There’s something about taking a picture.

Fresh flowers revived my Instagram account.

I rarely have the inspiration to post something on Instagram. When I do, it’s most likely because I’ve been prompted by a social-media campaign at a conference or my college alumni weekend. But something changed this summer when I was out in the garden. In nature, photos seem easier to visualize, because there’s less clutter. Or because there’s something glorious in the natural order of things.

Then, one day in August, I cut some fresh flowers and brought them inside (a great mood lifting activity, by the way). As I prepared to photograph my latest floral subject, I realized something was different. We weren’t outside anymore; the setting was now my home—my lovely home, but one I’d gotten used to seeing in a certain state of clutter.

The vase full of flowers instantly improved my kitchen. But once I looked through the digital lens of my smartphone, I noticed there was room for more improvement still. The scene wasn’t as picturesque. There were some kitchen utensils, discarded wrappers, and receipts lying all over my counter.

Where does this stuff go? I quickly started putting things where they went, some in the garbage can, and other items in their respective drawers, and so on. Much better!

I pulled up the iPhone camera to try again for the photo. Now I could see the counter surrounding the vase was clear. But this time I noticed the counter in the background had junk on it, visible on the horizon of the snapshot.

I put the phone down and tackled the next counter.

Before I knew it, I was cleaning my whole kitchen to a standard higher than usual. But it wasn’t an unrealistic standard of perfection; I was simply meeting my own standards of what I’d be willing to show others. A tidy, realistic standard of how I’d keep things if I knew friends were coming over—which, in truth, I’d like to try to maintain.

I know too well how we women and girls can become too critical of photos we take of ourselves. And I know how we often feel the need to re-shoot or filter out seeming imperfections. It can get dysfunctional really fast, so I’ve developed habits to counter it; when taking selfies with my kids, for instance, I’ll take a photo the old-school way (where we can’t see ourselves while photographing), and I won’t look at it until later in the day, long after it’s taken, to avoid the immediate impulse to make changes.

But when I take photos of my home, I’ve realized, the immediate critical response might be exactly what I need to get into gear if I have gotten lazy in tidying! If photos have for better or worse become agents for us to see where improvements can be made, I should turn it on my home more often.

I think it’s about time we do more real home Insta-cleans. How about brave posts where we show before and after shots of common spots in our homes? That, along with how many minutes it took to do the clean-up, could become a motivator to not only the person posting (to keep up the habit), but also to others who struggle to fit tidying in their daily routine.

Just like I wanted the Instagram photo to feel real and lived in, I wanted my home to feel orderly but precisely while being lived in. I wasn’t staging something that was unsustainable in reality—taking flowers out of the vase to lie without water, for instance. Taking the photo became an invitation to my friends to enter my kitchen—a real part of my home, with things that really could stay that way, with just a little more intentional effort on my part.