scruffy hospitality
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
December 9, 2019 ·  5 min read

Let’s Embrace a Little “Scruffy Hospitality” Because Our Homes Don’t Have to be Picture Perfect to Have People Over

There are a lot of expectations when it comes to hospitality. Imagine you are hosting a dinner party. Not only do you carefully plan the menu but the house has to be spotless as well (or at least the rooms the guests will be.) The table should be set before the guests enter, the dishes must be washed, and the floors must be scrubbed. 

The tables turn when you are the guest. Most people coming to a dinner party expect a warm, delicious meal and good company, with emphasis on the latter. The shining floors and clear sink may be a nice touch, but that’s not the important part. Most people are forgiving about a little mess; after all, it’s most likely that their homes aren’t perfect. 

In movies and TV shows, homes are depicted as flawless, even places that are meant to be in cheap neighborhoods (go figure). Those images along with visiting polished homes in real life (after the host cleaned meticulously before the visitors alive) tend to make people look negatively at their own messes as if it isn’t normal for a home to look lived in. 

Is Messiness a Sign of Depression?

Keep in mind that a messy environment could be a sign of depression, a mental illness defined by feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, and lack of focus — all of which result in a messy room. On days when a person can barely leave their bed, a pile of laundry is the last thing they’d waste energy on. 

Besides, depression comes with an intrusive question of what’s the point? This thought contributes to the hopelessness felt by those with this condition but it also makes them feel like there’s no point to clean. Plus depression may cause them to forget to tidy up or distract them from the task at hand if they muster up the energy to try.

“Sometimes when life feels out of control or stressful other areas of your life get affected, one being your working or living space,” Kimberly Hershenson, a therapist. “If you’re depressed or overwhelmed with life, you may feel you don’t have time to clean/organize, you may feel you don’t deserve a clean space, or you may be so preoccupied with other things you don’t even notice how messy your room has become.”

Messiness May Be a Sign of a Creative Mind

However, this isn’t always the case, and there are always exceptions. Many people who are generally neat let their maintenance slide during busy times like exam week or after working late. Sometimes other matters take precedence over the dishes in the sink or the dusting. And some people are simply unbothered by a little mess.

“Some people simply don’t value cleanliness and they prioritize other things over keeping a room clean,” Weena Cullins, a marriage and family therapist. “When you think about it, there’s a mundaneness and a monotony with keeping up with tasks like this that need to be completed routinely without much more benefit to them than returning to a clean room, so sometimes a refusal to keep a room clean is more about that than anything else.” [1]

There is a lot of emphasis on “being organized” when it comes to social stigmas but often a mess is methodical. What looks like a random pile to a stranger can actually be a well-thought-out formation. In fact, psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs, from the University of Minnesota found that creative people tend to have messy rooms and desks, including creative geniuses like Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and Steve Jobs. [2]

“It’s Too Messy to Have Guests”

The point is it’s okay to be at peace with a little mess. Most people, if not all, don’t have perfect homes; some can’t seem to get a handle on laundry, some have never mastered the art of clear counters, and some are ashamed of their mismatched furniture, rustic kitchen, and scratched-up table. 

This embarrassment prevents a lot of people from hosting. They think, “Once I get a new table or once I have time to spring clean or once I (fill in your own excuse here) then I can invite people over.”

Enter “scruffy hospitality,” a term coined by Rev. Jack King. Yes, the house might look far from Instagram-worthy, but the focus stays where it should be: on the company.

Scruffy Hospitality

With in-person social interactions on the decline, a pile of dishes in the sink shouldn’t stop anyone from having guests over. Yes, the table chairs can be mismatched, the food can be simple, and the bookshelves can be dusty, but what matters is being a gracious and welcoming host.

Rev. Jack King defined scruffy hospitality on his blog:

Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together. 

While that seems like a grand idea, it’s up to individuals to get over their shame of a non-Pinterest-perfect home; it’s unlikely the guests won’t notice or care that the house needs a paint job or that the counters are full of plates. 

When the self-consciousness comes in, just think, “Did the guests come to see the house or are they coming to see you?” After all, if a friend can’t handle some toys scattered on the floor, that’s not an opinion anyone should care about.

“Hospitality,” writes Rev. Jack King, “is not a house inspection, it’s friendship.” [3]

For those who are still unsure, there is a fine line between scruffy and inhospitably messy. A guest should feel welcome and trust that their needs will be met. Their needs do not include sparkling floors and dusted chandeliers, but they do include a comfortable place to sit, refreshments, clean towels in the bathroom, a ready-made bed if they’re staying the night. While the house does not need to be perfect, guests feel good when it seems like there was little preparation done for their arrival to ensure they will be as comfortable as possible.

If the guests’ needs are met, there’s no reason to stress. They came to socialize and have a good time, and that comes with a happy, relaxed house, not a magazine-worthy one. So give them an invite! [4]

  1. Lauren Schumacker. Here’s what a messy room can tell you about your mental health. Insider. December 18, 2017
  2. Dan Scotti. The Psychology Behind Messy Rooms: Why The Most Creative People Flourish In Clutter. Elite Daily. August 13, 2014
  3. Robin Shreeves. In praise of ‘scruffy hospitality.’ MNN June 7, 2016
  4. Ellen Painter Dollar. Can Hospitality Be Too “Scruffy”? Patheos June 19, 2014