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On Battling Domestic Overwhelm

One of the statements I hear most often from the women I coach is that when it comes to creating domestic routines and rituals they simply don't know where to start because the whole house feels overwhelming.

And oh how I sympathise.

For it takes no time at all for me to lose control of routines that usually run like clockwork and when that happens I recognise how very easy it would be to sit back and let it all go to hell. To watch Jeremy Kyle instead. To get back in bed and pretend my bedroom represents the extent of my very existence and that there is no such thing as an overflowing dishwasher and a laundry basket that just will not be tamed. Or to head out of the door and find myself in the most exquisite of hotel lobby's so I can simply deny a life that feels too ordinary in favour of one more rarefied.

But in the end, Jeremy Kyle gets on with his life, I find myself with cause to go downstairs and do battle with the dishes or the hotel receptionist asks me to leave as they simply can't allow me to be hanging around in a housecoat, lowering the tone and being mistaken for the kind of lady of the night even the most desperate of lonely businessman wouldn't exchange pound notes for.

So I step out of my reality TV slumber and head into the kitchen. Or open the front door and decide to face the music, for when all is said and done this is my home and when my home needs a hug, I am she in charge of administering it even on those days when I would rather boil my head in fabric conditioner.

You see when it comes to looking after our homes, no amount of procrastination will help you offset overwhelm unless you decide to START. No amount of thinking about it will make it go away, you have got to get up and get going! So start!

Start now. Start right where you are. In the bedroom or in the living room. Start by recycling that magazine or picking the laundry basket up off the landing and carrying it downstairs. Start by filling the sink with steaming hot water and a squirt of washing up liquid, ready to dip a cloth into, to wipe down anything standing still. 

Start by making the bed. Your bed or all of the beds. Start by deciding once and for all to banish that stain on the sofa, or clean out the fridge. Start by standing up and stretching. Or screaming. Or dancing a jig. Anything to get enough energy into your bones to get you moving.

Put mad music on! Light a housekeeping candle (and yes I just made that up, but marking a transition from sloth to purpose with something ritualistic is always a good idea!) or play Marie Kondo on Netflix and SHAME yourself into starting! Do whatever it takes: but start somewhere. Somehow.

This isn't about waging war against the house, it is about stepping into harmony with your home and no amount of avoiding it will help you banish overwhelm. You have to start right where you are, no matter how chaotic that feels, because action breeds more action and pride in achievement, even the tiniest of domestic achievement, really is its own reward.

So start. Please start. Sitting in the midst of chaos is the kind of muddle that will never solve itself, unless you decide to do something about it. So start! Do as much or as little as you can manage and allow effort to  create the momentum that will help you to commit to the kind of daily action that will over time dig beautiful holes in overwhelm and eventually see you create a home you are truly proud of.

Start today, start now. You will feel better, I promise.

On Doing One Thing At A Time

If you are not of an organised nature, creating and adhering to a routine is horribly difficult. It means forcing yourself to do a whole list of things when you would really rather be doing more interesting stuff instead. It means setting aside the creative to do the necessary and despite knowing all the wonderful promises doing the necessary brings, still feeling that niggle, nay that raw scratch of pure irritation as you shuffle through the house, pretending to be committed to performing a routine in the manner of a resentful circus monkey.

I have long nagged you about the benefits of routine. I have even tried to jolly things up by insisting you pretty up your days with personal ritual too, but I am aware that for some of you, both routine and ritual are difficult to instigate. That your brain just doesn't work like that. Or that your job makes it impossible. Or the kids have got you so harried you can barely think straight.

Darling I know.

While I may gave the impression that I am a paragon of routine virtue, I am nowhere near perfect and over the past ten years I have talked to enough of you to  know that routine doesn't come easy. That sometimes remembering to brush your teeth is all you can manage as you herd cats and dust bunnies and impossible toddlers and all grown-up men. I know.

So I have come up with a plan. How about we start with one thing? Not a list of ten that need to be achieved daily, but one thing you commit to doing daily. One really tiny thing you do each and every day? Something, teeny, tiny, titchy? One small thing you do every single day even on the days when your world feels like it is standing on it's head. Something so insignificant and yet something you make so precious, you cannot even imagine not doing it! And then when that one thing is an essential part of your routine your turn it into a slightly bigger thing, or add another little thing altogether! And over the months those "things" become routine and at some point in the distant future you have a routine so instinctive you barely have to think about it. How does that sound?

