Should femininity be a primary duty?

[This post is spaced with images of various forms of femininity becoming to women of fertile ages. As I am not yet a mother and still young, I felt it would be inappropriate to start a debate as to what is appropriately feminine for an older woman or a young girl. Unless otherwise mentioned, every picture here is a representation of something I find feminine.]

I have been thinking about femininity a lot lately. Namely because I’m working on being more feminine for Jon, who, as my husband-to-be, definitely deserves to enjoy me for the woman I am. So, for his sake and, by proxy, my own, I’ve been looking into ways I can be more feminine. And I’ve reached a conclusion that can’t be put in delicate terms: that, whilst it is important and may need to be at the forefront for many women, femininity is not my primary duty and needn’t be the primary duty of any working (moneyed or not) woman.

For starters, let’s define femininity. It’s a hard one, as GBG have found, so I’ll use their near-perfect definition (highlights mine):

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How I always imagine the girls when they’re debating something serious like this.

Femininity is one of those things that is very easy to pick out when you see it, but it isn’t always easy to tweeze out the very fine points of it.  We’ve all written about how, as women, we should strive to be pretty, wear modest makeup, but wear it well, have long hair, dress well and so forth.  But as we all know, femininity encompasses so much more than that and trying to write about all it entails in one or two posts is nigh impossible.

With this in mind, I thought it best to simply just pick one small aspect of femininity and write about it.  My hope is that it will inspire questions, comments, and further ideas for myself and the other writers here to spin off of and therefore continue the conversation of what it means to be a feminine woman.  It’s not a simple thing and it goes very deep.  However, the outer covering is a very good place to start in one’s journey to becoming more feminine.  It’s why I love the video above so much.

Women today seem to go to either end of the spectrum, even in the course one day, in their dress.  For the day it might be sweatpants and sneakers and for the night heavy makeup with a very skimpy dress or skirt.  There is little in between.  It is in this in between that we start to find what is feminine.

I tend to think of feminine as that place one would find on the line between pretty and beautiful.  One might use the words classy, elegant or sophisticated as well.  And while a feminine woman, depending on her situation, will likely have occasion for sexy, it is not something that she allows anyone beyond her husband to be a part of or witness from her.  The problem here often lies in one’s own definition of these terms.  Something that I might find to be classy or beautiful might not be modest enough for the next person or might be too modest for someone else.  You need to figure that out with your husband and with what you find acceptable.  This is highly important.”

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So femininity, in terms of dress, is “somewhere between pretty and beautiful”. I’d say that summary applies to most other aspects of femininity also. Not girlish, but not boyish. Mature, but not sexy. Well-kept, but not overdone. Attractive, delicate, coquette, coy, friendly, open, reserved and polite. Somewhere between a girl and a woman, miles away from a whore or a man.

This isn't feminine.

This isn’t feminine.

But this isn't either.

But this isn’t either.

I’d say that makes good sense, wouldn’t you?

She's feminine.

She’s feminine.

When we look at images of conventionally feminine women, we see skirts and dresses from just above the knee downwards, maybe slightly higher if it’s obviously warm or she’s on a beach. We see long, well-groomed hair and long-ish, well-groomed nails. We see a splash of make-up; not attention-seeking, but pleasing to the eye. We see women who stand with their backs straight and their shoulders back, their chins not too high in the air, their hips and busts not tilted alluringly, no slouch; just a graceful, unabashed, non aggressive woman. We see women who write, who sew, who clean, who care, who cook and talk. We see mothers, secretaries, teachers, nurses and cooks. Examples abound in the pictures I have inserted between these paragraphs. That is what feminine looks like. That is what feminine is. If you seek to be purely, wholly feminine, be everything described, everything portrayed and nothing else.

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Next, it’s worth contemplating Olive White Fortenbacher’s short script “When Queens Ride By”. In it, the Mangraves’ fortune is turned around when, like the Queens of the title, Jennie starts caring for the home and her husband first and leaves the business to him. The message is that women’s domain, even in marriage, is specific and that femininity is the most important thing we can contribute. Which, to be honest, it often is. A woman in a relationship who earns £300/week but who doesn’t cook or clean ends up costing money once you’ve accounted for the extra rent, clothes, make-up, running a second car, inefficient food expenses and a cleaning lady or even a nanny. A woman who works hard on the farm and lets her house fall apart leaves her husband worrying about what he’ll come home to; namely an angry, tired, mouthy woman, an untidy, unkempt home and a poor dinner. Basically, the feminine and the traditional gender roles of women go hand in hand and specifically complement the life of a working man.

