The Joy Of Entertaining In Small Spaces

Illustrated by Ellen Mercer
I've become remarkably precious about my home space. I have a running list of chores in my head – clean out the fridge, vacuum under the bed, buy flowers (I have a thing about fresh flowers, they make me happy, let me be) – which flows alongside a mental checklist of things I want to add or change in my flat without completely sabotaging the deposit.
I can't fully relax at home until all my tasks are done, which means I spend much more time subconsciously fretting than I do actually enjoying where I live. Without meaning to, I find myself looking at my flat through a stranger's eyes or, more commonly, through the lens of an Instagram story, wondering what other people would think of it, whether they'd like it.
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While a lot of this is rooted in my own obsessional neuroses, it's hardly surprising or remarkable. A place to call your own, or even just a place you don't actively hate, is hard to find for our generation. Prohibitive rents and ridiculous housing arrangements have made curating a space that feels a bit like home much harder. This is paired with (or perhaps in reaction to) a rise in aspirational home content all over Instagram, and the growth of fast homeware companies implying that you can – and should! – fill your flat with imitation mid-century modern furniture (even though your last three house shares haven't had a living room). When we do finally find them, the spaces we have feel hard-won and precious.
This impulse to nest isn't historically unique. In an episode of Decoder Ring (Slate's monthly podcast which unpacks cultural mysteries), Willa Paskin explores the rise of decorative pillows and how something seemingly unnecessary became so ubiquitous in interiors and interiors inspiration. While there are several forces at play (including but not limited to capitalism, designers and interiors reality TV), Willa points to how a desire to focus on your home space often coincides with political and cultural upheaval. It is no accident that decorative pillows first appeared in middle-class Victorian homes during the Industrial Revolution, a time of cultural chaos, and re-emerged...now. We want something to cocoon and reflect us, make us feel like we're no longer children despite having limited access to what we were brought up to believe are markers of adulthood: a stable career, a pension, our own home (no matter how small).
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This all coagulates in the sense that where we live and what it looks like is somehow a reflection of us. But the standards we aspire to with our 'home' are rarely – if ever – of our own making, and in a warped way that can make us ashamed of where we live, feel the urge to constantly fuss and spruce and crucially, never let anyone else inside.
As bizarre as it may sound, having people over when my house wasn't 'ready' (in my case, that meant 'clean' but feel free to insert 'decorated', 'renovated', 'bigger' etc) sometimes felt like going out without makeup on – it felt exposing, like letting someone see behind the curtain of who I really am, not who I want to be. This applied across the board, from parents to close friends to strangers. But I didn't quite realise how stupid it was to let it hold me back until I saw this tweet about the inimitable Amy Sedaris:
Other than being the woman behind the greatest Strategist list ever and best shoe kick-off I've witnessed, she is the best possible person to shake you out of your (my) precious funk about your home being 'nice' before anything can happen in it. Because of COURSE it doesn't matter if you don't have a dining room table or a coat rack, or your bed is old and a bit crap. As Amy so eloquently put it: "You’re gonna die one day, your friends don’t care about seating." Instead of waiting for some indefinable 'later' when you can have that grown-up dinner party you've always wanted, embrace having friends over and balancing mismatched dishes on laps on the sofa.
It may seem like an obvious point that it is the company and not the venue that matters, but it is worth being reminded of. Homes, like people, are ever evolving and shifting, and there is no point waiting for when yours is big enough or has the right pieces or is 'done'. Having to sit on the floor doesn't mean you're still a university student or that you don't have your life together; it means you're having a great time with your mates, who honestly don't care that the sink is a bit dirty. If they do, they're probably not great people so fuck 'em. So if you find yourself holding back, remind yourself of Amy's words: "How dare you, you’re gonna die one day!"

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