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Why is it suddenly such a bad thing to have a clean house?


t’s just a little bit ironic that I’m writing this post from a house that’s currently so messy from last week’s flood that it’s almost unrecognisable from the one pictured at the top of this page.

(It’s also ironic that I’m illustrating this post with a photo I took without bothering to tidy up the kitchen first, so I can see tons of annoying details that make me want to reach through the screen and clean it. It’s gone way downhill since this was taken, though – again, thanks to The Flood – so it’ll have to do…)

My house isn’t always this messy, though. In fact, it’s normally pretty tidy – and it’s only in the last few months that I’ve really come to realise how very ODD some people find that.

A few weeks ago, for instance, I was chatting to one of the medical professionals involved in my ante-natal care (I’m not being deliberately vague here, by the way, I genuinely can’t remember who it was now!), who was telling me all about the health visitor who’ll be visiting us at home once the baby arrives.

“You don’t have to worry about tidying up for her, though,” this person told me. “In fact, if your house is too clean, that’ll set alarm bells ringing!”

white gloss kitchen with pale wood floorThis was just a throwaway comment, but it stuck in my mind, because it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this: that the health visitor will possibly be concerned if she visits us at home in the weeks after the baby’s birth, and feels that the house looks too clean or tidy. Apparently this can be a cause for concern, purely because it’s seen as NOT NORMAL, and it can make the health visitor worry that the new parents must be depressed, and turning to obsessive cleaning as a way to cope.

Now, this post isn’t about health visitors, or about how clean my house will or won’t be after I have the baby. Honestly, I have NO IDEA how I’m going to feel when the baby is here, and I’m not naive enough to be That Person who’s all, “Oh no, absolutely NOTHING will change for me: my house will be as spotless as ever.” I mean, that would be me just BEGGING for more of those smug, “Just you wait!” comments that have followed me throughout this pregnancy, no?

(Just for the record, no, I don’t expect to be able to keep the house immaculately clean and tidy when I have a newborn. I do find it quite odd to see how gleeful some people are about this, though, almost as if they’re desperate to see me fail, just to teach me a lesson or something, and it’s quite frankly bizarre to know that I must be seen to be struggling in order to prove that I’m not, in fact, struggling. So, I must struggle… but not too much, because that would be bad, too, obviously. I guess the trick is to find exactly the right degree of “struggling”, then – when I find out what it is, I’ll let you know…)

“It’s quite frankly bizarre to know that I must be seen to be struggling in order to prove that I’m not, in fact, struggling. So, I must struggle… but not too much, because that would be bad, too, obviously.”

It did make me worry a bit, though, because what if my house IS still clean when the baby is here? I mean, I may not have the energy to do it myself, but I DO have a mother who lives less than a mile away, and if you think my mum would come to visit without cleaning something (if it needed it, obviously), then you do NOT know my mother, seriously. So… if that happens, will I have to deliberately mess it up again, just so the health visitor thinks I’m “normal”? And why is a tidy house considered so ABnormal these days, anyway?

Because, the thing is, it really IS, isn’t it? Even taking the whole health visitor/new baby thing completely out of the picture, there have been countless occasions when I’ve been made to feel like a bit of a freak, really, for having a tidy house. It’s normally the first thing people comment on when they visit, and sometimes they’ll make such a big deal about how OMGTIDY the place is that it’ll start to make me feel uncomfortable, and like I’ve done something really strange or wrong for not living in a complete mess. In fact, I realised recently that I often find myself almost apologising for it, or even outright lying, by saying something like, “Oh, it’s not normally like this, trust me!” when the fact is, it actually IS normally “like this”.

“Now show us what it REALLY looks like!” someone once commented on an Instagram photo of my desk. “I bet it’s not always that tidy!” I didn’t like to say it, because the person obviously wouldn’t have believed me anyway, but actually, yeah: it might not ALWAYS be that tidy, but it ALMOST always is, because I like things neat – always have, probably always will. I just can’t concentrate at a messy desk, and nor can I sit down and relax in a filthy room – so I do my best to keep the place clean and tidy… and, more and more often, I feel like I’m being judged for that, with people deciding that I’m either a liar or a freak, because it’s just not NORMAL to be tidy, is it?

But… WHY, though, I wonder?

