Posted in Personal life, Reading, Travel, Writing

A Holiday from Housework

cat sitting on cushion
“Don’t you dare pack my favourite cushion!”

You can tell a holiday is looming in our household when the place starts to look unusually tidy. As if the effort of planning and packing for a trip away is not enough, I pile on the pressure by insisting that the house is spick and span before we go. It never looks tidier than the day we go away.

“Who are you tidying it for, burglars?” asked a friend, curious as to why I was in such a frenzy one morning.

Actually, it’s for me – so that when I walk back into the house on our return, I think “Ooh, how lovely – I’d forgotten how nice our house is!” rather than “Oh god, what a mess”.

Until now, I’d always assumed that when our cat Dorothy regards us with suspicion as we prepare for our holidays, it is because she equates the act of packing with being abandoned her for a fortnight, and she’s anxious as to whether she’ll get her daily biscuit ration. But as I cleared a longstanding collection of my husband’s shoes from the bottom of the stairs this afternoon, it occurred to me that she’s probably just bewildered by so much sudden change to her territory.

I also hit upon a simple way to keep a tidy house all year round: I just need to go on holiday more often.

(This post was originally written for the August issue of Hawkesbury Parish News.)

Cover of the paperback showing blurb
Need some light reading for your own summer holiday? My collection of very short stories is perfect for whiling away time in airports and on the beach. Available to order from all good bookshops, and from the usual online stores.


Posted in Personal life

Springing into Action

(First published in the Tetbury Advertiser’s May issue)

Dusters on a shelf with hazard sign
Who knew dusting could be this dangerous?

The unseasonably warm weather after Easter makes me buck up my ideas about housework, a topic  never front-of-mind for me. With spring sunshine streaming through smudgy windows, I can no longer pretend that it’s fairy-dust adorning the piano.

I brace myself to brandish a duster and head for the under-sink cupboard. First task: awaken the cleaning materials from hibernation. Second task: dust the can of polish. Continue reading “Springing into Action”

Posted in Personal life

Hung Up On Laundry

My column for the June issue of Hawkesbury Parish News was all about laundry and wardrobes, from ancient times to the age of IKEA

Wearing the ancient plaid at the HIghland Folk Museum, Newtonmore
Sometimes my daughter and I hanker after a simpler wardrobe (at the Highland Folk Museum in Scotland last summer)

Sorting out a big basket of line-dried washing recently, (ah, it must be spring!), I fell to pondering why we have so many clothes.

A bulging closet allows us to get lazy with the laundry. Getting to the bottom of the basket often results in a surprise reunion with an item that’s been languishing for weeks, forgotten, awaiting its turn in the washing machine.

Not so for our Victorian ancestors. Instead of having wardrobes heaving with clothes, needing fancy IKEA gadgets to make the most of any storage space, they made do with a couple of hooks.

I discovered this to my cost when I bought my first house – a two-up, two-down nineteenth century artisan’s cottage. I went to put away my newly unpacked clothes in what I’d taken to be a built-in wardrobe when I viewed the house, wearing my rosy-tinted house-buyer’s spectacles. I found it was just a shallow cupboard with two wall-mounted cup hooks. The cupboard wasn’t even deep enough to accommodate a coat hanger.

It occurred to me that this would have been plenty for the house’s original owner, who probably only had two outfits: workday clothes and Sunday best.

What a simple life that must have been – with so little time required to do the laundry.

For a moment, wearily folding the seventh pair of black leggings to fit in a drawer, I’m taken by such minimalism. But then I realise this justification ranks in the same league as my grandmother’s delight in having all her teeth out: it meant she could eat sweets in bed without worrying about cavities.

Stashing the fourth cardigan of the evening onto my jumper shelf, I decide I’d rather stick with my present lot. After all, the Victorians didn’t take many baths or showers either.

