The text came just hours before we were due at the concert. It was New Year's Eve and my extended friend group had plans to see a show at Madison Square Garden before heading back to someone's apartment for an after-party. It seemed, however, that the host of said after-party was interested in changing the location. To my place. And though there was no real reason this new plan wouldn't work, it was, for me at least, a major problem. While my apartment is big by New York standards and does have a few flourishes I’m particularly proud of — shout out to my ultra-mod coffee table and avocado green couch — the notion of welcoming more than a few close friends over for a hangout (and last minute!) sends me into an anxiety spiral. Why, you ask? Well, I’m messy. Not dirty, necessarily (though if I’m being honest, my bathroom could use a serious scrub-down right now), but just inherently messy. I’m the kind of person who can walk into a hotel room and somehow manage to spew my stuff across every surface in under five minutes.
I’ve been this way since childhood, my cluttered bookshelves and contents-of-my-backpack-covered bedroom floor likely a direct response to my mother’s clean, classic, everything-in-its-place aesthetic. While our home was never the fanciest of my friends, it was always easily among the neatest. And yet, no matter how much I was scolded for the comparatively sorry state of my bedroom, I just couldn’t get it together to tidy I’d do what I thought was a deep clean only to have my mother inspect my efforts and find them sorely lacking. It was as if my very definition of the word “clean” was entirely different from hers.
Turns out, it wasn’t just my mom’s perception of cleanliness that clashed with the one in my mind. As adult, and I find that — once again — it’s impossible to get my apartment looking like those that populate my Instagram feed or even those of my more put-together friends. Instead, my kitchen table is perpetually obscured by a thin layer of stuff, and my glass-top nightstand refuses to stay shiny. My denim collection never remains nicely stacked for more than a few days; I’m so lazy when it comes to folding my t-shirts and pajamas that my boyfriend now just does it for me. And don’t even get me started on the explosive, makeup-stained state of my bathroom cabinet.
But here’s the thing I’m beginning to realize: As lovely as a pristine, put-away room is, there’s a certain beauty in clutter, too. For one thing, an un-picked up room — provided it’s not at hoarder-level saturation — is immediately disarming to visitors. It’s inviting, as if to say, “Come on in. Put your bag down. Kick your feet up. And don’t worry about getting crumbs on the cushions!”
A disorderly home or apartment is also inherently honest. It gives an unfiltered glimpse into the life of the person who lives in it – revealing everything from what books and magazines they’re in the middle of reading to which two jackets they couldn’t decide between this morning to what kind of takeout they ordered last night. What does an exceptionally tidy home tell you about a person? Mostly just that they’re tidy.
What’s more, there’s evidence that messiness may be a sign of creative brilliance. Feel free to use that one in your next job interview, my fellow slobs. In 2013, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that working in a messy environment promotes creativity and a willingness to try new things. The same researchers also noted in their report that people who are naturally creative are more likely to prefer these more chaotic work spaces, which makes sense given that figures like Steve Jobs, Mark Twain, and Albert Einstein all famously worked in less-than-orderly environs.
"That messiness and disorder can be so useful wouldn't seem such a counterintuitive notion if it weren't for the bias towards neatness programmed into most of us,” Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, authors of the book A Perfect Mess, told Inc at the time of the study. “Specifically, people tend to ignore the cost of neatness, discount the possibility that messiness can't always be excised no matter how hard it's fought, and trust the idea that mess can work better than neatness."
Disarming aesthetic and potential creativity-enhancing properties aside, the biggest reason to embrace your messy side is this: Life is short, and busy, and if constantly picking up and putting away isn’t a real priority for you — as in, the results don't add any joy to your life — why force it? To me, the beauty of adulthood is that we don’t have to clean our rooms. Instead, we each get to choose how we want to use our time and energy. While some people can’t imagine spending the time to put on makeup every morning, I won’t leave the house without devoting 20 minutes to my face. Others can’t start the day off right without making their bed or vacuuming the floor, two things you can probably guess I don’t make time to do.
All of this means no disrespect, of course, to those who like to have a place for everything, but I’m done with feeling bad about my inability to conform to this standard. As long as anything that’s potential cockroach bait is thrown away, I’m going to cut myself — and my cluttered kitchen table — some long overdue stack.