How many of you have walked into someone’s house, usually without an invitation or forewarning and hear something along these lines, “Oh excuse our mess. We’ve had a busy morning.”?
How many of you have had unexpected visitors drop by and said something along those lines? I have. I used to say it all the time. Mostly because when you have young kids, every morning is a busy morning. Every-once-in-awhile I get my house really super, awesomely clean. Most of the time it’s livable. Sometimes, we exist in plain old filth. And I don’t like it but that’s the way it is.
And doesn’t it seem like every time you are walking that line between livable and filth, someone drops by to see you or bring you something or even deliver a message…because the phone just wasn’t good enough. It’s the way my universe works. And based off of the thousands of times I’ve heard the same apology from others, I don’t think I’m the only one.
I have this friend named Sierra who inspired me an awful lot during my first years of motherhood. She has three kids, the youngest just a little older than my first. She also happens to be married to my husband’s cousin. We lived in the same little valley and we saw them fairly frequently. I don’t think she even realizes I watched her a lot and took notes and implemented a lot of the things I saw her do. But I did. She had a happy home. Her kids were great. It felt welcoming to walk in their front door. And do you know what? She never once apologized for any mess. Ever. And sometimes, her house was really clean. And sometimes, the kids had just gotten off the bus and the youngest had had a hay day with the toys in the living room and things were a little less tidy. And not one time did she utter those so oft repeated words. I noticed. And I liked it. I wanted my house to feel like that.
Here is what I realized ‘the apology’ does. While you think it is making the person walking in the door feel better knowing you don’t always live like this, it does the opposite. It creates an awkward tension where they subconsciously feel bad for coming unannounced and creating this dilemma for you. They feel like they need to say something to make you feel better for the mess. They don’t want to stay long lest they make you feel embarrassed. And they often don’t even realize this is how they feel.
I never walked into Sierra’s house, whether messy or clean, and felt like I was unwelcomed. I never felt like she was embarrassed. And I took a page out of her book and stopped apologizing. And my guests responded. No more tension. No more embarrassment. Yeah, sometimes I still hate people seeing us as our slobbiest selves. (I think I just made that word up.) But I don’t excuse the mess. And they don’t seem to mind it nearly as much.
This also opened up a door (pun totally intended) for me to invite people in – even when it isn’t super clean inside. I used to only invite people in my house when it looked great. I missed out on a lot of opportunities to serve others and to reap the benefits of engaging with them. Today, a guy was hauling our garbage for us (someone we know…I’m not sure I’d do this with a random garbage truck driver coming through the neighborhood…) and I invited him in for some hot chocolate (It snowed here today. boo!) and my house was a wreck! That picture at the top of the post – the actual mess of a kitchen he came into. I took a picture of it especially to show you guys that it was pretty bad. The picture actually makes it look cleaner! He didn’t mind. He was so glad for the gesture of kindness and getting to take a minute to talk with us. He didn’t say anything about the clutter. I subconsciously still cringed a little but I’m a work in progress.
Give this a try next time you have an unexpected visit and let me know how it works for you and for your visitor. Do any of you have any other tricks like this? I’d love to learn them all!