Oh the shame! You want to have people over, but you just can’t. Like, you literally can’t. Your house or apartment is just too embarrassing.

Kat Quinzel is all of us.

“I actively avoid inviting people over,” she says. “I work full time and have a few side projects, so my housework always goes to the bottom of the pile of things to do.”

Even with advance warning, it can be dicey: Her mom gave her two months’ notice she was coming, and the deadline is fast approaching.

“I still have no clean cutlery, plates or bowls, and I desperately need to clean the fridge,” Quinzel laments.

No judgement, and Quinzel is hardly alone. In fact, a SpareFoot survey found that nearly 40 percent of people said they had avoided hosting people at their home specifically because they were embarrassed by how messy it was – nearly 30 percent said they’d cancelled a get-together more than once.

I’ll raise my hand. But, the other way to look at it is to use those looming visits as a reason to finally tackle that clutter. In fact, sometimes I specifically plan a dinner party because I know I’ll have to unearth the paper-laden dining room table or the couch-that-morphed-into-a-laundry-basket.

Women drinking martinis in bathroom

Degrees of Clean

Ready to take the plunge?

Keep in mind that you don’t even have to do a ‘50s style top-to-bottom cleaning, says Hazel Thornton, of Organized for Life…and Beyond.  A little tidying goes a long way toward the appearance of a clean house, she says.

One way to determine how much you have to do just to get through an evening is to figure out just “how clean is clean.” She divides the whole concept of a “clean house” into three categories:

  • “Clean” being the absence of dirt, dust, grime, pet hair, bugs, etc.
  • “Tidy” meaning no visible clutter lying around on surfaces such as counters, tables and floors.
  • “Organized” in that you can find what you need when you need it.

She has clients who hesitate to entertain because they don’t think their organization is up to par to a friend or neighbor’s, which she says shouldn’t be your gold standard.

“I’ll say, ‘Have you seen inside their closets and drawers? How do you know they are organized? Can they find their scissors when they need them? Do they get their bills paid on time? Maybe their house is just tidy.’”

A tidy home just automatically looks cleaner, even if your guests aren’t checking to see if you’ve vacuumed the corners or done a deep clean behind the fridge. And, if they are, you probably need new friends, she adds.

So how do you find that happy medium where you haven’t had to spend a week cleaning, but you still feel comfortable hosting your friends? Here are some tips for a “good enough to host” clean.

1. Tidy Up Living Areas.

Obviously your friends need a place to sit that is free of magazines, fast food containers and pet hair. So do a sweep around the spaces that your friends will be seeing, and recycle, toss or put away everything that is trash or clutter. You’ll almost immediately feel better.

Audrey Cupo, professional organizer and owner of A Better Space, advocates using wicker baskets or decorative boxes to easily store items out of sight. “They look like they are an intentional part of the décor, so they are perfect for those quick decluttering moments when a friend or relative is suddenly stopping over and you don’t have time to put items away.”

Housewife in action

2. Vacuum.

You’ll be amazed at what a quick five-minute vacuuming job can do to refresh an entire room.

3. Clean What You Have to

Yes, you have to swipe the bathroom, notes Thornton, as well as the kitchen and dining room. If a sort isn’t in the schedule, just sweep those papers off the dining room table into a shopping bag you stow in another room, cover it with a  tablecloth and voila! Your guests will never know what the dining table typically looks like.

However, Cupo stresses you should view this as a temporary solution that needs to be addressed once the guests leave.

Man with icing on his face laughing with friends

4. Remember the Feeling.

Do you want to feel confident the next time your doorbell rings? Of course! Having clutter disrupt your social life is no way to live. So, make it a goal to have clutter-free surroundings be your norm. Set aside a weekend to start from scratch with a huge purge, where you donate items you no longer use or rent a storage space for those things you know you might want “someday,” but don’t need in your current home.

And, finally, cut yourself some slack. “Your guests are coming to see YOU, not your house,” Thornton points out.




  1. Great reminder that our guests are coming to see us, not our house. It took a long time for me to let go of needing to have a perfectly clean house. I work hard to keep it organized and I tidy regularly so it looks presentable to unexpected guests. But it isn’t always clean. That happens mostly when I’m expecting guests.

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