Emily is a fellow fan of the city of Chicago. She’s also an awards-winning education reporter and adventurer, a social media-er, and a Christian. You can find her writing for Relevant Magazine or at EmilyMillerWrites.
What else? She practices hospitality. In her tiny Chicago apartment.
Not long after we were married, my husband Joel and I were part three of a past-present-future-themed progressive dinner in our Chicago neighborhood.
Part one was appetizers at one friend’s apartment where the food and decorations had a “past” theme, retro luau decorations on granite countertops. Part two was dinner at another’s, served against a backdrop of YouTube videos streaming from multiple devices to a big-screen TV.
We were the last stop, serving futuristic desserts at our first apartment, built in the 1880’s and furnished almost entirely with pieces we’ve found in thrift stores, on Craiglist and in our parents’ basements.
We dropped dry ice into drinks and covered the small, antenna TV my parents had gotten me in college with tin foil to make it look a little more Space Age.
But after the past and present parties, I was starting to feel a little insecure about the peeling linoleum in the bathroom, the creaks in the furniture and the thick, clumsy layers of paint over the century-old walls and woodwork.
Then our guests arrived. And when one of them settled into the rocking chair in our living room, a third-generation hand-me-down from a friend, he said, “It just feels really good in here.”
“Entertaining puts the emphasis on you and how you can impress others. Offering hospitality puts the emphasis on others and strives to meet their physical and spiritual needs so that they feel refreshed, not impressed, when they leave your home,” Ehman said.
Living in tiny city apartments in both Chicago and New York City over the past decade has challenged me to keep hospitality simple and real—to keep it focused on refreshing, not impressing others.
And nowhere does this feel more needed than in the city; Mark Twain once described New York as “a domed and steepled solitude, where the stranger is lonely in the midst of a million of his race.”
Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:
Make yourself at home.
After I graduated college, I relocated cross-country, moving apartment to apartment every six months or so like an urban nomad as I accepted different internships and, finally, a full-time job.
There were boxes that never were unpacked, pictures that never were hung. There were friends I never invited into my home, mostly because I never felt at home there.
A little decorating can go a long way toward making a space feel like your own.
It’s also a creative exercise. It’s sharing something about you with whomever you invite into that space, as much a part of hospitality as sharing your home.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money or stress over Pinterest fails:
“To have familiar things around us is to feel ‘at home,’” Edith Schaeffer said in her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Creative Ideas for Enriching Everyday Life.
Make others feel welcome.
Our apartment has become the de facto “crash pad” for friends who’ve moved away from the city. We don’t have much more to offer than a couch and a twin-size air mattress when they come to visit, but I try to think of ways to show we’re happy to host: A stack of clean towels on the edge of the sink, a bunch of $3 flowers from the grocery store in a vase on the coffee table, a pan of cinnamon rolls in the oven.
You also can fill your home with things that create a welcoming atmosphere long before guests arrive: light candles, play music that lifts your spirits, speak encouraging words, pray blessings over your home and those who enter it.
Make it easy on yourself.
What keeps you from offering hospitality? If you’re stressed about entertaining, invite people over to watch a TV show or movie, pop some bacon-sage popcorn and take the pressure off.
If you’re stressed about cooking, throw some toppings on ready-made pizza crusts together with your guests, host a potluck brunch or invite people simply for coffee. If you’re stressed about whom to invite, start by pulling out the stops for your roommates or family–they need an urban sanctuary, too.
If you really are stressed about opening your apartment, you can pick up some lemonade and a bucket of fried chicken to share during a summertime movie or concert in a park (you even can kick things up a notch with cloth napkins and real silverware).
Have you ever hosted in a tiny space? Besides space issues, what is your biggest hindrance to practicing hospitality?
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