Simple Living Myth: Real Life is Real Simple

photo by Laure Wayaffe

It’s fun to read magazines that give us tips and ideas, but don’t lose sight of the fact that these magazines are for entertainment, not for new standards of living.

In the pages of a home and garden magazine:

– Closets look more organized because the clothes are all matching neutral colors with plenty of space between the hangers.

– Storage containers are always pretty, and usually expensive.

– There are no tell-tale signs of little kids actually playing.

– The photos are executed by a professional photographer with a crew of assistants, stylists, and editors.

– The stylish furniture and products were borrowed for the shoot, and then later returned to the retailer.

– If the photos are taken in someone’s home, a team of professionals stepped in to rearrange furniture and temporarily take out the clutter.

If it was real, they would never tell you that if you own the right things, you’ll be happier. New boots are not a cure-all, they’re just boots. If it was real, there would be dishes in the sink from dinner, laundry from the baby, and a trail of toys from whatever game was made up today. Don’t think of those things as imperfections, be thankful for all the signs of life within your home.

This morning when I clean up the kitchen, I’ll appreciate all the good food we ate this weekend. What are you thankful for today at your house?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. beautiful, wonderful, fabulous. love this.

    i am thankful that the mound of laundry i have to wash, dry, fold, put away is a sign my family has all it needs and gratefully, many things we simply just want.

    Emily@remodelingthislife´s last post…Link Love

  2. A place of quiet rest. Girls and I had a girly movie afternoon yesterday complete with pillows, blankets and popcorn.

    Nancy´s last post…a little goes a long way

  3. My sister’s cottage-y home has been featured in national and regional shelter magazines, and it really does look like that all the time (except that maybe she doesn’t have a cheese plate and glass of wine sitting on the counter, etc.). But she has the designer gene. I just try to take some ideas and inspiration from magazines.

  4. Southern Gal says:

    My mother-in-law paid me the biggest compliment early in my journey of motherhood. I was always rushing to pick up things if they dropped by. One day she told me it made her happy to come into our home and see all the toys everywhere and book lying around. It said to her that the children were happy being children. Her other daughter-in-law is OCD and her children were never allowed to play anything inside or out that would make a mess. That made me relax and enjoy my children’s childhood days without all the worry of keeping it clean. (I admit paper clutter is about to get the best of me right now…_

    So even when I look around and see all the clutter I am happy because I realize my children are brought up in an environment that was fun and loving.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly! (I also need to remind myself that the models in the magazines are usually photoshopped and airbrushed!)
    My house is “lived in” and I prefer it that way. It’s neat and clean at least once a day and I won’t ask for more than that.

  6. If we hold ourselves to that standard of perfection then we’re held hostage by it; We can never entertain unless we make everything from scratch, never have friends over unless our home is spotless, etc. I’m getting better at having impromptu gatherings and asking people to bring a side dish or dessert.

    The bottom line is that it’s people that matter most, not magazine-perfect belongings. This quote by Suzi Orman sums it up for me; “People first, then money, then things.” Sure, it would be great if my home looked like a magazine shoot every day, but it just isn’t at the top of my list. I’m ok with decluttering and being content with life as it is right now :-)

  7. I couldn’t agree more! I am a pretty organized person, but I grew up in a home where perfection was the goal and it was not fun for a kid. I couldn’t just be a kid sometimes, it was more important to have everything put exactly where it needs to be. We let our kids have fun and get their toys and colors out, and have fun. We let them make project outside, etc. We let them help cook and make a mess sometimes. But we also teach them to clean it up afterwards. I think the balance is important. Enjoying our kids while they are little and learning is way more important than a perfectly neat home!

  8. Thank you for a wonderful post ! This is exactly what I believe in. A home should be clean and organized, but in the end it is a home, not a museum. I often refer to our apartment as a working home – meaning – people read, work, cook, eat and sleep here so it will never look like a magazine spread, but it can still be functional, beautiful and comfy.

    I am grateful today for the time I spent last night with my husband. I did a lot of cleaning and decluttering most of the day and could have done more, but spending time together will never come second to cleaning.

    Maja´s last post…Pear crumble / crisp

  9. This has been on my mind so much lately, especially in light of this post at A Commonplace life, so much so that I posted about it myself after reading this.

    I especially like the idea of thinking of the accoutrements of life as a reminder of the joy that creates them. Thanks for the post.

