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Should I Switch My Welcome Mat For A “Do Not Disturb” Sign?

I live in small community in a rural area with my husband and 2 teenage daughters. Today I was working from home in the kitchen and my husband was also at home, exercising in the living room, when I heard another voice and conversation begin. At first I thought the kids had gotten home from school, when I realized it was an hour early and by then I had realized it was a male voice, not female. It was my brother-in-law! My husband’s brother works just a mile from our home so I guess he decided to stop by after he got off of work. But who just walks into someone else’s house without knocking first? Well, I’ll tell you who… my mother and at least one of my daughter’s teenage friends, that’s who. I am flabbergasted at how many people have walked right into my house without knocking! My mother always used to knock, in fact, call first. But then she moved much, much closer – within walking distance – so now drops by and sometimes knocks or sometimes doesn’t. Besides being rude, aren’t these people even the least bit leery of what they might be walking in on, unannounced? Do I just keep my door locked from now on? It seems like a drastic step to have to take, or is it? Maybe in this day and age one’s door should always be locked anyway? 0221-14

Having an open, hospitable house where friends and family have been encouraged to “feel at home” comes with some unspoken caveats.   Unannounced visitors should be able to detect that you both are in the middle of an activity that is preoccupying your attention and cannot entertain them and that is when they should make a graceful exit.   I work from home myself and there are countless times where I have take command of the conversation and inform the visitor that I must get back to work. I’m sure there are times when I appear to be very business-like in my demeanor but I haven’t invited them to come when I’m available to talk and they are interrupting my work.

I’ve had family walk in the house while a serious discussion was in progress that we had no intention of making them a part of the conversation.    Very basic pleasantries are exchanged but the non-verbal signal is unmistakeable (or at least we think it is) that we were in the middle of something and we are not prepared to suspend it or include the visitor in it.   My husband and I just sit there saying nothing waiting for the person to get the clue to leave.   On occasion you have to be blunt….”I’m sorry but we are engaged in a private discussion that has not reached a conclusion yet and therefore we are not available to talk with you.”    Yes, it is awkward and potentially tense but they walked right into it and you are helping them walk right back out of it.

However, we lock and deadbolt the doors when in a frisky mood lest any of the immediate family just happen to saunter in unannounced.


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  • Meghan March 21, 2014, 9:46 am

    At my parents’ house, the door is really only locked at night or when no one is home. In fact, in the summer, because we have no air conditioning, it’s often just wide open. Though our giant dog is usually sprawled out on the front porch.
    We have a very lax knocking policy. People don’t show up unannounced, but when they come over, they don’t knock. It’s been that way since my brother and I were in high school. Our friends always just walk in. We had people over in the evening on Thanksgiving and an old friend came with his new fiance (who we had never met). He rang the doorbell, and several people looked up very confused, because no one rings the bell. I opened the door for him, commenting that it wasn’t locked. He turned to his fiance and just said, “See?” Turns out she had insisted they ring instead of just walking in.
    But, like I said, we know these people are coming over. So everyone knows to have their pants on. The visitor isn’t a surprise. It’s actually a bit of a running joke that only people we don’t know ring the bell. That’s how you know it’s a stranger.

  • just4kicks March 21, 2014, 1:29 pm

    Reminds me also of a story my mom always tells when I was younger and in school and my dad was at work. Mom was doing some spring cleaning and happened to be leaning out a window right over the driveway. Two men, briefcases in hand, walked into our driveway and yelled up to my mom to “let them in the house at once, so they could “share the good news with her”. My mom said “Turn around and leave my property at ONCE, or you will be “sharing the good news” down at the local police station!!!!

  • cassandra March 21, 2014, 6:27 pm

    I have to keep my door locked. a few family members, a “friend” and a neighbor all seem to not know how to knock first. Really aggravates me!

  • JamieC0403 March 21, 2014, 7:38 pm

    I will just walk in at my grandma’s house and at my parents’. My grandma always leaves her house unlocked during the day when she’s home. When my grandpa was alive the doors were always unlocked, even when they went on vacation. (I had a fight as a teenager with my mom in the middle of the night once and drove 2.5 hours, walked into my grandparent’s house and slept on the couch. I was expected the day after next, but my grandma was rather surprised to see me that morning.)
    My parents’ house is always locked (the door actually auto locks behind you), but they have one of those cool locks that you punch in the code and everyone in the family knows the code. I always call ahead, and knock before walking in.

  • SJ March 23, 2014, 12:45 am

    Locking your door doesn’t sound remotely drastic to me.

  • Kate March 23, 2014, 5:17 am

    This is so interesting for me, as a person who was born and raised in the city, to read! Everywhere I’ve lived, it was considered completely unsafe to leave your doors unlocked even while you’re home. ‘Dropping in’ is just not a thing in my family or social group. Even when I visit my parents, I check to see if it’s OK first and I knock instead of letting myself in.
    DH and I deal with this by locking our doors and not answering the doorbell if we aren’t expecting anyone. It’s usually salespeople or religious doorknockers – everyone else usually texts saying ‘I’m outside’ rather than ringing the bell, but we live in a small apartment with no real room for entertaining people.
    I would adopt a city attitude and keep your door locked, especially if you’re having ‘alone time’ with your husband.

