Do The Most Successful Women Tend To Have The Messiest Homes?

Research suggests the houseproud woman is becoming A THING OF THE PASTAre we gradually becoming slobs, asks PENNY MC CORMICK – and are fastidious men taking over the chores?

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Two empty bottles of Absolut vodka and one of Stolichnaya among discarded Marlboros, aspirins, condoms, tampons and plasters. Not forgetting the dirty knickers and soiled bedlinen. No, not a description of a landfill site but one of the most polarising pieces of modern art; Tracey Emin’s seminal work, My Bed (1998). Last year the installation sold at auction for £2.2million (to art collector Jay Jopling). Apparently it’s a reflection on heartbreak as well as being a self-portrait; Emin explains that she stayed in bed for four days following a painful breakup. While she turned her self-indulgent “duvet days” into a highly controversial artwork (and some would say a career), in the wider social context, Emin perhaps unwittingly defined a growing phenomenon. That of the untidy woman.

Bang up to date is the photographic record of Canadian Maya Fuhr whose series, “Garbage Girls”, shows the bedrooms of some twentysomethings that can only be described as health hazards. Fuhr’s work is ultimately a visual diary that holds a mirror up to modern femininity. It’s neither pretty nor particularly artistic. Yet is resonates with the “undone” vibe which is sweeping fashion at the moment. For the record, “undone” is now an adjective to describe everything from hairstyles to flowers, as well as make up, weddings and cakes, whilst the ongoing “sport luxe” trend is just another excuse to dress down not up. Which begs the question; are we in the process of unravelling completely?

Emin’s and Fuhr’s work seem to affirm this notion. I’m frankly appalled. Far from being a paragon of order, I want to know what happened to Little Miss Tidy when she grew up? Clearly we are a nation of women who no longer yearn to be Domestic Goddesses. Indeed it would appear that messy is the new black. And many A-listers don’t mind confessing to a less than glossy lifestyle behind closed doors. Shortly before her recent highly-acclaimed AW15 show, Victoria Beckham told The New York Times “I’m naturally a very messy person. David is constantly complaining at home because I’m really, really messy.” She also let slip she rarely ever wears heels to her Battersea, south London office, focusing instead on “comfort” over style. Likewise the epitome of red carpet chic, designer Georgina Chapman (of Marchesa) has said, “I’m actually an incredibly disorganised, messy person.” Even the saccharine Girl Next Door Katie Holmes has admitted, “I’m definitely a messy person. I know where everything is but I just can’t organise. I find scripts on the laundry machines and under my bed or in the bathroom. It’s bad. I need to take control.”

While many women can tick the job, the wardrobe, the photogenic husband and family boxes, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find piles of clothing left on the back of chairs or “floordrobes” (not wardrobes) with assorted shoes and bags at the door.

While no doubt, Beckham, Chapman and Holmes have teams to tidy up their assorted detritus, the declarations do point to cracks in the “having it all” lifestyle. While many women can tick the job, the wardrobe, the photogenic husband and family boxes, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find piles of clothing left on the back of chairs or “floordrobes” (not wardrobes) with assorted shoes and bags at the door. We’re all guilty of this sort of mess and I’m in favour of a healthy amount of disorder – what points to a life well lived after all? Houses with bare, pristine surfaces and rooms designed into submission leave me cold. My décor style favours colour, some clutter and a nice candle, but I generally like things clean. Hollywood’s golden couple, the Jolie-Pitts, apparently live in a wasteland of pizza delivery boxes and spoiled food. According to one disgruntled housekeeper, “They live like a couple of hobos, with pizza boxes around them, food left out to spoil, and toothpaste and crayon marks on the walls,” she told Star magazine. “It’s actually pretty disgusting.”

There is a vast distinction between being messy and being dirty. Messy implies things are not put away where they should, dirty implies a lack of showering. Sadly our personal hygiene habits have recently been found wanting too. The idea that “cleanliness is next to godliness” has clearly jumped the shark in recent years. In a survey of 2,021 women aged 18 to 50 for skincare range Flint + Flint, it was found that only 21 per cent of females take the time to shower or have a bath every day, with 33 per cent admitting to leaving it as long as three days between washes. That puts another spin on the idea of a “hot mess” and has had me wondering about colleagues ever since the survey results were unveiled in February. Sixty-three per cent admit to not removing make-up before going to sleep after a night out, with 35 per cent of those citing time as the reason. This so-called “Caveman Regime” is gaining a lot of traction – Salma Hayek, Alexa Chung and Lady Gaga all confess to sleeping in their make-up and forgoing the cleanse, tone and moisturise routine we have come to view as the holy trinity of skincare. But ditching the bath in favour of wet wipes or an old-fashioned flannel wash is something I regard as synonymous with camping not coping. Meanwhile another hair-raising survey shows that many in the 25-35 age group don’t change their bed linen for up to six months. Ye gods! Yes, I get that cost, time and electricity is a factor in all of these surveys, but what happened to personal pride? Kim Kardashian has admitted she doesn’t wash her hair for up to five days at a time which is enough to give me nits just thinking about it.

