The Soul of Hospitality

When you live in a cool city, you inevitably have lots of visitors. As a middle child with a severe case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), this is awesome.

summer 2013_2

The year I lived in Paris, I think I hosted close to 25 people as they came through the city, and a large number of those people actually stayed with me in my 10 square meter apartment, remember the one? We consistently have visitors in DC as well, though it is a little less glamorous than Paris, and thankfully our space is a just little bit larger.

summer 2013_5

Last week has been one of lots of visitors, as I managed to cram in one last week of summer freedom in between summer school ending and orientation for the fall starting this week. We had several different family members, friends from France, and a friend from home passing through for a couple days each and I couldn’t have been happier. There were visits to the amazing DC sites that I forget in the interval between guests, picnics, multiple visits to Founding Farmers  and Ted’s Bulletin(I know, we really do need to pick more favorite DC restaurants), way too much dessert, endless rounds of Monopoly Deal, relaxing by the water, and lots of laughter.

summer 2013

There have also been several loads of laundry almost every day and lots of dishes. There has been the daily clean-up of our little apartment, transferring the living room into a guestroom, then back into a living room, only to become a guestroom again at night.  I have cleaned the bathroom multiple times, stayed up way too late every night, and ignored the list of things I needed to do on this last week of free time.

summer 2013_3

All of this has me thinking about hospitality, one of the things I enjoy most.

In a perfect world, I know how I would want my hospitality to look. For starters, it would look like an actual guestroom, one with big windows and crisp linens of obscenely high thread-counts, because in this perfect world I am the type of person who can stretch out on a set of sheets and actually identify the thread-count. This room would of course be stocked with all the necessities that a guest could forget, preferably in those adorable miniature sizes that don’t allow you to wash more than half your body. There would be notes left on the bed in my personal stationary welcoming them to my humble abode. In the morning, I would welcome them into the charming breakfast nook (as people who live in big homes affectionately call these spaces which are actually bigger than my whole kitchen), where I would serve seasonal fruit compote and Belgian waffles accompanied by free range bacon and farm fresh eggs. I would squire them around the city, treating these blessed guests to everything I love before wowing them with my own domestic greatness at dinnertime, where we would eat unpronounceable French food and miniature desserts served in the individual ramekins that those who have guestrooms and breakfast nooks have space to store.summer_57

But that world doesn’t exist for now. And if I wait around until it does – if it ever does – then I will have already missed out on years where I could be cultivating hospitality.

For now, we have a small budget, a small space, and big hearts. We have a slightly droopy couch and a twin air mattress. We have hodge-podge sheets, one extra set of towels, and no personalized stationary. We have one bathroom, but the door has a hard time shutting all the way, so that our guests routinely get it finally shut only to be unable to open it when they need to leave.

But we also have a beautiful city around it, and a desire to love the people who pass through our lives.summer_59

I read this article a while back, and I know that I already shared it once, but I can’t stop thinking over how good and true it is. In it, Erin talks about how our Pinterest/Internet/Instagram fed zeal for hostessing in photo-worthy perfection has actually made our hospitality more about showing off than inviting in.

I’m trying to keep that in mind as I extend hospitality in spaces that are less than ideal. I can’t offer grandeur, but I can offer a clean place that is so happy to have them. I can do laundry, and select places that I love to take them, and keep lots of bagels, apples, and pink lemonade on hand. I can plan simple picnics and I James can make sure that the coffee pot is full in the morning. I can stay up late talking and put aside work.summer_62 summer_61

But even more than that, I can develop a hospitable soul, one that values people. With our hospitality, we shouldn’t be saying something about how impressive our homes are, or how many hostessing images we have studied. Hospitality should communicate that people matter. They are worth cleaning up and planning ahead. They are worth loads of laundry, scrubbed toilets, and trips to the grocery to stock up on snacks. They are worth nights of less sleep and getting behind on stuff. They are immeasurably worth our time. At its heart, hospitality should be a profoundly humbling experience, rather than one that bolsters our own sense of self. It is about delighting in putting others first.

Here’s to becoming hospitable souls.

All these pictures are from some of our awesome visitors of the past week. Thanks so much for coming y’all!!!

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40 Responses to The Soul of Hospitality

  1. Donna Ordille says:

    Yes, here’s to becoming hospitable souls. Lovely piece. After 30 years we still don’t have the perfect guest room, but we love our visitors and have a wonderful time when they are here. I loved reading this. Thanks!

  2. RA says:

    Yes, hooray! I learned this lesson from a wonderful couple who mentored my husband and me when we were dating and engaged. They built a house for their family, and once it was occupy-able, they consistently hosted people in it, regardless of how it looked. They’d have paint swatches on the wall, temporary furniture in the living room, whatever! They even hosted an engagement party for us and my bridal shower in this limbo state. If anything, the unfinished state of the house was endearing, not a turn-off. It really impressed on me the importance of gathering people together, no matter what the setting (or plates or food) looks like.

  3. LegoMyMego says:

    I am absolutely loving your posts. You so eloquently put into words what I think a lot of 20-somethings are feeling. Keep up the great work! I look forward to each new post 🙂

  4. mabel1986 says:

    A truly delightful and insightful post. I wish I’d read it a week ago, when I had a few friends over for dinner and spent the whole evening feeling slightly off because there was absolutely NOTHING photo-worthy about the event. The mosquitos were out in force, I had no ice, I even had to have one of my guests do the grilling, because I couldn’t get the coals to light. Probably would have been a better use of my time to focus on how nice it was to have a few friends over for a casual weekend dinner. GREAT point about Pinterest and our desire to show off. It’s painfully true. Best of luck diving back into a routine! Can’t believe the summer’s basically over.