So what kind of things am I suggesting that you begin to obsess about, even ever so slightly? How about you change the bathroom hand-towel every single morning without fail? Open all the bedroom windows before you head downstairs? Always hang your dressing gown up instead of leaving it sprawled over the bed? Spritz your freshly made bed with pillow spay? Always put used teabags straight into the bin? Wipe down the bathroom sink every single time you use it?

Start with something that you and only you are totally in charge of. Something you are currently neglecting to do. Something that will make a difference, no matter how small and then get truly, madly obsessed with doing it. For a short while make your thing, your raison d'etre. Accompany it with a mantra...

I am the kind of person who sleeps on lavender sheets...

I am the kind of housekeeper who always has fresh towels hanging in the bathroom...

Do it and do it every single day. Own your thing! Do it before everything else! Mutter your mantra as you open your eyes! Do it, my Darling Housekeeper, until you cannot imagine not doing it, and then see how commitment to your thing, feeds your sense of pride and your willingness to do the next thing... 

Make your first thing something connected to all that you do or don't do as you open your eyes in the morning and build a routine, one thing, or task, or puttery, silly treat at a time as the day goes on.   For at some point you will start to realise that there is no point in spritzing sheets if you haven't made the bed. Or aired the room. Or hung your dressing room. One little thing leads to lots of other little things! Because pride takes over and you start to feel good about that can be achieved when domestic life consists of just one absolute gotta do thing, and lots and lots of OPTIONAL others.

For there in a nutshell is the key to your success: you will not feel overwhelmed because there is only one thing you have GOT to do and everything else is a matter of choice depending of time and good will...

We can do this: we can build routines one day and one thing at a time and we can start to revel in how it feels to commit to the process of creating a lovelier way of life...

What will your "one thing" be?  

On The Tools Of Our Trade

Once upon a time there was a housekeeper, lets call her Alison, who lived in a happy little gingerbread cottage and spent her days wafting around her treasure filled rooms, filling drawers with comfort, lighting candles on every surface and opening tin cans with her teeth.

Oh yes. For dear Alison was too mean to spend money on a decent tin-opener. Or a pair of garden gloves that actually prevented rosy prickles from stabbing her delicate skin. Or a broom that didn't scatter it's bristles as she swept. Yes, she, the silly, vain little sweetheart, was of a fur coat, no knickers temperament and justified all the gaps in her domestic life by reassuring herself that one more pretty little tchoicke could more than make up for the hours spent in Casualty having her tin-opened fingers stitched back together.

Tin openers. Good microfiber cloths. Decent blenders. Whisks that don't bend when you use them. A vacuum that actually sucks things up. Steam cleaners that shift grub. A broom that doesn't moult. Wooden spoons that last forever. A bottle opener that doesn't require the strength of ten men to pull out corks. Saucepans without plastic handles. A hand held vacuum that does more than blow the dust away. And on and on and on.

All of these things and more are the tools of our trade and we do ourselves a dis-service when we do not give them the credence they deserve...

You see no amount of tchoickes or treasure can more than make up for how owning decent household tools can transform your domestic life. and though it is enormously tempting to fritter away pennies on froth and fripperie, (the saga of the tin opener has been going on for YEARS in my house!), the pleasure that comes from tools that actually WORK is not to be under-estimated.

Think about it: how often have you seethed as you drag the vacuum over the carpet only to leave all those threads and nonsense behind? How wonderful would it be to own a set of artisan garden tools so beautiful you will actually WANT to look after them for the rest of your days and pass them on the youngest green fingered member of the family in the future, instead of buying a new little spade once a year in the DIY shed just because needs must before letting it go to rack and rust year in, year out. Wouldn't it be wonderful to open a can without risking life and limb or grate garlic without shaving your fingers?

It would. It really, really would. because life is better when it isn't hampered by teeny tiny irritations all day long. Life is sweeter when things simply work and in order to guarantee that our household tools are both reliable and long-lasting, we have to (oh darn it!) spend money on them.

Isn't it the most awful bore?  No-one wants to spend money on a posh dust-pan and brush now do they? But oh the joy of owning a cherry red metal dust pan, with a brush that hangs from a gorgeous leather loop! A dust pan and brush that will last forever, and will not need replacing every six months, as it starts to look shabby.

So yes: for a while at least it is worth spending money on the dull-stuff and making a resolution here and now to buy the best tools we can afford instead of syphoning off what could be spent on something that will do the job properly, to spend instead on another cushion for the sofa, or yet another Cath Kidston tea-pot...

We don't need all this stuff. We need tools that look attractive because care has been taken in their manufacture, and more than that: tools that actually do what they are supposed to do, so we can get on with the job in hand without wandering around our lives cursing bad design and poor manufacture.

