To Remove Shoes, or Not to Remove Shoes? That is the question

I recently read a blog piece by a young woman who described her horror and disgust that a guest entered her home without removing his shoes. All she heard was white noise as her brain fixated on the possible unwanted matter that the man’s shoes spread through her home. Dog feces. Round-Up. Mud. Leaves. Grass clippings. Spit. Cat piss.

She could not believe the man had been so clueless and insensitive to her indoor no-shoe policy. I get where she’s coming from, but I struggle with the whole indoor shoe ban. For one thing, it’s inconsistent, at least here in Redding. Some hosts enforce it, while others don’t.

If you go to a fancy party in someone’s home, where everyone’s dressed up, I wouldn’t expect to see guests with their shoes off, unless they’re playing Twister. If shoes are removed before entering homes for sanitary reasons, then why aren’t shoes removed when entering businesses for the same reasons?

And not to be too gross, but it’s occurred to me that some people’s feet may not be the kind of bare feet you’d want in your home, if the feet have a fungus, or are filthy, or extremely sweaty, or if they have an odor issue. In those kinds of scenarios, the best thing for everyone would be if the icky feet stayed firmly inside their shoes. But pity the poor person with those feet trying to save face while sparing the hosts from the not-ready-for-prime-time feet.

Of course, I remove muddy shoes before coming inside. Duh.

Doni and son Joe leave their outdoor work shoes outside.

I’ve never asked guests to remove their shoes. The way I look at it is that if the bottom of my guests’ shoes are super dirty, then it’s no big deal. I’ll just wash the floors after they leave.

The first time I was asked to remove my shoes in a home I was about 7, and visiting a school friend’s grand house with wall-to-wall white carpet. I remember feeling embarrassed, as if I were too unclean to walk upon all that gorgeous white carpeting.

The second time was decades later. I went to a couple’s home to interview a man about a story for the newspaper. He was Japanese. I recall plush, pale carpet, and that the man’s wife indicated that I should remove my shoes and place them by the front door. I was provided a pair of woven slippers to wear.

I was wearing a pants outfit. My shoes had a heel, which elevated the pant hem. But in flat slippers, the pants’ extra fabric dropped and sagged like polyester elephant skin around the tops of my feet. I remember feeling embarrassed that my nylons weren’t in the best condition, and wished I’d worn a new pair, not the snagged ones. I wondered if my chipped toenail polish could be seen through the toe of my borrowed slippers.

I don’t have a shoe-removal policy in my home, but I know many people who do, and when in those homes, I comply. But I confess that I’ve never really gotten used to the practice, and I sometimes feel a little off about it. If I’m entering a no-shoe house, that means that I’m either going to be going barefoot inside the home, or wearing whatever stockings are covering my feet, or wearing some footwear provided by the hosts. Padding around in bare feet inside someone else’s home feels hyper casual, like I’m not fully dressed. Padding around in a pair of slippers that have been provided by the hosts, worn by many people before me, ranks right up there with sleeping in someone else’s sheets.

Yes, I do realize that at any given moment there are far greater problems in the world than whether to remove shoes when entering a home or not, but this shoe-removal thing is on my mind since my twin brought me a gift this week.

I recoiled. “For me?! Why?!”

My sister said the slippers were civilized, and they’d help keep my floors clean. She explained that I should keep the pink slippers for indoors only, poised by the door to be of service after I removed my outdoor shoes.

She pointed to evidence; dusty footprints by the front door, and said that wouldn’t have happened if I’d only worn my outdoor shoes outdoors, removing my outdoor shoes the moment I reach the front door.

The footprints are most noticeable when the sun hits that front door in Doni’s house.

I was touched by my sister’s gift of pink slippers, but frankly, I didn’t like them. I said they looked like sick-people slippers. She disagreed and said they looked like spa slippers. I showed her my favorite around-the-house footwear, a pair of stretchy black faux-Mary Jane slippers I take with me when traveling, and especially on airplanes.

Neither pair would win a beauty contest, but they are functional.

I’m willing to give it a try to wear outdoor shoes only outdoors, and indoor shoes only indoors, at least in my own home. I keep messing up, wearing my inside shoes outside to water plants, and then I realize that I’ve left my outside shoes by the front door. So confusing!

No surprise, my twin has a no-outdoor shoe policy in her home. She has a little note by the entryway that asks for people to kindly remove their shoes, and a basket for people to deposit their footwear. I think she adopted this policy after visiting Norway, where it’s expected that people will remove their shoes upon entering a house. Likewise, I’ve been to the Czech Republic many times over the years to visit son Joe, and every home has shoes by the door, and people wear slippers inside. That’s what I did when I was there. I adapted. When in Rome …

For me, I looked at that shoe-removal practice as a nice idea, but literally foreign. On the other hand, my sister adopted it as a grand hygienic concept. I’m aware that she looks down on me for allowing outdoor shoes in my home, but I also notice that until the pink slippers showed up, she was fine wearing her outdoor shoes inside my home.

I know my twin’s fixation on the whole indoor-shoe thing, and why she brought me those Pepto Bismal slippers: She’s still nursing a grudge from last winter when I accidentally tracked dog poop from her front lawn that I’d inadvertently stepped in with my cute winter dress boots, into her house. I don’t know when I’ve seen my sister more irritated.

I say that if she doesn’t want dog poop imprinted inside her home, she should do a better job keeping dog-walkers off her lawn.


But I wonder:

What if someone really famous — like Oprah — came to a no-shoe house? Would she be expected to remove her shoes, too? And if not, why should the fact that someone’s famous make a difference?

Or what if someone arrived to a no-shoe home wearing shoes that were vital to outfit? Should they still be removed?

How about if I’m getting ready to go out and am wearing a nice outfit that includes some cute strappy shoes with buckles and zippers, am I supposed to get all dressed up, pad to the front door with my slippers on my feet, and my cute shoes in my hand, and then balance like a flamingo on one foot as I change into my dressing shoes at the threshold? It just feels weird.

Plus, I have two entrances, which means keeping indoor shoes ready in both locations. Even just two people in a home can end up with a front-door shoe pileup in a hurry.

Personally, I feel relieved when I go to someone’s home and learn it’s OK to keep my shoes on. But I often have guests in my home who automatically start stripping off their shoes at the entrance, and we have a little dance where I’m saying, really, you can keep your shoes on, and they’re say, no, really, we don’t mind.

I may be overthinking this whole thing. But in the meantime I ordered a second pair of those little stretchy Mary Jane slippers, and I think I’ll keep them in my purse for when I go to someone’s home that has a no-outdoor-shoe policy.

Until then, I’m getting a pedicure.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments