10 Secrets of Keeping a Messy House

Some people might look around my slovenly little loft and think I’m lazy. But no! Withhold judgement. It takes a lot of hard work to keep this place in a state of constant disarray. And while I have many books on the subject of organization, housecleaning and home-making (most gifts from my mother) I haven’t read anything about how to preserve chaos in the home. I’m self-taught. I have outlined, for your instruction, a few basic principles of mess-making and maintaining in the home, laying bare my secrets for the first time.

1. It Helps to Have a Lot of Stuff

I remember once a co-worker delicately told me, “Jennifer, I think you just have too much stuff.” Blink blink. I hear the words you are saying, but I don’t understand them. How can it be “too much” when it is all absolutely necessary? For instance, at the time we had a lot of built in storage. One drawer was devoted to fur collars, cuffs and remnants I had picked up at a garage sale several years earlier. Sure, they were unused and generally unloved, but when would I ever find them again if I needed them? Huh? Never. And you never know when you might need musty fur parts.

Some people devote time to “weeding out” and “sorting” their things. I have even heard of complex sorting systems that involve separate piles for keeping, donating and trashing. I perceive that people enjoy this process, the act of purging. Then they take everything left in the “keep” file and sort and label that. And they enjoy that part too. You know what? I’d rather be writing, or cooking, or laying in the park on the grass looking up at the clouds while I listen to the children play. Or reading a damn book. Or doing other things that increase the mess in my house. So, the only time the act of “purging” seems like fun to me is when the alternative is moving it to another house. Then it’s just moving.

Books are heavy, colorful dust collectors that make you look smart!

2. Collecting Things That Collect Dust

It’s not just having a lot of stuff that counts, it will add to an overall impression of chaos if the stuff you collect is bulky and in need of display. Maybe you collect stamps. That’s very nice, but it’s also orderly, and therefor not a boon to a messy house. Whatever it is you collect, have more of it than you have room to store. For example, I like books. I have bookshelves that are packed, and still, I buy more books, which means I have piles of them everywhere – next to the bed, leaning up against the wall, stacked on top of the bookshelves. To add to the volume, my children have books as well, and they leave them scattered not in stacks, but singly, wherever they feel like it. My daughter has been leaving books on the bathroom floor for years – a resplendently disgusting habit that makes a mother proud. Tchotchkes of all kind are great at collecting dust. I can imagine figurines, antique dolls (creepy!), glass birds, and model airplanes fitting nicely into the mix. Records – as in vinyl record albums for listening on the phonograph player – are especially cunning if you never put them back in the their sleeves, but fan them out all over the floor while you drink box wine and sing Emmylou Harris to no one in particular. That is only a suggestion.

3. The Drug and Alchohol Option

Though I don’t endorse this method, television has taught me that all drug addicts and alcoholics are master slobs. I don’t even think you have to try, it just comes naturally.

4. Confessions of a Clotheshorse

If all my clothes were clean at one time (a purely hypothetical condition) there is absolutely no way  I could

These clean clothes are bound to put themselves away. Child included for scale.

fit them in my full sized closet and two Ikea dressers. Laundry is an ever present threat at our house, with baskets and hampers looming large at all times. Dirty clothes dub as wall-to-wall carpeting and clean clothes remain in baskets, sometimes folded, but rifled through and overspilling. Three key factors contribute to high volume of garments in our house. 1. Kids grow. Any parent knows that at all times, at least a third of the clothes in your kids drawers are too small, and up to one-fifth are too big. 2. The Wild Fluctuations in Weight of the Average American Woman paired with the optimistic belief that It Will Fit Again. And 3. Clothes aren’t for covering the body, but costumes that convey the character and personality of the person wearing them. if you have more than three alter-egos, you’re going to have a lot of clothes.

5. Children: Not Necessary But Exponentially Advantageous

I’m not going to say my kids are responsible for my messy house, because truth be told, I was an expert slob long before they came along. However, the character of filth that children add to the mix cannot be understated. Children are disgusting. They excrete a trail of discarded food, broken toys and bodily fluids wherever they go. They think nothing of stashing a crust of toast behind the drapes, or leaving a soiled kleenex at the top of the stairs where you are sure to step on it. And of-course, there are the toys, with all their SMALL PIECES. Legos are the exemplar. You can try to keep them sorted and in bins all you want, but eventually, you will wake up with one under your pillow at two in the morning. Another tip about children: don’t look under their beds. Why would you do that? You don’t want to know what is under there. That is why the monsters live there, because it is a naturally terrifying habitat. Once a year, give your six year-old a gas mask and a garbage bag and lock the door.

6. Pets: The Perpetual Polluters

Pets are a non-stop generator of messes. Dogs and cats that shed are recommended, especially when paired with hardwood floors and an aversion to brooms. Dogs that like to chew and destroy things are superb, as are cats who scratch the shit out of furniture. I had some finches once, and they left a daily spray of husked bird-seed shells in a three-foot radius around their cage, which invariably stank. Yes, pets add that special olfactory element that is the pièce de rèsistance to a messy home.