We need, my darlings, to get our domestic priorities straight!    

On The Well-Appointed Household

I am all about the pretty... and the beautiful, the whimsical and all things frothy and frippy. Which is all well and good until you find that tin opener you scrimped on to buy that set of monogrammed tea-towels has died a death and there won't be a bite to eat in the house until you can beg, borrow or steal another one from your well-appointed neighbours.

Ah the well-appointed people on this planet! Those who own things you didn't know you needed until the day arrives that you desperately do. Those who wouldn't dream of buying another darling cushion when they do not yet own a top notch vacuum, a set of olive forks or a dedicated cheese board. Those never phased by even the most awkward of sartorial challenges because they own wardrobes stuffed with Hunter Wellies, cocktail dresses and funeral hats. Those who can soothe the most dramatic of domestic dramas with spare tap washers,  a set of ever fresh guest towels and extra fuses for every plug in the house. And those my Darling who put function over form at every turn.

In short, those who aren't us. The sensible sorts.

However it is never too late to turn over a new domestic leaf, to become the kind of person with an answer to every household nightmare, safe in the knowledge that  one's cupboards are lined with well maintained tools, possessions prized for the purpose they serve and first aid for every emergency from laddered tights to a crying baby. There is always time to say no to lacy, lavender scented loveliness and instead save up to buy a garden trowel so well made it is worthy of making it into your last will and testament. Hell yeah. Some things in this life are worth buying once and loving ever after, instead of battling with rust every Spring and trudging your way back to the pound store to replace them.

This is how one sets about creating a well-appointed home: by choosing quality and learning how to appreciate it. By identifying gaps in your household inventory and seeking to fill them before you decide to re-paint the bannister for the second time this year. And by making wise purchasing decisions about those things you have established as necessary.

You see life above all else, should be about ease. A sense of domestic ease blesses our minds with creative thought because we do not have to squander precious time or energy on trying to open a tin of tuna with our teeth, or rushing out to the shops in the middle of the night because we are having yet another loo roll crisis! Owning a well-appointed house is about stocking up on the very basics of life and wherever possible up-grading those essentials so that we make it part of our lifestyle to fulfil our household needs with well-crafted, luxurious basics long before we go wasting money on another decorative plate for our collection of  the hundreds that do little to ease our day to day existence.

By it's very definition, having a well-appointed house is about " having good and complete equipment" and this means owning a decent set of saucepans before we waste our wealth on floral arrangements, changing light bulbs before we hand-wash our lingerie in lemon juice and educating ourselves in the brand names that spell quality and guarantee the kind of workmanship that will either last a lifetime or enhance our daily lives.

This does not of course mean abandoning the pretty altogether: it is simply a matter of re-defining our definition of luxury and understanding that when it comes to housekeeping, our priorities lie not in creating coffee-table worthy interiors but in providing the most basic of our families needs to the very best of our abilities. In anticipating our daily needs, and all variety of more specific domestic situations and choosing to own one excellent set of high thread cotton sheets we launder properly instead of owning an airing cupboard full of polyester we neither appreciate nor revere.

You see quality basics have an aesthetic all of their own. They are the reason why we find "below stairs" in National Trust properties so appealing: because despite their bare bones appearance, age has weathered those copper saucepans and hundred year old wooden spoons beautifully- that there is a certain glamour to utility when care has been taken to select the kind of quality only money can buy and a caring housekeeper can choose to own.

We are those housekeepers. We may not have a staff of many but we can from this day forward choose to make it our mission to own a well appointed house long before we go adding to all that pretty fussy we already own.

On The Bedtime Tidy-Up

Tomorrow arrives fresh and full of joy if we are just that little bit willing to go the extra mile to put today to bed in a tidy fashion. Easier said than done? You are right: it is!

Following an evening spent slobbing on the sofa, it is nigh on impossible to work up the energy to get busy doing anything even remotely housewifely before climbing the apple and pears to bed, but just one more teeny tiny squeeze of domesticity can make all the difference to a smooth morning thereafter and we all know that smooth mornings make for a smoother ride through the rest of the day right?

Right. So here is what we do. Here, my Darling Housekeeping Superstars is your one stop, ten point guide to making your mornings the scrumptious cannon into a gorgeous, creative day that the universe always intended they should be. Do it as routine and it should take no more than ten minutes. There is no need to run around like a headless chicken at this stage: if possible wait until everybody else has gone upstairs, then keeping the lights low, turn off all entertainment and quietly wipe the day away from your house and blow it a kiss goodnight...