    Jessica´s last post…in the wee hours…

  10. The laundry and dishes that need doing because I spent time reading, knitting, resting, and “visiting” with my toddler because he loves that word.

    Shannon´s last post…Menu Plan & a call for your breakfast ideas

  11. I’m still struggling with this concept as well. It’s so easy to get caught up in the beauty of the overall picture, that you forget the details of how they really came to be. I appreciate the post…

    Clarissa´s last post…Simply Living

  12. I do love those magazine pictures. They are so organized and tranquil. But, I wouldn’t want to live there. Those pictures are missing life! Makes me want to take a bunch of pictures of my house right now and post them to show what real organized living looks like. There are two laundry baskets full of clean clothes upstairs, homeschool books and coloring books are all over the living room and the play kitchen in the toyroom exploded. The kids are happy and I have a place for everything when we get finished with it all. We can be organized when we need to be, but keeping it at magazine standards 24/7 just takes too much time and energy!

    Marci@OvercomingBusy´s last post…Menu Plan Monday – October 26, 2009

  13. thank you for this post.

    today i am thankful that my home is a place that my husband says he can’t wait to come back too…that it’s a place where my children are comfortable and loved.

  14. Yes! We are all in desperate need of this reminder. :) It’s another reason I stay out of model homes now. I used to go with my friend to look at them for ideas, etc., but I would just end up feeling depressed when I came home to my not-so-model house.

    Thank you for the post!

  15. I was thankfull for the insomnia I had Friday night. I did laundry, folded it and cleaned the floor. I also emptied the dishwasher and tidied the kitchen. I though, what a great thing to do when you can’t sleep, better than tossing and turning. So I made a list of things to do just in case, and I slept like a baby. Both are great. I either get a great night sleep to deal with things when I am awake or I get things done when I don’t sleep so that when I am tired and cranky, they are already done.

  16. Our family has always lived like this. I believe that children are more important than housework. One of my children’s friends came to our house to play and asked me why my house was messy. (Their house looks like a magazine all the time). I looked at her in the eyes and said because I like to play with my kids and I can always do the dishes later. Our rule is toys and clutter can stay around until bedtime, sticky messes and crumbs must be wiped up right away. Your home can be cluttered with toys and still be “clean”.

  17. such a good reminder.. just what I needed today when the house is a mess because of all the fun we have been having!

    Lisa@WhatFeedsMySoul´s last post…seven days of small wonders :: one

  18. I’m grateful that we had lots of time to spend together as a family this weekend! We did get work done, but that wasn’t the focus of our time.

    Yesterday I spent almost two hours raking leaves outside. Looking out our window today, there are already many leaves on the ground. I could get disheartened by that, but I’d rather just appreciate the time I had outdoors and the great workout that I got!

    Greta @ Mom Living Healthy´s last post…Menu Plan Monday

  19. I’m grateful for a mom who taught me that order is good, but a little bit of a mess is just fine. I don’t have much guilt over the dishes in the sink when I know I’ve spent a good amount of time playing with my kids.

    Danielle´s last post…Monday Mess

  20. Thank you for this post. It is so often we are caught up in the perfection of being a home-maker that we lose sight of what is most important. Today I am thankful for the lunch date I had with my toddler. We shared a box of Mac-n-Cheese and he was so happy to sit by me and “chat”!

    Catherine B´s last post…Stress and strength

  21. My kitchen and living room is a disaster this morning because we stayed up too late last night carving pumpkins, which caused last minute homework scrambling, which included the construction of a Neolithic tool in the garage at 10 pm. I love that my kids will have memories of doing this every October. Hopefully they will forget what the house looked like for days afterward!

  22. Terrific post. Hospitality is more important that perfection. If I don’t let people into my house because it is not up to my standards of cleanliness, how will they know that I care about them? And if I don’t show hospitality, how does that reflect on my faith?

    But I still struggle with it. It’s hard to break old habits!

    Juice´s last post…Sometimes I Regret Being Single

  23. I am thankful for the sun! It has been so beautiful out that I’ve left 5 loads of laundry unfolded and meals worth of dishes uncleaned for days so that we can just enjoy the leaves and sticks and just being outside.

    These days will pass and I never want to look back and think I missed out on a chance to truly enjoy my children because I was doing dishes.

