Posted in Personal life

How to Cut Down on Your Laundry

6 smiling women under tenement clothesline; ca...
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Now that the days are short and damp, and the weather has forced us to abandon the garden washing line, dealing with the household laundry has become even more tiresome than usual.  But do not despair.  I have some simple tips that will help you reduce your load. Follow them if you dare:

1.  Only put things in the washing machine if they have conspicuous signs of dirt.  This will happen much less frequently if you…

2. Ensure that every member of your family always dresses in the most suitable colour for their scheduled activities. A muddy brown is best for walks in the autumn woods, while acid green is good for football or cricket. (Cricket whites were invented by a man whose mother did his laundry.)

3.  Only wear white if you’r planning to spend your day emulsioning white walls – or you work in a salt mine or flour mill.

4. Bear this tip in mind when your choosing the colour scheme for your home.  Try matching your paintwork to your favourite clothes: denim blue is good for me.  That way any splashes will never show up. Commiserations to my good friend whose husband always wears black: you may need to  invest in some extra bright lightbulbs to prevent your home from feeling too gloomy.

5.Pretend you’ve had a power cut and that you’ll have to do your laundry by hand.  This will help you focus the mind on washing only those things that are truly dirty.

6. Alternatively adopt the techniques of the age before the washing machine.  Take a leaf out of Jeeves’ book and clean your master’s clothes with a damp sponge, dabbing only at the patches that need attention.  A quick once-over with the iron, put them back on their hangers, spritz them with fragranced linen spray, and he’ll never realise that they haven’t actually been washed.

7.  Oh, and linen spray.  Buy it in bulk.  It covers a multitude of sloth.

8.  Buy lots and lots of clothes.  That way you will always have plenty more in the wardrobe, however much is trapped in the laundrycycle. I have always bought more sets of school uniform for my daughter than there are days in the week.  That way I’m never forced to do laundry at the weekend if something more interesting comes along and she can still go to school fully clothed on the Monday.

9.  As a last resort, become a naturist.  Admittedly this will necessitate moving to a warmer country, but at least you’ll never have to wash or iron clothes again.

Still can’t bring yourself to break the laundry habits of a lifetime, do not despair.  Then comfort yourself with the thought that there are few tasks as deserving of a reward in the form of chocolate as getting to the bottom of the ironing basket.  Just make sure you’re wearing brown the day you reach yours.

Posted in Personal life

How to Get to the Bottom of the Ironing Basket

Ironing Board as a Bookshelf - Powder Coat it!
Image by ninahale via Flickr

The ironing board is on the landing.  This may seem an odd place to keep it, but it’s solving a long-standing problem: the apparently bottomless ironing basket.

It’s not that I dislike ironing: in the right frame of mind, it’s very soothing.  Research shows that repetitive tasks provide similar benefits to meditation.  Knitting and jogging also qualify.  But lately the view from my utility room of a dreary, browning, post-snow garden has deterred me from taking up my post at the ironing board.  And the distinctive aroma of over-wintering guinea pig, which decamped to the adjacent worktop during the cold snap, is a further disincentive.

As I hovered in the utility room the day before spring term began, trying to summon up the energy to tackle a week’s worth of school uniforms, an inspiration flashed into my head.  For this I must thank the author Susan Hill. At Tetbury’s Yellow-Lighted Bookshop’s wonderful Book Festival last summer, she talked about her latest book Howard’s End is on the Landing which describes the year she spent rereading books stashed around her house.

Like her, I have many books on my landing, which my husband recently redecorated.  I took the opportunity to reorganise the bookshelves, showing the contents off to best advantage.  Now at the top are decades of diaries, the earliest dating from when I was 8.  Below are displayed precious and obscure books from my childhood (anyone else remember Torchy the Battery Boy?), through to the bittersweet teenage comforters such as Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.  Next come the dog-eared favourites from my university days.  Well, some are less dog-eared than others: one day I really will read all four volumes of Richardson’s Clarissa, bought at vast expense in a wild moment of undergraduate optimism.  Then there’s the vast collection of hobby-related guides acquired in my leisure-rich child-free days.  These haven’t seen much action since I acquired a child, whose own bedroom is now bursting at the seams with books.

I never tire of looking at my bookshelves.  The display on the landing will be a lovely backdrop to my ironing.    The location offers other conveniences: a thick, warm Indian rug under foot; the adjoining bathroom where I can easily top up the iron’s water chamber; nearby wardrobes for immediately hanging up the ironed clothes (far better than turning the kitchen into a holding bay).  I’m convinced that on the landing, I’ll make great headway through the ironing basket – at least as long as I can ignore the comfy rocking chair in the corner, an ideal place to curl up with a book.

But for now I’m determined that this refreshing change of scene will restore momentum to the task in hand.  What’s more, I’m thinking of applying the same principle to other stalled proceedings.  So once I’ve finished typing this, I’m off to do my tax return in the bath.  Must press on….

(This post originally appeared in The Tetbury Advertiser, February 2011)

Posted in Family, Personal life

A Tidy Solution

Active volcano Mount St. Helens shortly after ...
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After a weekend away, we return late Sunday afternoon to find the dust in our house under the spotlight of dazzling autumn sunshine.  Not all the dust is due to slovenliness.  Lighting our woodburning stoves the last few chilly evenings has distributed a flurry of fine, powdery ash throughout the cottage, as if we’ve just acquired as a lodger a small but slightly active volcano.