Ikea wardrobe system
If IKEA doesn’t already have shares in clothing sales, perhaps it should… (Pic from IKEA online catalogue)

More posts about laundry (not that I’m obsessed with it, you understand)

How to Cut Down On Laundry (one of my most popular posts of all time)

Why I’ve Given Up Ironing (no regrets there)

Posted in Personal life

Why I’ve Given Up Ironing

Photo of rag doll at toy ironing board
The only ironing that gets done in this house these days is toy ironing

(A post that will let you off the hook for housework this Easter holidays)

When you’ve written a lot of blog posts, it’s interesting to see over time which search strings drew most readers into your blog.

I was fascinated to realise recently that “how to cut down on your laundry” – about which I’ve written precisely one post – is one of my most popular search strings of all time.

You’d think by now, having been involved with websites practically since they were invented, that nothing in terms of search strings would surprise me. I certainly had to desensitize myself to cope with managing the online presence of a girls’ boarding school, where searches for “girls in uniform” were not always made by anxious mothers in search of the current kit list.

My reason for getting steamed up about laundry? I’ve just written a piece about how to “Make Time for Family Time” for the April issue of online parenting magazine Kideeko. In my book, that means jettisoning unnecessary housework in order to have fun with your family, as the muddled state of my house will testify.

I’m now wondering whether my piece will bring Kideeko equal SEO bounty in terms of web hits. Not only do I mention cutting down on laundry, but also eliminating ironing and abandoning supermarket shopping. Such recklessness – I know how to live!

So, as the school Easter holidays begin, if your first thought has been the need to catch up on the housework, read my Kideeko article now. It could be just the excuse you need to ditch the laundry and go and have fun with your kids instead. I know I will with mine, albeit in crumpled clothes. Happy Easter!

Click here to read “Make Time For Family Time” on the Kideeko online parenting magazine

And read here “How to Cut Down On Your Laundry”

Posted in Personal life

The Joy of Jumble

A depiction of a white elephant in 19th centur...
“Can any of you chaps tell me the way to the white elephant sale, please?” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever I come back from holiday, I always have the urge to declutter my house. It’s a side-effect of holidaying in a camper van with nothing but the bare essentials.

So I was pleased to discover that in Hawkesbury Upton this September there’ll be two opportunities to put my discarded items to good use: Beauty & the Beasts’ Table Top Sale (21st) and the Guides’ Jumble Sale (28th).

(Translation for my North American friends: I think you’d call a Jumble Sale a Rummage Sale – like a yard sale, held in a local community or village hall, putting everybody’s unwanted clutter and junk up for sale, usually in aid of charity. For Australasian friends, it’s a white elephant sale.)

Actually, I love this kind of event at any time of year, even though we always end up buying far more clutter than we’ve donated. A few years ago, I feared that jumble sales were becoming an endangered species. Before the national economy took a nose-dive, most people could afford to buy anything they wanted brand new, and the new household recycling boxes also made it easier to discard items rather than donate them. So why bother with jumble sales?

As we all know, times have changed. Never mind Nick Clegg’s dream of a John Lewis economy* – what we’ve got now is more of a Jumble Sale economy. (*Sorry again, my international friends: this is a reference to a British politician’s speech, citing a reference to a British chain of department stores. Further help for deciphering the reference is here.)

But I don’t mind. It’s much more exciting to trawl through a jumble sale than predictable high street shops. For a start you never know what you might find, especially in Hawkesbury. Our village yields a high class of jumble!

postage stamp from Queen's Silver Jubilee, 1977
“No, I don’t want your tatty old flag, I don’t care where you found it!”

To me, jumble sale shopping feels a bit like metal-detecting: most of what you find may be worthless, but there’s always the prospect of real treasure. But, unlike metal-detecting, in jumble sale shopping there’s no Treasure Trove Law requiring you to surrender your best finds to the Queen – for which I’m sure HRH is truly grateful!

For more thoughts about decluttering, try these posts:

The Joy of a Tidy Car   A Study in Tidiness

This post was originally published in the Hawkesbury Parish News, September 2013.