The fact is, Terry and I were both raised in tidy houses. Don’t get me wrong, my parents were never fanatical about it, and neither was Terry’s mum: I’m just talking about things like being encouraged to put toys away at the end of the day, or seeing my parents tidy the place up when they were expecting visitors. That seemed totally normal to me, and it does to Terry, too: he’s not naturally a tidy person (Far from it, actually…), but he will do some cleaning if we’re expecting guests – and then we’ll both be really taken aback when the guests arrive, and are absolutely astonished to find the house looking clean.

Online, meanwhile, there seems to be a general idea that people with clean houses, (Or – shock horror – IRONED CLOTHES ) must have “no life”. I see this kind of thing circulating on Facebook fairly often, for instance:

a clean house is a sign of a wasted life

Now, obviously this is supposed to be a joke – I do get that. There are, however, plenty of people who subscribe to this view: “I have BETTER things to do than clean my house/iron my clothes! I have a LIFE!” they’ll smugly say – which obviously implies that those of us who DO own an iron, or who don’t mind tidying up,  must have no life at all, doesn’t it?

Just for the record, then, NO, I do not spend all my time cleaning, and I DO have a life, thanks very much. Yes, I try to keep the house tidy, but it’s not like it’s my hobby: I still manage to do other things too, amazingly enough. There are only two of us living here (for now) after all, and while I’m totally willing to accept that things might be different when we have a baby to look after, for now at least, it really doesn’t take THAT much time to clean up after ourselves – which makes me really resent the implication that I must be badly in need of a hobby just because I have a clean bathroom. Er, most of the time, anyway.

Most of all, it bothers me because I would never try to make someone else feel bad for being messy. I don’t think that being a so-called “neat freak” makes me better than anyone else – but I don’t think it makes me WORSE than anyone else, either, and I’m honestly tired of feeling like I should apologise (Or having people imply that I’m a liar, who has staged photos or something…) for something that’s just a personal preference, and a part of who I am.

Why do people do this, I wonder? Why do they feel this need to insist that THEIR way is the ONLY way, and that anyone who’s not like them must be straight-up crazy, or have no life? I honestly couldn’t care less how tidy or otherwise someone else’s home is – but I increasingly feel like I have to defend my own from people who feel that I’m somehow letting the side down by tidying up, and that’s just a little bit strange, to me. It seems that this is the kind of society we have now, though: one where, unless we’re seen to be struggling, we’re deemed to be somehow abnormal, and not to be trusted – which is a shame, really, isn’t it?

And don’t even get me started on the subject of ironed bedsheets….

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  • last year's girl
    December 13, 2017

    See, I’m the opposite – I feel guilty about how messy my house is. I don’t like to think of myself as a messy person, but even looking at my desk at work right now it’s an absolute state, with papers everywhere.

    It’s something I’d like to fix in the new year, starting with a big clear-out, but with two jobs it always seems to be the bottom priority. And that’s why all my blog photos are taken on windowsills, haha. Teach me your ways!

    When it comes to the main thrust of this though, I’m 100% with you: judging other people is, in every circumstance, complete bollocks.


  • Laura Galloway
    December 13, 2017

    I could totally understand if people genuinely didn’t have time to clean their home. I have periods in life where I’ve gotten up, gone to work, come home and gone to bed. Barely having the energy on my day off to wash my work clothes. But a lot of people who try to justify have a messing home by saying they “have a life” are just lazy and don’t want to admit it.
    Heck, even if they owned up and say they can’t be bothered cleaning would be better than saying they “have a life”.
    I’ve also seen a lot post going around that portray this idea you’re a better mother if you’re house is messy; it just means you care more about spending time with the kids. As if it really takes that long to stick on a load of washing and have a whip round with the hoover once a day.
    The whole topic just makes me fizz.

    • Amber
      December 13, 2017

      I’ve seen this too – all that, “Excuse the mess, we’re busy making memories” stuff always just sounds SO SMUG to me!

