There was a time when having people over meant a lot of advanced planning on my part. I cleaned, I shopped, I cooked, I added special decorating touches to the bathroom. Everything needed to be planned, polished, and perfected. From the light over the dining room table down to my toenails, it needed to shine. (I blame Martha Stewart but that's another post.) These days, I can still launch a fancy fete now and again, but more often than not, my entertaining is much simpler. And sloppier. And a lot more fun.
I live in the kind of place where it's easy for friends to just drop by. My apartment is on the ground floor with only an unlocked wooden gate and a screen door between me and whomever just happens to be in the neighborhood. My street usually has plenty of parking and I'm not far from the post office, library and other places where errand-running friends are passing through. Since I work from home, I tend to be around and it's not unusual for me to hear a 'yoo-hoo' followed by a knock on the door and the rattle of a paper bag from a nearby bakery.
A couple of years ago, this would have petrified me. Is the house clean? Are the dishes done? Do I have milk for tea or the makings of lunch? Did I brush my teeth yet? But now I'm simply happy for the company and welcome my friends in with a big hello and a hug. If my apartment is messy or the refrigerator is bare, we'll still make do. Besides, my friends know better than to expect a full spread if they've just dropped in. It's the company that matters; everything else is just window-dressing.
Likewise, I'm much more apt to invite someone over on the spur of the moment. The most important question for me is 'do I want this conversation to continue?' and not 'when did I last vacuum?' Again, the relationship and the mood of the moment is what's most important here. Of course, there are a few things I do to make this a little easier on myself. I make my bed every morning without fail and usually I give my bathroom a quick 2-minute clean up in the morning. In general, I never let my housecleaning go so far that I would be embarrassed to have people over.
I try to keep my pantry and refrigerator shelves stocked with things like olives, crackers and other various nibbles and there's usually a bottle of wine or lemonade or something to drink in the refrigerator. And even if there isn't, I can always offer a cup of tea. I remember once I invited a friend up for a snack and we sat at the kitchen table, dabbing almond butter and homemade plum preserves onto Ritz crackers. Fun and delicious!
In a pinch, I've served few squares of nice chocolate on a napkin, or a glass of water with a slice of cucumber and a sprig of mint. Yesterday there was only one peach in the fruit bowl, so I cut it in half, dolloped on some yogurt and drizzled with honey. I could have just as easily served it plain and simple, ala Alice Waters.
The most important lesson for me has been to let go of this idea that everything has to be neat and perfect and in my control. The key to being ready for anything rests in a willingness to be available for anything, no matter what the circumstances. It's knowing what's most important (intimacy, friendship, connection) and allowing that to guide my actions, whether I'm opening the door to an unexpected knock or inviting the gang over for a spontaneous cocktail. The rule is simple: never, never, never let a few dust bunnies get in the way of a really good conversation.
(Image: Dana Velden)