Let the spring-cleaning commence! Well, more importantly, the tidying up. Because until that is done, we won’t be able to see the surfaces that need cleaning.
As always at the start of the school holidays, my first thought is to tidy the house. This is so that we can enjoy the rest of the holidays in an orderly environment.
Also, whenever I’m planning to go away for more than a few days, I like to blitz the house so that it looks extra appealing when we return. It’s amazing how a few days away can give you a fresh perspective on your home. Stepping through the door, suitcase in hand, I’m always pleasantly surprised to be reminded how much I love my house. Absence certainly does make the heart grow fonder – especially if the scene that welcomes my return is tidy.
This time, my task is a tall order. Every room in the house is topsy-turvy and a major effort is needed to restore an air of calm. Where on earth should I begin?
And then I remember a tactic of my old friend Gary’s. Gary was part of my social circle decades ago, when home was my first rented flat. Gary was a bit of a gem. He was cheery and intelligent, without being an intellectual. When my then boyfriend, studying for a history degree, dropped into a pub conversation that he had to choose a topic for his thesis, Gary suggested brightly “How about the history of dogs?”
Gary was determined and methodical. Unable to speak a word of French, he passed his French O Level purely by skilful planning. He knew that a large percentage of the marks were allotted for the essay question which was likely to be on a limited range of topics. He reckoned that if he learnt by heart an essay on a day at the beach, “Sur La Plage”, he’d be in with a chance of passing. So he did – and he passed. On holiday in France a couple of years later, he was still unable to do so much as order a drink in a cafe. But put him sur la plage and he was happy.
Gary took a similarly determined attitude to his future. Leaving school at 16, he needed to choose a career. The biggest shop on the local high street was Woolworths, so he applied to become a trainee Woolworths manager. He did well at his job, ultimately managing the branch in the Strand in London, planning carefully at every step. One of his tasks was to deposit the store’s daily takings at the nearby bank. Rather than worry about security, he simply put the cash in a Woolworths carrier bag every day, confident that no mugger would ever think it worth stealing something that came from Woolworths.
He brought a new order to every aspect of his job. One Christmas, he discovered that his staff were comparing the cards he had given each of them to try to decide who he liked best. He then put a list on the staffroom noticeboard allocating points to each Christmas card image. This allowed staff to calculate scientifically how much he liked them. If their card showed a Santa – 5 points, Christmas tree – 4 points, snow scene – 3 points, and so on. I am not entirely convinced he was joking.
Gary’s personal habits were also meticulously organised. He enjoyed his food but in a very orderly way. Confronted by a plate of food, he would start carefully at one side, taking little forkfuls across the plate, gradually clearing it in a straight line from one side to another. It was like watching a military campaign, the invading force gradually capture enemy territory, pushing the line ever further back. Gary’s only concession to the taste of his food was to choose as his starting point the side opposite his favourite item of food. With a roast dinner, that would be the meat. His progress was fascinating. It was like watching Pac-Man have lunch.
I’ve always taken Gary’s approach to gardening. I’m a fair-weather gardener and I don’t bother much between November and March. Then when the first Spring-like day comes along, I venture into the small lean-to that we grandly call our conservatory and revive all the plants out there. Next, I step outside the lean-to, which opens on to my herb garden. I thoroughly weed the herb garden before advancing to the pond immediately beyond it. Once the pond is in order, I progress a couple of steps to the first vegetable bed – and so on, until everything in the garden is to my liking. It’s a long, slow job, but the benefit is that you always see the best first and the untidiest bit is always furthest from view. It’s the opposite of painting yourself into a corner.
And this holiday it occurs to me that Gary’s strategy would work equally well with tidying. I start off upstairs, standing on the landing and sweeping my mind’s eye around the first floor, like the radar detector you see on old films of U-boats. First stop is my daughter’s bedroom (a complete muddle since she’s spent the last week “camping” on the floor for a change of scene), then my bedroom, then the bathroom, then my study. Downstairs, the living room will be followed by the kitchen, then the larder, then (saving the worst till last), my husband’s study.
Suddenly, an insurmountable task is made manageable. With the help of my trusty iPod, full of BBC Radio 4 podcats, I feel further empowered. I can do this thing!
Let the holiday commence! Happy Easter, everyone!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read How To Get Things Done.