After living most of my adult life in cookie-cutter cluttered apartments, or shoebox-sized messy flats with no direct sunlight, I moved into my dream apartment two years ago. Finally, I thought, my life will be perfect.

Fast forward to now, and my greatest fear is an unannounced visitor. Turns out, the clutter and chaos I’ve lived amongst had less to do with what storage was available to me or how efficiently my spaces were designed. Instead, I’ve come to realize I am, undoubtedly, messy.

It’s one of my greatest insecurities — that my home is never picture-perfect, no matter how many deep cleans I do or Pinterest boards I make.

“It’s one of my greatest insecurities — that my home is never picture-perfect, no matter how many deep cleans I do or Pinterest boards I make.”

If you were to stop by my apartment right this very second, you’d be greeted by blankets strewn about in my living room to accommodate my senior house rabbits. (Covered, of course, in rabbit droppings no matter how recently I’ve vacuumed).  You’d walk past a table covered entirely by insurance documents, old journals, tote bags and — is that? Yes it is. A glitter hair clip and a pair of tweezers balancing on top of a bag of panko bread crumbs.

You’d see the clean laundry in my bedroom, dotting the floor like stepping stones. I’ll fold it, eventually. But for now I like to imagine the floor is lava and jump from blouse to blouse. 

Some days I get a glimpse of organization, and it feels almost within reach. But mostly, there’s a waxing and waning of paperwork on the table, new cups in new places, cat toys that haven’t been knocked under the oven — yet. 

It’s never perfect. Whenever I host guests, I worry the apartment doesn’t look “good enough” and I eye little imperfections while my friends chat happily away. Why didnt 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 we truly believed chevron pillows could solve everything back in the 2010s), and I get discouraged when I can’t achieve it.

“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.”

It’s this mindset that has often kept me from truly living. For so long, I thought that in order to live a happy life, I had to have a clean house first. Which, if you have house rabbits and a cat 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 Im ready to live now.

I’d like to propose this instead: What if a clean table isn’t a requisite for living a good life? 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 is 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.

“If we look at our homes as a problem that needs to be solved, then we’ll forever be surrounded by reminders of incompleteness.”

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, cultivating relationships we’re interested in, or starting that new hobby at long last.

I think, perhaps, it is possible to be both mindful and still overwhelmed with 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.

“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 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 McGowan is the Editorial Director at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits and cat, or gaming. Say hi on Instagram!