    Andrea @ The Train To Crazy´s last post…Enjoying the last drop of Fall

  24. Well,we just moved to a much smaller house in another state & I am loving how we are now closer to our 3 daughters,ages 14,13, & 10. We also have a huge backyard with a clothesline that I have our bedsheets & towels on right this minute & love it… we can’t wait till summer comes to start a big garden. After having a big house & this one, I really have realized that the bigger house didn’t make us happy like I thought…it actually made us more unhappy…more to clean,huge property taxes every year,more heat needed to keep it warm,etc. So I am thankful for a small house so I have more time with my family. :)

    Renee Alam´s last post…I’m Moving to Virginia!!!!

  25. thanks for the reminder!thankful for all the sign of life in my home!

    Caroline Perez´s last post…Hidden Wonders

  26. Elizabeth B says:

    Thanks for a great post. Some people call those home magazines “shelter porn” because they’re about as real as the usual kind of porn! ;) I feel a little better now about the huge mess that is my apartment, hee.

  27. I have been thinking about the same thing lately and I guess it’s because of Cookie Magazine closing down. It was a lovely and smart magazine, but it didn’t apologize for being aspirational.

    I don’t know about you, but I get the same sense of anxiety from some of these perfect home magazines, like I get from Vogue. The perfect homes are just like perfect models.

    We need more reminders like yours to get us through ENJOYING these shelter magazines, without impact to our self-esteem.

    Thank you.

  28. I am thankful for the cheerios all over my floor. My little man is starting solids! (eek!)

    Stefanie´s last post…Weekend Recap

  29. I’m grateful that my bed is unmade because there is currently a cuddly little baby sleeping in it, that there is still a blanket splayed in my front yard from a picnic this morning, and that this little house of ours looks and feels very lived in.

    Adele´s last post…Starting Plants from Cuttings Update

  30. I am thankful for the toys and blankets that are scattered about…my kids are making our house their own space too and I love to watch them create their imaginary little worlds. Thanks for the reminder that our houses don’t have to be picture perfect to be beautiful.

    Erin´s last post…Happy Fall!

  31. Hi!

    Wonderful post. It is a nice reality check for us all. We have so many things to do everyday and to add the pressure of thinking our home has to be “magazine perfect” all the time is just not possible. Like you said, that one photo took an entire crew of people to set up and hours of trying to perfect it.

    I would like to do a blog post to direct my reader’s over to this article if I have your permission. Please let me know.

    Diann :)

    Diann @ the Thrifty Groove´s last post…Some good coupons

  32. I love the playschool commercials that have the child entertained for the whole 30 second commercial with the single toy in the white living room.

    I’m thankful today to hear my daughter laugh and cry, because next Monday I will start back to work and won’t get to hear those noises during the day.

  33. It always makes me laugh how simple living magazines advise us to declutter and pare things down by advising us to go to the store and buy an “organization” or “simplifying” product…

    I’m personally very impressed when I walk into someone’s home, and I see improvisation and creativity in how they’ve put things together.

    Today, I’m thankful that yesterday was my cleaning day!

    Mary R´s last post…How do you entertain yourself over a rainy weekend?

  34. I am grateful that we have a roof over our head and food on the table. My house is never clean and spotless, but it is lived in.

  35. so true! i am thankful for the health of my family (despite the round of stomach flu). my friend’s daughter is in the hospital due to cancer and i know how lucky we are.

  36. I am thankful for waking up early in the morning as I am greeted by my sons’ smiles, hug & kisses, and good mornings! What a wonderful way to start the day. I am thankful for the interrupted sleep at night, because my youngest son is hungry and wants to nurse from me. I am thankful for our simple home, which makes it easy to clean and focus more on the people & the relationships.

  37. I am going to use your article as a mantra, when I start longing for a magazine type house.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Juggling Motherhood´s last post…Using music to lift the mood

  38. easy – that I “get” to be in this place.

  39. I’m thankful for the fort my daughter is building around the computer chair while I read my daily blogs. This makes my heart smile!

  40. I work for a magazine and can confirm everything that’s been said here: there might be a beautiful shot of a living room, with furniture brought in for the occasion, the bookshelves carefully styled, and so on … and just out of sight, in the room’s corner, is a heap of stuff pushed aside. Even beautiful homes have mess and clutter, at least occasionally!

  41. Thank you for your wonderful blog! I recently stumbled upon it (I think I googled ‘homemade gifts for men’) and I’ve been hooked ever since. You have very useful information and I love all of your creative ideas! I especially loved this post. It’s good to remember that our messes stem from blessings! Thanks again!

