You have seen the videos: the celebrities trotting through their squillion-dollar manors on camera, beckoning towards the signifiers of their (and their underpaid assistants’) impeccable, lavish taste. If you scrunch your eyes enough, you can picture yourself living there too: among Troye Sivan’s stupidly chic tchotchkes; in Dakota Johnson’s entirely green kitchen; alongside Kylie Jenner’s inexplicable, outsize James Turrell sculpture.
Because I am a writer, my only hope is to marry rich. But that has not stopped me from trying – to the distress of many housemates – to style my hovel like these palatial showrooms, on the off-chance that I become suddenly famous and Architectural Digest decides to email me. I spend my days endlessly fussing and rearranging homewares. I like to think of myself as a Marketplace maven, except for the times I wimp out of a tough negotiation and end up getting scammed by a side table seller (actually this is every time). I tell any and all houseguests that turning on overhead lighting is like killing my firstborn. Well, no, that one is a lie. Overhead lighting would be worse.
Call it mass delusion, but I am far from alone. House porn, while hardly a new phenomenon, has made victims of us all over the last three years, sucking us into its fastidiously styled vortex as we languished at home; just look at the deluge of Instagram accounts hawking midcentury goods and bubbly glassware. Buying trend pieces like checkerboard rugs, tiled tables and mushroom lamps makes us feel celebrity-adjacent – like we, too, have a design agency on speed dial and more than $5 to our name. (I am embarrassed to say I own two-thirds of these items.)
Yes, overconsumption is bad. Yes, screw fast furniture, algorithmic tastes, egregious displays of wealth, etc etc. But no amount of protest can dim the tiny, monkey part of my brain that lights up when I place a candle into an absurdly shaped holder at just the right angle. If I hadn’t ghosted my therapist she would probably tell me that this is the result of my upbringing with two parents whose primary hobby was mopping, but then again therapists love to tell you everything is about your upbringing.
Sign up for the fun stuff with our rundown of must-reads, pop culture and tips for the weekend, every Saturday morning
But another form of therapy is spreading on TikTok as an antidote to this trend. It’s a call to arms for the “non-aesthetic home” – a hashtag with close to nine million views and counting. Users share videos of broken cabinetry, toys strewn across the floor, sauce stains on walls and doors. You get the point – which is that, like everything on social media, real life doesn’t (and needn’t) resemble the interiors we see online. “Reminder,” one popular video goes. “It’s okay to have a non-aesthetic, visibly lived-in home.” When I encounter this video in my feed, I groan like a petulant child.
Also like a petulant child, I eventually acquiesce: would forcing myself to live in a “non-aesthetic home” make my life … better?
I set some ground rules for my new, supposedly unencumbered existence: no cleaning up crumbs, no dish-washing, no furniture fussing, no tidying up of any kind unless absolutely necessary – so basically what it feels like to be a straight man.
Within 10 minutes, there are flecks of toast on the dining table and I can feel myself heading into withdrawal. A vein is throbbing in my temple. My hand clenches; the involuntary urge to reach for a dish cloth surges through me. Maybe, I say to my housemate – who has graciously allowed me to sully our home for 48 hours – just maybe, I will come out of this a more relaxed person. She immediately laughs.
By the end of the day, I am longing for death: sweet release from this nightmare specifically designed to inflict pain on me. There are glasses stacked on the counter, a tea towel crumpled somewhere, a coffee brewer left abandoned in the sink, a rice cooker open like a gaping maw on the bench.
I accidentally knock a chair an inch to the left and am not allowed to reset it. “Arggghhhhhhhh!” I scream into the void and an extremely untidy void screams back.
My partner comes over and does not notice the whirlwind that has beset the space, because – fine – objectively the space does not look so different, only slightly more ruffled. But I am not objective. I am obdurate and neurotic, and all I can see is clutter (which probably means I shouldn’t have ghosted my therapist). “What if Architectural Digest walks in RIGHT NOW??” I moan. My pleas go unheard.
We are more than halfway through the experiment. The house is now well and truly “non-aesthetic”, unless that aesthetic is “food fight”. I now understand why my parents loved mopping so much.
With hours to go, I leave the house for temporary reprieve – so blissfully unaware of what’s to come. I am prone to exaggeration, but I promise this next part is the unadorned truth: I return home to find the dryer completely unhooked from the wall after a particularly vigorous cycle, hanging precariously from a single hinge, all of its contents emptied onto the floor still sopping.
This, I decide, is enough to make anyone religious: a surefire sign from above to punish me for my feeble attempts to live carelessly. I buckle in the face of this mighty mountain of mess. Then I start cleaning again.