The Non-Expert

Credit: Jennifer Daniel for TMN

The Messy

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. When a reader disagrees with his wife over the cleanliness of their home, we propose a tidy solution.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


Question: My wife thinks the house is messy all the time, even when it is clean. As a result of “the messy” she will not allow guests to come over for dinners or just to hang out and play Rock Band on the Xbox. How can I convince her that the house is clean? —Seth

Answer: Well, you can’t persuade her that the house is clean, because it’s not. I realize you may think it is—and that’s sweet, really—but the fact is this is never going to be a he-said, she-said scenario. She says the house is a mess and she’s right. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong, just that you, as a male, are unqualified to judge.

I don’t say this out of any kind of misplaced ovarian solidarity. I say it because it’s scientific fact.

Our millennia as hunter-gatherers selected the female of the species for enhanced environmental sensitivity. As anyone with a toddler and 10 minutes to make a connecting flight knows, offspring slow you down. Natural selection, therefore, favors women who are sufficiently tuned in to disturbances in their environments to get their little kneebiters into the trees before being devoured by lions. (Lions that never would have been attracted to the cave in the first place had you only thrown the leftover mammoth bones into the ravine like you were supposed to.)

A cluttered, frequently changing environment makes carnivorous cats much harder to spot. So please understand, when your wife complains about “the messy,” she’s coming from a place of mortal distress. “The messy,” her genes tell her, means “death.”

There is no argument persuasive enough to overcome this cruel Darwinian truth. You could soothe her angst by presenting her with a fresh kill from the savannah—or the local petting zoo, if necessary—reassuring her on a chromosomal level that even in these danger-fraught precincts she has a strong and capable mate who will always provide for her. You can enhance this experience by starting a fire with a flint in the living room—she might divorce you over the bloodstains and smoke damage, but at least then you can have your friends over whenever you want.

Your home will be so dim in the evenings, she won’t notice the Stonehenge of Dr Pepper bottles accumulated on your desk. But there are mental and physical health benefits to remaining married (another scientific fact) so you might want to try this instead: Every Sunday night, after she falls asleep, replace a single light bulb in your house with one of lower wattage. Don’t be tempted to do them all at once—this needs to happen gradually, or else she’ll notice. Depending on the size of your house, this should take about six to 12 weeks. Once you’ve reached 60 watts all around, repeat the process again, stepping down to 40.

By now it will be winter and your home will be so dim in the evenings, she won’t notice the Stonehenge of Dr Pepper bottles accumulated on your desk, the teetering stack of back issues of Game Informer and Sports Illustrated threatening to upend the coffee table, or the three bags of recycling still waiting by the door to be taken down to the bins. Nor will she be able to see your dirty clothes piled in the bedroom corner next to the hamper, the pile of dishes that somehow made it all the way to the sink but not the extra 36 inches into the dishwasher, the fractals of mildew on the shower curtain—all of these will virtually disappear into the gloom.

Also, your light bill will be really low.

Then, while you are making one obvious but token gesture of cleanliness—try folding the laundry as loudly as you can—mention that it would be awfully fun to have some friends over for pizza and Rock Band. She’s sure to agree. She might even respond with some enthusiasm.

Later, your friends will come in and you’ll take their coats and throw them on the new—What is that, anyway? Did your wife buy a chaise longue today?—and then one of your friends will bend down to get a closer look and say, “Cool, dude. That looks just like a real lion.”


TMN Editor Liz Entman (they/them) has lived in St. Louis, New York, and Nashville. She sweats the small stuff, like hyphens and commas, and has a day job, but won’t bore you with the details. More by Liz Entman