Don’t Try to Live Up to Magazine Pictures of What “Uncluttered” Looks Like

I know a woman who never has people over because I suspect, she likes to keep her house pristine.  She has revealed as much in conversations with me.  And despite being a writer, she never has more than her laptop and a pad of paper on her desk.


First, I should clarify, she lives on her own (read: responsible for her own mess) and very, very strict about a lot of things, not just her surroundings.  It’s like those pictures of desks in magazines where there is nothing on the desktop (how are you supposed to jot down ideas, make lists or call someone with just a vase and photo on it?), everything is white, organized into white magazine holders and there is nary a cord or even a mouse to use with the closed laptop.

Are you kidding me?

Second, you simply shouldn’t live like this.

When I was single and had my own place, it was neat and feminine, but by no means perfect.  It was however, an oasis of calm and order compared to what I have now.

I live with my fiancé, a television writer and we both write and work from home – in a one bedroom apartment with our 18 pound cat! Oh, the hilarity that ensues…

But seriously, as much as I want it to be neat and tidy all the time, the truth is that life is messy.  I work at my desk about 10-12 hours a day and at some points in the day, I can have a teetering pile going on that rivals the Tower of Pisa.  Books and papers can be sprawled out because I’m doing research for an article or a book and I need to access a bunch of materials all at once.  And then there’s my fella’s desk – same thing, only it contain a helluva lot more computer cables.  So you can see how it can look unmanageable.

But only temporarily.

That’s the thing.  It may look chaotic for a couple hours or days, but then we finish that particular thing that we’re working on and we tidy up.  The house starts to look normal again, just in time for another project to land in our laps and suddenly, our desk is covered again.

Same thing with the kitchen.  Cooking can get pretty messy, but there’s the cleanup afterwards, so it doesn’t last long.

But I would much rather make a mess and create a Cassoulet dinner made with love for my guy and our neighbours than never cook because of all the cleaning that’s required.  I would much rather live with the piles on my desk and file a great story that’s worth telling than work in a pristine space where I can’t let go and be creative, free and most importantly, myself.

I learned long ago that being a perfectionist is hard work and for what?  It’s so stifling!  It’s much more rewarding to do the things you love and live the life you want.

I’d rather have a home where we can revel in our interests, and family, friends and neighbours feel they can come and hang out and be themselves than have emptied trashcans and surfaces with nothing on them.

Wouldn’t you?

Stephanie Dickison is the author of the recent book, The 30-Second Commute: A Non-Fiction Comedy About Writing & Working From Home, which covers her career as book, music and restaurant critic.  She has been a journalist for over a decade and now spends much of her time writing about travel, food, beauty, style and celebrities for various publications and websites.

When she’s not writing, she’s eating, cooking, organizing, filing, making lists in sumptuous notebooks (you must use your beautiful journals) and colour-coding her ever evolving calendar.

She is one of the few writers still using technology AND paper.  But at least her paper is organized into pretty file folders…