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Just jump in

One of the hardest things about the culture where I lived in the Middle East was the definition of cleanliness. See, no matter how clean I thought our home was (not that it was ever spotless, with two preschoolers underfoot), it paled in comparison to my average neighbor.

See, my local friends—when they cleaned, they cleaned. There was hardly a time I saw a dust bunny in their homes—and to boot, it was an honor if you dropped by unannounced. Swinging by to say hello usually turned into a two-hour tea, complete with pastries and undivided attention.

And if you’re doing the math, then yep, giving me honor was to swing by my place, unannounced. Where I lived with little people. In a culture that values cleanliness.

Needless to say, it made me nervous.

But you know what I learned? Rarely was there a time that I wasn’t loved because our house wasn’t clean enough. Even if my home was a disaster compared to their pristine dwellings, local friends never said a word. They just smiled. And loved. And usually laughed at my language blunders.

I’ve taken this to heart and carried it with me as we’ve traveled to myriad homes. It’s not easy, mind you, but slowly, slowly, I’m chipping away at my perfectionism, and learning to not wait to invite friends over for dinner because my home isn’t perfectly organized. Or dusted. Or less sticky. Or bigger.

Community and hospitality are about relationships.

It’s not about impressing one another. It’s not about one-upping each other, sizing each other, or wringing your hands with worry about what the other person thinks.

It’s about being yourself and seeing what happens. As I’ve set up home over the past decade, I’ve come to just jump right in and meet new people. I can’t wait for the long-time resident to realize I don’t know anybody—it’s me that needs to say hi. And I’ve learned to be okay with that.

But even though I’ve lived in three drastically distant dots on the globe since Simple Mom started four years ago, one thing that’s stayed pretty constant is my online community. I’ve been beyond blessed to make some of my closest friends through the Internet, and I’m forever grateful.

This little spot in the blogosphere has readers as different as vegans and chickens. Moms of littles, moms of college students. Dads. Married, no kids; singles. Christians, Muslims, those who just don’t know, and everything in between. Vegans, probably. Guessing no on the chickens.

We all read, and share, and encourage. We’re all blessed by the Internet.

One of the other sites I write for, (in)courage, has something very cool up its sleeve. It’s called (in)RL, and it stands for In Real Life—basically, it’s an amazing way to meet other women locally, in your community.

Sign up for a local meet-up, and on April 27, you’ll watch a webcast in your jammies from the comfort of your own couch. Then the next day, April 28, you’ll gather at a local (in)RL community—or if there’s not one in your area, you can start one in your home, your favorite coffee shop, or wherever. You’ll watch live online content, chat with the women around you, and have a ball making new friends.

Basically, it’s a conference without buying plane tickets. It’s only $10, which covers the cost of a t-shirt and a pack of greeting cards as a gift to you (this isn’t a money-making venture, in other words).

How cool is this idea?

Watch this video below to learn more.

Yesterday, Amber shared her thoughts about the necessity of girlfriends. Tomorrow, head to Sarah to read her words.

What’s something you’ve learned about the power of community in your life?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Heather

    In the spirit of jumping in, I didn’t let the fact that no one else has responded hold me back on this one! Yes, that’s me, I’ll be the first for my local meet. I will admit that was harder than it should have been, but someone has to be the first!

  2. Alia Joy

    This is something I am trying to work on. Being open to company even when my house is well… lived in. I feel convicted that I’d rather just not bother most of the time. Working on that. I looked into IRL a little bit ago and there wasn’t one here so I am going to have one right here in my lived in house with a few gals who are interested. I will not worry too much about making it spotless but I will probably try to make it less sticky. Sheepish grin.

    • Tsh

      Yay! I’m so glad you’re up for the task. ‘Cause I was going to ask you. I’ll join in and help, if you like!

      • Alia Joy

        Heidi and my sister in law and two other friends that are bloggers are coming. I heart girls nights. 🙂

  3. Ipek

    That’s Turkish tea in the picture.. Have you been to Turkey? Seems like you have been there 😉

    • Tsh

      It is actually Turkish tea, and yep, I’ve been there. 😉 But I’ve actually had tea exactly like this in several countries. This çay set of mine (in the pic) is from Kosovo.

  4. Helly

    bwa-kawk??? 😉

  5. The Accidental Housewife

    We post every two years and starting over is rough, every time. It brings back memories of high school. Everyone already has a friendship group and you need to convince them that you are worth letting in. It took me a whole year to make friends at playgroup!! (I’m in now, the ladies are lovely, just a bit cliquey).