1. Never go to bed on a full bin...

Want a stinky kitchen? Last nights dinner festering and moulding in a bin-bag overnight? No I didn't think so. So make it somebody's business to take all the trash right out of the house, then lightly spray the inside of the empty bin with a quick blast of white vinegar, pop a new bin-bag and you are ready to wake up a freshly scented kitchen and move on to step number two...

2. Open the Washing Machine...

If you are lucky enough to be able to retire to bed with an empty washing machine, always, always, always  leave the laundry powder drawer open and the front door of the machine open too. This allows the air to circulate around the machine and prevents that truly ugly black mould from crusting up the remnants of powder in the drawer. Job done, lets move on to step number three...

3. Boil the kettle...

Pour the remainder of the boiling water you have used for your bedtime drink down the sink, add a splash of white vinegar and a few drops of tea tree oil and then while you are at the sink re-fill the kettle so you just have to switch it on first thing in the morning...

4. Switch the dishwasher on...

While switching the dishwasher on immediately after the evening meal might make sense in theory, in reality it does leave the very possibility open that supper dishes, glasses and mugs might just accumulate in the aftermath, so waiting to switch the dishwasher on until the very end of the day guarantees you will wake up to a kitchen with empty surfaces and clean dishes. So much better for the soul methinks. On to step number five...

5. Tackle tomorrow's meal times...

If you are on the ball you will have re-set the table for breakfast after the evening meal, so with that already done you can get on with putting any non-perishable breakfast ingredients out on the table or kitchen counter, pop fruit and snacks into lunchboxes, fill water bottles and put them in the fridge and take out anything required for the evening meal from the freezer to defrost in the fridge overnight...

6. Open Your Housekeepers Planner...

And check your list of to-do's for tomorrow so they are fresh in your mind.

7.  Hang out a clean dishtowel.

I know. It seems terribly fussy to require a brand new tea towel or two every day. But dish towels are teeny little scraps of faric that barely add to your laundry load, and there is nothing worse or more downright miserable than a crusty musty tea-towel, so make it a ritual to pop a new towel out every evening before you leave the kitchen. Do it as a teeny little gift to yourself, or as an act of faith in the teeny pleasures of homemaking...

8. Grab your take it upstairs baskets....

And whizz around every room downstairs grabbing anything that should rightfully be upstairs, then pop the basket at the bottom of the stairs ready to take it upstairs in a moment or two...

7. Put tonight away....

Fold up newspapers and pop them in the recycling basket. Put magazines away. Pop cd's and dvd's back in their cases and pop remote controls back where they can easily be found.

8.Suck it up...

Grab your little hand held vacuum and quickly swoosh up any crumbs or fluff. Don't fuss. Just suck up the obvious from floor, coffee table and upholstery and you should be good to go in seconds.

8. And then puff it up!

Nothing makes a room look untidier than sad, squashed cushions so grab each one in turn and working up as much energy as you can muster at this late hour smack each one in turn and pop it back on the chair, then fold up all your blankets and snugglys and you are good to go...

9. Set your timers...

No, not your alarm clock, but the radiator timers and lamp timers to come on just before the household gets up, so that you can wake up to a house that feels snuggly warm and well lit. Particularly important in the depths of Winter this eases your transition into the morning after being huddled cosy in your bed and prevents the kind of body jolt we all too often feel when we try to get the day going in a cold, dark house.

10.  And use a wick dipper...

When a room has been gently fragranced by the sweetest of scented candles, the last thing you want to do is waft the stench of smoke into the room by blowing out your votives and tealights in the traditional way as this both shortens the life of your candles and depletes the fragrance pervading your room. So the answer is a wick dipper. Either buy a proper one or use a slim pencil or chopstick to gently push the burning wick into the molten wax to put the flame and then pop it under the wick to stand it straight up again. Et voila, your candle is out, the room smells beautiful and the wick stands to burn evenly for another day.

Finally waft a little anti-bacterial aromatherapy based air freshener into the air, switch out the lights and grab your upstairs basket before you take yourself up to settle your mind, body and soul before sleep-time...

Night Night Sweeties.x

On Delivering Life To Your Door

Even those of us who deeply adore our homes find cause to leave them daily.

Not always because we want to, but often because we must: to ferry children forwards and backwards, to attend jobs and visit friends and family, and though shutting the door on our only little safe havens is occasionally a wrench, entering the big wide world is simply part of being alive - something we must do if only to allow the sun to sprinkle a little vitamin D across our ghostly pallour...

