All The Pressures Of A Perfect Home—And Why It’s Okay To Leave The Dishes In The Sink
There is no golden hour in my apartment.
With eaves over the south-facing windows in my home, and a direct view into my neighbors’ apartments to the north (hello, crowded city living), those Instagram-worthy moments of direct light are fleeting, at best. But when it does happen—there’s a little sliver of sunshine that illuminates a wall for a few minutes each day—it shines a light directly onto one of my deepest insecurities. Because, no matter which routines I embrace or Pinterest boards I make, my home is never perfect.
And yet, so many of us (myself obviously included) get wrapped up in the idea that our homes must look a certain way. We see perfect homes everywhere—Instagram alone is filled with coffee-and-cream-colored curtains that frame views of quaint gardens. Prisms and meditation corners and perfect little journals bound up with ribbons—there’s no dust on the internet, or unsightly cords, or bathtubs that need a good scrub. After a while, and especially since many of us have been home more often, we begin to believe that our homes are somehow the only ones that look the way they do.
If you were to stop by my apartment right this very second, you’d be greeted by a pile of pillow inserts I’ve left on the floor because my 12-year-old rabbit loves to snuggle in them. You’d walk past a pile of tax documents and unemployment stubs, a box of holiday gifts I have yet to send (!), and a door we took off its hinges and haven’t yet moved to the building’s basement. It leans awkwardly on the wall, a door leading nowhere, waiting for us to get our act together.
The landscape changes—a waxing and waning of paperwork on the table, new cups in new places, the vacuum humming its song every few days. But it’s never perfect. Even in the former days where we’d host guests, the apartment would be “good enough” and I’d eye little imperfections while my friends chatted happily away. Why didn’t I wipe those baseboards or dust those lightbulbs?
But no one has ever noticed. Or at least, cared. I’ve been operating for many years under the assumption that everyone else’s homes are perfect and that somehow I’ve missed the memo. The internet seems to say, “here is a formula for a happy life” (as if chevron pillows will solve everything), and I get discouraged when I can’t achieve it.
It’s this mindset that has often kept me from truly living. For so long, I thought that in order to live an intentional life, I had to have a clean house first. Which, if you have house rabbits like me (or any animal or human cohabitants), is just not possible. If I wait for perfection, I’ll spend all day, every day finding something to clean, and then fall asleep before I can finally say I’m ready to live now.
But what if a clean table isn’t a requisite for mindful living? If we look at our homes as a problem that needs to be solved, then we’ll forever be surrounded by reminders of “incompleteness.” Don’t get me wrong—a clean house can be a salve during trying times. But perhaps we can slip some of that pressure of perfection into a spare shoebox and slide it into our closet for safekeeping. Maybe we can—bear with me—go a bit easier on ourselves.
It’s worth considering how we create standards for ourselves that we would never place on others. While I look at my own home like Gordon Ramsay looks at a botched bolognese, I actually treasure seeing other people’s homes in their natural states. In fact, some of the times I’ve felt most loved is when I sit in a friend’s cluttered kitchen while they pour us coffee—no clean dishes, no pretenses, nothing but quality time together. There’s vulnerability (and a huge relief) when I see someone else hasn’t folded this week’s laundry, either.
Perfection is a moving target we create for ourselves, so there will never be an arrival. If you don’t respect yourself until your home is “perfect,” or until you are “perfect,” then you’ll be waiting a long time (maybe forever). We set up these obstacles for ourselves over and over again, holding us back from wearing the clothes we want to wear, pursuing the hobbies we’re interested in, or engaging with the political causes that ignite us.
You can be mindful surrounded by junk mail; you deserve emotional space even if you live in 250 square feet; you are worthy if you sleep on an air mattress in the living room. Life is happening right here, right now‚ and it doesn’t care if the dishes are dirty.
So maybe we can re-think how we look at our homes—when they’re messy, it’s a reminder that we’re vulnerable and distracted, that we’re human. When they’re clean, it’s a reminder of how rare and precious our time is. Your home is exactly as it is. Your floor, however dirty, rises to support you. Your walls, however chipped or blank or cluttered, stand to embrace you. Your door hinges welcome you and (someday soon) those who love you. And your kitchen is a canvas where you create food that sustains you—maybe it’s a feast, maybe it’s whatever you have in the cabinets.
But whatever you do, if you leave a trail of clutter behind you as I do, don’t wait for perfection before you care for yourself. Before you celebrate, mourn, create, or give back in the ways you feel called to. Maybe self-respect looks like loading the dishes into the dishwasher before bed—but maybe it also looks like leaving them in the sink and cuddling with your pet, or your family, or your favorite blanket.
Maybe it’s okay to look at our homes without expectation and without judgment. Maybe, instead of bracing ourselves for the disappointment of dirty dishes, we say a little “thank you” each time the doorknob twists to the tune of welcome home.
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!