    Also, I love afghan tea! Especially when squatting on frozen ground, with a sugar cube in my teeth, and accompanied by fresh, warm, traditional flat bread. Divine! I won’t be reliving that experience any time soon, down here in Australia….

  6. Sarah Park

    “It’s about being yourself and seeing what happens.” oh, I needed to read that. Thanks, Tsh!!

  7. Melissa

    I live in Israel and I constantly feel like my house is the dirtiest of all my neighbors! I’m also the only one home with my kids…so our house gets used. a lot. all day, actually. I’m convinced stay-at-home moms are the ones who need the housekeepers!!!
    I keep reminding myself that the whole clean house thing is somewhat relative and I’m finally at peace with the fact that my house is “lived in”, not a museum. and I like that 🙂
    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Leiah

      Couldn’t agree with you more! We also live in Israel, and as both a SAHM and a homeschool family are in a distinct minority. It’s taken a long time to get used to the idea that our home simply gets a lot of use, well, I should say, hard wear and tear, simply because we spend so much time in it. So yes, in my dreams this place would be a lot tidier and cleaner, but with limited hours in the day something has to give. Perfectionism is great, but it can also be a curse, as with everything it’s all about finding the balance. Having a home open to friends and guests is too important to put off for the day my apartment is in the pristine condition as it was in the days before there were little people in it!

  8. Anna

    Too funny – I’m living here in Turkey and have come to similar conclusions! There’s something to be said for honoring guests properly, especially the first or second time they come to your house, but my friends are just that – friends! If you never show signs of imperfection or weakness, how will they know that you really need them? Maybe the real way to honor friends is to let them into your world enough so they know they are needed.

  9. Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm

    Very true – I grew up in a constantly clean house (looking back on it – my mom might be a teensy bit insane. Because there were 5 of us kids, and the house was literally always spotless because people often dropped in, and she wanted it nice for company) – sometimes that makes me feel like the world’s laziest person since my house is NOT spotless, and I only have 1 kid!

    But, I have learned, that the only person the sticky spots and toy piles bother is me. I figure as long as the bathroom’s clean, no one’s creeped out by baby messes. 🙂

  10. Jen Charles

    Tsh, just this weekend, I was thinking that as a blogger, it’s easy to put a lot of time engaging with the online “tribe”, and putting face time with friends down further on the list of priorties.
    I like the idea of {in RL}….
    I am also of BIG fan of having people over when your house is not perfect. My husband and I bought an old house 8 years ago, and it’s got something undone….missing moulding, doors that need painting, half done kitchen….and usually there is a basket of laundry somewhere on the first floor… :). Our friends don’t mind….we have fun and they feel comfortable! That’s the mark of a good friend 🙂

  11. Jane

    Ahh Tsh, how I can relate. My eyes have been opened to how others view cleanliness. But even after living in a take-your-shoes-off-at-the-door culture for two years, I didn’t bring the practice home. So now when my Moroccan friend comes over, I am so conscious whether or not my floors are clean enough. And I’m always grateful when she does visiting the American way…letting me know when she is coming. But as you said, its about the relationship, not the house.

  12. Sleeping Mama

    A few years ago, I purchased books about entertaining, hosting dinner parties and the like. I bought matching napkins, matching glasses, and had a theme for each one. Never mind that we never again had the same theme and were therefore stuck with these items that were purchased for one night.

    Nowadays, my entertaining (if you call it that) is so much more relaxed. I found that I couldn’t afford the dinner parties that were featured in magazines and books. All I needed instead was good company, enough food for everyone, and a place to host. Pizza and paper plates are just fine with me now. And ever since I had a baby, I invite people over in a semi-clean state: we tidy up a bit, but don’t freak out if something is out of place or if we happen to have toys scattered everywhere.

    My family is my biggest community by far. We get together often, have meals together and go on trips together. As different as my siblings and I are (I don’t think I would be friends with many of them if we didn’t know each other just based on our interests), when we’re together we just get along so well with each other and it’s like harmony. It goes without saying that they are often the people I love having over for dinners, whether with fancy cups or paper plates.

  13. Lisa

    What a fun experience! I may just have to look into that.

  14. Mary

    I needed to read this – we’re about to sign up for small groups at the new church we’re attending and I’m skeered!!!

