We Don't Allow Shoes In Our House

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

As we were packing up boxes in preparation for moving into a new home, I had an “aha moment.” We were going to be a shoe-free house. For our family and for our guests.

Sure, that might sound a bit extreme to some. But let me explain why.

First, we’d spent years trying to find the perfect home for our growing family. As we prepped our current home to sell it, we also had our new home cleaned and painted. We didn’t just have it lightly cleaned either. Because the previous owners had a cat, and I’m highly allergic, we had to hire companies to wash the carpet, scrub all the surfaces, and sweep out all the duct work. I wasn’t playing.

After all the money and energy we poured into getting our new home clean and ready, it dawned on me that I wanted to keep it that way as much as possible. Why in the world would I sign up for cleaning up more messes? Sure, kids are messy, but what about the dirt and germs we can control?

Shoes track in so much unnecessary debris. If we didn’t wear them in the house, we could minimize some of that extra dirt. Not only was it messy for people to wear shoes in my home, but I had two babies who spent the majority of their day crawling around on the floor and I didn’t want them crawling around in that gunk.

But there was another reason too. As a type 1 diabetic, it’s very important that I protect my foot health. Some type 1 diabetics can experience neuropathy (nerve damage) in their feet and slow-to-heal foot abrasions. These can be dangerous. I wasn’t willing to risk my health for another person’s preference.

When I told my husband about my plan, he was skeptical. Was it rude to ask guests to leave their shoes at the door?

Maybe. But I didn’t want to deal with the mess or the germ-factor. Should we risk offending someone, or should we do what we think is best for our family’s health?

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

Basically, it came down to this: It’s my house, and my rules. And as it turns out, science backs me up on this one.

You’ve certainly heard of the e. coli contaminated food stories, but did you know e. coli can also live on shoes? Yep, that’s right. University of Arizona professor Dr. Charles Gerba found that shoes carry all sorts of nastiness including e. coli. This can cause urinary and intestinal infections, meningitis, pneumonia, and blood stream infections.

Another study found that more than 26% of soles of shoes from home environments had Clostridium difficilec, commonly known as C. diff, on them. C. diff is a bacterium that can cause colon issues, including diarrhea. This can be particularly dangerous for at-risk populations, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Maybe 26% doesn’t sound like a whole lot in the scheme of things, until you learn that it’s three times more than the amount of C. diff found in bathrooms and kitchens.

If you’re disgusted, join the club.

Not only do shoes track nasty bacteria into your home and onto your furniture and flooring, but think what else gets stuck to the bottom of your shoes. (Prepare yourself.)

Food. Pubic hair from the gym locker room floor. Nail clippings. Pebbles. Dog poop. Pesticides sprayed on grass. Residual cigarette smoke. Cleaning chemicals. You get the point.

Some of these are just plain gross or would be painful to step on, while others, such as Round-Up, can increase the risk of major health consequences, including cancer.

We try to be a toxin-conscious family. If I’m going to make sure my family eats healthy, uses natural beauty products, and cleans up using eco-friendly cleaning options, why in the world wouldn’t I also put a no-shoes rule in place?

I made the firm decision that I sure didn’t want my babies crawling around in gunk, such as Aunt Josie’s kitty’s feces. Like all babies, their hands are always in their mouths. What was on my floors, my kids would inevitably be ingesting.

For the first few months in our new home, we simply asked people to remove their shoes when we greeted them at the door. But I’ll be honest. It was awkward. We’d often rush to justify our choice when we were met with arched eyebrows or hesitancy.

I decided to order a sign for both my garage-entry door and our front door. I browsed the many options, over-analyzing their phrasing. I finally settled on one that said, “Kindly remove your shoes.”

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

I have four kids, one of whom is a toddler, and all of whom still spend a significant amount of time playing on the floor. Despite owning furniture, my kids insist on watching movies from their sleeping bags on the area rug. They always have and continue to spend time on the floors, so I certainly don’t regret our household rule.

I don’t have to worry about tracked-in debris and my diabetic feet anymore. I don’t wonder what my toddler is going to pick up and put in her mouth besides stale, leftover popcorn from movie night. I’m not fearful that my kids are rolling around in feces or chemicals.

This isn’t about being a germaphobe or over-protective. Keeping shoes out of our home is practical. And as my kids’ mom, my job is to protect them. Of course, I cannot control every little thing, but I can control what happens in my home.

I haven’t received much resistance to our rule. In fact, many friends have complimented our sign and asked where we got it. I’ve had a few meaningful and non-judgmental conversations with others about why we have chosen not to wear shoes in our home.

And before guests come over for the first time, I let them know of our rule and encourage them to bring whatever they want, such as a pair of socks or house slippers, if they want to keep their feet cozy. Or, like me and my kids, they are welcome to go barefoot.

So please, come over. Get comfortable. But just know, wearing shoes in my home is my Achilles’ heel. And I’ll call you on it.

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