Growing up, my parents never made a big deal about taking our shoes off when we entered the house. (Maybe because the tiled floors made it easy to clean up dirty or muddy footprints.) My college roommate was more of a stickler about no shoes in the apartment, so I got in the habit. Now that I live somewhere where it snows, I understand more that taking off your shoes before stepping onto the carpet is kind of an essential in the winter. Otherwise, you are tracking snow, ice, and mud all over your house. And we’ve all seen the articles that occasionally to gain traction on Facebook about the disgusting things we track into our homes when we don’t take off our shoes.
In my own life, with another impending winter, I stress out about dressing and undressing the boys, bundling and unbundling them for the snow and winter weather. When I’m visiting someone, I always feel so awkward (and, truthfully, a little incompetent) as we enter the house, and I attempt to pull off wet winter layers and keep muddy boots of the floor. I have to find a safe place to set Leo down, try to keep Ian from bolting off the play with his muddy boots, and try to quickly untie and pry off my own wet shoes. Where should we sit? Where should I stick the boots? Are we letting cold air in? Ugh, we dripped on the floor. How will I manage this with a third baby?
I don’t enforce this rule in our own home with any real consistency. There’s no easy place to enter the house with kids and not immediately step onto carpet. Most of the time, when we get home, I’m rushing off to make a bottle or drag a toddler to the potty. Sometimes, Ian simply wants to leave his shoes on, and it’s not a battle I’m up to fighting. But I notice that there are days or weeks when I go on a rampage against shoes in the house. Personally, it seems that the no-shoes rule is one way to grasp at control: to limit the cleaning that will need to be done later, to try to prevent germs, to keep semblance of order and routine. None of that is bad, of course.
But recently, I heard Shannon Martin on The Around the Table podcast, and she made me think about all of this very differently.
If you don’t know Shannan and her story, she and her family moved from a country farmhouse into the inner city. She writes a lot about what it means to love our neighbors and our neighborhood, among a host of other things. She’s one of my favorite writers, and one of the few blogs I read regularly these days.
On the podcast, she shared some super practical things she does to love her neighbors well. One idea in particular stood out to me: Whenever someone is coming over to their home, Shannan makes sure that either she or her husband keeps their shoes on.
In her family, the goal is that a guest would never feel obligated to take off his or her shoes. Sometimes, she points out, someone may not have socks or the socks may have holes. Sometimes, they may not have showered in a while.
Leaving shoes on has become an equalizer between the Martins and their neighbors, a means of saying, “You are at home here.” There are no rules a guest must follow; just a simple, gentle sense that “You are at home here, just as you are, no extra step required.”
One of the biggest reasons I’ve wanted to relinquish perfectionism is because of the barriers it inadvertently puts up between myself and others. I never want my rules or expectations about how people should enter into or engage with my home to hinder my ability to be truly hospitable. I never want my rules to interfere with my ability to love and serve my husband and kiddos well.
When people come to my home, I want to be focused on them: what they need to be comfortable and feel relaxed, what’s on their mind that day, what they need to talk about and unload. In an ideal world, I’d like for someone to enter my home and for me to not even blink about what state or cleanliness or disaster it’s in. Part of that includes not worrying if my carpet is going to be germ-free or not when they leave.
I think I’ll leave my shoes on a little more often.
I don’t know what the equivalent of “leaving your shoes on” is for you. Maybe it’s leaving the dishes in the sink, or ordering pizza for your small group one week. Maybe it’s letting your toddler eat his cheese and crackers in the living room just this once, or leaving the bed unmade one morning. I want to remember that my home communicates my values, and I want “hospitality” to always rank higher than “cleanliness” on my list.
Throughout October, I am participating in the Write 31 Days challenge. Each day this month, I’m sharing one way I fight perfectionism in my life. You can find every post in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of the blog). Tomorrow, I’ll share some immensely helpful advice from Brené Brown.