    I need to be that person who reaches out and just says Hi!

  15. Kari Scare

    A focus at our church right now is connecting with others and not going through the “stuff” of life on your own. Your example of connection and community is exactly what we are trying to get at with this focus. We can’t let the busyness of life keep us from connecting with others. While we may always be busy, we don’t have to be overwhelmed. And going through life with others makes it a lot less overwhelming.

  16. Kika@embracingimperfection

    I have one friend who has really challenged me in this and I love it. She’ll show up unannounced on occasion (and now I’ll do the same) and sometimes I’m braless, in pj’s with hair sticking up all over. Of course she doesn’t care. She has four busy little people so it is probably is freedom for her to know that my house and life aren’t as immaculate as she first thought 🙂

  17. Jadah {family sponge}

    I agree on not waiting for the perfect home to entertain. People love to escape their own homes. Just this weekend we had our friends who have 3 year old twin daughters sleepover for a family slumber party. We made pasta, had some wine, played some music for the kids, put the kids to bed and had quality adult time. It was nice. We got to play boardgames and talk until 2am. Our kids slept. We didn’t have to hire a babysitter. We woke up in our jammies and made breakfast. I’m not the greatest cook, and we live in a 2 bedroom apartment, so I’m always apprehensive about having guests over. But every time we do have guests over it’s so nice. A two hour tea time with friends sounds so nice too.

    • aimee

      That sounds like so much fun! I wonder if any of my friends would be up for a sleepover?

  18. Stacy

    Definitely trying to work on this. I don’t want to miss out on relationships because I am worried about what people might think about crumbs on the floor!

  19. KatieC

    I love this post, Tsh.

  20. Diane Balch

    I remember the tea vendors running around Istanbul distributing tea to all the shops in those beautiful little glass cups carried on silver trays. I loved the apple tea. Talk about being green. No paper cups, they came back and picked up the glasses.
    I have always had the clean house. I remember a friend coming by unexpected and saying, “OMG, your house IS always clean.” It usually is, because for me it keeps me sane. I wish my more eccentric friends whose houses are a fascinating menageries to me, would stop apologizing for how their home looks. There home is comfortable for them – and that is what is most important.

  21. Archer

    What a great idea for (in)courage to do the real person meet up.

    I really enjoyed your story in the beginning. That’s something that has always drawn me to other cultures… how present they are to you. They do give you undivided attention, and its so authentic. That really says a lot, someone dropping by randomly, and they stop their entire day for 2 hours to pay attention to you. I want to be more like that!

    Also, these friends you talked about, did they have little kids too? If they did, I wonder how they managed such cleanliness? Did they play with them less? Less toys?

    • Tsh

      Sometimes they did have little kids, and for many of them, they’d almost “rope off” a section of the apartment as keep out for kids, just in case someone dropped by. They’d entertain there. Even still, they were pretty meticulous about picking up after their kids all day long… Different parenting styles, mostly.

  22. Victoria

    One treasured lesson I learned about community is that sometimes is it isn’t always the words that show care but actions. When my mom came down with terminal cancer at Christmas time years ago, I don’t remember a single word anyone spoke that touched me but I do remember the actions of a neighbor who came over, and without even asking just started decorating my home for the holidays. As, I sat and cried, she worked her designer magic and turned my home into a winter wonderland that brightened a rather bleak holiday. I also had friends who dropped everything to care for my kids so I could see my mom. Other friends dropped by with a funny movie and a bag of chips and salsa to share. I was brought chocolate by the pound and Dr Pepper, polar pops till I thought my bladder could burst. And each of those simple actions, even to this day so many years later bring me to tears and make me feel so incredible loved and blessed to have such good friends.

    • Tsh

      That’s very cool.

  23. Andrea

    We moved three times in the last 18 months. This last time was into a house that we purchased so hopefully it’s going to stick. What I’ve noticed, now that we’re three months in at the new place, is just how disconnected I’ve been. This past week we had friends over to play and friends over for dinner (a first since our move). My house was cleaner and because of the connection I am a calmer, happier person. We’re going to do more entertaining and I hope my house will become a place where people feel comfortable just stopping by.

