Embracing Our Inner Imperfect Hostess | Darling Magazine

I never realized that I was a clean freak until I had a baby.

A clean house was the first thing to go once our son was born, right after long showers and seven consecutive hours of sleep each night. Somewhere in the midst of sleep deprivation and projectile vomiting (the baby, not me), I stopped caring about beautifully made beds and perfectly polished sink faucets.

It was a slow process, that releasing of cleanliness and order. I started making the bed a few times a week instead of every day, and sometimes I even went to sleep with dishes in the sink. I allowed dust to collect on the shelves in our bedroom and laundry to pile high on top of the washing machine.

Gradually, little by little and day by day, I let go of something else.

Our house became more lived in, more relatable, more us. There were signs of life everywhere—from burp cloths on the coffee table to sleep training books carelessly tossed aside on the couch. The kitchen counter was often covered in a mixture of toast crumbs and droplets of pureed banana, sticky remnants that had fallen off the spoon during transition from blender to baby bowl.

People lived in our house—and for the first time—it appeared that way. There were marks of three lives in every single room: momma, daddy, and baby.

I started to embrace it, that letting go of cleanliness and order. I felt freedom in not washing a dish three seconds after I finished using it. I found liberty in smudge marks on the mirror and lint on top of the dresser.

I found freedom in the imperfections, in the dust, in the puffs between couch cushions.

That is, until, it was my turn to host a women’s group a few weeks ago. Suddenly freedom meant nothing to me as I morphed back into Monica Geller, frantically running around the house at 5:00pm, throwing magazines into drawers and tossing baby toys out of sight. I called my husband in frustration as I wiped kale from my baby’s forehead, exasperated that I was home alone taking care of a baby while I needed to clean for company. He came home with tacos for dinner and store bought cookies for me to serve, bless his heart, while I quickly attacked the kitchen with Clorox. I inhaled my share of the tacos and quickly discarded the evidence, lest anyone think I had actually eaten dinner at the kitchen table.

Twenty minutes later the house was ready and everything looked perfect. Well, everything except for me—I was a hot, sweaty mess. As I looked around the impeccably clean living room seconds before my friends arrived, I felt anything but pride. I felt pathetic.

These friends are the last people on earth who would judge a dirty house. These are my close friends, the ones who visited me in the hospital after my son was born and saw me in a bathing suit eight weeks after giving birth. We know intimate details about each other’s lives and share everything from maternity clothes and Kindles to baby gates and crock pot recipes. Of all the people, of all the potential guests to host, they would be the very last to expect perfection from me.

Yet, attempted perfection is my go-to, my instinct, what I know best.

So often our impulse when hosting people in our homes is to remove every crumb from the premises, straighten every picture frame, and shine every surface. While it’s sometimes easy to let go behind closed doors, many of us still struggle to release perfection when the doors are open. That’s a harder challenge and a bigger battle, one that can go against all of our instincts.

If you’re struggling to embrace your inner imperfect hostess, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Fostering community is more important than presenting a clean house. What matters more: the depth of conversations around your table, or the sparkle of your stove? Keeping this simple reminder in check can be powerful.

2. When you invite people into your home, into your mess, you become transparent in a good way. Transparency leads to vulnerability, and vulnerability leads to trust. The most solid friendships in life are founded on trust, not vacuumed carpets.

3. Spontaneity can lead to the best gatherings. It’s easy to set up dinner invitations a week in advance when you know you can clean ahead of time. Inviting a friend over for an impromptu get together can be less formal, more relaxed, and often times, surprisingly more fun.

4. When you give yourself permission to let go of perfection, you invite others to do the same. When you invite people into your less-than-perfect home, you encourage them to offer the same gift back to you.

Hopefully with these things in mind, we can gradually, little by little, continue to let go of something else, eventually freeing ourselves to embrace the real life mess that accompanies this real life we are living.

In what areas of your life—when hosting or otherwise—are you learning to let go of perfection?


  1. This is all so true and any post that makes me feel better about the Gerber puffs under my couch cushions AND references Monica Geller is a winner. Thank you!

  2. This article speaks to me, too! My husband is usually bailing me out when I have friends coming over so that the house will look clean. I don’t mind living in a less-than-clean house, but I hate for others to see my house that way. I like the idea of allowing myself to be vulnerable by having friends see my clutter once in a while.

  3. “The most solid friendships in life are founded on trust, not vacuumed carpets.”
    So true, and so easy to forget. We are too good at beating ourselves up. I have learned that in order to keep sanity, you need to lower your expectation and concentrate on what really matters. Awesome article, Ashlee.

  4. I completely relate. I call this instinct to go crazy with cleaning… Gattica clean. It’s when I want no trace of DNA to be found around the house. It’s a very bad habit and it closes me off to things. I’m working on it.

  5. I love this. I host people often and I used to be really concerned that everything look perfect. My boyfriend, with whom I live, always says people aren’t there to see a clean house, they’re there to see US. Take the pressure right off. Great post.

  6. Wonderfully written, as always, Ashlee. And too true! I’ll admit to still having that urge to go crazy (and drive my family crazy) trying to clean and prep before a dinner party or family get together.

    In fact, I once threw several dishes that were in the sink into the oven to hide them from unexpected guests. Unfortunately, I forgot them when I went to make dinner that night and melted everything into a giant, truly hot, mess!!

    Some of those instincts never go away. But you are right and I have learned, it’s the side-splitting laughter that happens during the party that means the most by far!

  7. Beautifully written Ashlee, I can relate in so many ways! I’m striving to look at (safe) activities through the eyes of my kids. “It will be so much fun!” Instead of “I REALLY don’t want to make that big of mess!” I’m trying to savor these precious years!

  8. I have to say… That is the one thing I am the most scared of when I have a baby… having to let go of my cleanliness OCD! People keep telling me it’s going to happen, and for some reason, I still think I can manage it. We’ll see I guess! 🙂

  9. You just described me so perfectly! Thanks for a more realistic perspective!

  10. Oh Natalie, I can SO relate to this. My husband desperately wishes that our car would be clean at all times, but our backseat is constantly cluttered with toys, socks, puffs, drool, dried up wet wipes, cracker crumbs, and sippy cups. I think dogless and childless people must be the only ones capable of keeping a clean car 😉

  11. I had a similar problem with my car. We have a very tiny back yard, no space for my 2 dogs to do anything fun. So everyday after work I load up my dogs in to my BMW and drive them to the park for them to run around and play in the grass. When they get back in the car, the evidence of their dirty paw prints and occasional drool that drops from their panting tongues is seen all over the black leather (note to self: black leather shows everything, next time go for beige). For a long time I would line the seats with towels and clean up after them as best I could. I would almost be annoyed at them for being so “messy”.

    But then I realized that it’s just a car. Nothing makes my dogs happier than running around and playing in the open space. It is the best part of their day.

    Some people may look in my car and see a dry blades of grass on the floor, and leashes in the back seat and think “What a messy car.” But when I look at my car, I think of those 2 smiling pups who greet me at the door every day when I get home and bound down the hall when I say, “Want to go for a ride?” I am lucky to be able to share my car with them.

    Beautiful words Ashlee, I just love your writing.

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