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However, we now hit a snag. You see, to be purely, wholly feminine, you must be everything described above and nothing else. Yet a woman’s traditional roles are as varied as a man’s income and a nation’s culture and sometimes fulfilling these roles requires more than femininity.

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Femininity won’t carry the firewood home.

For example, in the Cagayan Agta tribe being a good woman also involves fishing. In medieval peasant society, a good woman roughed-up her hands and tired her body by working in the fields and at the home. Even in modern society, a good housekeeper cooks, works with bleach, may have a part-time or even full-time job. Basically, a good woman can only fit so much into her day, or be so careful about her body, without ending up hurting her home or her tribe. An Agta woman who doesn’t fish so as to keep herself clean and dry is probably viewed as lazy. A peasant woman who refused to work in the fields would probably be viewed as an unsuitable wife. And we all know what we think of women who don’t work, cook, clean or do anything with their time and energy but groom and display their bodies. Pretty to look at, good for men to have sex with, but not good women. Yet the last three women are arguably more feminine. They will be more delicate, more beautiful, more composed, etc. However it seems we’ve missed an aspect of femininity. We’ve talked about good women. We’ve talked about feminine women. Now we need to think about both. Namely, what makes a good and feminine woman. Consider the following list of traits and behaviours and imagine a balance between them:

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And getting our hands dirty shouldn’t be beneath Western women either. Or did ovens stop needing cleaning in the 50s?

-delicate, but strong and healthy

-slight build, but with enough hip fat to grow children inside her

-well-kept hair, but housework-ready hair

-shaved legs and manicured nails, but a good dinner on the table

-attentive, caring wife, but secondary earner

-attractive, flattering clothes, but practical, robust clothes

-polite and considerate in conversation, but raise important points in conversation

-learns entertaining things, but develops practical skills

-sexually and romantically alive, but puts energy into running and maintaining a house

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There we have the balance. A woman who is not afraid to be a woman, but not so concerned with being a woman that she ceases to be a helpmeet. A woman who fulfills the first part of those bullet-points but only the first part may be the epitome of femininity, but if that’s all she brings to the table, then she’s a demure prostitute. She’s delicate, slight, with well-kept hair, nails and legs, attentive, caring, wears attractive and flattering clothing, is polite and considerate, studies the arts and is big on sexytimes.  A woman who fulfills the second part of those bullet-points but only the second part may be the epitome of a good housekeeper, but if that’s all she brings to the table, then she’s a slutty co-worker. She’s strong, healthy, has enough fat to ensure many healthy children, is dressed for work, puts her time into cooking and cleaning, earns money, debates with her husband, learns practical skills and devotes her energy to her home. Yet these women are imaginary. The demure prostitute and the slutty co-worker are mere models, not real women, no matter how close to becoming them some women are. More often than not, you’ll find a woman who’s delicate, with well-kept hair, nails and legs who debates and earns. You may find a woman who’s robust and practical, but who puts her energy into romance, sex, children and cooking. As individuals, even traditionally-minded women can lean towards the feminine or the housewifely, yet possess the traits of both. But the key isn’t that.

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The key is to pursue a balance of both sides in every aspect of your life. You wear practical clothes that look good on you wherever possible. You don’t wear a trouser-suit to work, but a suit-dress and a jacket. You keep your hair, likewise, practically kept away and attractive. You don’t leave it down in the way, but tie it up in a loose bun or a high pony-tail. The goal isn’t to pick and mix one or the other depending on what aspect of your life you’re looking at. The goal is to find the balance between the two that best suits you.

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And, of course, like all goals it’s an ideal. Just as no woman is the perfectly feminine demure prostitute or the perfectly useful slutty co-worker, no woman is the perfect woman nor can be. Femininity is firstly a personal thing. What one culture views as feminine another views as slutty. What your society views as feminine your family may view as strange. What your friends view as feminine your husband may view as modest. Talk to those who matter.

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It is up to you to decide whose advice is in your best interests.

Next you have to consider your other priorities. If you have young children then making your clothes a priority will likely be more stress than it’s worth. Yet if you have older children you can encourage them to help with housework enough or be quiet for long enough that you can properly shave your legs and find some nice lingerie for the night. If you have digging to do, keeping your hair down may not be an option. If you are just repotting small shoots then you can keep your hair down. If someone is flirting in an obnoxious manner at work, perhaps demure and polite isn’t the way to go. If a man who could have been misled flirts with you, then a polite rejection is in order because let’s face it, it’s easy to see why a man could think a feminine woman is into him; why else would a modern Western woman be acting feminine?

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Imagine you’re living in an inverse reality. “Look how covered up and quiet she is! Must be interested in me.”

