I love parties, and I like having people over. We seem to entertain in some way a few times a month -- nothing fancy, just dinner or brunch with friends and family on the weekend.
It's a lot more fun to entertain when your house is clean.
I don't really like pop-ins. They occur here and there, but for the most part, I prefer a head's up before company arrives. I'm going to share what I do right before company arrives.
Occupy the Children/Pets.
Put on a DVD. Shove them in the yard. Give them a tub of frosting and plop them in the highchair.
Keep them away from you while you quickly move from room to room tidying. If they are old enough to help, let them, but don't waste time micromanaging.
Grab an empty laundry basket or storage bin, and start at the front door. Toss in random papers that have congregated on the side table and the floor: the umbrella, the one pink rainboot, the string cheese wrapper, and the iPod headphones (or whatever happens to be in your front entry. These are the things in mine at the moment...)
Continue putting things into the basket or bin as you walk through the front entry and into the house. Keep the basket/bin out while you quickly tidy up the front room. Fold throw blankets, fluff the couch cushions, clear off the coffee table, and put any scattered toys or strewn items into the basket.
Put this container into the master bedroom closet, or similar hiding spot that is off-limits to guests. Do yourself a favor and attend to this basket/bin promptly -- the last thing you want is a stack of "hidden" item containers!
This is the only place where your guest(s) will be alone. If you are up to speed with the Daily 7, you've been wiping down the bathroom daily, so you're in phenomenal shape. If you haven't been keeping up with this, it's okay. Run some hot water in the sink, and use a hand towel to wipe up the sink bowl and surrounding surfaces. It's okay to splash and get the floor wet.
Put away bath toys. Use the wet hand towel to wipe out the bathtub and the ledges. Close the shower curtain or sliding doors. Re-wet the towel if need-be, and use it to quickly mop up the floor, taking care to get the dust bunnies out from behind the bathroom door.
Remember that your guest is in the bathroom with the door shut, and if he/she is, um, sitting, the floor is on display. If the toilet needs cleaning, do so now. Wipe or Windex off any large and noticeable splotches on the mirror or faucet. Change the towels.
People end up in the kitchen. You can try to keep them out, but they'll find a way to get in there anyhow. Put away the random stuff on the countertop (hide paperwork, bills, anything personal you don't want on display) and wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe or spray. If you have dirty dishes in the sink, load up the dishwasher and turn it on. If you don't have a dishwasher, handwash the dishes if you have enough time, or hide them.
It's okay, I won't tell. Put them in a box in the garage, or in the oven (remember to take them out before preheating!!!!). Wet a dishtowel and quickly mop up any noticeable crumbs from the flooring.
Do not attempt to clean the play room, or the kids' bedrooms unless you have time to do so. Kids make messes, it's part of their job, and if you're inviting more kids into your home, it's pretty much a waste of valuable time and energy to tidy before they arrive.
The best thing to do is to let them loose then have a 10-Minute Tidy before they leave.
The parents won't know who made what mess and your toy room will actually be in better shape then it was before the company came. If you have little kids on the way over, it's always a good idea to make sure the marble games and other small-piece games are put up high and are out of reach.
Make the House Smell Good.
This is the last thing to do before company arrives. Light a smelly candle (I like vanilla, apple, cinnamon, or similar food-smells) or Windex something. The smell of Windex smells like clean. Vinegar works just as well to clean windows and smudges off of doorknobs and light switches, but Windex will create a powerful punch in the air, and your guests will think you've spent HOURS cleaning. This is a trick that realtors do right before showing a house that's not in the best-of-shape. They Windex the front doorknob or the light switch right by the front door, so the second people arrive to tour the home they get a whiff of "clean" -- that smell triggers something psychologically and visitors feel/believe that even if the home is in disrepair, it's clean.
There's a school of thought that believes (and rightfully so!) that a good friend will not care what condition your home is in; the friend is there just to see you, and to enjoy your company. This is true.
But you will be more comfortable, and will entertain more often if your home is put-together and ready for guests. You won't have a sinking feeling in your stomach when you run into an old friend shopping and she wants to get together for coffee to catch up. You'll invite the neighborhood kids in for a snack rather than watching from the window as they destroy your newly sprouted bulbs.
You won't fly off the handle when your husband calls to say he's invited his co-workers over for dinner. You'll offer to host the next book club meeting.
A good friend will appreciate everything you do to make her feel comfortable, and will offer to help clear dishes at the end of a fun night and will make an effort to get the kids to help clean up. And then she'll invite you to her house.
Stephanie O'Dea is the New York Times best-selling author of Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life.