You know the dreaded feeling….don’t you? When the doorbell rings out of nowhere, and it’s a neighbor and your house is a freaking mess. Awesome.
Maybe it’s because I’m an interior designer and my house says something about me and my mental state. Or maybe it’s some deep-seated Pavlovian response from my childhood (more on that later). But when people arrive unannounced or otherwise, I want my house to be presentable (that’s my mother’s word, not mine). Like my mom taught me. And her mom before her.
I’m wondering, is it wrong to want to be so “visitor ready” when I pride myself on being real? My house isn’t always “visitor ready” so why do I panic when the situation arises? It’s all good, right?
Growing up, my mother was first generation Irish and grew up poor even though she didn’t know it until she got older. My grandmother raised 7 kids (6 boys and my feisty Irish mother) on her own because my grandfather died when the littlest child was only 2 years old. She cleaned other peoples’ toilets for a living. She had a pride about herself so even though she was poor, she always presented herself to the world in a way that said she was she was proud despite her circumstances. My grandmother always bestowed on her that no matter where you came from, you always had to be presentable, in the way one kept one’s home and one’s appearance. How you presented yourself to the world mattered because when you are poor, you could still hold your head high.
Fast forward . . . my mother meets my father. My mother stayed at home with four kids and a working-class husband. My parents made a nice life for themselves and my father provided for us so that my mother could acquire some nice antique rugs and a few other items of value. These items were cared for and loved. I remember my father painting all the woodwork a sage green and the two of them working together (okay, fighting together) to wallpaper my bedroom. And, we would re-arrange the furniture (a lot) in our small home (gee, I wonder where I get that habit).
Growing up, Saturday was cleaning day. I remember polishing ornate marble-top table bases and moving oriental rugs around like it was nothing. I changed 5 beds and cleaned the bathroom. Then my mom made us all BLT sandwiches with lots of mayo and black pepper and we’d settle in to watch candlepin bowling on TV. Google it, people. My New England peeps are smiling to themselves.
Then the affair happened.
Suffice to say, things went down the shitter. Obviously, we all suffered; and so did the state of our home. Our home was showing cracks: the wallpaper was dated, the sage green trim was chipped. The lawn went un-mowed (which was the worst—people just driving by could see the state of our affairs).
My mother was built-to-last but needed some reinforcements. Back then, people stopped by unannounced. And I was embarrassed. Like an annoying Mrs. Poole from Small Wonder, the very arrival of a guest sent me and my mom running around to make things presentable. I even remember my mother picking up as guests were there talking to her. She seemed to feel guilty and was trying to cover up, or clean up, I should say.
When we knew we were having people over, we cleaned like crazy. And I was okay with that. Even today, I’ll go home for holidays and help my mother clean before the big day. It’s exhausting. Today, despite my best efforts, I don’t like to entertain because not only do I have to prepare the meal, I have to make my house presentable. On the flip side, if my home is “visitor ready”, I don’t want visitors to mess it up! I don’t even want my family to sit on the damn sofa and mess with the pillows. Remember, I’m kind of a control freak.
I never met my grandmother. She died when my mother was 23 and pregnant with my older brother. My grandmother’s words still resonate with me—how you present yourself to the world matters.
I’m not sure if everyone will buy this concept 100 percent. There’s a lot of faking it these days and I don’t just mean in the bedroom. In this modern day social media world, who the hell is anyone anymore? Right or wrong, it’s human nature to make judgements about people. And my grandmother knew that; thus her stance on this matter. Some might question if this is a lesson we should embrace. I didn’t grow up poor. I have no clue what it would be like to start over in a new country, have 7 children, have my husband die when the youngest was 2 years old. I didn’t live her life. But I think what she meant was this: you might be down, but you’re not out. You shouldn’t be fake or mislead people about who you are or where you come from, but you should put out a little effort to be presentable. And that’s more about grit than anything else.
I carry on her life lessons, just as she taught my mom: How you present yourself to the world matters. Work hard. Take pride in what you own. Be presentable. I often wonder if I’m passing down these family values to my daughter.
Do you have feelings about how you present your home to others? Have you ever stopped to wonder how events in your past shape how you live, decorate and entertain in your own space? Why don’t I drop by unannounced and we can discuss it.