Of course, if you’re single then femininity goes up your priority list. Once you’re in a relationship you needn’t let the facade fall or keep being extra-feminine; you can just tell him that you were working to get his attention and that you aren’t usually that well-dressed or that quiet. Sure, honesty seems a bit weird when you’ve been prioritizing femininity during the flirting and dating stages, but men often prefer honesty and, well, comfortable clothing, chattering and swearing, take-away pizza and no make-up isn’t exactly the best bait for a man of any walk of life. Just don’t let it all go. As mentioned, you can let the balance readjust between the feminine and the housewifely once you’re settled. That doesn’t mean get fat and talk him down. That means 1h hairdos and polite silence doesn’t have to be the order of the day everyday anymore.

You no longer need to do an impression of her, is what I'm saying.

You no longer need to do an impression of her, is what I’m saying.

The reason for priorities is simple: you have a limited amount of time and energy, or power, to hand out in your day. If I had decided one morning to dress in a feminine, delicate manner, do 4h of tutoring, plant-out all the seedlings, clean the house, do the shopping, write an essay, read 50 pages, study German, do a 45min workout, get Jon a cooked lunch and dinner, entertain guests and then get into some lingerie and spend 2 hours in the boudoir I am unlikely to accomplish all this. My delicate, feminine skirts and hair-arrangements are fine for tutoring, cooking, light cleaning and reading, but would get untidy and even broken during shopping, gardening and heavier cleaning. I only have so much time to allocate and things would go amiss. I only have so much energy and gardening, shopping, cleaning and a workout all in one day would kill me before I ever got around to changing into lingerie. These things must be spaced out over days. Sometimes I have a messy, busy, workout of a day and spend all day in old jeans and one of Jon’s t-shirts. Sometimes I have a nice, quiet day and spend all day in tight jeans or a floor-length skirt and a blouse. Sometimes I have done walking and gardening and have no energy for a workout. Sometimes I save my energy for a workout or the bedroom. Sometimes I have to finish work at night and can’t cook a big dinner. Sometimes I have free time and make Jon one of his favourite meals and get the baking done.

ALCALA LA REAL CONCIERTO DE MARIA JOSE SANTIAGO 12-7-05 JUAN RAFAEL HINOJOSA

Likewise, you have to think about what needs doing, for when and to what standard. Not what you would like to do, or what you didn’t do yesterday, but what needs to be done. Pick and choose and get things done when they need doing. Don’t overburden yourself mentally, physically, emotionally or generally in one day. Your energy and time are investments and wasting them by investing poorly or running yourself down until you’re ill is not the way to do things.

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Finally, it’s worth mentioning my “little sacrifices” explanation for when you have to make a decision regarding your time and energy. Of course, sometimes it’s OK, or even important, to prioritize ourselves. If you don’t have much more energy, it’s better to take a nap than power through the hoovering. If you did a heavy workout, it’s better to leave the lifting for your husband than disturb your muscles further. If there’s some work to do, those letters will have to be posted tomorrow. Likewise, a little downtime is also important. We need to have hobbies, some time to ourselves, a break from the day-to-day. And these things should sometimes be our priorities, as sometimes they’re 100% necessary to keep us going. All work and no play makes us all dull girls.

Secondarily, it’s worth noting that sometimes your time or your energy run completely dry. At these times it’s important to just shut down and rest. When it’s 11pm, 12pm or 1am or you can hardly move a limb and you still haven’t finished what you’d set out to do, it’s time to call it out. You have no more time and no more energy and pushing yourself further will just have a negative impact on the next day’s productivity, on your health and on your mood. Sometimes you will have to accept that the day won and get enough rest so you can tackle tomorrow all the harder.

"I may need 8 hours of actual sleep tonight."

“I may need 8 hours of actual sleep tonight.”

However, when considering a rest, some me-time or a break from all the work you’ve been doing, it’s also important to bear the “little sacrifices” in mind. They’re in quotes because they’re often seen as sacrifices, however, in reality, it would be better to view them as Little Gifts or Little Pleasures, because that’s what they are, so I shall refer to them as such henceforth. Basically, a Little Gift is when you have some spare time and you can choose between prioritizing yourself or doing something nice for your husband, children, home or friends. It’s when either your time or your energy is running low, but not run out, that this should be considered. Primarily because of the risk of developing selfishness. If we decide that every free second we have needs to be spent on leisurely reading, napping, long baths, solitary walks, TV and anything else that helps us relax, we begin to think of ourselves as inherently deserving of these things and inherently needing relaxation. The more we enjoy these things, the more we resent the less relaxing and less pleasurable aspects of our lives. If we start following a series during the kids’ nap-time, that’s because we have half an hour free at that time. If we start to prioritize the series even when the kids don’t nap, or nap later, or when other things need doing, then we’re ignoring what is part of our job-description. The series is a filler, not a priority. Our enjoyment of it is fortunate, but not a priority. If things like TV shows, long baths, naps, walks, etc, start becoming our default priorities, then we are becoming selfish. We can observe the results of this in mothers who will send their children to their rooms for interrupting an episode of a soap-opera, refuse to cook dinner because it’s their bath-time and go for long walks even when this presents an inconvenience to everyone else in the household. The message we communicate when we engage in these behaviours is “I am more important than you”. “You” could be your partner, your children, your friends or your entire household. And make no mistake, when we seize every second for ourselves and even go so far as to inconvenience others (others who are supposedly important to us) so that we can enjoy ourselves, we are saying we’re more important. This becomes a slippery slope towards declaring you are more important than the relationship or the family, at which point said relationship and family could start to disintegrate.