    Cari´s last post…A New Favorite…

  42. Thank you for this good word today – I just thought this morning how I’m having an “I just can’t get caught up” day and rather than having this attitude I can praise the Lord for my husband and daughter and ‘things’ I get to invest time taking care of. I appreciate you taking time to write this post :)

    Brittney Colyer´s last post…Yesterday

  43. I am thankful for the load of laundry that has been in the dryer for 3 days! :0 It means, we still have a lot of clothes to wear!!!

    And I am thankful that I can see the back of my freezer or storage shelf. It means were are eating more fresh food! Yay! :)

  44. i at my university right now.. and i missing my home thank to your post.. when i back home what I love is the garden.. love it so much.

    izzat aziz´s last post…Eight 2009 Albums you should buy

  45. Great reminder, sometimes we look at the home/parenting magazine or an ad, and think something is missing in our life, while it might be just perfect (messy but perfect) for me.

    Thanks. I needed this today.

    Zengirl´s last post…Laidback Mornings: without an alarm

  46. i’m trying to be thankful for the snow at our house today (but so far it isn’t working – I am thankful for the heat radiating from the wood stove!)

    LobotoME´s last post…{ ME vs. debt }

  47. They also would not sell advertisements of junk that clutter up your house.

    Jena (Organizing Mommy)´s last post…How does your brain work: organizing

  48. First of all, I really like the idea of this post. This week I’m going to try to be thankful for all the clothes I have, instead of thinking “Ugh, laundry.”

    Second, I’m obsessed with this thing I discovered called Wordle, so I’ve been copying and pasting random text into it like crazy to make word clouds.

    I made one of this post just for fun…and then I felt like the end result kind of looked like one of the magazine adds that you’re talking about, which seemed ironic, so I thought I’d share.

  49. I like a neat and well decorated home but it would be best to remember that while some areas of my home are still a work in progress (to me) it will never be magazine perfect unless I train the dog to be a stylist. Which judging by the way he leaves his toys all over the living room might be what he’s going for.

    Condo Blues´s last post…Blitzkrieg’s Balloon Boy Costume!

  50. What a wonderful reminder!! It is easy for me to wish that my house were more like the houses in the magazines – but I live in a HOME, not just a house. I enjoy the clutter and mess as a reminder of the love and fun that we share in our home. It is hard to keep a perfect house when you are spending a good deal of time enjoying your family instead of cleaning the house.

    Relishing Life´s last post…Marriage

  51. My closet & pantry look like something out of a magazine, the rest of my apartment looks like something out of FEMA. Not sure why there is a disconnect but there is. Oh well. When I have people over, then I do a mad dash cleaning, and stuff everything into my closet and close the door. Only my best friend and my mom know what is behind that door. And well now so does everyone who is reading this blog.

  52. I love this article. Sometimes I really envy those styled houses/rooms. lol.

  53. Very nice post. And totally true as I look around me, surround still by not only the destruction that my boys did today, but also from extended family on Halloween night. Fun was had by all. Good times often equals a great mess. And I’m okay with that. I will clean it up eventually. It’s just going to get messed up again tomorrow anyway.

    It also reminds me of something I read once about a Mom getting upset over her kids destroying the yard (which my older son does on a fairly regular basis). Her husband said, “Honey, we are raising boys, not a lawn”. I have to tell my husband this fairly often as well, after our boy has destroyed bits of our lawn. :)

    Mama Bird´s last post…Flying Away

  54. Very thoughtful post.
    I am thankful for all my unmatched socks and messy dresser drawers. For my shoe tub-it is really easier to just throw them in a box.

    keishua´s last post…Noun: Community

  55. I’m so thankful for the creatively messy life I live and the way it inspires my daughter to be creative too. She has such a wonderful sense of herself, and her ability to use things from the world around her to make playthings for herself and beautiful gifts for other people is a trait I truly admire.

    Jennifer´s last post…At the moment

  56. My aunt had her house photographed for a magazine once. She likes to giggle about the way they laid out a perfect board game on the coffee table and used a large straw hat to disguise the washing machine from the camera’s viewpoint. Her home is lovely, but it definitely isn’t as staged as the magazine photos make it look!

    Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last post…Tidbits from a hobo mama

  57. True DAT! Thanks for the dose of perspective.

    Minnesotamom´s last post…Game Over for Stellan’s SVT!!

  58. I can’t stand clutter though. i like clean surfaces with nothing on them. I had little trinkets everywhere, makes cleaning a beyatch!

    Benjamin Bankruptcy´s last post…Long time- no type