So yes: there is always reason to close the door on our lavender scented havens, and it simply wouldn't do at all to declare ourselves shabby little hermits and avoid the world outside our four walls altogether even if our homes remain the centre of our creative universes. But we don't have to abandon the house and all that it has to offer us in terms our nurturing our souls and kick-starting all our dreams just to go do the dull stuff.

We can reserve outings, and the time, creative energy and money they consume for children, work and family. For creative excursions of the Simply Abundant kind, for treasure hunting, walks in the forest,  picnics with friends, tra-la-laing through the village with our baskets swinging from our arm as we simultaneously take our daily exercise and shop for an armful of flowers. For the pretty and the precious things in this life, but never for the dull stuff.

Supermarket shopping you see was invented to scramble our brains. To make us believe that debating the merits of two for one offers are what we were put on this earth for. Queues at the bank and post office were invented to make grown women weep and resent every single aspect of a life that seemed blessed before one find oneself in a stuffy monotoned nightmare. Costco was invented to inspire homicidal tendencies in otherwise sane housewives.

And we don't have to do any of it. Not the bank. Not the council office. Not the out of town bookshop. We don't have to give entire Sundays over to the DIY shed or drag whining kids up and down the freezer aisles. We can instead make all that come to us, and save time and indeed, plenty of money that might otherwise be squandered on frivolous temptation, while refusing to allow the ugly to inflict upon our carefully orchestrated lives.

While it is true that all I have mentioned above is in the long term the most blissful way to keep the mechanics of our lives ticking over, setting up the means to have life delivered to our door comes with one caveat: in the beginning it takes a whole lot of mental elbow grease and those of us impatient with modern technology are usually the ones quickest to throw in the tea-towel and declare ourselves absolutely willing to give all those hours we could be crafting or cooking, puttering or reading over to pushing a cage on wheels around a flourescent lit warehouse.

This is clearly madness of the time steal, soul destroying kind and I, as she in charge of your housekeeping health simply will not allow it, for today is the day to take a look at your typical week and decide exactly what tasks and moments can be liberated by the interweb. To spend many a fuddled hour setting up a basic grocery list on the supermarket sit and setting it on auto-pilot. To ring the local farm and arrange delivery of an organic veg box. To arrange to have your milk delivered. To seek out a parcel delivery service that will come to you. To use Amazon for bulk purchases and a program like Mint to manage all your financial accounts in one place. To order presents on-line in tune with a calendar. To look into local on-line council services and speak to your doctors about email appointment and prescription services and local pharmacy delivery.

All of this and much, much more is available at our fingertips and when we make the decision to utilize modern technology to our advantage, and further make the effort to set it up to work for us, we offer our vintage housekeeper free reign to play without being bogged down by the worst kind of domestic stuff and nonsense.

The time is right my Darling to start living an old-fashioned life, by terribly modern means. Anything else is merely creative deprivation.

On Over-Serving

I have a friend who regularly riles my inner vintage housekeeper by declaring that as she rarely finds time to read a newspaper article let alone an entire book, because keeping house keeps her up most nights until long after the midnight oil has burned down, I, who downs tools the minute the dinner dishes are dried to indulge in all manner of frivolous follies, must surely be doing something wrong, or worse, she implies, not doing something at all...

Heavens to Betsy, there stands a brave woman. For sure, cast aspersions on my loud mouth, my terrible taste in snazzy shoes or even the occasionally unbecoming behaviour of my one and only child and I will take it in my pinny wearing stride but start lashing  ridicule on my methods of keeping house and before you can say "come bleach my loo" I'll be sueing you for slander...

For when it comes to keeping house we women are surprisingly touchy. We cannot abide even the most minor of home-making critiques and cringe at the very idea that next door but one there is another woman keeping house, feeding her family and nurturing her children better than we will ever be capable of.

While we might not say anything and even perhaps, profess not to care about the state of our homes, inside each and every one of us harbours the kind of minor shame disproportionately exacerbated by the throwaway comments of women who know no better than to define themselves by the polish on their silverware.

For what the housework police fail to understand is that there is a difference, a huge difference, between being a model housekeeper and keeping a model home. While the model of perfection in housekeeping might be shine and hygiene, the model  in perfect home-making is something subtler: something those only able to judge a house by the white glove test might just oblivious to, because it cannot be accounted for in hours of scrubbing or months of pre-meditated meal plans.

A sense of home is not defined  by floors you could eat your rice pudding off, but is instead about creating a cocoon for those who seek sanctuary in it and while cocoons might be spun with care and dedication their success lies not in the spick and span efforts of those exerting themselves only to win points towards imaginary prizes but for those who think first and foremost about the life inside the cocoon and treat housekeeping only, and rightfully as an afterthought.