Regardless of who's in it, forming, building and maintaining a "tribe" is important.

Regardless of who’s in it, forming, building and maintaining a “tribe” is important.

At times when we have a few minutes free, the first thing we need to think of is “what needs to be done?” If we ascertain that everything that needs to be done has been done, next we need to consider “what would be nice/helpful/kind/appreciated?” Chances are we’ll come up with a huge list of things that don’t need to be done, but that would be greatly appreciated. Finally, we need to consider how much time and energy we have left and how much we’ve dedicated to ourselves. If we have a lot of time and energy left, then we can prioritize the good behaviour over the selfish one that will lead to immediate happiness. After all, the selfishness has its place and, if we have the time and energy, we can always try and do both. If we have no time or no energy, we have to consider the option that uses the least of either or that replenishes one. We may use some time to rest and recover our energy; or we may use some energy to power through the dishes and cooking and make some time; or we may invest our time into time with the family, despite our lack of energy; or we may invest our energy into helping someone, despite our lack of time. If we have little to no time and/or energy, then we need to ask ourselves how much time we have dedicated to ourselves lately and how close to exhaustion we are. If we are not close to exhaustion and we haven’t dedicated much time to ourselves then it’s in the balance, but if we are not close to exhaustion and we have been doing much of what we wanted to do and enjoy, then the time must be spent on others. You have to find a balance, preferably tilted against your more selfish priorities. This is why it’s a Little Gift. Often prioritizing others whom you love, care about or esteem is more enjoyable or pays back more in the long-run than your more immediate selfish happiness. This is why it’s a Little Pleasure. You have sacrificed your own time and energy, which you could have rightfully spent on yourself, for the sake of improving the day of someone you care for. And if that always feels awful, like a waste of your time and energy and you always resent it, then chances are you either need to reassess your priorities or you shouldn’t have a partner or a family to begin with. Can’t help you with that one, though.

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To sum it up, femininity is absolutely a duty of mine. As a woman and a devoted wife (to be), I owe my man a beautiful, feminine body and demeanor whenever he needs it. I must be his queen, make him happy, be easy on the eye and kind to him. Everything I can do to balance and accentuate his masculinity, to motivate him to do the best he can and to help him relax at the end of the day will help us both through even the most troubling of times.

A good woman won't look like this when she's jobless, her family is falling apart and her home is a pig-sty. Priorities.

A good woman won’t spend time applying make-up just to look like this when she’s jobless, her family is falling apart and her home is a pig-sty. Priorities.

Yet I don’t owe femininity to anyone else. Regardless of what you think is or isn’t feminine, it’s not your opinion, but his, that matters. If you find me lacking in femininity, so be it. I am not out to please or seduce you. In fact, I’d rather I didn’t, as it would make for an awkward situation for all involved. If you find tight jeans feminine, his preference for skirts wins out. If you like carefully manicured oval nails, his indifference to their shape wins out. After all, my time is better invested in things that matter than things we couldn’t care less about. Same goes for general society, other women outside of my social circle, the fashion industry and any location I am unlikely to frequent. Whilst some space must be made for developing the social skill of attractiveness, I can’t set out to be feminine for everyone, because nobody seems to entirely agree on what makes a woman womanly. It would be a wild-goose-chase. To give-in to general pressure or common belief is to say Jon is less important than society. And society comes in a distant second.

