The start of a new year (or a new phase of life) is marked by the opportunity for improvement. Folks resolve to eat better, exercise, and carve out more time for family. However, when it comes to resolutions, many of us fall into the traps of organizing, purging, and cleaning our homes instead — especially to make room for all the post-holiday “clutter” and gifts. Don’t fall for this scam! The expectation of a clean home is a source of oppression that won’t fix your problems or make you happier. My resolution: embrace the mess for a happier life.
A Clean Home Won’t Make You Happy (But It Will Leave You Overworked and Lonely)
The open-concept trend is one of the biggest culprits driving the clean home oppression. I’ve written for years on how much I abhor the open-plan layout. It’s not only oppressive but also unattractive, distracting, loud, confusing, and frankly, too demanding when it comes to maintenance. What is one to do without walls and doors to hide the mess behind when guests are on their way? You guessed it. Clean, like your life depends on it.
An open-concept plan places any mess on full display from any vantage point. There’s no place to escape the view of dirty dishes or piles of laundry as you attempt to share a meal with friends, ask the kids about school, or simply have a moment to yourself. Are we meant to enjoy life in our homes or spend our waking hours cleaning them, as if for a magazine-ready photoshoot that could happen at a moment’s notice?
I would go so far as to say that an open-plan home keeps people from inviting friends over at all. It simply becomes too much work to cook, host, and make sure everything is spick and span. It’s sad because we’re becoming servants to the home and missing out on the things that really matter, like connections.
Women Still Bear the Brunt of Housework
Women are the most oppressed by the open-concept layout because women are more harshly judged for a messy home. While men get a free pass on clutter, women are publicly shamed for an unforgivable sin. And the responsibility doesn’t fall on us because “men can’t see mess.” That myth has been disproven. It becomes our burden because we’re still conditioned to view housework as “women’s work.”
These tired conventions are reinforced by the expectations of a man versus a woman’s home. Let’s look at Friends. Monica (already characterized as a neat freak) lives in an apartment that’s clean, organized, and also decorated to the highest standard of 90s shabby chic style — complete with floor-to-ceiling drapes, art, and jewel tone palette. While Monica is busy cooking and cleaning up for her pals, Chandler and Joey are lounging in two recliners across the hall with takeout boxes strewn across the floor and a foosball table sitting in the kitchen. Forget about cleanliness or decor. The men’s apartment is centered around comfort and fun. While the open concept plan sets Monica up for unhappiness and failure, it just makes it easier for Joey and Chandler to throw the football.
We do have some women breaking out of the cleanliness cult, both in life and on screen, and we should take note. For example, the Weasley home in Harry Potter was by far the most cluttered and the happiest residence in the series. And we never saw Mrs. Weasley attempting to tidy up! Happy homes have messes, and I think it’s time we gave ourselves permission to have a messy home (and, by extension, be happy). Half-finished projects, books on the side table, and dirty dishes in the sink simply show that we actually live here! These untidy vignettes should add to the warmth of the space, not take away from it.
Design a Home That Can Hold Life’s Messes
Because women do the vast majority of housework (even in 2024), I say we should start designing our homes so they look good even when they’re dirty. The best houses, in my opinion, are designed in such a way that even when they fall short of the standard of perfection, they still look beautiful. For example, a maximalist space can nicely hold a mess — the more things, the merrier! However, a cold, minimalist interior looks like a disaster area if you forget to hang up your coat or put your shoes in the closet.
Bring in the walls to hide the mess when necessary so we can join the party and relax! My home has more formalized spaces where I can gather with friends and not smell or see my kitchen at all. I can and do have impromptu parties and gatherings because I can sit comfortably alongside my visitors versus constantly loading the dishwasher, like my open-concept counterparts.
After advocating for closed-plan kitchens for some time, we’re being asked more and more to design walled-off specialty rooms like butler’s pantries, sculleries, and even smaller “dirty kitchens” for our clients. These closed-off rooms allow the party host to quickly hide the mess before guests walk through the door. (God forbid we let anyone know we eat food! Shame on us for having dirty dishes, chopping boards, and scraps left where they could be discovered!) The open-plan home sets women up for even more work when they have company over for dinner. There’s the imposed need to clean up and look perfect. However, the closed or semi-closed kitchen gives space to prepare a meal, shut out the mess, and actually partake in the fun.
Life (and Our Homes) are a Balance
Now, I realize everyone has an opinion on this subject and a different standard of cleanliness. However, I’d like for us all to take a moment to consider how much time we spend cleaning, organizing, and fussing over the state of our space compared to actually enjoying our time in our homes. Let’s resolve to set the bar low for a tidy home and high for a quality life filled with gatherings, connections, and, yes, even messes.
Even the most spick and span among us made room for the occasional mess when the occasion called. Samantha from Bewitched spent her days cleaning her suburban dream home but had no problem shutting the kitchen passthrough to hide a sink of leftover dirty dishes when hosting Darin’s boss.
Leave the dishes for the morning, and enjoy the night!
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.