In her classic book Superwoman, Shirley Conran claimed that housework always expands to fill all the available time plus half an hour. Hands up everyone who has found that one to be true!
Now that my hand is down again and touching the keyboard, I can say that it’s important to find a few “cheats” that will help tame that housework monster and stop it from devouring you, your relationships and your spare time. Here are mine…
DON’T bother sorting the washing into lights and darks or by colours. If you continued this to its logical extreme (and, when you think about it, if you sort by colours or even light and dark, you have to realise that blue could taint red, and pink could taint yellow, even though they are equally light/dark/coloured), you would end up sorting things into 22 or even 24 piles – delicate and ordinary for each of the eleven basic colours recognized by the English language (or twelve if you want to separate indigo and light blue into separate colours, like they do in Spanish and Russian. But then, if you speak Welsh, blue, green and grey all go in the same pile… Enough semantic linguistics!). Most things are colour-fast these days, with the exceptions of ethnic fabrics and one or two cheap towels. Soak them in a bucket if you’re unsure to find out and only sort into lights and darks if one of these items is in the wash for the day.
DON’T bother drying dishes and putting them away. Leave them in the draining rack to drip dry, with a tea-towel over the top to keep off the flies. People will probably empty the rack for you, as taking a plate, cup or spoon off the rack is easier than getting it out of the cupboard.
DON’T bother ironing unless it is absolutely vital. If you line-dry items, they don’t get very wrinkly anyway. If you hang things up straight away, they won’t wrinkle.
DON’T put it off for too long. Housework gets worse the longer you leave it. Do a little bit every day and you won’t end up with the horror of having all your Saturday taken up with housework.
DON’T get a long-haired pet. They shed everywhere and need continual grooming.
DO use bubble bath rather than bath oil. It cleans the bath and avoids the dreaded bath ring – mostly!
DO encourage children to do their bit in tidying up. It makes life easier if you can find your kids chores they enjoy doing. For example, my seven year old daughter likes washing the dishes because she gets to play with all the foamy bubbles. Other popular chores include cleaning the bathroom (you get to go in the bath with your clothes on), anything involving a mixture of baking soda and vinegar (fizz!), anything involving spray-on bottles, and feeding pets. They won’t do a perfect job, but they will do a good job.
DO restrict kids’ toys to one part of the house, or designate one part as a “no toy room”. This saves a lot of fights and broken treasures (and impaled feet – some safety organisations say that one of the most common injuries in the house involves pieces of broken toys inflicting puncture wounds on bare feet and/or becoming embedded in feet.)
DO use tablecloths. If you have kids who spill things (and adults spill things too – like the beetroot last night), it is much easier to whip off a tablecloth and toss it into the machine than it is to try to sponge and scrub off sticky items from bare wood. Breakfast cereals are particular offenders, as they spill easily and dry solid (and who has time to police and clean up spills in the morning rush out the door for everyone?). Most stains wash out fairly easily in cold water, but seeing as the most common food stains are red (beetroot, tomato ketchup and red wine), common sense suggest that red tablecloths are the most practical. They look nice, warm and friendly, too.