what it really takes to make a home. So, watch out Martha Stewart, because here's what I learned about true hospitality from over 10 years living in a dorm.
Hospitality isn't about expressing yourself. It's about meeting a need.
Most of the people we hosted in our apartment in the dorms didn't need fancy. They needed safe and welcoming. They needed a resting point as they wrestled through the difficult life stage college often is. This is what we strived to make our apartment while we were there.
Almost every thing we bought or designed for the apartment was born out of the question, "How does this help us meets the needs of people we have in our home?"
It only took us a few months of living in the dorm setting to realize that we were being watched- CONSTANTLY. Like, " I know what you had for breakfast and I noticed you buy the same orange juice as I do."
I'm not gonna lie, it was a little weird at first (ok,maybe it was always weird). And as an introvert, it was especially hard to not hide and retreat. But, I soon realized that people were watching because they wanted to know how to enter. They wanted to know what I shared with them so they could connect. Ultimately, they wanted to know if I was safe. So - hey, if my OJ makes you feel safe, than - thanks tropicanna!
Hospitality ultimately is allowing others "refrigerator rights."
You know how when you are having extended visitors over, you deep clean your fridge? Or is that just me? My fridge for some reason gets nasty so quickly. I always have something going bad in there. It's probably my lack of organizational skills. ANYWAY. When my best friend comes over, I don't even think about her roaming around in my fridge. In my mind, she was here last week and found the smelly chicken, so whatever has spilled in there today is no big deal. She has refrigerator rights to my home. She can just walk right in and open up the fridge and help herself. Hospitality takes this concept one step further. It's goal is to create a sense of refrigerator rights as soon as possible so that they feel AT HOME. It says with your home that you are ok allowing them access to not only the pretty things in your cupboards, but that you also allow them access to the messy things in your fridge. This allows them to be messy with their lives - because they know it's ok!
Hospitality plays to the senses
Again, my goal when hosting is to bring the person into my home and allow them to relax mind, body, and soul. It's something I'm still working at, but I've found that every sense feeds into our level of comfort and feeling. I want to manipulate people's emotions with the surrounding I'm placing them into. This can definately be hard to do with small children and a dog - but not impossible. When I'm trying to create a hospitable atmosphere I go down the senses.
Smell - does it smell overpoweringly gross, or like leftover food. Does it smell too sterile? Is there a good balance? Does anyone coming have strong allergies or sensitivies that I should edit from my home
Sight - is the space cluttered or full of things. Simpler homes with less junk everywhere allow for rest and comfort (I'm super bad at this one by the way). We had to get very creative with so little storage and two small children in our apartment. We learned the practice of editing and getting rid of things consistently. We often would ask relatives not to get us a lot of gifts for our children because, frankly, there wasn't space. Our kids didn't seem to mind - and I think our home was better off for it.
Touch - It might look cute, but does it feel nice? I like this about our countertops. They are soft to the touch. I have caught several of our guests standing an keeping their hand on the countertops as they spoke. The warmth drew them in.
Sound - Is it too quiet for the occasion? Or too loud? Are there background noises happening I can control. Should I be aware of other background noises to fill my guests in about (i.e. our fridge bangs on and off right now - it scares people to death if I don't warn them first)
Taste - when people are nervous or in a new environment they don't know what to do with their hands. This is why offering them something to drink oftentimes alleviates that pressure. They have something to hold or divert their attention. It creates a comfortable wall between themselves and their environment. It can also help be a cue after a while that this is the place to relax, and people begin to know what to expect from you and what you offer.
Good Hospitality follows a vision rather than fads.
When we chase the newest fad as the measure of how ready our house is to welcome others, we fall quickly into the trap of comparison.
I love THIS article by Ann Voskamp. She speaks frankly about comparison. Here's a little exerpt
When we use comparison as the measuring stick of the worthiness of our homes and ultimately our lives we rob ourselves of the joy we could be having. But friend, isn't it soooo easy to do?
I find this especially true when I'm in the middle of renovating. As I fix one old broken down thing, it makes all the other old broken down things around it look just a little more grimy. This is why I think it's absolutely necessary to have a vision for your home. For example, if the vision for your home is to make it a fun party house - than creating a serene bedroom should probably not be the first thing on your priority list, no matter how wonderful your friend's newly decorated bedroom seems.
John and I are currently working through a new vision statement for our home. In the months to come we will be inviting you to join us. Make sure to subscribe over to the left if you don't want to miss out.
You can host in whatever setting you are in.
I learned this lesson watching some students with specific gifts in hospitality practice this principle right out of their small dorm room. I even watched as one student would consistently host dinner nights, in her room, that she had cooked all day in her crockpot. They were epic and drew in a crowd. Her room was comfy, tidy, beautiful, and welcoming. She didn't wait to practice her hospitality until she had an apartment or a home. She did it because of this final, and over arching principle:
True hospitality begins in the heart.
Before you renovate or redecorate - I highly encourage you to take stock of what you already have. You could potentially be editing out valuable things you already have to offer and replacing them with stock replicas that don't matter to those around you.
If you are seeking to create a home that is show-off worthy, or that will make people ooh and ahh, I promise you it will always be fleeting and never quite enough.
If you are having difficulty on where to even start, I recently came across an awesome resource I'm hoping to use for myself. The book is The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful and it's focus is helping all of us embrace the imperfections in our home and find contentment in the beauty already around us. I highly recommend it :)
So no time like the present to get started. Share below in the comments one thing you love about your home even though it isn't exactly perfect.