It sucks having to ask guests to take their shoes off every time they come over. I feel like an unwelcome host, saying “Welcome to our house! Here’s the first of what are sure to be many rules.”
But maintaining a shoeless house brings so many positive effects. The floors are cleaner. They’re less likely to get damaged. I can show off my sneakers in a little rack next to the door. One time a pizza delivery guy asked to come in to see a pair of Jordans.
It’s not really all of that, though. What I like about not wearing shoes in my house is having a routine when I come home. I step through the door and take off my shoes. It’s a moment to relax and catch my breath before resuming life.
When my now-wife moved in with me a few years back, we wore shoes in the house. At that time she had more important new rules to impose on me than asking for a no-shoes household, but when we moved into a new place and she wanted a no-shoes rule, I obviously said yes. I could always weasel out of it later.
It didn’t take me long to start appreciating it. Obviously, it keeps the floors cleaner. “Most people do not clean the soles of their shoes regularly, if ever,” an anonymous cleanliness expert told me. “And so that means that anything you stepped on outside you will track in to the indoors, if you’re wearing your shoes. And that can be anything from dirt, and mud, and sand, and those kinds of things to, you know, dogshit.”
There are other minor benefits. Some shoes like high heels can damage hardwood floors. Walking along carpet feels good on bare feet. There’s really no health benefit to a shoe-free house, as The New York Times’ Christopher Mele wrote last year, but the reason I enjoy having a shoe-free house doesn’t really have much to do with cleanliness either.
I just like getting home and taking my shoes off. It’s now a ritual. Usually I can just slip off my sneakers and toss them on the rack next to the door. Other times I actually have to get down and untie myself. I have to extricate myself from complicated boots on the porch. Running shoes stay outside since I run on dirt trails. There’s a whole system to it now. I like it.
A 2018 YouGov study found that most Americans generally take their shoes off when entering their own home—57 percent said they did always or usually—but only 10 percent always asked guests to take off. That’s probably closer to the actual no-shoe household number.
This confuses people around the world often. Discussion boards have tons and tons and tons of questions about this. That last link is a post from Scandinavia. “Aren’t people scared to get **** on the rug?” I don’t want to know what Scandinavians are scared of tracking in.
“Ew, white people still wear shoes indoors?” my friend in Taipei recently asked me. One thing I really enjoy on the Japanese reality show Terrace House is when American cast members arrive, and forget to take their shoes off when entering. Everyone is so grossed out. And now that’s me!
In a 2015 essay about tapochki (slippers worn inside the home in Russia) in The Atlantic, Margarita Gokun Silver writes of a monument to the titular hero of the Russian novel Oblomov: “Oblomov’s robe, the couch, and the slippers represent the hero’s indifference to life outside his home. But they also symbolize the domestic space, the feeling of leaving the worries of the world at the door, and the safety and comfort that only one’s abode can offer.”
I am with Oblomov. This is why I love taking my shoes off when I get home. I’m dropping the baggage of the outside world behind me. Good thing I don’t have anything else in common right now with the existentially-bored character who never leaves his house!
There will be times you have to make exceptions. But it’s not a real rule. You can break it at any time. Maybe the no-shoes rule is only on your second floor. People could wear shoes if you’re throwing a party. If a guest told me their feet got cold and they wanted to keep their shoes on, I’d be fine with it. It’s not a real rule.
You can even wear shoes in the house if you want to. I have a pair of sneakers that say “HOUSE SHOES” on them in bright orange. I have several pairs of slides I can wear around the house. If you are like me, it is yet another chance to give your money over to sneaker companies. Come to think of it, we should probably get slippers for guests when we can have guests again.