Just because it is contained doesn’t mean it has to be organized!

7. The Artist’s Way

I think artist’s really do have an unfair advantage in creating a cluttered, disorderly space. Some artists have to keep a neat studio because their materials are particularly hazardous and require vigilant supervision. And if the artist has a separate studio, then they may be inclined to keep a tidy home. But the economy sucks and real-estate is outrageous, so it is likely many artists must work from home. Here are some really good mediums for making a mess:

  • Painting of any kind (requires water, or toxic chemicals, or both)
  • Sculpture (especially from found objects, and especially if you work at a scrap yard, ahem)
  • Collage (scraps of paper everywhere, paired with adhesives of various sorts)
  • Charcoal drawing (charcoal, when combined with dust-bunnies, makes little poofy dust bombs)
  • Sewing (this seemingly benign domestic “craft” creates the biggest shitstorm of mess imaginable)
  • Printmaking (wood or linoleum shavings and effusive output!)
8. Don’t Look at Magazines
Don’t ever even look at Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, Dwell or any other Clean House Porn. Next thing you know you’re headed to the Container Store, buying a label maker and losing sleep over how to organize your tupperware drawer. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. However you can buy these magazines and leave them laying around the house. That’s okay.
9. No Tresspassing
Entertaining is great fun, but you will feel inclined to create the illusion of order within your home. Avoid it. If you must (as in the case of a children’s birthday party) don’t worry, you can just shove stuff in closets and under beds for the time being, thereby creating a secondary mess to savor at another time.
10 The Power to Avoid
There are people who find it impossible to concentrate on anything else while their surroundings are in disarray. I suffer from this condition in the kitchen, though to a lesser degree. On the whole, I have developed the ability to blur my vision so as to obscure stacks of dishes, mounds of clothes and piles of paperwork. This is a lifetime skill, and if you don’t care to cultivate it, that’s ok, because there is an alternative: just leave. In this way, over-scheduling and social obligations can be a huge asset. Lack of time is one of the easiest and most fool-proof ways to ensure a very messy house. Sure, you might not have time to create more messes, but eating and changing clothes without taking the time to do the dishes or laundry adds up fast. When you come home from a day packed with appointments, running errands and visiting friends you will undoubtedly collapse without another thought. Those dishes can wait until tomorrow!
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3 thoughts on “10 Secrets of Keeping a Messy House”

  1. Wonderful! But then, you are preaching to a fellow practitioner. If I may offer another suggestion: making art about plastic garbage also has the added advantage of making your home and studio perpetually look like a mad scientists’s recycling warehouse, and provides the perfect cover for leaving garbage laying around, as you’re just ‘collecting art materials.’

  2. Yes, Jennifer. Books do help, a lot. As former booksellers, we know how easy it is, especially when publisher reps are leaving them on the kitchen tables at work or even foisting them into our hands. We covet them, and sometimes take them home just for their objects. Sometimes we even get around to reading them, but feeling guilty that we have not, or have and thought it was so droll that we put it down, telling ourselves that we would pick it up soon enough before the rep’s next visit.

    Drug addicts and alcoholics: Not all are messy. I know one recovering addict who, even before recovery, was quite neat. She just never had anything in her house. Almost nothing. Maybe two plates, one chair and her books stored, hidden–and some left with me. She has always known that I am messing and have too much stuff and am not prepared to change that, so she has left many books with me, including a diary and her two-volume Compact Oxford English Dictionary, complete with magnifying glass.

    Mess from art: That is why I am a writer. I have tons of journal entries and e-mails from my younger days, telling myself that someday I will look back at them and write something grand. Kind of like the firs in the drawer. You never know when I am going to want to write about my adolescent crushes, especially the one that lasted about eight years and, thankfully, for her sake and mine, one that was never acted upon.

    And yes, I recall our former, loved colleague, Xandra referring to the “Home Design Porn” that littered her life. For that alone, Martha Steward deserved her time in jail, and the fact that she has build an evil empire out of her quest is little more than the pasties on objects of allure. Just watch out for “friends” who give those magazines to you as hints.

    I was a press secretary for a national organization in Washington, DC. I had a messy desk, which my boss did not appreciate. One day, he came in asking me for a particular press release we had written a couple of weeks earlier. Of course, I had not filed it, and I think he knew that bit of information. I, in turn, shoved my hand into the mountain of paper atop my desk, wiggled it under the heap and pulled out just the piece of paper he wanted. Or should I say that I pulled out the piece he did not want me to find, since I think he was trying to teach me a lesson about neatness. What he does not know is that putting things away makes them out of sight and out of mind and lost forever–or at least until the next big move.

    By the way, stop making me laugh so much.

  3. I wonder if people who stand up for their messy ways would ever like staying in a hotel room that is as messy as the homes they love to live in. Would they mind if that hotel room was a big awful mess? If not, why? Please tell us. Thanks.

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