O’Brien cites the shift in traditional roles as a reflection of the economic climate and women’s greater earning potential. The result is that the male “couch potato” is a myth. In fact, men are now more house-proud than women.

Conversely, it would appear that while women are getting more relaxed about cleaning in general (whether it’s the house or themselves), men are stepping up to the plate and into our traditional roles. That was focus of a recent editorial in The Times (“Are Men the New Women?”) and a paper; “From Breadwinner to Breadmaker” by Eoin O’Brien, who wrote his dissertation for an MA in Child, Family and Community Studies at Dublin’s Institute of Technology in 2012. O’Brien cites the shift in traditional roles as a reflection of the economic climate and women’s greater earning potential. The result is that the male “couch potato” is a myth. In fact, men are now more house-proud than women. According to a survey by Molly Maid, the domestic cleaning company, “Men admit to being more embarrassed about the state of their homes than women. Almost half (48 per cent of the men surveyed) will clean up before their cleaner arrives, compared to just 37 per cent of women. Over a third of men will also apologise to their cleaners about the remaining mess.”

Being tidy is a gender, class and cultural issue. The Japanese, for instance, don’t see tidiness as a virtue, more a philosophy of living. Hence Marie Kondo’s best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her trademark KonMarie method to tidying is by “conversing” with your stuff and keeping only that which “brings joy”. Kondomania (as demonstrated by Konverts) has resulted in Japan and in the US. Her main rule is “if it can be folded, it should be folded”. This is a far cry from the bohemian mindset of many Europeans, especially the upper echelons of society. For it’s a truth universally acknowledged that posh girls make frightful hostesses and their houses are often on the wrong side of shabby chic. 

Not so with uptown guys. When I stayed with a male friend at his bijou mews house one weekend, I felt I had checked into a hip boutique hotel. But by the end of the weekend, I felt exhausted covering my tracks. I wiped down the bathroom after use like a forensic team would sweep a crime scene. Meanwhile the plates we put into the dishwasher were practically sparkling before the eco cycle kicked in. His cutlery drawer looked like a surgeon’s trolley – all stainless steel, gleaming in perfect order – not a crumb in sight. As for his toiletries and skincare routine, they were a mix of Clinique, Tom Ford, Kiehl’s and Creed scents. I was jealous and no, he is decidedly hetero.

Victoria [Beckham] told The Independent, “If you open our fridge, it’s all coordinated down either side. In the drinks one, everything is symmetrical. If there are three cans, he’ll throw one away because it has to be an even number.

We can’t blame our hormones, Mercury retrograde or the boho trend for being slobby, but it does seem as if a generation of slovenly women has produced a highly refined homo sapiens to counteract our omnishambles. David Beckham is its poster boy par excellence. He seems quite content to play the house husband these days though openly struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. Victoria told The Independent, “If you open our fridge, it’s all coordinated down either side. In the drinks one, everything is symmetrical. If there are three cans, he’ll throw one away because it has to be an even number.” I can see that this would be difficult to maintain or indeed live with on a daily basis – verging on Sleeping with the Enemy territory (remember the psychological thriller starring Julia Roberts) but perhaps David’s obsession is also class related. Gary Kemp (formerly of Spandau Ballet) is notoriously house-proud too and has gone on record to say that keeping a house tidy is a working class attribute.

While German researchers have shown that a certain amount of messiness has been proven to lead to creativity and out-of-the-box thinking – they cite the desks of assorted geniuses such as Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs as proof – they also believe that when confronted with mess, it forces us to simplify the thought processes. I’m not convinced. In my opinion, being messy is the antithesis of the uptight, matchy-matchy 1980s, the minimalism design ethos and a revolt against the excessive grooming of the last few decades. More leeway in all is to be applauded, but have we gone too far the other way?

“I like messy. What fun is tidy?” says Dasha Zhukova, the Russian businesswoman who is married to Roman Abramovitch, who can afford to be carefree in her approach to homes and wardrobes. And while “messy hair, don’t care” is a Parisian attitude we all want to emulate from time to time, it’s not a realistic ongoing modus operandi. Sheryl Sandberg (in Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead) argues, “When women work outside the home and share breadwinning duties, couples are more likely to stay together. In fact, the risk of divorce reduces by about half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.” Perhaps it’s time to don the Marigolds (red Alaïa ones please – as per Lady Gaga) and spruce things up. We could be saving more than we thought, with a little elbow grease. 

Image by Getty Images

Penny McCormick

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our September issue, out Saturday September 3.

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