  5. Raewyn says:

    I have been following your posts for a wee while and just wanted to say Hi from New Zealand. And that I love this post. You are so on to it. Hospitality is from the heart, it is not about what you have or have not. In fact what you describe as your dream is amazing but it sounds like a very expensive B&B, that would make me physically comfortable but not at home. So keep on loving your guests – I would love to be one if I ever got the chance to come to US. And remember me if you ever come to NZ – our doors are always open 🙂

  6. I really enjoyed this post. My Fiance and I used to live in DC and we always say the best part about it was that everyone wanted to come visit us 🙂 We loved having visitors, taking them around to all of our favorite spots and showing off the cool city we lived in. I also have grand dreams of a beautiful guest rooms with warm breakfast waiting in the morning…luckily I was consistently reminded that I cared way more about that than any of our guests 🙂

  7. Amen to that. I love having people over as well, and it’s easy to get caught up in making everything perfect rather than just enjoying the time you have with your guests! My husband and I were (finally) able to afford a guest bed a couple of years ago and I absolutely love it, but I remember when we lived in Germany and could only offer an air mattress in a second bedroom (full of German closets, which are pieces of furniture there, rather than being built into homes as we have in America). Still, we had a great time! I’m still waiting for the day when I’ll have my own ramekins to make these Chocolate Minks: But for now, I use coffee mugs and they still taste great!

  8. E. Henry says:

    Excellent reminder about selfless hospitaliy!

  9. Janelle says:

    This is so great. Up until a week ago I lived in a teeny apartment as well. I love to entertain but I always struggled with a smidge of embarrassment at not having a spare bedroom with an actual bed in it, and the way we had to pull our little table pretty much into the living room to sit four people around it was almost enough to stop me from inviting friends over for meals. Almost. Thanks for the reminder of what hospitality is really about!

    • Hannah says:

      We totally keep our table pushed against the wall (and it is already in the living room) unless people are over for dinner and we need to pull it out!

  10. Alicia Jay says:

    You’ve written such a beautiful post! As a recent college grad rocking life on a minimal budget, I’m right there with you on having a big heart, cool city, and open arms to welcome friends…despite not having a glamorous guest bedroom worthy of a feature on Apartment Therapy. 😉 I am so grateful that, though I may not have the fanciest amenities, I have plenty of space to invite dear friends into my home.
    Happy to find your blog, through Julie of Bound!
    Alicia /

  11. sharkbytes says:

    Great post, but you do have to keep the humble spaces somewhat clean. My inevitable downfall.

  12. Our Pastor once said:
    “Hospitality often seems to be exhausting because we want to offer something more than our normal life. And an invitation becomes a burden.
    The verb ‘invitare’ however indicates that we open our every day life to our guests.
    In vitare – into our life.”

    (Remembered that quote when I read your faboulous post!)

  13. Rach says:

    Just what I needed! One of my college roommates is coming for a visit at the end of September and my folks are coming in the middle of the month. Even now, a little established in our early 30s, I have set these CRAZY expectations on all the changes I want to make around the house before anyone comes- true story: we’re having our house painted this week. HOUSE PAINTED! The truth is that I only care that they come! And while beautiful linens and pictures covering the wall of our family and our great adventures are nice, my biggest concern is that they are comfortable in our home, that they feel welcome and relaxed, that they laugh a lot and that I have everything on hand for them to drink their coffee just the way they like it! Thank you for the much needed reality check. If you hadn’t given it to me today I am pretty sure my husband would have given it to me in the next couple of days! 🙂

    • Hannah says:

      I am so guilty of trying to cram ALL THE HOUSE PROJECTS (or in our case, tiny apartment projects) into the 2 hours or days before someone comes. I will be all “WE HAVE TO HANG ALL THESE PICTURES IN THE TEN MINUTES BEFORE MY FAMILY COMES!” Because obviously, they would storm out angrily if pictures weren’t hung first. ; )

  14. Emily says:

    Oh I love this post! Your ideal-world hospitality dreams are almost shockingly identical to mine. 🙂 I love your point about what people are worth (the extra work to prepare and then reorganize, less sleep, etc.). And you are so very good at it — you are even good at making people feel at home in THEIR homes!

  15. A year ago my husband was the Singles (College & Career) Pastor in Hawaii. We were in a military church so the majority of the Singles did not have any family or close friends nearby. For Christmas we had all 35 of them over for Christmas dinner in our 900 sq ft apartment! No joke. But they didn’t care whether they had to sit on the floor in the hallway to eat, they were just thankful for a home-cooked meal (instead of the barracks dining hall food) and that someone loved on them! Hospitality has always been one of my passions, it’s so fun and rewarding! Anyways, thanks for sharing! =)

  16. Hi Hannah. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile but haven’t commented yet. I don’t know if you remember, but we had a class together when we were both studying abroad in Paris. Caitlin Coulliette is my cousin and her family lives in your family’s old house – I still think that is the best “small world” story 🙂 Anyways, just wanted to say that I really love your posts. You’re a wonderful writer and I can relate to so much of what you say. This post especially struck a chord with me because I absolutely love “playing hostess,” and I also have an idea of what my ideal hospitality would look like. I really love the idea of developing a hospitable soul. Thanks for this great post and for giving me something to reflect on!

    • Hannah says:

      Of course I remember you!! Oh those study abroad classes…. so many random stories about George Clooney. : ) Thanks for reading and coming out of the woodwork to say hi!

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