Finally, femininity may be a duty, but now I am settled with a man who loves me and has a set of requirements and needs that can be organized in terms of importance, it isn’t my primary duty. When I am swollen with child, my hair won’t be my priority, but when I am a mother I will set a good example of femininity to my children. If I am at an event, I will carry myself with grace, yet if I need to lift a sofa, doing it gracefully is not a major concern. When the gardening needs doing, my nails will have to be imperfect for a while, at least until I’m indoors and can scrub them clean. I wouldn’t go to a make-or-break situation with chipped black nail polish, but if I break a nail cleaning, folding the laundry or washing the dishes, then it will have to be so. I won’t spend an hour working if I can postpone it, but dinner may need to be postponed if I’m about to have a lesson. If Jon hurts himself doing something less than sensible, I’m unlikely to be wholly understanding, even if I am kind and nurturing. If we are out walking in the Summer sun and I sweat despite any precautions, then it’s only human.

I will strive to be feminine within the limits which my life gives me, but my primary duties are to be good, useful and happy.

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My 8 Surprises of Housekeeping.

First of all, let’s say I had two introductions to running my own home. The first one was when I flew the nest at the age of 16 and bit off a bit more than I could chew. Got through three houses and managed to survive all of them without burning anything down, getting burgled or spending all my money on bills. Out of bed on the right foot, so to speak. The next one was when I moved in with Jon and, for the first time, had someone else who I wanted to please with my housekeeping. And both gave me a different, entirely novel perspective on it.

1: It’s hard work.

I wasn’t expecting it to be easy. I already had some experience doing my own chores and keeping on top of things, so I expected it would be like that. It wasn’t. When you know someone will clean up after you, provided you leave it long enough, you get lazier. You quickly learn that children and teenagers have lower standards than housekeepers. So you let it slide until it’s so bad someone else is forced to do it. The first thing I learned was that that wasn’t going to happen. So, after I tidied my first absolute mess, I decided never to let it get QUITE so bad. Of course, it was a continual cycle of degradation and obsessively cleaning, but the thought was there.

Then you have the fact you’re doing EVERYTHING. As in, want clean clothes? Wash them. Want dry clothes? Dry them. Want a plate? Wash it. Want the shower fixed? Fix it. Want the bills paid? Pay them. It’s impossible to envisage the work that goes into merely maintaining a house until you try it for the first time. In fact, I think you also forget how hard it used to be. So before I was on my own, I had no clue; once I was on my own, it dawned on me, and now I’m used to it I have no clue again. Work is relative and, relative to “f— all”, “everything” is a lot. Of course, it gets easier as you get used to it, learn tricks and generally get into the swing of how to manage your house.

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Note: not an excuse to skip a workout unless you’re legitimately exhausted.

And then you move in with someone. Someone you care about. And it starts over. You want to do well, make them happy, make them pleased and impressed. And that’s when you realize that, up until now, you’ve been living in a pig-sty. So, again, you up the ante. But everything becomes surprisingly easier. Yes, you have to adapt a little. And maybe it’s more down to keeping on top of things, rather than letting it get into an awful state before you even contemplate doing anything. Perhaps it’s simply that you get over it, get it done and, by not procrastinating, save time. But, once you’re into the routine, it’s not quite as bad any more. Also, you have a second pair of hands, for when you really don’t have the time or ability to do a job.

2: More chores exist than you can put a name to.

So, we’re all familiar with the big five: dishes, laundry, dusting, hoovering, tidying. What you don’t realize until you’re doing them, is that that’s a brief summary of all the work a housekeeper needs to do. Dishes? Make that wash, dry and sort; greasy and wipe-clean; breakfast bowls and big meal; this morning and a whole weekend. Different chores, all divided into different categories. Because you’d better not pretend that washing-up, drying and sorting the dishes after a large, greasy roast dinner for five is the same as rinsing your cereal bowl. In for a biiiiiiiig surprise if you do.

She knows EXACTLY what I mean.

And this applies to so many things. Laundry? Well, we have sorting, washing, drying/hanging up, folding, sorting, ironing, putting away. But what about bleach washes? And pet hair? And sports washes? And need I speak about finding all the dirty laundry? I can only imagine what that last stage would be like with children. You can only get away with throwing your laundry in the machine, drying it and putting it back in the wardrobe/drawer for so long.

And, of course, chores you hadn’t thought of. Have a fireplace? Want to use said fireplace? Then you’d better put time aside to sweep ash, dry coal and kindling, hoover the area around the hearth and, perhaps, sweep the chimney. Maybe you want to save money on kindling, which I do by gathering small branches and snapping or sawing them.

Fire is a lot more work than it looks.

Fire is a lot more work than it looks.

Same goes for tidying-up after painting, owning collectables or silverware that needs to be cleaned, or having a pet to care for. Pretty much anything extra you do can take time from your day.

3: It requires a lot of budgeting.

