This Professional Organizer Helped Me Embrace My Messy House Era

This Professional Organizer Helped Me Embrace My Messy House Era

As I write this, I’m sitting at my kitchen table because my desk is covered in stacks of books I haven’t read yet, a few unfinished cappuccinos, and enough dust to wonder when was the last time I used it. Oh, and the kitchen table? I’m staring down dead flowers sitting in a vase of murky water surrounded by crusty dinner plates that haven’t yet made it to the sink.

Lately I sit down at the end of the work day — pushing crap aside to find a seat — and think, “Is there something wrong with me?” Or while brushing my teeth before bed, I howl “Why me?” as I stare into the reflection of my toothpaste speckled bathroom mirror.

And yes, I know that I could “clean a little every day” and “have I thought about meal prepping to save dishes?” But just shut up. Shut! Up! Don’t talk to me like I haven’t worshipped at the feet of Marie Kondo for years. And like the minimalist queen herself, I’m tired of the existential shame that is tied to tidiness.

I have no interest in becoming a hoarder or living in filth, but I am done with the self-punishing guilt. And I’m not alone. The “messy house era” has taken over TikTok. From Alix Earle‘s 2023 resolution to “be more organized” as she stands knee deep in clothes to Julia Fox’s chaotic impromptu home tour, we are finally getting the messy representation we’ve been craving since the first “sad beige baby” aesthetic was posted on Instagram. Because the reality is, most of us don’t have a constantly clean home and just want reassurance that we’re not the only ones struggling out here.

So, I turned to an expert — no, not a therapist, but someone who could teach me to approach my clutter as just that: clutter. A pile of objects I own and need to either organize or throw away without judgement.

“You brought this here because you love it, so let’s embrace that.”

“People feel so much shame about being disorganized and so much shame about letting things get to where they currently are,” professional organizer Dolly Debutante says. “Instead, let’s just get things a little bit better, so you can be more functional and more comfortable in your space.'” Because that’s all we want: comfort and safety in our homes. Ahead, some of my biggest takeaways when it comes to embracing the messy.

Loving “Stuff” Doesn’t Make You Impractical

Debutante works with a lot of performers, and artists that have a lot of “stuff.” Maybe a client hasn’t needed their Santa suit in six years, but next year someone might ask them to do a Christmas show, so they’re keeping it. Or they’re holding onto a cracked flowerpot that their late-grandmother gave them because it reminds them of her. You don’t always have to purge your home of knickknacks or sentimental items, but perhaps there’s a better way to store them, so you can find them more easily later.

“People have a lot of keepsakes like a special T-shirt they keep for the memories, even though they don’t wear it anymore,” she explains. “So maybe this T-shirt doesn’t need to live in your dresser or your closet, but let’s put together a nice trunk of all your special things.” That way when you want to pull them out and have a good cry, you’ll know where to find it. These sentimental items don’t need be stored alongside your day-to-day stuff “because that’s where the stress comes in, where you’re digging through to find a shirt to wear and it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just a drawer full of shirts I don’t wear,'” Debutante says.

Her grandmother was a collector of dolls, dollhouses, and sewing supplies, so she grew up treasuring things and understanding what kinds of things are important to people. “We’re not going for perfection here; we are going for functionality, we’re going for coziness, and you bought this stuff, you thrifted it or collected it or got it as a gift. You brought this here because you love it, so let’s embrace that.”

Having Trash Does Not Make You Trash

Some weeks I’ll look up from my #WFH station and I’m surrounded by a graveyard of takeout containers: evidence of how I haven’t been saving money by cooking at home, or worse I haven’t been social by going out to eat the same meal at a restaurant. This usually starts the shame tornado.

When this happens, Debutante suggests setting a five-minute timer to go around your home with a trash bag to remove the empty Chipotle cup from a week ago or the packaging from your latest online order. “Mental health-wise, that can make such a difference because when you’re feeling down, it can feel like you’re drowning in stuff.” That initial step of picking things up can often energize you to keep going.

Embrace the Laundry Chair

We all have the chair. If you don’t, then get out because this article is for messy girlies™ only. The chair is specifically for the clothes that aren’t clean, so they don’t go back in the closet, but they’re not dirty yet, so they don’t go in the hamper. “Maybe I’d suggest a special basket for that stuff, but I’m not totally against the chair. I think it does have a purpose,” Debutante says. Instead of attaching guilt to the chair, I’ve decided to allow myself this transitional space in my room. Is it aesthetic? No. Practical? Sorta.

Incorporate a system that’s going to work the best for you, even if it’s not aesthetically pleasing. Some prefer hidden storage systems because the visual stimulation can be overwhelming and leaves them frozen, unable to get anything done at all. But others prefer their items to be stored in the open (Think: “If I put this in the closet, I’m going to forget it exists.”)

Dubutante likes to lean into whatever storage system works best for the client. If they tell her “I’m not going to put my accessories back into the jewelry box,” then her response is simple: “We’re not putting it in a jewelry box because that’s not functional for you.” Instead, she might suggest a pretty tray on their dresser where all of their necklaces and rings are out in the open and they can just grab it.

You Decide What You Want on Display

Unlike the candle holder you thrifted or the ceramic vase you bought at the farmer’s market, there are items we own that we don’t traditionally put on display. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel like we have to hide it under the bed. For example, if you have a lot of vibrators (cough, cough me) or fun sex toys that you’d like easily accessible, don’t be afraid to incorporate them into the decor.

Debutante often works with sex workers who may have endless bins of dildos or curated costumes. “I had a client just a couple weeks ago who had a lot of beautiful high-end lingerie set (bra, panty, garter), and she used photo boxes to store them,” she says. “It was kind of like a filing cabinet where she could flip through the photo boxes to select the one she wanted.” At the end of the day, it really depends on individual styles, tastes, and purpose. But Debutante always tells her clients, “Wear your stuff. Use your stuff. If you’re just sitting around the house, put that gorgeous silk robe on and enjoy it.”

It’s OK For Your Home to Look Like You Live There

You do not live in Instagram-land, so instead of treating your Pinterest board like a “Through the Looking Glass” moment, it’s time to let go of the fantasy. There’s no way to maintain a clean home all the time unless you have help. Plus, full-time jobs, being a parent, or any additional workload mean you’re basically screwed. But what if we let go of the expectation that your house had to look a certain way? Even Marie Kondo herself has admitted that what brings you joy looks different to everyone. If that means a stack of receipts on the foyer table that you use to jot down phone numbers, so be it. Or maybe it’s a line of your favorite shoes placed by the door. “I think you see these organizing shows or these magazine photos where everything is in a labeled beige container, and it doesn’t look like anyone lives there.” Often cleaning your home is grouped with self-care, but sometimes self-care looks like accepting that life is messy.

Image Source: Justin Lambert / Getty

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