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