Like fashion magazines have helped to convince many of us that our bodies are never going to be just right, decorating magazines have helped to convince us that our homes need to be perfect too. Gorgeously decorated and perfectly tidy, the staged for display rooms they make us believe that we are the only ones with overstuffed closets, a junk room or whose dusting skills won’t pass the white glove test.
Fashion magazines are not the only ones that present a distorted view of reality.
It’s difficult to live an authentically real life and have a house that is perfectly organized and tidy all the time. Life in all its glorious imperfection means that we get too busy to dust, or we’d rather play with our kids than have an empty laundry basket. Yet that still doesn’t seem to allow us to lower our own unreasonable expectations of ourselves.
Do you know what? After many years of entertaining, I’ve discovered it isn’t about how your home looks to visitors; it’s how your home makes them feel.
Years ago I toured Althorp, the beautiful sixteenth century home where Princess Diana grew up. Her brother Earl Spencer and his wife were raising their own family there at that time. A sippy cup and a couple of baby toys sat on a side table in the midst of the priceless antiques and opulence. Instead of looking out of place, it made Althorp feel like a real home. A perfectly staged, spotless house can be lovely, but your guests are more likely to relax in a home that looks a little bit lived in.
Here are some of my top tips for making your home both comfortable for you and welcoming for guests.
1. Tidy is best, but desperate times call for desperate measures
Just a quick daily flit round to pick up the clutter can make a huge difference. However, if things have gotten out of hand and you are pressed for time just get rid of the glaringly obvious. Although hiding things in cupboards is clearly not a long-term solution, in an emergency it is a great short term one, provided you go back when you have more time and actually go through the cupboard to de-clutter it. Make sure you never use a guest room closet for this. There is nothing like remembering that closet is a complete mess just moments before guests arrive to stay. (Please don’t ask me how I know this!)
2. It’s okay to get help
I can still remember the backlash I got years ago when I revealed I had a cleaner come in for a few hours each week. It was really hurtful – someone even used the word ‘lazy’! At the time I was devastated, but now I have thicker skin. Whether you work outside the home, are a full time housewife or stay at home mom, there is no sin in getting help around the house.
If money is tight, consider exchanging tasks with friends. Not so sure about cleaning but have a friend who loves to tidy? Maybe you can do her ironing in exchange for her help tackling your junk room. I do day-to-day cleaning myself, but my friend Shirley from ‘Works for You’ assists me with personal organising to help me stay on top our busy lives, as well as doing regular deep cleans.
3. Bathrooms just have to be spotless
Always make sure the bathrooms are really clean and sanitary. There is something particularly horrific about having to use a dirty (or heaven forbid smelly!) bathroom when you are visiting someone. Just a quick daily check can make a huge difference. Pop a bit of cleaner in the toilet, give the sink a once over and change the towels really regularly. If you have young children don’t forget to pop in from time to time to check that they have remembered to flush! It only takes moments and saves any last minute panicking or embarrassment.
4. Flowers are a powerful tool for dressing your home
A few carefully placed flower arrangements can really make your home look incredible and there is something about flowers that just lifts everybody’s mood.
I love professional arrangements like the one above, but I often make inexpensive flower arrangements myself. Even a single flower in a bud vase can be stunning. My favourite local florist, Green Parlour often share ideas for easy floral arrangements on their blog. I often stick to one sort of flower, perhaps in different colours, all in a pretty vase. A large vase of lilies (with their stamens removed to protect clothing and furniture) also works very well. These are usually available very reasonably at the supermarket or local florist. Be careful what flowers you use if you have small children or animals – flowers can be poisonous.
It’s worth investing in lighting; a great lamp or light fitting can absolutely make a room.
I love Laura Ashley and British Home Stores for reasonable lighting and table lamps, and we have one amazing Porta Romana table lamp in our home which was worth every single penny. Dimmer switches are an excellent way to have the best lighting for the right occasion.
6. Be ready for unexpected guests
Although I much prefer arrangements made in advance, It is nice to be able to welcome guests at short notice without feeling stressed. I change the bedding in the guest room as soon as visitors leave so that there are always clean sheets on the bed. If you don’t have a guest room, keep a clean set of sheets, towels and an inflatable bed tucked away in a cupboard ready to go.
I also keep a small box in the guest bathroom containing wash cloths, a toothbrush or two, sample sizes of toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, moisturizer and and other toiletries. I encourage visitors to use anything they might need, and keep it regularly topped up.
7. Never underestimate the power of aromatherapy
Baking makes a home smell wonderful, or if you are short of time and have a bread machine, pop the ingredients in and simply turn it on. Brewing a pot of coffee can make your home smell welcoming too.
Experiment with essential oils. Two drops of mandarin with a drop of lavender in a bit of water in a simple candle burner can rooms smell wonderfully fresh and inviting, and it is also very relaxing – not just for your guests but also for you! (Be very careful not to leave aromatherapy burners or candles burning unattended.)
It’s easy tips like these that can help make your home comfortable for you and your guests. But remember, the most important thing in your home is the people, not the decorations or the stuff. Relax and enjoy your home; let it reflect your personality. That way it will always be dressed for success!