  • Shell
    December 13, 2017

    OMG! Amber! This post is giving me Life. I am in no way shape or form OCD. Do I have a few ritualistic tendencies? Umm yes but that’s besides the point. In fact my cleanliness and tidiness always tends to start slipping come mid to end week, naturally so after a busy week I think? However I do like things a certain way and I do pride myself on having a clean tidy home (my husband says it’s one of the reasons he married me, not because I like to clean lol, more so because I take pride in my home and personal appearance) So I was gob smacked and kind of offended to hear my mother in law introduce me to her friends as “this is the one who likes her house a lot and where dust it to afraid to settle” Does everyone not like there homes and hate dust???

    Also had an ex friend tell me I must be a bad cook because my pots and pans are clean and shiny. Yah… I bet you can gather why I said “ex friend”

  • Lucy
    December 13, 2017

    Wow, that’s so odd, I would never have thought that a clean house would be a warning sign! As soon as you said that, I assumed it would be because they’d suspect the parents of hiding something and trying to put on appearances haha. I don’t see why it should be a problem on its own, maybe having a clean house will help some new parents feel on top of things and give them a little boost without it having to be linked to poor mental health. Good luck with the last few weeks and with the flood reparations, what an absolute pain! xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua | Life, Travel, Italy

    • Amber
      December 13, 2017

      maybe having a clean house will help some new parents feel on top of things and give them a little boost without it having to be linked to poor mental health.

      Totally: I find mess quite stressful, so although I’m not expecting to be doing a deep-clean right after surgery, it’ll be a relief to me to be able to get things back in order again at some point! I actually looked into getting a cleaning service in for the first few weeks, because people keep telling me there’s no possible way I’ll be able to do it myself (even with Terry’s help), but it was too expensive 🙁

      • Kim
        December 20, 2017

        Personally I kept up my house as usual when I had babies, and all of mine were c-sections, I might add. If it’s your nature and habit to keep up, things are not going to change that drastically.

  • Elizabeth @ Rosalilium
    December 13, 2017

    This is so weird…why would anyone make comment/judgement over someone having a tidy house. A tidy house is the dream! I find it stressful when I visit people’s houses that are overly messy, or worse, filthy.

    I imagine it says more about the person passing comment than it does about you.

  • Anita
    December 13, 2017

    I wonder if part of the clean-house-judgement is, in fact, down to jealousy because the person in question feels bad that their own house doesn’t look like that and wants to make themselves feel better. While I would never consciously wish to judge someone for having a clean/tidy house, I am totally in awe of people who do: I work 12 hour days and when I do have some time to myself, seeing friends and family or even chilling with a book DEFINITELY takes priority over cleaning (I don’t define this as ‘having a life’, by the way, just about having different life priorities). BUT the point is that I would LOVE to be the kind of person for whom cleaning is a priority; but I am not. So sometimes when I see beautiful house pics, including yours, I try to make myself feel better by thinking ‘but surely they’ve cleaned especially for that photo!’ However, that’s way more about me than about anyone else.

    Sidenote: that top pic looks absolutely perfect to me and I have no idea what the things are that you want to tidy in it!

    • Rachel
      December 18, 2017

      i do the cleaning in little bursts before and after my 13 hours days which means it doesn’t eat into my down time and I still get to spend that time doing fun stuff, seeing people or just relaxing in my tidy house with a book. I don’t prioritise cleaning over anything more interesting it just works its way into my daily routines. For me keeping clean and tidy is definitely easier than getting messy and thrn having to clean.

      • Amber
        December 18, 2017

        Same here – I would much rather do a few minutes of cleaning every day than have to spend hours on it once a week, or whatever, so it doesn’t get prioritised over other things: I also manage to see friends and family and read books, etc! It’s kind of odd to me that people imagine that someone with a tidy(ish) home must not be able to do these things, because we’re spending all of our time cleaning – we’re really not!

  • dubliner in deutschland
    December 13, 2017

    I fall more into the messy category unfortunately. I try really hard to be tidy and I love having a tidy house but am often too busy. It’s not just being busy though, I’m also a bit of a hoarder, both my husband and I have way too much stuff that we don’t really have room for. I’d never make someone feel bad for having a tidy home though!

