New York is all abuzz today: it seems the Apple has two finalists in the "World's Dirtiest Apartment" contest - all of whom are incredibly proud of the dead mice, bloody pillows and stacks of filthy dishes in their pads.

I'll admit it: I'm messy. I was raised that way, in a chaotic home filled with scattered books, junk mail, and the box of "vintage" Christmas ornaments my mother swore were "collectible" in whatever parallel universe we not just divested ourselves of crap, but had the werewithal to sell it. We tried, we really did - and I do! - but none of us had been born with either the organization gene nor the sense of propriety to feel sufficiently disturbed to do anything about it. To this day, it goes against the grain not to throw my clothes on the floor, and my purse is a mass of receipts, loose change, and a mysterious and ever-present cache of crumbs. My apartment isn't generally dirty, but it is messy. I'd always understood this was something of which to be ashamed, an outer indication of inward disorganization and larger failures to fit in with societal standards. Guests, at my parents' house, were a source of stress. "Don't go in there!" my mother would shriek, throwing herself in front of a startled visitor and slamming the door of whatever room she considered shameful. And, "their house is so clean," she'd sigh sadly when we left someone else's home. ("Is their house really clean?" she'll invariably ask suspiciously when I meet a new boyfriend's parents - doubtless anticipating the dramatic levels of door-slamming their visit will occasion.)

No one who's voluntarily entered this contest apparently shares these qualms. Each contestant gives a brief explanation of his squalor, usually defiant. "I had spent two months organizing hundreds of people to break the world record for the most people to do Michael Jackson's Thriller dance, and hadn't really prioritized cleaning my room," says one entrant. "I have better things to do such as jump on my trampoline," declares another. With the exception of the odd dead mouse, most of these places are more "bad roommate" than "hellhole." Think loads of dirty clothes, plenty of dirty dishes, the occasional stack of pizza boxes.

I have a few issues with the contest. First of all, I don't think anyone should be allowed to nominate himself, because obviously this encourages the entrant to cultivate the squalor and adds an element of artificiality. Second: obviously no one who enters this is actually going to have the world's worst: that honor surely belongs to some shut-in or mentally-ill person living in true, Grey Gardens, Collyer-style filth and squalor, who probably doensn't think about it one way or the other.

It's funny, a few generations ago, people would have been mortified to show anyone such a messy apartment; now, we're proud of it. This isn't, oh, my place is a mess. This is, look how rebellious I am! In some ways, this is probably good: it marks a move away from arbitrary standards and doesn't make a fetish of the domestic. And yeah, if they're okay with it - and don't have roommates - rock on. But at the same time, it's infantile: I know we fetishize youth, but living in a state of suspended adolescence, where on some level we expect some magical mom or maid to pick up after us, is irresponsible. (And one of the Brooklyn women, 29, reveals that her mom is actually en route from Arkansas to clean her place.) Like I said, I speak as a slob. And even as I castigated myself, I secretly thought of neatness as arbitrary and even neurotic. But as I got older, I started to understand the benefits of not living amidst chaos, and in taking pride in my own space. (A shrink said she thought it was a means of expressing my inner control and repression; whatever, she hasn't seen my parents' place.) Also, I really don't want to be slamming doors at my mom's age.


Filth Isn't Dirty Word: Dead Mice, Rotten Food Snag Brooklyn Woman Fourth Place Among Foulest Digs [NY Daily News]
Dirtiest Apartment Contest [My Apartment Map]
Brooklyn Slobs Make Finals In Filthiest Apartment Contest! [Gothamist]