There is you see something often inherent in the mind of she who confuses keeping her cocoon with nurturing the life inside it, and that is the tendency to over-serve. It is the reason why my friend stands at ironing board every single night and has done for as long as I can remember. It is why she seems proud to declare how very little time she has to give over to the proper pleasures and why she is all too quick to judge the home-making exertions of every other woman she encounters. She has long defined herself by how she services her home and family and has come to believe that polishing and scrubbing and cleaning and ironing are the finest gifts she has to offer herself and her family.

But housework is not love.

Love is time and laughter and hugs and listening. Love is self-nurturing the strength and energy nurturing others requires. Love never demonstrates resentment for it never seeks gratitude. Love simply is. While is there is much to be said for the woman willing to work her fingers to the bone for her family, one day she will understand that there isn't a child on the planet who gives a damn whether his underwear is ironed but really cares about having to endure a shouty, exhausted Mummy apparently hell-bent on micro-managing every aspect of life within their families four walls.

So this then is my message for today: by all means scrub your toilet when you could be lying deliciously in bed with your husband, and yes, go ahead and frazzle yourself into an early death obsessing about your skirting boards, but understand this: housework is not love and neither the universe, not those who you consider your nearest and dearest will ever say thank you. Choosing to go to bed early is the kind of personal kindness  that will pay higher dividends for your family than any amount of late night drawer organising will ever do.

If you LOVE housework, do it for yourself: do it not because you believe that the Gods will judge you if you don't or because you have convinced yourself that housework is what marriage or Motherhood is about. Do it with pride and joy, but never, ever (NEVER, do you hear me??) allow an immaculate house to make you feel superior to other women until you have walked a mile in their shoes...

Life is hard enough without judging our best friends.

On Wearing Housekeeper's Shoes

Once upon a time I was a very busy and very important company director. Of course this was mostly in my own head but I did indeed run a tiny little company that frequently saw me negotiating with a factory full of joiners or selling my soul to get interior decorating projects that occasionally gave me the shudders. And somedays I was good at it and somedays I was really, really bad and found myself sitting in sawdust drinking tea with Youth Training Scheme boys or accepting a glass of red from a potential client and thereafter quoting half the price I had intended to.

Heck no: business has never really been my forte but on the days when I knew there were factory bottoms to be whipped or indeed that it was essential for the sake of the future of the roof over my head that I struck a great deal, I had one surefire way to guarentee my success and that was the highest pair of heels I could find. Yesarooney, when the full scope of my focus, determination and energy were called upon I would don a pair of stilettos (and a pair of shoulder pads) and in the stab of a razor sharp heel the world would be my oyster.

As a result, I am now a woman who believes, deeply, in the power of shoes to alter ones attitude. Gladiator sandals and Birkenstocks. Spotty wellies and flip-flops. Mary Janes and trainers. Wedges, courts and patent leather stilettos. All of them are lovely and all of them more than earn a place in the shoe wardrobe of the busy, multi-tasking woman of the millenium.

Not least the not-oft mentioned housekeeping shoe.

Oh yes, the housekeeping shoe. For the dear old Flylady was right: barefoot in the park might just be fine and dandy but barefoot in the house spells rest and relaxation to your pleasure seeking head and the barefooted housekeeper all to often finds all her domestic good intentions set aside, in favour of that which is pretty, or entertaining, or puttery. And fun as all that may be, none of it is going to get the loo scrubbed, now is it?

No, my Dear, it isn't. So in must shuffle the shoes.  For pearly pink toes covered in a sensible shoe send the kind of signals to one's brain that say: there is work to be done! No time to meander. No time to enjoy the cosy tickle of the shagpile underfoot, no time to curl up, toes tucked under one's bum on the sofa. Work!

Now while I do so hate to get terribly business like about our lives at home, when it comes to housekeeping, what constitutes "Work" falls  into two very distinct categories: the needful and the unnecessary. The needful includes all that which requires white vinegar, mops, dusters, and domestic machinery and the unnecessary, while still scrumptiously needful in it's own way, accounts for all that we do as Vintage Housekeepers: the puttery treats and the flower arranging, in short all that no-one else notices but that we, hedonistic Domestic Goddesses that we are, could barely live without.

So what I am suggesting is this: that in order to mark out the needful from the unnecessary in our minds, so that we can fully indulge the pleasure principle when we finally come to kicking back and doing the pretty, we should indeed take the Flyladies lead and take ourselves out on a creative excursion of the shoe-shopping kind.