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Again, something you may not have considered. Sure, you have to pay for food, rent and the bills. But next come the expenses you had taken for granted. For example, the best way to save money on soap and washing-up liquid is to buy the cheapest one, right? Well, speaking from experience, the cheapest ones require about 4tbsp of liquid per wash and cost half as much, whereas a certain well-known brand requires about 1/2-1tbsp of liquid per wash and costs twice as much. Which means the brand is actually cheaper. It takes some trial and error to work these things out, but it’s best to buy food as £/100g, or £/100kcal and washing items based on how many uses you get out of them.

Then, you need to work out what is and isn’t superfluous. For example, those scouring-brushes with soap throughout them seem unnecessary, but can save you an hour of soaking and scrubbing a pot with a normal brush. On the other hand, you don’t really need window-cleaner if you have access to vinegar or weak coffee.

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That sponge is not going to last if she uses it for every single item.

And, of course, you discover the reasons behind your parents’ pet peeves. Many of these habits will cost you time and/or money, and now’s the time you begin to unlearn them. Leaving lights on? Check. Running water? Check. Dirty shoes? Check. You also start doing things that used to be your pet peeves because, well, they save money.  You are thinking of the house as an investment. And throwing money at problems you can avoid is a poor way to treat an investment.

On the flip side, all this budgeting really frees up money. Jon and I couldn’t have a house as nice as this if it weren’t because I keep on top of the cleaning, mend anything that breaks, shop at convenient times to get reduced-price food, cook from scratch, keep everything in a practical location, do the laundry over the economy hours, etc. The money we save allows us to have a bigger house, which means I get a tutoring room, which means more money, etc. Were we both working full-time, running vehicles, leaving work when shops and banks are closing and getting prepared food and hiring someone to clean for us, we would be far poorer than we are with me working only 5-10h weeks from home. Get your head around expenses and life is suddenly awesome. And, as a housekeeper, it’s in your hands, and not the breadwinner’s, to put in the elbow-grease and save what they earn. Dislike it though I may,  more money means more freedom, so making budgeting a top priority is advised.

4: You end up “having” specific rooms.

Something I hadn’t counted on. Of course, for my first few years on my own and the first year at uni I had “my” room and shared rooms, as well as certain rooms that didn’t belong to me, I shouldn’t go into or at least shouldn’t disturb.

And it’s normal to assume that when you have a nice big house your territory will expand into it and you and your partner will live symbiotically in shared space, like hermit crabs and anemones. You will agree on everything, share all responsibility and the house will be everybody’s.

That is a myth.

Yes, there are shared rooms. But you definitely end up with “your” rooms too. Either because you’re in charge of keeping them tidy, or you spend a lot of time in them, or you keep your things in them. And you will have rooms you spend more time in and rooms you don’t spend time in and rooms you look after on your own and rooms you leave for the breadwinner to tidy.

For example:

Jon’s rooms are the living-room and the gym. He keeps the gym in order, as well as the living-room. I only tidy either if he hasn’t had the time or left things out overnight, which is often the case with the living-room, but not really with the gym. He lights the fires in the living-room, he spends a lot of his time reading, going online, watching films and gaming there, that’s where he sits down when he comes in from work and wants to have a tea. The gym is where he trains his body. He spends a number of hours a week in there. Everything must be sorted exactly as he wants it or needs it. I do my weight-training there too, but he is my PT and the overseer of the gym.

My rooms are the kitchen and the office. I keep them both in order. The kitchen is my domain, where I cook, where I read, where I conduct all the housework and plan the gardening from. It’s kept warm in the Winter thanks to the running of the oven. If I have some spare time, I will go into the kitchen to look for something to do. Jon often helps out there at weekends and enjoys cooking from time to time, but the room is generally mine. The office is my classroom. Jon rarely goes into it. I teach from there, I keep my paperwork, my teaching-books and my studying-books in there. When I need to plan a lesson, revise a language or arrange my week, I check-into the office first, to see what I have planned.

We share the bedroom, as we both use it only at night and in the morning, when we’re together.

I have taken control of the garden, but largely by virtue of the fact Jon is away most of the time when the gardening needs doing. He acknowledges that focusing on gardening is highly beneficial for me and lets me run wild out there. However, he has his say in what the garden should look like and what he’d like me to do regarding the vegetables I want to grow and the chickens I want to keep, that are both as much his as they are mine.

How the garden's starting to look. <3

How the garden’s starting to look. ♥

And this wasn’t some pre-planned arrangement. Yes, we initially suspected that the kitchen would end up being mine and the gym would end up being his, but that’s just because we know each other very well. Everything else naturally fell into place and we wound up with distinct “territories” where the other is allowed, but which they have less control over than we do. The gym and office are hard territories, where we rarely enter the other’s unless we’re with them or we need something, even though there’s not exactly a booby-trap waiting for us behind the door. The kitchen and living-room are soft territories, where we both spend a lot of time, but have each taken control of one.

