Why being messy is good for you

Oxford Dictionaries’ phrase of the year for 2022 – as overwhelmingly voted for by the public – was “‘goblin mode’: a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.” If we all got obsessed with making our homes cosy and beautiful during the pandemic, it feels like last year was the year we gave up: embracing the mess and the chaos that comes with normal life. To understand why we might be newly embracing mess, it’s useful to remember just how strong a grip the anti-clutter movement has had in recent years. There are scores of TV shows beyond Kondo’s, from the BBC series Stacey Solomon’s Sort Your Life Out to Netflix’s Get Organized with The Home Edit. And the fact that this obsession with tidying, order, calm and cleanliness has happened at the same time as visual social media apps have become dominant is surely no coincidence. Instagram, YouTube, and more recently TikTok – the video-sharing app that has spawned a thousand trends – have a lot to answer for.

TikTok has proved a perfect vehicle for sharing tidy, artfully styled, impossibly minimalist homes – and yes, of course, there’s a hashtag for that. Posts tagged #aesthetic have had more than 202 billion views, and even if you’re not on the app, you’ll probably recognise the look: beautifully arranged lifestyle shots of calm, soothing, white-and-beige homes full of clever storage solutions and hyper-neat drawers, with just a few scented candles, chic coffee tables, and suspiciously healthy pot plants to lend a (very generic) splash of personality. Think Kim Kardashian’s desaturated interiors, or a White Company catalogue, depending on your generational touchstones.

It is the interior design look favoured by another handy online type: That Girl. You know the one: the girl who gets up and journals, drinks a green juice, does sunrise yoga in co-ordinated pastel exercise gear, then sips a matcha latte with their breakfast bowl. They like clean eating and clean beauty and a clean house, and putting it all online. They are the flawless opposite to goblin mode. But the backlash to all this has now seriously got going – something that should come as no surprise given such lifestyle goals are hilariously unattainable for most people, and given how expensive, time-consuming and, well, boring they are. And not everyone finds tidying therapeutic – for some, decluttering is actually painful.

The biggest new app of last year was BeReal, which prompted users to take candid snaps wherever they were and whatever they were doing, at an unpredictable moment each day – designed to be the authentic antithesis of the highly staged content we’ve all got used to seeing.

Embracing the chaos

And while TikTok may be relentlessly fast-moving and not to be taken too seriously, it is still a handy bellwether for such vibe shifts. Organised mess has been on the rise for a while, with the arrival of the term “cluttercore”: the art of having masses of stuff in your home – often vintage trinkets, collectibles, or retro finds – and embracing colour and noise. Think messy maximalism: chaos, but lovingly displayed chaos.  

Another current, supposedly mess-embracing micro-trend on TikTok is girls showing off their untidy bedside tables: but while these might look cluttered, it’s hard not to suspect they’re actually extremely curated, a collection of desirable skincare products, delicate jewellery, stacks of covetable books, more candles – not a grubby mug or snotty tissue in sight…  

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