How Martha Stewart Ruined Entertaining: Bring on the Dirty House Dinner Party

dinner table newspaper tablecloth

Remember when friends just popped over to share an extra-large thick crust pizza from the cheapy local pizzeria and ignored all your dust bunnies? There were long talks around the dining room table, kids played together for hours in some other room, and everybody relaxed, felt at ease.

Nowadays, we hardly ever entertain, and I totally blame Martha Stewart. She turned up the volume on entertaining perfection so high that having friends over for a meal feels like a high-pressure event. Oh my god, my napkins don't match (or perfectly mismatch, as the case may be). I missed a few crumbs under my 3-year-old's chair, sinful! If only my throw pillows were as lovely as so-and-so's throw pillows ...


I want to share fun and conversation and good food with friends in my home, but I'm worried that my white ceiling fans are so 1992. Damn you, Martha Stewart for making entertaining so darn hard and exhausting.


"We can't have people over for dinner in a dirty house. It's disrespectful," my husband says.

"Well, if that's the case, we might not have people over much in the next 18 years then," I say back.

This is the ongoing dispute between me and my husband lately. We both work. A lot. We also have two Lego-dropping boys, 7 and almost 4, and a hair-dropping cat. At the same time, I'd love to have some sort of social life, but the #1 reason we don't have friends over more often for dinner is not that we don't want to create a menu or try some new recipes or even buy some wonderful, fresh ingredients. Believe me, we love an excuse to get out of the everyday rut of our day-to-day eating.

The main reason we don't have dinner parties is because on top of work and life, we can't seem keep our house (or garden) in pristine order. Both of us, although me a little less recently, have it in our minds that the only way we can have people over is if our house is perfectly, well, perfect. And it's going to be awhile before we get to that remodel. Ha!

It's not just Martha Stewart's fault, I suppose. The Pottery Barn catalog and, admittedly, bloggers like me who show off fabulous homes all day long are also to blame for making modern Americans believe that dust doesn't exist and kid rooms don't have toys in them. Even though we keep up a pretty orderly, neat household (we're not hoarders or filthy pigs or anything), we don't invite friends and family over for a meal unless
we have a good three or fours hours to clean and organize the house beforehand. Which is practically never.

Somewhere along the line, my husband and I started to believe a house should appear to guests as if no one really lives or cooks or owns a quadrillion small-part toys in it. So pretty much, unless forced by a holiday or birthday celebration, dinner parties don't happen. And I long for them.

I'm dying to share our home with friends and relatives on a regular basis -- I miss the quality time of sitting down face to face over an enjoyable meal with all the people in our lives that we don't see enough -- because they're busy too. We could all certainly use a few good hours, a beautiful plate of food, and some long-awaited conversation about our lives. So what if there are tufts of cat hair accumulated in the corner -- a clean stack of white dishes, some shiny silver forks, a delicious home-cooked meal, and an hour of adult conversation, kids happily playing on their own, and they'll never remember.

It's time to deny the ridiculous expectations of today's "sterile entertaining" and to bring back the everyday goodness of entertaining without all the reminiscent 1950s-style Betty Draper perfection (we see where that's getting her) that seems to have emerged from Martha Stewart's beckoning back the "art" of entertaining. It's not only unnecessary, but it's unrealistic for working parents and other busy families to "do it all." And believing we have to has taken us away from the real joy of entertaining -- sharing food and friendship and a well-loved home.

I completely love our home in most every state of its disarray. After all, our worn cloth napkins and dirty little nooks and crannies say, "Yes, there is too much life going on here to always be clean." So would it be okay if I quickly wiped it down with a sponge and shared that with you?

Does entertaining give you perfectionism anxiety? Or are you a proud hostess of ongoing dirty house dinner parties?


Image via Isaac Mizrahi

Read More >