And it works. Everything stays done, we both keep an eye out for problems and neither resents the other for “taking-over” a room.

Of course, it’s entirely possible to share control of a house if you carefully structure it so, or if both of you spend all day outdoors, but when you leave it to nature, you’ll see certain areas becoming more one’s territory than the other’s. It’s not something that needs “fixing” and if resentment builds over it, then you have deeper problems. It’s just the way things work.

5: Nest-making.

Another surprising aspect of housekeeping that emerges when you move in with someone you care about is the starting of “nesting” behaviours. Where you may have only kept flowers you were given, now you start wanting to have them around all the time. Where you used to pile your laundry in the corner, now you use a tidy hamper, basket or box. Where you used to eat on a chair or in your bed, now you always eat at a table and strive to eat away from the TV and any computers. The more traditional a home you came from or the more you observed and longed for traditional homes, the more you’ll start turning the house into a home. You’ll make it cozy, and welcoming, and pleasant to all the senses. You’ll enjoy meals more when love and time has been put into them and when everyone at the table appreciates them. You’ll decorate the house to make it both practical and attractive. These are similar to nesting behaviours seen in other species. They indicate dedication, permanence, ease, happiness and a potential desire for children.

Even if you don’t find yourself naturally engaging in these behaviours early on, you will after a while start feeling the urge to engage in them, or to see them emerge regardless of who does the job. Eventually, you start thinking of the house as a place to raise a family in, and you start making a nest.

This really makes housework busier, but it’s by far the most rewarding element of housework. When I’m doing the dishes, the laundry or the hoovering it is out of necessity. When I’m doing the gardening, making floral arrangements or painting paintings to go on the walls it is out of love.

6: A home-base.

Of course, another way your home could evolve is the development of a home-base, as happens when both parties work similar hours. This is actually what we were more aiming for when we started out and, to a degree, we had it. It’s also the way I lived in Bristol and in Cardiff, when I was still on my own. The idea is that your house isn’t a true home until you’re settled, so you use it as a “base” from which you can plan, run and lead your life. Almost like you can’t become attached to a hotel room, it’s hard to become attached to a house like that. In previous homes, I would wake-up, get ready for school, eat breakfast, go out, get back around six or seven pm, have dinner, do the dishes and the laundry, do my homework and go to bed. The houses became a space to leave my things, a bed and a fridge, so the pressure to keep it tidy and pretty wasn’t as strong. People didn’t really come round: I would go and see them instead. Because they had homes and I had a home-base.

Of course, as implied above, we have settled in this house a lot more than we had planned. On the other hand, the house is nicer than we had planned, we have more time together than we’d expected and everything’s running more smoothly than we’d assumed. But, ultimately, this isn’t our true home. It’s a stand-in, until we can get somewhere bigger, where the children can run wild.

So, what is this place? It’s sort of a home. It’s sort of a base. But not quite a home-base. A home-base is far more cut-back and simple than this. A home-base is like a dorm-room from your second year of uni, where you finally give-up and just live out of it and spend as much time outside as possible. Yet, even as an adult, just as you may find yourself nesting, you may find your home becoming a home-base. This can indicate that you are practical people, or that you don’t think of the house or situation as permanent. To each their own, as long as it works and you acknowledge what it is.

7: Entertaining guests.

As mentioned in point six, the one thing you don’t tend to do in a home-base is entertain. Nobody visits, at least not for more than a few hours. You don’t bother about keeping your house nice, you rarely cook full meals (and even then you have them at the TV or computer), the cleaning is enough to keep you happy, but no more.

And then, one day: guests. You have no idea when this happened. (Hint: it happened when point eight happened.) You have no idea how it happened. But people are visiting. For a chat. For tea. For dinner. Some are even staying for a night.

For the uninitiated, this is a horrifying concept. You don’t want them to eat the food you normally eat. Because, let’s admit it, even if you eat well, you don’t normally eat fancy~. But you want your guests to eat fancy, because… guests? Well, let’s admit it, a part of it is wanting to treat them well and a part of it is wanting to one-up them. Either way, the idea is to trick them into thinking you eat fancier than you normally do. So, your young brain sets itself to finding out what “fancy” is. No huge pots carrying a week’s worth of curry. Got to cook every meal! No leftovers. Have to “reinvent” them! No own-brand food. At least not without removing the labels first. Of course, after a while you loosen up and accept that whilst some things are not guest food (cold leftover chicken straight off the main plate), some things are perfectly acceptable to serve up (cold leftover chicken sliced over a salad with a store-brand bread roll).

"I have no clue what normal people eat..."

