How to Entertain in a Small House . . . and Survive

small house
A small cottage welcoming guests for the holidays. Photo: Courtesy of a must-read site — (click on photo to go to site)

Millions of people entertain in urban apartments without too much worry. In a city, it’s just accepted that you live in an apartment, and that it’s probably small. And years ago, didn’t most of our grandparents and parents entertain in their own small capes, ranch-style homes and bungalows without much fuss? So when did it become an embarrassment for us to invite people into a home that’s less than 2,000 square feet? 

Framed sign from Etsy
This lovely handmade sign from the Framed Shop on Etsy says it best! Photo: Framed Shop/Etsy

Two dear friends of mine fret over their small homes. One of them spent a large amount of money on light fixtures and furniture to spruce it up. The second friend has choice words she uses to describe her home—none of them very complimentary. Both of them have to entertain for the holidays and other events, and they dread having people over.

I know all too well how they feel. The horror of being judged by people who live in larger homes. The anxiety that I have to go out and get prettier, better, nicer throw pillows! New furniture! New wine glasses! New dishes! A new house, dammit! I live in a small ranch-style house and I, too, do the holiday entertaining, though it wasn’t always that way.

For many years, my husband and I, then with our kids, spent Christmas Eve over my husband’s aunt and uncle’s home, which is also a small ranch-style house. Groups of people would come in and out of the house all night. There was a huge tree, loads of decorations and there were gifts strewn everywhere. Everywhere! Decorations, food, etc. Did any of us care that we had to trip over each other to get to the next room? NO! We had a joyous time and no one worried about trampling through all the ripped wrapping paper landing all over the floor or the fact that we were sitting literally on top of one another to get a view of excited kids opening gifts. It was pure fun, and my kids will never forget those magical family nights.

It’s where I learned one of the most important life lessons: You can have extraordinary fun and feel huge amounts of love and joy in small homes as well as in large homes. (It’s just the fun, love and joy are . . . closer . . . in a smaller house.)

Getting back to my friends. They needlessly worry about having people in their homes because of its size and because their kitchens haven’t been remodeled. My friends have two extremely different styles—night-and-day-different—but here’s where they are similar:  they open their homes to others with warmth, love, generosity, excellent cooking which results in the most amazing aromas that emanate from their homes, walls filled with the most precious amazing and eclectic artwork made by their kids, sounds from beautiful music, warm and inviting lighting from lit candles and crystal lamps – I could go on and on. Every time I enter their homes I am usually plied with delicious food – the equivalent of entering and eating in a café! I can’t tell you how loving and comforting their homes are . . . I wish they could see it for themselves.

Less House . . . More Home

We can blame ourselves for letting Martha Stewart shame us into thinking we should be perfect, or we can blame ourselves for not accumulating (or wanting) all the trappings of a large house. But during the holidays, if you have a small home, instead of your guests coming in and “oohing” and “aahing” over how magazine-ready and huge your home looks, maybe they’ll be thankful they get to relax and let their hair down like they haven’t been able to in a while. Or, maybe they’ll be grateful they get the chance to just enjoy the company (and cuisine) up close without worrying about messing up the goods. (Maybe HGTV should do a special series called “Tiny House Holiday Entertaining” as part of its Tiny House Hunters series to teach us a thing or two.)

How do I manage to entertain in my own small home? I keep it simple now…I clean, cook, haul out a folding table and cover it with a pretty lace tablecloth and light candles. But most of all I try hard to let the day happen without too much worry. (My biggest worry seems to be about how to keep the food warm.) Yet it took me until I turned 50 to accept the fact that my house will not magically grow by 2,000 square feet during the holidays!

. . . And I always remember those cozy Christmas Eve nights at Aunt Carole’s.

Happy Holidays!

~Marilyn, TFF