When I look at the stereotype of the 1950s housewife, I think that she (a) is damn lucky not having to juggle running a house AND look after small children AND hold down a job, (b) has impossibly high standards of cleanliness. It seems absolutely ironic that the women’s movement allowed women to do more things than housework, but modern living still seems to demand that our houses are just as spotless and germ-free than any 1950s home. Yes, I know that many professional women employ professional cleaners. But some of us take jobs just to be able to meet the mortgage payments and can’t afford a cleaner on top of that. Or else we are professional cleaners! You might think that a pro cleaner should have a spotless home, but the truth is that if you spend eight or so hours a day cleaning other people’s houses, the last thing you want to do when you get home is do more cleaning… for no pay.
Yes, the men in our lives do help more than they used to. But this sort of arrangement only began with the Baby Boom generation (or even the Buster generation), and you can’t really shake off the roles of centuries in less than 50 years. Women still end up with the bulk of the responsibility, even though our men no longer believe that soap suds and vacuum cleaners do not do horrible things to testosterone levels or virility.
For those of us in this situation, I came across some advice in a genuine 1950s women’s magazine that my grandmother had hoarded. In paraphrase, this advice was that as long as you have clean clothes on your body and bed, and clean food utensils (crockery, cutlery, pots, pans, etc), you can let the rest slide.
And you have to learn how to cheat. Time is precious, and you don’t want to waste all your spare time cleaning up. Do some, but don’t go overboard. I have read that some scientists are convinced that having hyper-hygienic homes is behind the upsurge in food allergies in children – children’s immune systems don’t get enough germs to work on from their environments so they start working on other substances such as peanuts. A bit of dirt won’t kill you (dust, however, is harmful for asthmatics, so vacuuming is essential).
Here’s some time-saving tips that have worked for me and other women I know.
1. Tablecloths are simple to pick up and throw in the laundry – much easier than trying to wipe stuck-on cereal off tabletops. Have a selection of tablecloths and rotate them, so you don’t put pressure on yourself to get the one and only tablecloth washed, dried and back on in a hurry.
2. Have a designated clean laundry drop-off point and let everyone in the household collect their own laundry as and when they need it if you haven’t managed to put it away. My mother used to do this when I was a teenager. I got so fed up with hunting for underpants every morning that I took complete responsibility for my own laundry (cunning old Mum).
3. Don’t even bother buying clothes for children that need ironing. T-shirt material, polar fleece, denim and tracksuit-style fleece are durable, easy to wash and dry crinkle-free, especially if line-dried.
4. If you have a washing line, sort clothes ready for putting away as you hang them out (e.g. all towels together, all of Sally’s clothes together, etc.). This takes no longer than hanging out laundry the regular way.
5. Have drop-off caddies or baskets in all main traffic areas for dumping those odds and ends that always get left on floors, bench tops, sofas and tables. Guilty parties
6. If expecting visitors, only clean the rooms your visitors will go into and ignore the rest. They’re not going to be going under your bed!
7. My son’s kindergarten teacher said that giving small children household tasks and responsibility builds their self-esteem, as it helps them feel like they can contribute and make a difference. My kids, for some reason, seem to like cleaning glass, dusting the piano (cool noises) and cleaning the bathroom (water fights, throwing wet flannels and getting into the bath fully clothed).
8. Designate at least one room as a “no toy” room and keep this as an adult haven.
9. Lower your standards – kids are messy, so don’t expect to have a perfectly clean home until they have left it.
10. Keep meals simple. Eggs, pre-washed potatoes, raw veggies and tinned fish are all healthy and easy to prepare.