‘I’m a domestic slob – and I’m happier and healthier for it’
Kerri Sackville is an Australian author and columnist, with previous books including Out There: A Survival Guide For Dating In Midlife , The Little Book Of Anxiety and When My Husband Does The Dishes: A Memoir Of Marriage and Motherhood .
She lives in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney with her three kids, who are 23 and 21 as well as a mess machine who is 15, and a cat. She enjoys clutter, eating takeout and taking long naps on the couch – and she won't be shamed about them, either.
Here, Kerri explains why she's proud to have embraced her messier, more imperfect self…
“This may come as a surprise to visitors to my home, but for most of my life I was a tidy person. As a child, I kept my bedroom spotlessly neat. As a young married woman, I swept and I scrubbed. When my son and daughter were born, I put their toys away every night and did the dishes the moment dinner was done.
Then my third child was born and she tipped me over the edge. I didn’t have time to care for two kids and a newborn and tidy my house and also eat and shower and occasionally sleep. Almost overnight, my home went from a tightly run ship to the Titanic lurching face first into the sea. My oven grew crusty, my steam mop grew cobwebs, and I was stepping over piles of laundry to get to the front door.
For a while, I felt quite ashamed of my mess. I apologised to guests for the disarray, and made sporadic attempts to get my house in order.
But then I noticed what happened when my house was extremely messy.
Nothing. Literally nothing happened at all.
My kids were happy and thriving. My career continued to progress. My husband came home every night. (Yes, we eventually divorced, but it had nothing to do with the clothes on the floor!) My friends still loved me and cheerfully visited my home. And I started wondering why keeping a pristine home was so aspirational in the first place.
Does anyone look back on their childhood and think fondly about the cleanliness of their toilet? Has anyone fallen in love with their partner because their kitchen grout was so spotless? Does anyone ever lie on their death bed and wish they’d spent more quality time with their steam mop?
There are thousands of books and websites and Instagram accounts teaching us how to have perfectly clean and tidy homes. They tell us to throw out everything that doesn’t spark joy, to scrub our floors to a high shine, to decant everything in our pantries into labelled mason jars, and to fold our fitted sheets into perfect white squares.
What they don’t tell us is… why?
What is the point of all this sweeping and arranging and decanting? How will it enhance my life? Neatness is all very nice, but it takes endless work, every single day, and then it’s undone the moment the kids get home. So what is the point? I guess it might bring me the occasional admiring glance from a visitor, but an admiring glance won’t keep me warm at night. An admiring glance won’t share a bottle of wine and a packet of chocolate biscuits. An admiring glance won’t laugh with me and make me feel loved.
I don’t need admiring glances. I need joy! (And also more sleep.) With that in mind, I leaned into mess. I embraced imperfection. I became a domestic anti-goddess.
So far, it has worked out exceptionally well. For one thing, I am far less stressed, and more rested. I used to say things like ‘Please don’t touch the mirror! I just cleaned it!’ and ‘For gods sake, why are those shoes in the kitchen?’ Now I say things like, ‘I might have a little nap’ and ‘Let’s watch another episode of that show!’
For another thing, my kids are happier, because there are fewer arguments. Sure, I enforce basic standards – my kids need to be hygienic, and considerate – but beyond that, I generally let things slide. I have enough issues to debate with my kids (like the amount of screen time they should have, or whether my generation is destroying the world) to worry about bags in the hallway or unmade beds in the morning.
And my friends are even more comfortable in my messy home than they were when it was tidy. I am a constant reminder to my guests that it is perfectly okay to be imperfect.
Now, some things need to be perfect: tape measures, for example, or airplane engines. But our homes do not need to be perfect. Our bodies do not need to be perfect. Our lives certainly do not need to be perfect! We are all just trying to get by in this challenging world. We don’t need to be judging ourselves for a stain on the carpet, or spending our precious free hours deep cleaning the fridge.
Now, of course I don’t embrace complete squalor. There is nothing inspirational or joyous about filth! If something is going to smell bad or look disgusting, I clean it or mop it or throw it out. But over the years I have let my standards slip. Near enough is good enough for me.
What does this mean in practice? Well, the surfaces don’t need to be cleaned to hospital grade, because nobody is performing surgery in my house. The floors don’t need to be clean enough to eat off, because the only one who eats off the floor is the cat, and her immune system is great.
And if it can’t be seen, it doesn’t need to be perfectly clean. I don’t bother wiping the top of my light fittings, because nobody is tall enough to appreciate my efforts. I don’t waste time polishing the inside of my microwave, because I use it to heat food, not as an art installation. And I close the doors to my kids’ messy bedrooms, to the laundry, and to the clean-enough bathroom, and my house is immediately transformed.
Mostly, I remind myself that time is precious, and that nobody cares about the state of my home. I want to experience as much joy as I can while I’m here. And no-one ever gets to the end of their life and wished they’d spent more time vacuuming the floor.”
The Life-Changing Magic of a Little Bit of Mess by Kerri Sackville (HarperCollins £12.99) is out on paperback on 11th May 2023. You can preorder it from stores including Blackwell's and WHSmith.
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