I used to belong to a young mother’s group where we were told not to worry about what our homes looked like when guests arrived. “Are they coming to visit your house or are they coming to visit you?” was a question frequently asked.

It’s taken only about 10 years for that to really sink in. My husband used to joke that we needed to invite friends over for dinner so the house would get cleaned. I’m not the best housekeeper in the world, but in the past, if guests were coming, I’d go on a whirlwind cleaning expedition. I’d want my house to look as if we didn’t actually live in it before I had guests.

Somewhere along the line, I’ve relaxed my standards. Maybe it was after the night that we had friends over for dinner and I cleaned like mad so everything would be nice, but in the middle of dinner our dining room table literally fell on our laps. One of the pedestal legs gave out and the tabletop came down —fortunately on the end where my husband and I were sitting. Our friends didn’t care that we had an old table that broke in the middle of dinner.

Maybe it has to do with how many times we’ve been invited to other’s homes, and they didn’t bother to make their home perfect for us. I didn’t care.

Whatever did it, it’s clear that I’m over the clean house problem because last night we had impromptu guests, I didn't run around cleaning in the 10 minutes before they arrived, and the adults ended up eating standing up in the kitchen. See, we still haven’t replaced the dining room table, and we gave away the chairs. We’ve been eating on a tiny table that only comfortably seats four in a small room off the kitchen.

We were planning on eating outside, but right before we fired up the grill, the skies opened up. We didn’t have enough chairs inside for everyone to sit and eat so we let the kids sit at the table, and we ate standing up in my messy kitchen. And no one cared.

I put a lot of emphasis on food in my home. As good, natural, whole food has taken center stage over the past few years, sharing that food with my friends and family has become one of my favorite things to do. I wasn’t doing it nearly as often as I would have liked because I had the “perfect house before entertaining” mentality.

My family, like many other families, has had to really tighten our budget lately. Dinners out at restaurants with friends don’t happen as often as they used to, but I’m going to stop being disappointed about that. I’m going to have more friends over — planned and not planned — to share meals with whether we’re around a table or standing up.

What about you? Is a lived-in house keeping your from having guests over? Is not having matching plates or enough chairs stopping you? I really believe that it doesn’t matter. Your friends and family want to visit you, not your home. No one will care that things aren’t perfect. 

MNN homepage photo: zubada/iStockphoto

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.