For those of you who aren’t keen on dusting and polishing, look away now, for this is a post which is the polar opposite of an article I read in the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend. A husband and wife team of writers, Emlyn Rees and Josie Lloyd, has just published a book entitled Shabby: The Jolly Good British Guide to Stress-free Living.
Of course, it had to happen. After all that de-cluttering by Marie Kondo (and no, I’ve not bought her book but I have read a lot about it and know how it has sold zillions of copies) Emlyn and Josie have written about how the British really prefer messy homes. For example, a coat rack that is at maximum capacity, a kitchen drawer filled not only with things such as the key which bleeds the radiators but also dead batteries, a bedside table that houses tangled jewellery and dried-up mascara … well, you soon get the impression (according to this pair of writers) along with the crumbs lurking on the kitchen table, that we Brits seldom clean and tidy our homes.
According to Emlyn and Josie, this sort of “Shabbism” as they call it can “bring a greater sense of fulfilment and purpose.” Josie says that it doesn’t matter if there are crumbs on the kitchen table if it means you have time to enjoy a cup of coffee and a conversation.”
My answer to this is, “Surely the one doesn’t preclude the other?” Can’t we remove crumbs and still have a conversation? They continue by saying that shabbism is not an excuse to be dirty. Well, excuse me, but if an unwashed smelly dog and crumbs aren’t dirty, what is?
Of course, this is the back lash- and hopefully for them a profitable one – not only against Marie Kondo and her constant tidying, but also last year’s hygge which, like a rash, was everywhere. I even bought a hygge book (more fool me; it’s now about as fashionable as a Slone Ranger in Gucci shoes with snaffles and a single row of pearls around a pie-crust frilled shirt) but somehow I never managed to buy that cashmere throw, light candles (a fire risk!) and what use would a pile of logs for a fire be when we don’t have a wood burner? (Isn’t all that fossil fuel being burned bad for our health?)
I believe that there is a happy medium and I like to think that our home is representative of that. It is clean and tidy, seldom will you find the worktops covered in crumbs (unless I’ve just sliced into a baguette and then I clean up afterwards) and I would feel very uncomfortable in the Rees/Lloyd because the picture painted of it is one where not only knife and fork handles but also the door handles are sticky, and you will find newspapers shoved under the cushions rather than into the recycling box. I might be doing them a disservice, their home might be cleaner and tidier than they admit, but it doesn’t sound like it to me.
Housekeeping, like fashion, goes in cycles. In the 1950s it was Domestic Science (or Home Economics) we were taught in school, elevating what really was cooking and cleaning above its station; in the 1970s Shirley Conran famously said that life was too short to stuff a mushroom. That must be one of the most over-quoted lines from that decade. Now we’re into everything to do with the home; crafts – crochet and knitting in particular – are on the increase, and even Mary Berry has brought out a new book on household tips, and if some of them are anything to go by I feel I’ve slid into a 1940s time-slip, an era of dolly blue bags (who can remember those?) and Vim to clean everything.
And so today I took pleasure in housekeeping. I do it because it’s necessary if you want a clean and tidy house, not because it’s a fashionable thing to do. I made the bed (after allowing it to air) and then cleaned the whole of the ground floor which is quite a task for me (violins playing, can’t you hear them?) with arthritis and age not on my side. I wiped all the windowsills in all the rooms, dusted ornaments, vacuumed, put the cushions straight on the sofas, cleaned the shower room and that involved not only the shower cubicle, the loo and the basin, but also the glass shelves …
I’m fussy about glass shelves. I like them dust-free and you know how glass shows every spec! Also, items such as toothbrushes, deodorants, dental floss and toothpaste, foot cream – all those things which are necessary but just a bit unsightly – live in a cupboard. I keep only attractive things on the shelves – well, attractive to me. Yes, they could go into a cupboard or a drawer and that would save me work, but without possessions our rooms would look very bleak and uninteresting. It is personal items which bring rooms to life. It’s a case of balance. Not too many, not too few.
I also spent time arranging the flowers which we received for our wedding anniversary yesterday. The scarlet gladioli are still going strong, so I put the new flowers a little distance away from them as the colours clashed. But the gladioli will be there only for about one more day before they need to be removed.
I split the bouquet, some of the flowers are here (above) and some in the corner of the sitting room (below) …
And I broke down one last spray of white chrysanthemums into a posy for the hall table …
A lot of people fight shy of cutting flowers down, but sometimes this is much nicer than having blooms on the end of long, sometimes ugly stems. It’s the blooms we want to see surely, not stalks?
All this, of course, takes time, but there is also pleasure to be gained in making our homes look as attractive as possible, and without spending oodles of cash. It took me much of the day, at a steady pace. I vacuumed the rooms (husband usually is in charge of the vacuum but he was in the garage creating a space for the freezer, due to arrive on Monday, as well as finding a place for the industrial vacuum he keeps down there, a throw out from his working days but which is ideal for cleaning the interior of the car.) I dusted and tidied all the rooms on the ground floor and we didn’t go hungry, either (who can cook and clean? Not me!) as I had a pork casserole in the freezer so I heated that and we had it with new potatoes.
I have to admit the house wasn’t exactly untidy or very dirty, it just needed a general clean, and that included our bedroom. Of course, I’ve made a rod for my own back (what did I say about possessions?) in many respects as I tend to gather ‘things’, and in the bedroom, that means perfumes. All have to be removed so that I can wipe the surface of my small dressing chest with a tightly-wrung-out damp cloth (I use washable Spontex, not disposable cloths which go into landfill).
Sadly, there are no flowers in the bedroom at the moment. This is because many of the supermarkets are currently packing bunches of roses in mixed colours. While these can look pretty in the kitchen – little grandson brought us a bunch yesterday …
they would look garish in our bedroom, where only pastel pink roses or carnations look right.
Indeed, the day has been enjoyable and at the end of my exertions we have a clean and tidy house. OK, some drawers need attention but none is filled with crumbs or dead batteries. I have even done the small amount of ironing that needed to be done and put the linen away. I like seeing a dusty surface made shiny again, a basin without toothpaste smears, and clean towels ready to use. Maybe I’m just not your average Brit, according to Rees and Lloyd!
Until next time.