  • Flagless
    December 13, 2017

    I agree. I like my home clean and tidy, and people usually treat that like something really, really weird. It’s like, wow, things actually have their designated place in your home? How can you live like that? When, in fact, that makes everything so much easier – finding stuff, making certain you know what you have / what you need / what must be replaced… No dust means less coughing (dust allergies, not fun), and no mess means better concentration. The fact that I actually enjoy cleaning seems even weirder (I do concede that liking the smell of bleach is weird, but I like it nonetheless – it just smells clean to me). And don’t even get me started on the normalisation of filthiness – big design sites make it seem like the normal thing is to just throw your clothes on the floor when you change (who does that? who cares so little about either basic hygiene or the fact that those clothes cost money and should be cared for?) or that it’s a given that none of us clean our kitchens and bathrooms regularly (again, the bare minimum of hygiene). I just don’t understand any of it.

  • Chiarina
    December 13, 2017

    I never thought of a clean house soon after the arrival of a baby as a warning sign… I would have thought of it as a sign that maybe there is a little help from friends and family and that is a good thing!
    I am actually neater and keep the house more clean and tidy since having my second baby. Maybe my nesting instinct the second time around turned to house cleaning and didn’t wear off, maybe the flat is small for four people so we NEED the house more tidy or maybe I just found, as you say, that I can’t relax if the house is a mess…

  • Barbara West
    December 13, 2017

    I am not at all good at keeping my home clean and tidy, but I am trying to change that. And I would never consider shaming someone for having a neat, clean, and tidy home.

  • Jade
    December 13, 2017

    This is me. I was raised by a very clean mother, so I’m like this too. My husband thinks it’s crazy, and doesn’t get it. He can leave something knocked over all day. ALL DAY. Anyway, do you really iron the bedsheets? I love this idea. Tell me more. No, really.

    • Amber
      December 13, 2017

      There’s not much to tell, really – I just don’t like the look of creased sheets!

  • Erin
    December 13, 2017

    Your house makes me feel insecure because I am a complete and utter mess. That isn’t an exaggeration. My house would most likely give you anxiety. Either way, while I my comment, “Oh my god your house is so clean” it would simply be because “Oh my god my house is so messy.” I would love to be a neat, organized person, I’m just not. I do *try* to be tidy and organize but it’s just something I fail at time and again. Either way, neither of us is a bad person or better than one another, just different. Your level of clean is just completely alien to me the way my level of mess would be to you 😉

    • Amber
      December 13, 2017

      That makes me feel really sad – as I said, when people say things like that it feels like I’m being told off or judged for doing something that makes me comfortable, because I’m making someone else feel “insecure” 🙁

  • Maria - Dinki Dots
    December 13, 2017

    Mostly I think that people who makes comments like that are just trying to make up for the fact that they wish their house was like that, but they can’t be bothered to tidy and clean it. So, they try to make themselves feel better by saying it’s because you don’t have a life!
    I get a similar thing with my crafting. I used to sometimes post pictures of things I’d made on my personal Facebook page… the thing that really wound me up was comments like “you’ve got too much time on your hands” – argghhh! Said from the person who has just spent how long scrolling mindlessly through Facebook?? Just because we choose to do different things with our time, whether it be making a pointless crafty item, tidying up, whatever it is… other people feel like they have to make out we have more time than them, or less of a life. It’s like if THEY had all the spare time and lack of life that we have, they’d have an immaculate home and produce lovely crafts too. It’s not their fault they’re so busy living a wonderful life that they don’t do these things! They’re just making excuses for themselves.

  • Jennarose
    December 13, 2017

    I am naturally a very tidy person also and since I was a child I have felt better and like my life makes more sense if things are put away. I have had the same experiences of people judging me on how clean things are and I have never understood why it is such a big deal. My extremely messy friends have had the same stigma placed on them but for the opposite reason obviously. It’s like you have to have the perfect “messy” for it to be socially acceptable. My friends and I have had this conversation a couple of times.

  • Myra
    December 13, 2017

    I guess I fit somewhere in the middle of the clean/tidy:messy/dirty debate. The funny thing about it is I don’t mind my stuff cluttering the place, but hate other peopke’s stuff, eg my daughter downsized months ago, but my house and garage is filled with her stuff, even though she has an empty garage of her own, while I haven’t even got a path through mine. Just take it away already!

    I have been in some very filthy houses, in a professional capacity, where you really don’t want to have a cup of tea, or sit on their sofa. And the smells – sometimes they turn your stomach. And they are bringing up children in these middens. I don’t think there is any excuse for filth.