What you choose to wear to keep house is up to you. The Flylady really rather insists that one's housekeeping shoes must be of the laced up variety, but I think that there is room for manoevre here and I for one favour the plastic gardening clog of the kind most often found to be found in fancy gardening stores, because they are both lightweight and fully enclosed, and even better than that, can be wiped should one get a little kamikaze with a bowl full of rose scented soap suds!

What won't do, I do not think, is anything of the flip-floppy variety or indeed anything that could be passed off as a slipper. Slippers you see send all the wrong signals to the alert brain, as does the kind of shoe one could flimsy along the beach in.

No. The housekeeping shoe must be a SERIOUS shoe. Preferably the kind of shoe you would not be tempted to run out the front door in, for the housekeeping shoe wearer must abide by one rule: under no circumstances must the housekeeping shoe try to earn it's keep outside the house. Indeed the soles should never come into contact with pavement or grass and as a result, should  remain spotlessly clean and thus deeply unlikely to sully one's precious cream carpets...

Which is I why I wear a rather scary pair of gardening clogs, because vanity prevents me running out the door in them and I have even been known to kick them off quickly when the doorbell rings, which is I think you will agree, something impossible to do in even the snazziest of housekeeping trainers!

So there it is: your assignment for this week: get yourself a pair of housekeeping shoes. Pop them on to do the dull stuff, then kick them off to go putter. And yes, if you really must, then I think it would be just fine to keep house in red stilettos.

Whatever floats your boat my Sweet. 

On Taking A Housekeeper's Holiday

Home-making is the kind of job that comes without benefits. No holidays, no sick-pay, no let up. Don't take this as a complaint, I'm just saying.

Truth is, I've said it before and I will say it again: we are probably the worst bosses we are ever likely to encounter in or out of the workplace and there is just no escaping our inner slave-driver. She who tuts her head in disappointment at the blackcurrant stain spoiling our kitchen counter, refuses to indulge our  well deserved penchant for scrumptious elevenses and issues demands for seasonal performance reviews that only ever leaves us feeling as though we might as well go boil our heads in fabric conditioner, so appalling have our efforts at keeping house been lately...

Ah yes my friends, the performance review. That all too often inflicted sense that all is not well, and that if we don't get round to pulling up our fishnet stockings, the house and it's darling precious in-mates might just be in danger of falling into rack and ruin.

But let me tell you a secret: it won't happen in July, because real life is suspended for six weeks from here on in and we are absolutely entitled  to take a housekeepers holiday until the day after we stitch the kids back into their neatly starched uniforms and pop them back on the bus to school.

No really. We can take a holiday. We can grab our bossy inner housekeeper by the apron strings and inform her that we will not be partaking in anything resembling a performance review while our toes are full of sand and our freezers are full of ice-pops: we are simply too busy playing ball.

So what exactly does a holiday from housekeeping entail? Can we down tools and declare the house a bicarb free zone? No such luck. No. But what we can do is go easy on ourselves. We can tell ourselves that new regimes, and wiping the slate clean and starting again and renewing our home-making mid-year resolutions can wait and we can get by with doing the absolute bare minimum.

Truly. I've tried it. And the roof didn't fall in. I did nothing but the laundry, hung clothes up un-ironed, ate nothing but scrumptious salad and shop bought (squeal!) cake, cleaned the bathroom and washed the dishes and that was all. And everything ticked along just fine. Nobody noticed the difference. I kill myself daily, and the week I decide to go back to basics, no-one notices the difference!

So here's the idea: instead of bothering our heads daily with the effort to create a perfect home during the long Summer holiday, how about we give ourselves a break instead, and decide to plan a whole new domestic life in September and not my Darlings until?

You see the minute we choose to stop beating ourselves up about the damage inflicted on our living rooms by herds of children or too many weekends spent living in the garden we can instead choose to keep the house ticking over with the kind of daily housekeeping most people find acceptable all year around and instead indulge our vintage housekeepers souls with a Kindle full of old-fashioned housekeeping tomes, a pile of interiors mags a mile high and a secret stash of teeny tiny domestic treats to only be distributed after an Autumnal seasonal scrub.

We housekeepers are sometimes like hamsters on the wheel: intent on keeping it spinning and twizzing our tired old legs into a frenzy without ever stopping to take in the scenery. But the time is now Housekeepers. The time is now to fill our housekeepers planner with new ideas and puttery treats. To lie in the sun and drink afternoon cocktails. To leave the beds un-made and go for a walk in the sun while it's still shining.

Permission granted. Go holiday...

Tips For Survival?

* Keep all holiday souvenirs under wraps until September, so you can bring a little bit of Summer to the house once it is once again immaculate... don't dilute their influence by abandoning them to the current mayhem...