  24. Amy

    I love to entertain and have people over. I am not one of those people with a clean, organized, and tidy home. I grew up with a mom who was always cleaning, organizing, and always exhausted. I love her for the things she taught me, but there was a cost too. We didn’t get enough “Mom” as we needed. I didn’t want to do that to my own kids. I try to keep it balanced, but it is hard. I think it’s a constant battle. I find when my house gets out of control, my moods often get that way too.

    • zipporah bird

      This quote has me shaking in my boots. What do you wish your mom had done differently? How could she have given you more of her?

  25. Stephenie

    Oh, having a herd is so important in my life. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I started asking women at the library where I worked if they were interested in starting a book club. I knew I would need to get out and connect with others, and was planning ahead! That was five years ago, and our book club has become a strong network of friends that has expanded to so much more than books. It is my little community.

    • Alissa

      My experience was similar – asking people I ran I to if they might be interested in joining “our playgroup” even though there wasn’t a group yet to join. Our first gathering had 14 moms and their tiny babies in my empty living room. Someone asked me if we had just moved in… Nope! 5 years later, I still don’t have nice furniture in that room, but I do have dear, dear friends!

  26. Pam aka Momma

    I spent my early childhood in Isthmere, Turkey and my momma was a cleaning nut and still is….
    I try to mimic her when I can but with work, family, church, directing, school volunteering and blogging I am as busy as a bee in the Spring.

    My soon to be engaged son will be marrying a cleaning nut just like my momma. I love her dearly, but my momma is going to love her to pieces.
    Bless you all,

  27. Georgia

    That’s so funny to hear. I have a friend who lives in the Middle East and the locals think she is quite unclean as she only cleans once a week (and she doesn’t have any kids).

  28. Julie

    I am always in trouble when my husband invites his coworkers for a dinner. I always have the feeling that everything must be clean and perfect and it’f my fault if anything weren’t like that.

  29. Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds

    I struggle with this so much. My house is in a near constant state of disarray with kids ages 1, 3, 4, and 5. I have joined some meetup groups and meet people from church but I rarely extend an invitation into my home. I don’t know what I’m so worried about.

  30. DebbieRN

    You forgot us Grandmas in your list from A-Z! 🙂 I love and admire your generation’s intelligence and energy. Thanks for keeping me young. I am certain there are other grandmas reading you.

    • Tsh

      Yes! There are, and I love hearing from you. Thank you for reading. 🙂

  31. Bernice @ Living the Balanced Life

    Such a great post, and the whole thing about the house, I can relate to!
    I just wrote 2 recent posts about my online friends, and the opportunity to go to Blissdom this week. I am also looking forward to what incourage is up to, I think it will be an amazing way to connect with the women in our areas. I can’t wait for it as well! I got teary-eyed just listening to Ann speak…

  32. Megan Elzey

    I have been trying to make a conscious effort in my life lately to be more intentional with my relationships, with my husband, children, and friends. I feel like so much personal connection is lost when everyone is on their phone (talking, texting, surfing, browsing) all of the time. Personally, I don’t FB, I don’t have a smart phone, and I’m not on any of the other social media sites. The only thing I have is a blog. What this means, though, is that I am alone while everyone else has “friends” online. Because of this I have to actively reach out to my real life friends to maintain our connection.

  33. Alison Treat

    So wish I could do this, but I’m running a half marathon that Sunday, so I don’t think I can add it in. Bummer!

  34. Rachel @ Common to Moms

    I love hearing your stories about living overseas. I spent a couple of months in North Africa several years ago and your experiences sound so similar to mine! It never registered then, but the Arabic ladies I met were always cleaning their homes and there really never were dust bunnies anywhere! The heart of their hospitality though was what I took away wanting to mimic for myself. 🙂

    I also gave you a shout out over on my blog today. I am finding so much inspiration over here at simple mom!

  35. Andrew Walker

    LOL! The part where you said when they cleaned it,they cleaned it,somehow it embarassed me a little. Cause I’m still a bit confused, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t clean it until THAT clean. Anyway, this is a good share,thanks a lot!

  36. Alissa

    We’re in a brand new town, and I am so conscious of the need to just throw myself out there. My instinct is to sign my kids up for a bunch of activities so that I have an excuse to meet other moms, but this is a good reminder that we’re probably better off going to the park and library and inviting the other families we see to join us for a nature walk or to come over for a cup of coffee.

  37. Evangelina

    See, no matter how clean I thought our home was (not that it was ever spotless, with two preschoolers underfoot), it paled in comparison to my average neighbor.

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