    Your house is exactly that, and if you like it clean and tidy, go for it. You are well organised and already have baby’s things organised. I can’t see that changing because you have nappies to change and feeding times. Anyway, your mother will be there whenever you need her for whatever reason.

  • Maria
    December 13, 2017

    And then there’s me; when I see another person’s house I don’t care one bit if there’s a mess or if it’s tidy (well, if I see a photo with garbage on the floor and insects fling around I notice that ofc). I really don’t understand why some people are so obsessed with other people’s cleaning habits. Who cares if the house is a bit messy or super clean, if it doesn’t directly affect you? The important is that he house is not a health hazard or so clean that the owner makes you wear a hair fishnet and that plastic body-suit-thingy Dexter uses to murder people in order not to dirty their floors, lol. I’ve had people comment on my messy table with ‘Oh wow this must be a sign you’re mentally unstable, a cluttered space means you have a cluttered mind’. Like, excuse me, did you just use your degree in psychological mind-reading to come to that conclusion? And I don’t understand how a clean house would be seen as a sign for mental illness, seriously. Even if there’s a baby, maybe the mother, when she can catch her breath, likes to clean and tidy up, while some other mothers would just do some other stuff to relax/be happy. To each their own.

  • JHP
    December 13, 2017

    One of my friends told me once she thinks those kinds of reactions are more about jealously or guilt that the commenter places on themselves. I vacuum everyday because we have a dog that sheds, and people are bewildered that I take the time to vacuum. Umm…I love my dog, but no, I don’t want dog hair flying around the house…is that SO weird? I also LOVE doing laundry (probably bc I had to use a laundromat for years). I’ll throw in a load in when I have a few minutes and have it folded and put away right after it’s done. Apparently this is also mind-boggling? Though I feel I receive these kinds of comments from the same people who comment on how “fit” I am, or the fact that I’m wearing heels at work, or that I’ve done my hair and makeup…or that I keep my car clean and organized, or that I pack nice lunches, or that I keep a schedule and write lists. I’ve often thought most of these things just make me a nerdy type-A person, but it really ticks some people off. It’s almost as if some people feel that I am “attacking” their life by living mine the way I want. So I sing that “Let it Go” song from Frozen a lot when I need a breather from the critics.

  • b
    December 13, 2017

    I love ironing. Making order out of chaos is very satisfying. I thought everyone ironed their sheets!! xxx

  • poppy
    December 13, 2017

    I vacuum and mop my floors everyday except maybe Saturday some times. I also clean my toilet and sink everyday with a disinfectant wipe. I iron all my sheets and everything else, tea towels etc. I have to apologise for being clean! I can’t stand mess. I think the people who criticise are jealous and lazy.

  • Trudy
    December 14, 2017

    I don’t consider myself a ‘naturally tidy’ person (if there’s such a thing), but because I don’t have kids, my house stays fairly clean and tidy most of the time. Sometimes I will have my nieces around for a day, if I’m feeling adventurous, and it takes approximately 2 seconds for the house to be turned completely upside down – every single toy I own will be pulled out, books strewn across the floor, sticky fingermarks on the windows… I can totally get why some mums give up when they’re living with it full time, although it doesn’t take me that long to whip around after they’re gone to put everything back.

    But I don’t get not tidying up for visitors. OK if someone pops in unannounced, they’re probably not expecting your house to be in top condition, but if someone is invited? I would be offended if I was asked to someone’s hose and they had hardly bothered to clear a sofa off for me.

  • Anya
    December 14, 2017

    Ironed bed sheets are heaven!!! They just feel so much more inviting! I am like you, always neat and tidy. The thing with these “my house is a mess as I have a life” people is they want to justify the way they live. Fine, but own up to it! Don’t hate on the clean people! And my house is tidy because I keep it that way, it takes me a couple of minutes before bed each night to straighten it up. Do things as you go and it takes no time at all, leave it and it would take forever! Good luck with the baby and clean house, whatever happens whether it is a mess or super tidy so long as you guys are happy and comfortable who cares 🙂 xx

  • Anna
    December 14, 2017

    I am not naturally tidy, although I am clean but I try to keep my “public” rooms presentable. I am quite envious of my friends who keep everything spotless, I am too lazy for that and I will freely admit that. As a doting auntie I know that children are all too good at leaving a trail of chaos in their wake, but equally even very small children can learn to tidy their toys away. It isn’t as easy as just saying it, but it can be done!

