My name is Geraldine, and I’m a desperate housewife. By that I don’t mean I swan around my beautifully manicured street, flicking my perfectly coiffed hair, a soft cashmere twinset draped over my impossibly slender shoulders as I plot my next liaison with the gardener or try to casually cover up a murder. No. I mean I am literally desperate because I absolutely despise housework.
It never used to be that much of an issue to be honest: when I was on my own, I lived in a succession of rented bedrooms, allowing each one to get messier than the last and ignoring my growing floordrobe, but I always knew where everything was and it didn’t matter because I was the only one involved. Every so often, I would have a massive clear out and vow to become neater, but it never worked. When I met my husband, he was just as bad, so we bumbled along together in his flat. I don’t like dirt, so it was always clean, but clutter? Meh, so what? The kitchen surfaces were all spotless, you’d just have to move several piles of unsorted paperwork and random crap to find that out.
Then we had our first son, and all-of-a-sudden, I was drowning in laundry. I was at home all day with the baby while my husband was at work. He had reflux (the baby, not my husband), and the washing machine was on all the bloody time. Whether it was wiping down the high chair, cleaning the bathroom after a nappy explosion or hoovering endless breadsticks off the floor, I suddenly found myself doing more housework on a daily basis than I used to do once a week – just to keep things ticking over.
And it didn’t stop there. We are now a family of four and we have moved from a flat into a house, so that means more space for all our stuff, and more rooms to hoover (yay!). But the key difference for me these days is that I am mostly a stay-at-home mum – and that means I feel there is a certain expectation (from society, NOT my husband – I must point out) that I should be some sort of domestic goddess (or at least be vaguely on top of the situation). I even filled in one of those stupid surveys the other day where I had to give my occupation and the only box that really applied was “housewife” (hello, the 1950s called and they want their form back….). Anyone who knows me – and certainly anyone who has lived with me – will know I am definitely not up to the job description! The mere mention of an impromptu play-date at our house is enough to cause me to break out in a cold sweat, unless my last-minute guests can at least pretend that they are unfazed by the chaos.
For all sorts of reasons, mainly financial, it didn’t make sense for me to go back to regular work after the birth of my second son and I know that I am very lucky to be able to stay at home. But just because I’m a woman and just because I am at home with my children pretty much all day every day, does not mean that I am automatically house-proud. Nor does it mean that I actually have time – between reading stories, wiping snotty noses, tending to their every whim and diffusing fights – to even so much as whip around with the hoover most of the time.
When I was a teenager, I remember my mother begging me to clean up my room and telling me that I would have to learn to be a bit tidier so that I could survive when I left home. “I will not be forced to conform to such stereotypes of women,” I sneered. “And anyway, I’ll make sure I’m rich enough to afford a cleaner so I won’t have to.” I’m not knocking anyone who takes pride in cleaning their home – far from it. I wish so much that I could keep on top of it all, but sadly, the tidy gene has passed me by and – much as I love my husband – he’d quite happily live in a pigsty for all eternity.
When we have important visitors or people coming to stay, I usually resort to more extreme tactics and get a cleaner in. I will inevitably spend about six hours the day before said cleaner arrives, rushing around, moving stuff like a maniac and shouting: “Why is there so much crap everywhere? The cleaner needs to actually get at the surfaces – can everyone PLEASE pick up their own stuff?! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK? I’M NOT A BLOODY SERVANT YOU KNOW!” It’s like watching my mum in the mid-90s all over again. Sorry Mum.
Afterwards, I feel bloody marvellous and vow to keep everything tidy forever so that I don’t even need the cleaner next time because I am totally capable. Needless to say, it never lasts. I really just need to bite the bullet and get a regular cleaner.
My friend read somewhere that the secret to creating the illusion of a truly ordered home is to put a load of lemons in a bowl in the middle of your kitchen table and then, when people sit down at it, you pick up the bowl and say, with a jaunty-yet-enigmatic laugh: “Oh sorry, don’t mind these, I’ll just move them.” Because who the hell has time to worry about keeping their citrus fruit in check unless they have sorted out all their other shit first? It’s brilliant – if a little outré. Try it.
For now, I shall give thanks for whoever invented the Flash Wipe and bags for life, which are most useful for storing all the clean washing I haven’t quite got around to putting away yet. Plus, my 18-month-old has recently started playing with a dustpan and brush and trying to get into the cleaning cupboard (locked, thankfully), so I have bought him a toy hoover to nurture his burgeoning interest in domesticity. Perhaps all is not lost…
About Geraldine Cooper
Geraldine is a multimedia journalist who has spent her career working in some of the UK’s busiest newsrooms. Her hobbies include singing, learning useless trivia, watching terrible TV and eating chocolate. She lives with her husband and two young sons in a house in South London which may one day be lost under a pile of unsorted laundry.
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