Still relaxed from our mini-break at the (very clean and tidy) house of friends, I decide to take the house by storm – and my family too.  I raid the broom cupboard and distribute cleaning materials and tools to my startled husband and daughter.

Not much later, the house looks fit for visitors.  Gosh, I wouldn’t mind living here, I think to myself, surveying the shiny kitchen surfaces and toy-free carpet with satisfaction.  Not that I expect the effect to last long.

His vacuuming duty completed, my husband resumes the raid he had started a few days before on our various sheds and outhouses.  He is turning them out with the energy and enthusiasm of one about to move house.  Not that he, or we, are about to move house, but for a moment I think we should consider it.

If we were to put the house on the market, I’d soon get round to doing the rest of the chores I’ve been putting off for so long – rationalising the pile of knitting patterns that’s threatening to fall on the head of anyone who climbs the stairs; editing the growing heap of odds and ends  dumped on Laura’s dressing table (now, where can she have acquired that habit, I wonder?)

Planning to move to a much smaller house would be especially helpful, as it would force me to be more ruthless.  Maybe I should make it a flat.

A few dozen skips and trips to the “Sort-It” recycling centre later, I’d hire a furniture van, fill it with our minimised possessions, drive round the block, come back and move in.  The new uncluttered look would feature all that we love best, and we’d have no end of space.  It would be a very satisfactory arrangement.  Nice neighbours, an excellent local primary school, lively village community, established garden, village pubs, shop, post office and hairdressers, all in a lovely Cotswold setting.  I couldn’t hope to find a better home.

Now, where did I put that estate agent’s card?

Posted in Personal life

Top Tip on Time Management

In ironing, a fabric is heated through the gla...
Image via Wikipedia

When I gave up my full-time job in January, I had a rosy vision of future domestic bliss.  Dust would be permanently banished from the top of my piano and I’d have a regular acquaintance with the bottom of my ironing basket.  Every meal would be cooked from scratch, using veg home grown by me in between dashing off brilliant freelance articles.

So I was startled the other day to realise that my house is now messier than ever.  Yet with my life no longer dominated by the day job, how could I be too short of time to do housework?

Then I had a revelation.  Just because I no longer work full time doesn’t mean my daytime hours are idle.  I’m busier than ever, with three regular monthly columns to write, my online blog, private PR clients knocking on my door and a new part-time job helping to run a charity.  These all take up a lot of time. And, in ex-politician’s tradition, I’m spending much more time with my family.

In my previous incarnation, “I haven’t had time” was a frequent excuse.    But now I realise that’s not the issue at all.  Rather, my priorities have changed.

So now, if looking to explain why I haven’t done the ironing (or the dusting, or the hovering) my standard response is:  “I’ve been giving priority to other things.”  And boy, has it been fun!

A friend’s late mother lived by a simple maxim: “B***** the ironing”.  That sums it all up, really.  In fact, I’m thinking of having it made into a lapel badge – that is, when I’m not too busy giving priority to other things.

This post was originally published in the July 2010 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News.

Posted in Personal life

How To Get Things Done

On Sunday afternoon, after months of feeble excuses, I decide to tackle what appears to be an enormous task. I undertake to tidy my dressing table. It is inches deep in the detritus of dressing and undressing: discarded jewellery, price labels and hanging tags from new clothes, odd coins and pens and business cards that have been turned out of jacket or trouser pockets. The Victorian honey-coloured pine surface is completely hidden from view.

Tidying my dressing table is not my favourite task, which is why I have ignored it for so long. In the half light of early mornings and the dimmed lamps of late nights, I never really scrutinise it, so the muddle bothers me far less than if it were on the kitchen table. The only reason I am bothering to tackle it now is that otherwise I will have no moral high ground from which to make my daughter clear up her dressing table, now competing with mine in the untidiness stakes.

I grit my teeth, put on my Ipod (that invaluable mental anaesthetic) and wonder how many podcasts it will take before I’ve completed my task. I click on my favourite, The News Quiz , and swiftly fall into the meditative, methodical rhythm of tidying.

I locate lost necklaces, reunite long parted pairs of earrings, and accumulate quite a stash of beribboned clothing tags for my cardboard recycling box. (Can I really have bought so many new clothes lately? Erm, no – it’s just an awfully long time since I last culled the discarded labels.)

I restore to centre stage a favourite antique lace mat and a colourful binca mat that my daughter cross-stitched for me last Mother’s Day under her Grandma’s artistic direction by Grandma. I rearrange the chipped but beautiful mulberry Bavarian glass dishes that once belonged to my own Grandma. With a neatness bordering on OCD, I align the numerous necklaces draped over the corners of the hinged mirror. My dressing table is starting to resemble an exotic shrine – and all before The News Quiz is half way through. Stepping back to admire the new order, I feel a sense of calm creeping osmotically from this harmonious little scene into the depths of my soul.

This tidying business really is therapeutic. I continue to feel a little glow of satisfaction every time I walk past the dressing table, even now, two days on. So why did I wait so long to do it? I really must not procrastinate like this again. Now that I can see the mirror again, perhaps I ought to write across it a note in lipstick to remind myself: The best way to get something done is to do it.