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

How to Cut Down on Your Laundry

6 smiling women under tenement clothesline; ca...
Image via Wikipedia

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)