8 Things That Make Your Home Look Way Messier than It Is (and How to Fix Them!)

published Jun 18, 2024
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kitchen with open shelving, white tile wall, and blue cabinets/drawers
Credit: Tony Anderson/Getty Images

I strive to keep my expectations for my own home within the “good enough” range. If I don’t, I’ll either be perpetually cleaning or continuously disappointed in the state of my living space. I’ve made some progress over the years by picking up strategies that give me a place that feels good most of the time (and getting it that way fast) and realizing how it feels to have a picture-perfect home (spoiler: Not as good as you’d think!).

But I still want something to show for my efforts, tamed down as they may be. That’s why my favorite cleaning tasks have results you can see, like vacuuming the carpet, fluffing the pillows, and cleaning glass. What I try to avoid are those subtle details that make a home feel messy — even if you’ve just cleaned up. It’s a sensation you can’t quite put your finger on that undermines an overall impression of a spotless space. 

Knowing the things that make your home look messier than it actually is — and addressing them — will make your home look neater than ever. To get some extra advice on what to look for, I spoke to organizing expert and TikTok personality Leah Mari (@leahmariorganization). Below are our ideas.

Cluttered counters.

“Small things can make your home look messier than it is,” says Mari. “Cluttered countertops are one of them.” Storing as many kitchen items off the counters — like cooking utensils in drawers or small appliances in cabinets — as possible can make the entire room feel far less cluttered, and it’s one of my favorite ways to make a kitchen feel more serene. The same goes for bathroom countertops. Stash personal care items in drawers and cabinets to make this space look less messy. 

Wrinkled curtains and bedding.

Dealing with wrinkled curtains and bedding can feel far too fastidious, but the effort isn’t as arduous as you might think — and the payoff is big. Wrinkled curtains can be smoothed out easily with a steamer. You don’t even have to take them down! Another option is to hang them when they are still slightly damp the next time you wash them. Wrinkled bedding is another one of those things that no one necessarily notices; however, crisp sheets lend such a put-together appearance to any bedroom. Again, you can put the sheets on the bed when they are still just the tiniest bit damp, smooth them with your hands, and get less wrinkled sheets that way. Or, if you want to eliminate wrinkles without washing your bedding, you can lightly mist sheets, comforters, or duvet covers with water and smooth them out. 

Pillows that aren’t placed.

Pillows on couches and chairs should be used, for sure! But if you’re straightening up, remember to place your pillows back where they belong. This makes the entire room look more put-together, even if you do nothing else.

Crooked towels, rugs, and lampshades. 

Crooked towels can make a whole room feel rumpled. By straightening them up (with the tags hidden), it can make the room feel like it’s in tip-top shape. Similarly, crooked lampshades can make a space feel askew, so fixing them can uplift it. And a crooked rug can make your home feel off, even if you can’t quite figure out why; once you straighten it, though, you’ll see just how much better the room looks.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Misaligned labels.

Even when your possessions are organized, small tweaks can take what Mari calls “the appearance of your organization” to another level. For instance, labels in a pantry facing you and items neatly lined up look far tidier than having some cans upside down, facing the wrong way, or placed haphazardly on the shelf. 

Clear containers.

Disguising visual clutter by using opaque containers rather than clear ones also gives a tidier look. “Do you have an art area with colored pencils in a clear jar that would look more contained in an opaque jar?” asks Mari. The same concept applies to storage bins in the garage, attic, or the top shelves of closets. Make sure to label the contents of these containers, though!

Storing items in the open.

If you can store items behind closed doors rather than out in the open, concealing your things always makes your space look tidier. For instance, rather than using a shoe rack in your entryway that shows all your shoes, consider a shoe storage cabinet. Similarly, opt for hanging your coats in a closet rather than on a visible shoe tree. 

Too much decor.

Mari also points to “too much decor” as something that makes your home feel messier than it is. When something doesn’t feel quite right in a room, it can be tempting to add more things, whether it’s a piece of furniture, pictures on the wall, or decor knickknacks. One way to figure out if you have too much is to “quiet the room,” which involves taking everything out of a room and slowly (and intentionally) putting back only what the space needs and you love. Get rid of everything else. The process seems drastic, but so are the results.