When we were newlyweds, we moved into a big house in the suburbs. It was in fact bigger than both our bachelor places put together. We had been living on our own for years at that point, and we each had our own house full of furniture and housewares, so we just brought it all. We had plenty of space, a big kitchen, plenty of couches, plenty of chairs, and two dining tables. What the heck? We decided to have an open house once a week.
What does “open house” mean?
“Open house” means that for a set window of time, our door is open. Anyone who wants to visit can stop by and stay, for a few minutes or a few hours, until we send everyone home at the end of the evening. Ours was either Tuesday or Wednesday, from 6 PM to 9 PM.
An open house means we don’t require an RSVP. Although a lot of people would text, call, email, or post on Facebook that they planned to come over, we didn’t insist on it. The point is for people to feel free to drop by on the most casual basis possible. Some people would come every week, while others would show up once every few months. The unpredictability added to the fun.
An open house also means there’s no set invite list. We encouraged our friends to bring people with them. Bring a date, bring a sibling, bring a classmate. On a few occasions, someone would show up with a carload of four or five new people who hadn’t been there before. Sometimes one of these surprise guests would become an open house regular.
At our open house, we provided food. I would make some pans of lasagna, or a huge stock pot full of soup, or we’d put out bowls of ingredients for a burrito bar. A few of the regulars would often bring a big green salad, some fresh bread, drinks, or a dessert. There was always plenty to go around, except for one memorable night when we had about double the number of guests as usual, and we ran to Safeway for some take-and-bake pizzas.
When I say ‘casual,’ I mean casual. We had no requirements for social participation. There was usually someone sitting in a corner doing homework or knitting. One guy came over to sit quietly on our couch specifically because he was trying to quit smoking weed. We never say a thing about people messing with their phones, because we can’t actually know that we’re the most urgent or important conversation. As a result, we would often find that our gathering was tagged on social media with the sweetest comments and compliments.
We had a couple of firm rules, but no more. One rule was that there would be zero discussion of post-Industrial politics. Someone once tried to start a (contemporary) political conversation, and everyone started making alarm calls and shouting out, “Danger, Will Robinson! Warning!” Another rule was that everyone had to get along. Anyone who made another guest uncomfortable would be expected to stop and apologize. We never had to send anyone home, but we were prepared to do it if necessary.
We did have some drama once, and it was quite bad, partly because it didn’t happen on the premises. A newer guest bore false witness against another guest, a bizarre story since I was there when it supposedly happened, and I got a call about it later. The instigator never came back, probably having realized that those bridges were burned. One weird incident in four years? We could handle it.
There was a certain amount of work involved in hosting as many as two dozen people in our home every week. We had a dishwasher, and we’d sometimes have to run it three times between 8 PM and 8 AM. (I had a stack of plastic plates and extra metal cutlery from Costco). But the guests would help wipe down the table and counters and put the chairs away. One trip to take the trash out, and the Roomba handled the rest. The key factor in having a regular open house is to delegate. With a large group, each person can put in about two minutes of effort and all the cleanup is done.
An open house is a good argument for minimalism. We always had motivation to finish home improvement projects, clear clutter, and do our chores. Leftovers got used up quickly. We were perpetually catching people before they drove away without their keys/glasses/purse/phone/hoodie or whatever.
We generally didn’t have to make rules about pets because everyone knew we have a dog and a parrot. It would have been chaos if even one or two people brought dogs. I had a guest come to book group with a dog once, and it couldn’t sit for five minutes without getting hyper around my bird. For people with bigger yards or a different setup, it might work, depending on the individual dogs.
There’s a lot of trust involved with having dozens of strangers cycle through your home. Your privacy! Your stuff! I happen to believe that there’s no point in stealing most physical objects, but we do have a safe and we hid its location. Obviously we would never leave cash, passports, or anything sensitive to identity theft laying around. We didn’t (and still don’t) really have anything that anyone would steal. Furniture, appliances? Our old desktop computer? I did “lend” out a few books that were never returned, and finally I realized that if I just buy ebooks, this would cease to be a temptation. As a spiritual goal I try only to give as a gift, not lend as an obligation. We gave away all sorts of things: rides, meals, tutoring, clothes, tools, craft supplies, random objects, and job references. In return, we had a never-ending supply of pet sitters and willing helpers we could hire for odd jobs.
Having an open house is an amazing experience. It always turns into a much bigger deal than it seems like it deserves. We spent so many hours laughing, playing games, telling stories, watching movies, singing, dancing, cooking, eating, hugging, and generally living that everything seemed very small and pale the day after. One day, when we’re ready to move into a bigger home, we’ll do it again. A bigger home and a bigger life, an open house, an open door, and an open heart.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.