Tell me if this sounds at all familiar: you’re chatting away with someone and casually invite them over for lunch later, or you made plans with them ages ago but forgot and now they’re on their way round. Within a second, your eyes widen and your blood runs cold as you realise the current state of your house; the array of things on the floor, the pile of washing up in the sink, the thin but all-too visible layer of dust building on various surfaces. And let’s not forget your own general appearance or the fact that there’s absolutely nothing in the fridge. We all know what’s called for here, don’t we? It’s time for a panic tidy.
“Quick, you clear the living room and I’ll do the kitchen.”
“No don’t put it away – there isn’t time! Just bundle everything upstairs and close the bedroom door.”
“Oh no, we’re out of milk. You run to co-op and I’ll run the hoover round.”
“I look a state. Where do we keep the dry shampoo?”
“Why are we such terrible grown-ups???”
Ten minutes later your friend arrives. You’re exhausted, you’re stressed, you’re silently deciding to never have anyone round ever again, but somehow everything is pristine. You’ve managed to pull it off; they think you live like this. And now they will return to their home, awed and slightly jealous at how easily you seem to have it together, and will complete their own panic tidy the next time you go over to their house.
I think we like pretending that we naturally have it together. We love to show up to an event looking a million dollars and say, “Oh, this? I just threw it on.” Or we bake a showstopper that Mary Berry would be proud of, and leave out the part where we were having a minor breakdown on the kitchen floor. We want our lives to match our Instagram posts, even though we know that we frame the photos to leave out the stains on the carpet. We don’t just want people to think we’re perfect; we want them to think we’re perfect all of the time – and it hasn’t taken any effort at all.
Can I tell you something that, I think, on some level, you already know? Nobody’s perfect. Nobody’s house is always that tidy. No matter what they serve you at a dinner party, they do not always eat like that. No one’s eyebrows are naturally that full and neat, and I am 90% sure that even the Queen has the odd day where she does nothing but stay in her jammies and eats biscuits in bed – crumbs be damned. The pressure of perfect is nothing but a charade in which we all participate; a show we put on for everyone else – but the show must not go on.
Don’t misunderstand me; it’s nice to tidy the house when you have guests coming over. It’s nice to get dressed up and make an effort for a special occasion. I’m a creative, aesthetic person, and I like it when everything looks pretty. But I think we go too far when we think we have to constantly keep life tidied away in its proper place. No one needs to look flawless all of the time. No one needs to pretend their kids are little angels, or that everything they eat is completely homemade and organic. Is that showing the people around us our true, authentic selves? Is that letting people in and really allowing them to get to know us?
We live in fear that people won’t think we’re perfect, but some of the people I look up to the most do not deal in perfection. They turn up to the pub with greasy hair, because not having time to shower is not going to get in the way of them hanging out with me or having a nice time. Or they shove it up in a messy bun – and a true messy bun, not a pinterest, five-hours-to-get-just-right messy bun – because they’re too busy kicking ass and taking names to worry about faffing around with the hair straighteners. They have bigger and better things to worry about than appearing perfect, and they’re completely comfortable with me seeing them in all that beautiful, messy glory. And it goes both ways; I know someone is truly my friend when I know I’m going to see them and I have no urge to get changed or put any eyeliner on – if they love me, they won’t care.
I’m not telling you to live in squalor and stop caring what people think because a) that’s unhygienic and b) I think we always care what people think, just a little bit. But I’m saying that life is messy; and that’s OK. That’s great, even, and we shouldn’t let the imperfectness of our lives put us off from inviting people into them. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you, dear reader, are a beautiful mess and I would much rather see you as you are than how you think you should be. I would much rather see your home as you live in it than how it might look in a catalogue because, I promise you, I live in a very similar state of chaos. There may be people out there whose houses are always clean and their outfits are always in style, but those people are in the minority and, I’m pretty sure, don’t have enough going on in their lives.
So let’s put an end to the panic tidy. Let’s do away with the perfection propaganda and let’s make our hospitality a lot more honest. Yes I will probably make a bit of an effort before you turn up as I am nothing if not a good host, but let me be clear: I do not always look like this, we do not always eat like this and we absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, do not always live like this.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti