Really we are still living in a suburb. It takes about a quarter of an hour to walk to Gloucester docks and nearly 25 minutes to The Cross. But it feels different to us. For me it’s the fact I don’t have to cross a major road to get into town and that it’s about as easy on foot as it is to drive. We go into the city a lot more since moving.
It’s not our street that is Stepford-like so much as our house. When the remake of the film came out in 2004 I found myself hankering after certain aspects of that life. I loved the light airy houses that were sparkling clean yet looked comfortable and welcoming. I liked the sense of neatness and order whilst still being lived in (cupcake anyone?). I’m also rather a fan of 1950s fashion to the extent that I wore a circle dress with full underskirt when I married the husband.
We had set the target of finishing our house for our wedding reception and while we didn’t manage it, the transformation was incredible. The house we bought was a bit scruffy round the edges with dark carpets and ugly bathrooms. It was warm and welcoming but it was dusty old house cosy and what I wanted was light and bright cosy. I think we achieved it with a cream carpet throughout and a soft palette of duck egg, lilac-grey and off-white. I baked my own wedding cake (plus cookies and mince pies) and I felt fabulous as I descended my stairs in the sudden quiet (my stepsons had left with the husband) of my lovely house.
We utterly trashed it over the course of the wedding and Christmas and as I cleared up I wondered what I’d do next. I guess I had seen what was possible. I found myself on the Good Housekeeping forum on Mumsnet (lord knows how!) and discovered an American website called Fly Lady. The gist is short bursts of cleaning but what seems to work is the desire of the people on those threads (Mumsnet NOT Fly Lady) to live lives that are a bit, well, tidier.
The issue I took with Fly Lady was that it felt like a step back from feminism. It’s all very female focused and while I wanted to live in a Stepford house I had no desire to be a Stepford wife! I am far from alone in feeling this way but I think to end up in a place where you discuss the virtues of microfibre cloths, you’re already at the point of screaming no more and willing to try anything.
So I gave it a go. I shined my sink and slowly started changing my habits. I gave it a few days before I told the husband and after a few more days he remarked on how different the house was looking. It wasn’t that it was particularly dirty or messy before but there were lots of little things that make the heart sink; a pile of paperwork to sort, a jumper that needs hand washing getting in the way and a sink full of dirty dishes.
He’s joined me. He finds it harder to multitask (empty the dishwasher while the kettle is boiling and so on) but is giving it a good effort.
I mean, I’m not going to pretend that cleaning is something fun but by doing it in short bursts and being less of a perfectionist about it means a surprising amount gets achieved and it is much more relaxing when you aren’t cleaning. So far we’ve only got the ground floor continually tidy and are perhaps two thirds there on cleanliness but I know we’ll have the whole house there in the next month (crucially when the last of the tradesmen have finished).
What I like is that it feels manageable. I think a house that you can’t manage indicates a life that you can’t manage. When I saw piles of laundry it was a visual indicator of where my life wasn’t in control. Sure I have OCD (sadly not cleaning related) but the husband doesn’t and I’ve seen a change in him. He still can’t find anything but he seems less grumpy about it. He’s also more willing to pitch in, I think because the difference is apparent. When the kitchen is almost tidy and pretty clean, a few quick tasks by him makes it look fantastic.
Funnily enough, my concern that this path was counter-feminist was completely wrong. My relationship has improved and I feel that keeping our home nice is something we’re doing for each other. The husband is doing the most housework I’ve known him to and he’s doing more and more without being asked.
All this fits within a wider life change I’m pursuing at the moment. It’s very much about the family I’m trying to create and I’ve decided it’s something I need a separate blog for as I feel this one has started to slip away from wider reflection and I want to get back to critiquing the world around me. The stuff that’ll keep my mind from going Stepford! If you’re interested in following my new blog, you can find it at Highlights and Hunter Wellies.
Next week I’ll write part two of Bulgur Wheat and Boys with Guns. For now I’m off to empty the tumble dryer. Then maybe I’ll read another newspaper because really I ought to be using this column as my soapbox for budget cuts and SOPA, not housework!!!
* By Gloucestershire’s standards.