I think I’ve heard this phrase in at least every second house, apartment or room I entered. And I know that about half of those homeowners did clean prior to my arrival.
In reality, some places were a bit messy, others were perfectly clean, few times it was a real mess. Once I visited friends, who chose a Scandinavian style for their apartment with minimalism as the central idea. (Even though they have a two-year-old, everything in their surrounding has a purpose and is used, they have zero extra stuff.) There were no toys on the floor or the couch and no useless items anywhere, but the host still said that magical “excuse the mess” when I came.
Well, to be truthful, I too say it almost every time somebody comes over for a visit. And it doesn’t matter how clean or dirty the house is. I’ve just spent the entire weekend cleaning. Yes, I haven’t done it since last year (which sounds worse than it is, keeping in mind it’s only February). But I literally spent all the time I had wiping, sweeping, arranging, washing, scrubbing, rearranging, dusting and rearranging stuff again. And I’m nowhere close to having it done (to my standard), so when the neighbour stopped by, I did it again, like a habit. Please, excuse the mess.
Once I said that I looked around and realized that in general, the house looked quite decent. I’m not a minimalist and have a lot of sentimental or just cute, but useless pieces sitting all over the place, but by no means, the house looked like a mess. So I started wondering, why do many of us feel obliged to say those words?
First, I assumed that we are trying to create an airbag, apologizing ahead of time, so even the fussiest guest won’t judge us. After all I already said I was sorry, right?
But then, I analyzed some of those situations, and it turned out that most people who apologize either were caught by an unexpected visit or actually have a kind of a constant mess (in most cases, they have at least one kid, usually more, and pets, so the paranoia from picking up and cleaning same stuff over and over again every single day finds its way out through these three words).
I also tried to recall what I felt when I heard those words or their variations. First of all, when there are like three toys on the floor and people apologize for it, I always say that they haven’t seen my place. In reality, I just feel uncomfortable because it makes me think that usually, their place is completely perfect, and I’m way too far from that ideal clean and tidy standard (which hardly ever exists in reality).
In other situations, it made me feel unwanted as if people weren’t really expecting anybody (and I never just pop at the door). Besides, friends usually know how we live, so if someone is apologizing for the mess it creates a greater distance, alluding that we are no that close and the hosts usually prefer to show me the outer side of their life, but they didn't have time to mask it this time.
Third, in most cases until people bring attention to what’s wrong in their house, I usually never notice it. So if the host focuses on the mess, I’m guessing it really bothers them and it’s a totally different problem.
I also feel that when people apologize for the mess they will judge me after all for a tiny untidy corner, so now I will apologize no matter what’s going on in my house.
But the most absurd was that outside of creating those uncomfortable feelings and doubts, “excuse the mess” never changes anything. If it’s a mess, it will remain there even if you apologize (you just will attract more attention). And if someone is judgmental about the condition of your house, chances are they will judge you no matter how clean it could be.
After all, it’s our life and our home, so we either accept and enjoy it without trying to look perfect in our friends’ eyes or just make a plan on how to get rid of the mess once and forever.
So after that flashback, when a family friend stopped by and I already opened mouth to say the sacred words, I quickly bit my tongue and instead said: “Welcome, feel like home.”