“I have no clue what normal people eat…”

And then you need to think about the other aspects of your house. Do you keep the coal-bag out by the fire? Unless you’re lighting a fire, best put it away. Are the pillows all over the floor? Time to arrange them beautifully. Dusting you’ve put off for a week? Done in an hour.

hw8

Again, after a while you’ll work out what your guests will and won’t like or put up with, but let these first few occasions be a learning curve.

Things I learned:

-I underestimate how clean my house actually is.

-I overestimate how long it takes to do unusual/infrequent tasks (dusting, ironing, etc).

-People are usually there for you, not to bask in the glow of your porcelain and perfect cushion arrangement.

-Everyone of around your age/generation is likely overdoing it when you visit them too. Susan hasn’t changed that much since uni.

-There’s no point tidying beyond a certain point, especially when the guests bring pets, children or beer.

8: You WILL be house-proud.

I was telling myself that I didn’t care about my house from my first day of living away from my parents. By the second, I was putting a Prussian flag on the wall, some glass animals on the windowsill and bringing daffodils into the house. From there it just escalated. My first house wasn’t really “mine”. I was there for about 9 months, we weren’t allowed to alter the walls and I was very busy playing catch-up with the A-level education structure. My second house I had to paint myself, as it was rented through a shelter association and, whilst they’d nicely patched where someone took a hammer to the walls, they hadn’t the money to paint it (plus, purple is gloomy in a small flat). So I painted it and then decorated the walls with my own paintings, kept radishes on the windowsills and ornaments on the shelves and my desk. And of course the daffodils came in every Spring.

Daffodils are little splashes of Heavenly love.

Daffodils are little splashes of Heavenly love.

Then, for my uni experiment, I only had a room to myself, which I decorated as best I could, always bearing in mind I would be gone the next year.

But with this house I’m going all out. It’s hard not to. You start by saying “I live here, so it should be nice.” You get a few flowers and hang your paintings up and make sure the rooms look the way you want them to, within the limits of what’s practical. But, the longer you stay there and the longer you think you may live there, the more it starts to become homely. We started off with a home-base layout: wholly practical, with plans regarding even the temperatures we’d leave the different radiators on at and when and how often we’d do the washing-up. Now it’s still based around the home-base structure, but covered in niceties. Think of it as a high-quality item of clothing: structured enough to do the job, but with the little details that make it nice. With me it was largely the garden. I had to make the office nice, it was an obligation, as it’s where I see my students, and the rest of the house was largely just tidy, but the garden is where I began to get creative. I started just wanting the practical side: to grow veg and keep chickens. I dug new flowerbeds, but found myself moving rocks to make a border for them. I got a chicken-coop and found myself fussing over the colour of the paint. I decided to turn over some of the garden to flowers. It’s slowly become a hobby, a project. And I’m enjoying it a lot and it isn’t costing an arm and a leg, so no harm done. But it spread into the rest of the house. Suddenly I don’t just want paintings up, I’m thinking about what paintings I want where. I’m collecting dried plants and fabric flowers and other permanent decorations and arranging them.

Not necessary.

Not necessary.

I’m artistically hanging my pots and pans on the wall.

Also not necessary.

Also not necessary.

It’s becoming a home and I’m actually slightly attached to the place.

And, of course, as I’m putting so much work into it, I like it to show and I like to show it. I want people to see it, hence the sudden arrival of guests. If it looks good, I want to show people. If I’m showing someone around, I want it to look good. If I see something out of place, even if it is still in a practical location, I put it back “where it lives”. If I get something new, I fuss over the layout of the room. It seems to be inevitable that, as I put work in, my creative side comes out and, as I start viewing the house as my “art”, I get proud of it and how it’s “supposed” to be.

This, in turn, leads to a furthering of the “art”. In short, you make your house nice for guests, make it nice for yourself, invite more guests, make it even nicer, and slowly you start enjoying keeping your house. It’s yours. Your work of art. Your home. Your nest. You made it exactly the way it is and you’re proud of how beautiful and efficient it is. Aaaand you’re house-proud.

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And there we have the eight things I discovered about housekeeping, based on my experience in three different houses. Some seem obvious now, but, looking-back, I hadn’t considered any to be obvious then. Others I still consider a surprise, even now I’m more familiar with them. And, of course, I’m probably missing many things that I now take so easily for granted that I can’t even conceive having had a problem with them — even if I did. But these are the things that stick in my mind as things I would have liked to have known, or known more about. Not that you’ll pay them any attention or fully understand them until you’ve lived them, of course. It’s more of a heads-up.

What aspects of housekeeping surprised you when you discovered them? Is there anything that prepared you for certain situations? Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments!

TTFN and happy housekeeping!