  • ImJustSaying March 23, 2014, 2:58 pm

    We used to have a “Just come in” set up with my cousins BUT they always called first. If we were home and they needed to stop by to pick something up we just unlocked the door. No knocking or bell ringing They came in said hi maybe chatted a bit, grabbed what they needed then ran back out. If they were coming to hang out they locked the door behind them once they were in. That was the only time our door was unlocked and welcome to “visitors”.
    Now with cell phones I don’t answer my door unless someone has called or texted first. If it’s a family member locked out/ with no phone, they know the “knock” I would recognize from childhood. or they just ring the bell like a maniac and i’ll go to the upstairs window to check before answering the door.

    Lock your doors. Those that know will call those that don’t will learn. If all else fails. Be naked the next time the family member comes in and say “oh you didn’t call ahead so i didn’t know anyone else would be in my house today”. This of course only works if the family members keep a sort of regular drop-in schedule.

  • Elle March 23, 2014, 4:32 pm

    I have always locked my doors, in spite of that had these incidents happen while I was at home.
    The first was when DH, myself and son had moved into our last home. The back door was locked and someone was trying to open it and started knocking. My husband answers the door and this guy with his dog tries to push by and at the same time starts asking what are we doing here, and that we don’t live here. Turns out it was a friend of the former occupants, and he wouldn’t leave until we told him that the police were going to be called if he didn’t.
    A week later, we were all in bed and I heard someone trying to open the same back door, my DH grabs a table leg and goes to the back door, turns out it was our landlord with her electrician. The neighbors were having electrical problems and she has the brilliant idea that if the electrician looks at our fuse box that it will be fixed. The fusebox is in our bedroom and the electrician just walks in and starts kicking items that are still packed or wrapped in paper around so he can get to the fusebox. My DH was furious and told the landlord that she almost had her head bashed in with the table leg as we thought she was a burglar.
    Several months later DH and I were at home, it was a weekday and we were just watching t.v and reading. I hear the front door knob being jiggled and a key going in. By then our dog is barking and snarling and scratching at the door. I get up and look out the front window to see our landlord scurrying down the side walk to her car. It was that day that DH went out and got new locks for the doors and changed them.
    The landlord must have tried to get in again while we weren’t at home because she dropped by with her nephew one night to get the new keys for the locks. DH told her nephew about the midnight visits, her trying to get in during the day when we were home, and also, we had door mats on the inside of our doors that had gone missing along with other items. Well, her nephew let her have it, and he told her that we didn’t have to give her the new keys and she was lucky we didn’t call the police or report her to the landlord & tenant branch.
    I always keep the door locked, its a habit.

  • Rebecca March 24, 2014, 3:02 am

    I can’t even imagine feeling comfortable in my home knowing someone might walk in at any moment. I don’t even like it when people knock. Most people nowadays have cell phones and so there really is no excuse not to call or text first.

  • Lucy L'Awful March 24, 2014, 8:59 am

    I can’t remember a single day when I turned on the evening news and DIDN’T hear about a home invasion. Since our household practices the Second Amendment, someone that just walks in might find themselves picking a considerable amound of lead out of their hide. Not locking your doors is just an invitation for trouble, even if you live in the world’s safest neighborhood. Lock the doors. It’s not that hard, and it’ll keep you on good terms with those relatives that think it’s perfectly fine to walk right in.

  • Cat March 24, 2014, 10:43 am

    Always lock doors. I had locked my hotel room door and had used that extra lock that swings out and engages when you are in the room. It was late so I went to bed. A few minutes later the door opened and someone was trying to force the extra lock as well.

    I got out of bed and inquired very calmly, “May I help you?” A very embarrassed man replied that he was very sorry and fled. I called the front desk and he was there. A late-night arrival had been given a key to my room because the computer was down and she did not know my room had been rented.
    He’s lucky his wife didn’t ring the room and had me say, “Oh, he just left.” I can see him trying to explain why some strange woman answered in his hotel room.

  • Double You March 25, 2014, 7:32 am

    I honestly did not know there were still places left where people would feel safe to leave their door unlocked.

    Over here in Belgium, I don’t think that front doors which you can open without the use of a key even exist!

    I even lock the door to our apartment when I go and take the garbage out, because even the mere minute that takes would be enough for someone to sneak in and grab whatever wallet, mobile phone or tablet would be laying around.

    So no, I don’t think locking your door is to be considered a “drastic” measure.

  • Hollyanna May 10, 2014, 11:20 am

    I have a neighbor who just comes around to the back door. Has since we moved here. No notice, just walks through two gates and an alleyway containing our clothesline (and therefore my underwear) and makes it known that she’s waiting at the sliding door to be let in. I know that people in different places do things differently, but in my experience if the front door is at the end of the driveway (and CLOSER than the backdoor) then that’s the one you ring/knock; I might even go as far as to say that if there is a front door, that is where you ring/knock, until the owner of the house tells you otherwise.

    My parents own this house and even they’ve commented on the oddness of it. It just seems so unnecessary. But I’m young, and I’m new to this whole etiquette thing. So let me know if I’m making too much of a fuss.