When I lived alone, my sisters would joke that I’d have them eat over the sink if I could, to avoid crumbs.
I was organised. When I left the house at 6am for the early reporting shift at the local paper, you wouldn’t have known anyone had slept in my house. The bed was perfectly made, the breakfast things cleared away, the bathroom mirror wiped clean and the hairdryer placed neatly in the drawer.
Everything in my kitchen cupboard matched: white plates, cups and saucers, side plates and mugs, along with a six-place silverware set. The only deviation from this were the tall, speckled mugs I had for special occasions.
There was a place for everything. Then I met the man who would become my husband. I should have known he’d spell trouble for my organised life when he told me his nickname was Mr Mañana. But I didn’t, and I packed up my things and drove 200 miles down the M1 to what would become our home.
He had lived in this house in south-west London for about five years, and he liked “stuff”. He had knick-knacks from all the places he’d visited, little artefacts from India, a brass dancer from Malaysia, a wooden statue of a woman in traditional dress from Thailand, even a didgeridoo from Australia. It was a lot. It was tat. I had books and clothes, and a pristine white china dinner set. But, I loved the man, and so we combined what we had.
I like order, it gives me clarity and helps me work. I still needed things to be in the right place, towels folded perfectly, clothes put away, coats hung up. He didn’t care. He’d leave things on the armchair, clothes next to the laundry basket, a single spoon beside the sink. It drove me mad, but the house was big enough for us to both have it our way.
But then we had a baby, followed by two more. My sons brought with them a deep sense of understanding the unfinished task.
I remember one child-free woman telling me how easy it was looking after her niece, and how she couldn’t understand why her sister-in-law was drowning under housework. I’d smiled weakly, too tired to explain the incremental effects of pregnancy, childbirth, babies who don’t nap, breastfeeding, entertaining them, and then staring into one’s phone after they do finally sleep in the desperate hope of finding some semblance of one’s old self.
I know now that is all very normal, but back then I thought it was a problem. Chaos reigned as I tried and failed to hold all the organisation together.
The children brought with them the paraphernalia of babyhood, toddlerdom and primary school age. We didn’t have any help and, in the end, I realised I had a choice to make. It was the laundry, the nice white china, or it was my dream of becoming a published writer.
I chose myself.
My husband seemed to be having a much better time with the boys than I was, and I took a leaf out of his book – I embraced the chaos.
I discovered that by letting things slide, I had more time to do the things that I really wanted. The house was clean, it just didn’t have the dictatorial level of organisation that I had previously lived by. Did it really matter if the toothpaste was left out? Would the toothpaste police come and get me?
I had thought I could do everything. That’s how I was raised, to think that women could have it all. Slowly I came to understand that the men who had appeared to “have it all” had only done so because women had been doing half the work.
No one was asking me to do any of the things I was doing, I was demanding it of myself. So, I stopped.
I delayed putting the laundry away, occasionally sliding into bed under the mound of washed clothes, in favour of reading a book. I stopped organising the children’s toys, I let things stay on the kitchen counter instead of desperately trying to find a home for them.
Saying yes to the mess allowed me to leave the house without making sure everything was perfect. It meant I could set off early on a Saturday morning, sit in a coffee shop and write, while my husband handled everything at home. I learned to ignore the spoon by the sink, and he started to notice the piling laundry. It’s amazing how powerful the pull of clean boxer shorts are to a man.
I chose to play the long game. I could either write my book, or I could clean. I came to understand that the piles of papers, books, endless pieces of Lego, would still be there, but the opportunities I was being offered might not.
With age, I’ve learned to care less about people’s opinions on the state of my home, discovering that my best friends are the ones who see me and not the dried-on Weetabix on the dining room table. I’m hoping that playing the long game will bring the kind of success that means I can pay someone to organise my life.
August 16, 2022 at 07:55PM Saima Mir