6 People Told Us What They Notice About Your Messy Home

published Feb 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Raymond Forbes LLC/Stocksy)

I hosted a small party for my daughter’s birthday last weekend. After making sure the cake was baked and the decorations were hung on the wall, I felt pressed to deep clean. Not just pick up stuff, but dust baseboards and thoroughly mop the floors and shine the stainless appliances and wipe down every bathroom afresh. I didn’t want the parents dropping off their kids to think I was a slob.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I didn’t have time. And guess what. Everyone greeted me with hugs and thank yous and words of affirmation like “she’s in good hands” about their little ones — without a single wary eye at dust on a baseboard or smudges on the fridge.

The lesson here is that the people who you invite into your home will likely never turn as critical an eye towards your home’s state of cleanliness as you will — but that doesn’t mean they won’t notice.

If you, personally, want to make your home feel spotless for guests, we thought it would be wise to poll some of our favorite cleaning, organizing, and design experts on what messy spots they might pick up on in others’ homes.

Here are their responses:

(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

Piles of Paper

The answers we got from our experts varied, but two of the people I asked mentioned that out-of-control paper piles were something they’d pick up on in a friend’s home.

“My eyes are drawn to piles or stacks of paper,” says Christine Platt, minimalist and author of the “Ana & Andrew” series and “The Truth About Awiti” (who also shared her inspiring Afro Minimalist Washington, DC apartment with us). “Loose paper, notebooks, letters and envelopes. It doesn’t matter — that’s what I notice first. And I have no idea why! Regardless, I try not to judge. We’ve all been there.”

Kristen Ziegler, founder and owner of decluttering and organizing company Minima (and another of our house tour stars), agreed, adding that paper piles are a problem area for most of her clients, too. “It’s at the entryway, in the kitchen, on the dining room table, on a desk,” she says. “The resolution is to select one space to manage your paperwork and stick to it.”

Dirty Hand Towels

Professional organizer Claire DeBoer of Home Decluttered (who shared her impeccably neat home with us) stressed that while she does sometimes notice clutter and dirt (“…that’s what I do for a living”), she doesn’t ever judge.

What she does think makes a difference in making your guests feel welcome is putting out some fresh linens in the bathroom. “The thing that I notice in other people’s homes is dirty hand towels or even absent hand towels. Certainly no one relishes wiping their clean hands on your bath towel,” DeBoer says. “Fresh hand towels and a quick wipe down of bathroom surfaces — or a candle if you’re too rushed — has an outsize impact and only takes a minute.”

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

A Sink Full of Dishes

Emily Ley, creator of the Simplified Planner and author of Grace Not Perfection and A Simplified Life (who also shared her home with us), gets straight to the point: Her clean-home vice is dishes in the sink. “I think taking the time to put things in the dishwasher or away after your use them really helps your kitchen always feel neat, tidy, and clean,” Ley says. “There’s nothing like walking into someone’s kitchen and having to wash your hands over the cereal they ate that morning.”

The Mood, More Than Anything

Julia Marcum of Chris Loves Julia offers a unique perspective: she doesn’t notice objects that are out of place, but she’s sensitive to the mood of a home. “I always notice when the lighting is harsh or there are no lamps,” she told us. “It’s not a mess thing, but the right mood lighting can actually make even an imperfect house feel more homey.”

Nothing! Really!

Always uplifting, Sherry Petersik of Young House Love, had this to say: “I swear I don’t notice anything! People always think I’ll be silently judging or something but I’m laughing and talking to them and eating and watching our kids do cute things so I’m not even tracking that stuff.”

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

The Big Lesson

It’s impossible to please everyone, and whether we should even be trying to is another topic in an of itself. But here’s the thing: Rather than trying to clean top to bottom so that our guests aren’t bothered by the dirty “thing” they tend to notice, clean according to your own priorities. Cleaning before guests arrive so that you feel good (and letting go when you have to) empowers you to open the door with a confident smile that will make them feel welcome them more than a pristine house ever could.

Most of all, remember that most people are gracious and strive not to be judgmental. Do what you can. Set out a clean towel, switch on some lamps, and if you can do something about those pesky paper piles, you probably should.

What do you notice about other people’s homes?