* Don't bother starting any major DIY or re-modelling jobs until the Summer has passed: life will simply get in the way until routine has been restored and all the trappings of the on-going work will only add to the sense that you are living in chaos!

*  Live in a uniform of shorts and t-shirts and encourage the kids to do the same. Insist that personal towels are used for at least two showers each and air-dry them thoroughly on the line in-between. Use wipeable table mats and cloths and in short, do everything in your power to reduce the laundry until you have the majority of your day back in the Autumn.

*Make putting holiday packing away a priority above all else: coping with the house when you are only doing the minimum of housekeeping is quite enough to have to deal with without tripping over abandoned suitcases and tenty paraphenalia all Summer long...

* Keep the kitchen sink sparkly clean and free of the great unwashed and the rest of the house will feel clean...

* Cook as rarely as you can get away with and when you have to use the bbq and microwave as often as you can. Think quick and easy and you will half the work involved...

* And finally: don't sweat the small stuff as the old adage goes. Life is short and Summer days might be long, but the seasons pass in the blink of a child's eye...

On Doing That Little Bit More

When we have established a housekeeping routine, it is terribly easy to fall into the rather naughty habit of going through the motions. Ugh. Was there ever a more depressing sentence than that? It implies all kinds of miserable notions, from doing only what is utterly obligatory to dragging your sorry self through a list of must do's and resenting every. single. moment.

Nope. That's no way to live your life. In fact the minute you find yourself going through the motions, I really rather insist that you down tools and pour yourself a stiff vodka. Life is just too short to stuff it to capacity with the kind of tasks that make you want to jump domestic ship on a daily basis.

Sadly there is just no getting away from said tasks. We have gotta make those beds. Clean those loo's. Change the cat litter. We have gotta, gotta, gotta. If we don't the whole darn business of living will grind to a halt and we will find ourselves being featured on the kind of program that shows sorry looking sorts  being told off  by stern cleaners for allowing dead rats to decompose under a pile of 1972 newspapers.

It's a slippery slope m'dears and not one you joyously shout weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! as you slip down it.

So the answer is to rethink your housekeeping strategies. To think not, what can I get away with, and instead to think, what more can I do? How can I make this job better/easier/more rewarding/less depressing than a night in watching Question Time? To do that little bit more and to reap the rather life enhancing benefits of pushing yourself out of your lazy comfort zone and into a place where housekeeping feels rewarding because we set ourselves daily challenges to improve our efforts.

I know this sounds a bit Pollyanna. And frankly even I can't think of a single way to make changing the cat litter more rewarding. But for every other domestic task that we rush our way through blindly, there is usually a way to do it better, to do just that little more in that moment of time, so that whatever we are doing ends up looking cleaner, shinier, more organised or indeed, prettier. We can ALWAYS do more.

Now when I say more, I am not taking about extending your morning routine way into the afternoon and forcing you to endure more housework than any woman in her rightful mind should have to do.  I am talking about both pride and application. Applying ourselves to the job in hand so that when we have done just that little bit more than we usually do, we feel PROUD.

You see pride is a darling little entity. It tends to inspire action. And action leads to pride, and then there we are spinning about in happy little, gratifying circles day by day committing to make life better and housework more rewarding than most would have us believe.

Because that is why we are here, at Brocantehome, isn't it? Because we enjoy the very process of creating a home-centred, pretty life?  But we are not martyrs to the lemon scented cause and we do not have to fake a glossy smile every time we face scrubbing the u-bend, we merely have to double our efforts to learn more about the job in hand. To read about time-saving, inspirational tricks. To always be looking for a better way. To not only rinse the bath but to give it a quick polish with a dry towel so we banish the possibility of streaks. To not only make the bed, but to learn how to make hospital bed corners out of our vintage linen sheets. To not just whip up a Victoria Sponge but to make the effort to learn how to make the best Victoria Sponge EVER.

So each task becomes a challenge to better not just our homes, but ourselves. a constant, rewarding path towards betterment.

This then is not just a philosophy for housework, but also for every aspect of our own lives. We can look at every task, every moment, every decision we are facing, and ask ourselves how can I do this better? How can I love that little bit more right now? How can I make this meal a little healthier? Be a better parent? Right here, and right now? How can I become more mindful today? More Zen about the tasks I face?

In Japanese culture, Kaizen is a way of life: the constant commitment to betterment. To continuous improvement of processes, strategies and the whole self, and as housekeepers we can take inspiration from this and commit ourselves whole-heartedly to doing just that little bit more from this day forwards.

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