    As for houses being too clean when the health visitor calls, surely a total midden is also a sign of not coping, especially if it is usually clean and neat?

  • Jackie
    December 14, 2017

    I too find mess and clutter extremely stressful (although I do feel like I’m in a losing battle with my project obsessed husband and a lego obsessed 3 yr old!) so don’t think having a clen tidy home is odd at all. We were always brought up to clean up after ourselves and put things away at the end of the day. I can always hear my mum’s voice in my head ‘clean up as you go’! lol

  • Emerald
    December 14, 2017

    I love a clean and tidy home myself – I like to find things! And I am of a much better mindset when everything in order, the dishes are done, cushions are plumped up, etc. I get it from my mum, although I pale into insignificance beside her. And fortunately I live with a very tidy man.

    The thing I don’t get are those FB memes – plus other people say so as well – about keeping up with your housework means you’re strange and obsessive. In fact, when a house is clean, neat and tidy keeping it that way takes very little effort. So for folks who say “Dust if you must”, isn’t it a nice feeling once you’ve done it?

    Incidentally my mum had a series of lodgers a few years back and one young woman told her in a supposedly cheerful way that she had OCD. Needless to say she was really annoyed that someone had been quite rude towards her in her own home. And the reason she enjoys her home is because she looks after it.

    • Amber
      December 14, 2017

      I really hate it when people say things like that – OCD is a pretty serious mental health issue, and yet people constantly equate it with just having a reasonably tidy house – so rude!

  • Amanda
    December 14, 2017

    I keep a tidy house too and I really don’t feel that it takes any extra time. In fact I think it saves time by allowing life to run efficiently. Things are never lost and my favorite jeans aren’t buried at the bottom of the laundry basket when I need them.
    I’ve noticed the same thing about being fit. Some people will assume that if you get back in shape too quickly after the baby that you must be selfish and not devoting enough time to your family. Ultimately we all have time for what’s important to us, right?
    Your house and your style are wonderful inspiration for your viewers and as well as being a creative expression for you and creating the right energy for your life.
    I know a lot of people have said life won’t be the same after baby and It won’t but you will still be you. The woman who is freaking out over every little thing is the same woman who had a nervous breakdown when one of her bridesmaids accidentally bought the wrong shoes. We are who we are.
    Thank you for sharing with us. I’m a new reader but truly enjoying your blog. 🙂

  • D. Johnson
    December 14, 2017

    I’m not sure if I’m spelling it correctly, but look up “Schadenfreude.” It is the joy some people get when others fail. Do you HAVE to have a health visitor? Is it mandatory?

    • Rachel
      December 18, 2017

      Nope, you can decline a visit. But if you do it’s a red flag that you have something to hide (insert eye roll)

  • Sarah Rooftops
    December 14, 2017

    What *I* heard was that health visitors worry if you don’t have a bunch of toys within reach once your baby’s a few months old – we just bought nice storage for them. Tiny babies don’t need much stuff and there’s two of you at home to keep the place clean and tidy – nobody’s going to worry if your house isn’t a tip.

    (That said, I find myself anxiously explaining to people that Matilda LIKES having all of her toys in her room, rather than strewn around the living room, so nobody thinks I’m shutting her and her clutter away)

  • anna burkley
    December 15, 2017

    There’s no shame in keeping the house clean! It clears your mind to do other things right!

  • Holly
    December 15, 2017

    Invite your health visitor over now. Then they can see the ‘before’ baby to measure the ‘after’.

    • Amber
      December 16, 2017

      Ha, if they came round now they’d find us living on a building site – we’d probably not be allowed to bring him home from hospital ?

  • Rachel
    December 18, 2017

    I’m pretty tidy and what really gets to be is the whole ‘I have more interesting things to do that have a clean house/ only boring people are tidy’ type posts/ quotes. I have plenty of fufulling, interesting and stimulating things going on in my life and still keep my house tidy thank you very much. In fact I find it easier to find time to do nice stuff cos I’m not always looking for things I need in the mess, stressing about how untidy my house is or having to do washing up when I’ve run out of clean plates.

    Rant over