Hospitality Challenge: It Doesn't Matter How Much Money You Have
The house overflowed, spilling people onto the deck in the backyard, and into the front yard simultaneously. Kids ran in every direction. People congregated in groups around tables, on the floor, on the lawn. And at the helm was the host, behind the grill, maneuvering meat onto plates like a short order cook. It was a beautiful, boisterous gathering of people, and I was 18, single, and taking it in, dreaming about one day being able to do something similar.
I knew it was a far-off fantasy, however, as it would be years before I could afford the adorable log cabin they had, or have the resources to feed such a crowd. I remember looking around, smiling, and planning for “one day” when I would have the money to host as this mentor friend of mine was.
At that moment she came bustling into the room, empty trays in her hands, her infectious laughter announcing her presence. I motioned for her to lean in close and gleefully admitted, “I can’t wait to do host like this one day. To have my own house full of people and the means to be able to do what you’re doing.” With a gentleness that only wisdom can offer, she looked me tenderly and said, “you don’t need money to do this, Malinda. We did this ten years ago when we were youth leaders, and our house was full of students. We cooked hot dogs and made popcorn.” Then, she smiled and moved on. I stood blinking, motionless.
This dear friend has shown me such generosity with her life and words over the years, but of all the wisdom she shared with me, this moment is the one that I have returned to over and over. It was as if she had dared me not to allow money to be an issue when it came time to open my doors to others. And, like a good student, I accepted her challenge.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I was newly married, living in Texas with my husband in our 450 square foot apartment. We were living on one salary, carefully pinching our pennies, yet I was determined to open my doors. So, we did. I took my friend’s advice and made popcorn for movie nights, and when my guests arrived, I offered them two choices: “water with ice,” or, “water without ice.”
Years later (in Oregon) we opened our brand new home to a different group of students, volunteer staff, and friends. The menu was always simple: pasta, burgers, chili, and yet— people continued to show up. They didn’t care that the food wasn’t gourmet, actually, I think many preferred it that way. There was no Instagram back then, telling us that the table had to have greenery and hand-lettered menus, and that I should serve drinks from mason jars or wine glasses. Our friends didn’t expect steak or French pastry. Food wasn’t the attraction— it was the relationships.
A couple of years ago (in California) we moved out of our third story apartment and into a rental home which more than doubled our square footage. We decided to build a farmhouse table for the patio and put another table in the eat-in kitchen, which allowed us to host more people at the same time. We gathered all those without homes on Thanksgiving; we invited the neighborhood over for Halloween before trick or treating. We hosted on holidays; we gathered people for brunch, we did Christmas parties, potlucks, and birthdays because we love it when our house is full. Not because we tons of money to spend on decorations and catering, because we didn’t. Not that we weren’t living on a budget, because we were. It was because we looked at our house as a gift. We called it “God’s house” as it was a total miracle that we were renting it for the deal that we were in Orange County. And because we saw it as a blessing, we chose to open the doors often. Because we’ve learned that hospitality has nothing to do with how much money you have.
In case you aren’t on social media, last weekend I jumped on Instagram to follow-up on last weeks post about how our spaces shouldn’t get in the way of being hospitable. And then I turned the camera to show you what my space looked like: the ugly front yard, the laundry sink in the kitchen, and a house that is very lived in as a homeschooling family.
This week’s challenge is not to let money be your excuse. And I get it, budgets are important. But, if you’re intentional about hosting, and you spend a little time planning, it’s much easier. Here are some things we’ve done:
Host breakfast instead of dinner. A weekend brunch of pancakes or waffles can be inexpensive. Have someone else bring fresh fruit or juice, and you’re set.
Comfort food can feed a crowd on a budget— think soup or stew. Ask someone to bring a loaf of French bread, and you’re done!
Instead of coffee (with all the add-ins and options), serve tea.
Pasta is affordable, and so is rice. Make a simple sauce, sauté some veggies, and ask a friend to pick up a salad on their way to your house; Dinner is served.
Rather than hosting dinner, serve simple snacks later in the evening, or do dessert only. Cookies, brownies or ice cream are all crowd-pleasing options.
Invest in an air-popper (find one second-hand for cheap). Popcorn in bulk at your local grocery store costs mere pennies. One quarter-cup and some melted butter, or coconut oil and salt, and you’re good to go for snacks for kids, or movie/game night with friends.
Another friend of mine (who was the ultimate hostess) once told me, “always have cheese and crackers in your house.” (Thanks Liz!)
One final note on being a good host, especially if you are sitting in a place where your budget is a genuine challenge; when someone asks, “what can I bring?” respond with a specific item. If you’re doing the work of hosting (and then cleaning up), it’s acceptable to ask them to contribute in some way. If I’m making a dessert, I’ll ask someone else to pick up vanilla ice cream, or if it’s a coffee date, then I’ll ask a friend to bring a baked good to share.
Remember that when people cross our threshold, it’s typically not because they want to be impressed by our culinary wizardry, but because they want to connect with us. Opening our doors should not be something that we look longingly toward— for the day when we “have more money.” Being hospitable is possible with any budget, let’s not let money be the reason we fail to invite others into our homes and lives.
This post is dedicated to Wendy, my mentor-friend, who taught me that hospitality has nothing to do with how much money you have.