Housekeepers Question Time!

By Alison November 5, 2012 7 Comments 4 Min Read

Once upon a time, a woman took a liking to me on the school playground and was kind enough to invite me to her home. Readers I wasn’t fussed. Here in front of me stood a “neat” woman. A woman so buttoned up, not a hair on her head dared to misbehave. I wasn’t fussed because I, with my frizzy locks and ragged hems, was frightened of her.
But I accepted her invitation and duly turned up on her doorstep clutching a bunch of sunflowers, because when your child first starts school you take every opportunity to help your little one make friends even when you can, with Motherly insight, see that there isn’t a hope in heaven of your little boy enjoying the company of a child who looks like he lives in the bath.

And there she was, Mrs Neat, standing over us while we pulled off our shoes, and bending down to arrange them in straight lines, before leading us into a kitchen that had been bleached to within an inch of its dully decorated  life.

I was nervous.

My new friend was simultaneously  making coffee, and dabbing at a stain on her otherwise spotless sink, while I hovered about feeling grubby and Finley proceeded to make merry hell with Thomas the Tank Engine and his wide-eyed new companion.

So far so expected and then the fun really began. No sooner had we drank our coffee standing up in the kitchen, then my cup was spirited away and bleached, right there before my eyes. Mrs Neat, then led us into the living room where I was instructed to sit down on the far end of the sofa, while she whipped away the cushions and stacked them on the coffee table and began to admonish our boys who had dared, to get out some toys on the dining room floor.

I sat stiff backed and terrified. Mrs Neat told me her life story and expectations for her little boy, while following the children around tidying away each and every toy they got out in truly gob-smacking fashion. Finley, used to a Mummy who let him play until the end of the day and then tidied in one mass sweep couldn’t fathom what was going on, and at the age of four, took out each and every toy that was put away and proceeded to try to play with it again, while his little friend stood beside him looking worried at this blatant act of derring do.

Twas my idea of hell. A house so tidy, one felt that ones very presence was a blot on her domestic landscape. A woman so determined to keep her world spick and span she could not rest long enough to make visitors feel comfortable, let alone welcome. A woman who had tidied her whole life away and now lived in a beige box, superior and proud, spouting her theories on parenting, while wiping her finger over the mantle-piece, presumably to check for the ever prevailing threat that is dust.

I got out as fast as I could, certain that at any minute Finley would conjure up some of the dirt that seems to veil his entire being and wipe it over the cream carpet. I got out and rang Kath and described the horror that was Andrea’s house and she screamed laughing and told me that she couldn’t dream up a more unlikely friendship and insisted that she had tried to warn me and threatened to make friends with the woman with the green cardigan from the playground in new best friend retaliation, while I sat about wondering whether it was me or indeed Andrea, who was completely off her rocker??

For my question is this, Dear Housekeepers: Is it better to tidy as you go along and so find yourself in perpetual motion, or to let children be the messy, scruffy little darlings that they are without much interference and tidy up the squalor that is the result of their wild imaginations after they have been tucked into bed? Do we make life harder for ourselves by allowing life and visitors to be welcome in our domain, and saving the straightening of our worlds for later, when mess has reached crisis point? Is little and often the way forward, or can you tolerate the lived-in look while you are busy living in?

Some days you see my house looks like a herd of elephants has trampled through it, but it barely registers until, and I don’t know how to explain this without it sounding nuts – untilit is time for it to register. Yes. Five o’clock chimes and I am up and at ’em, putting the day away and creating an oasis of calm for the evening wind-down. I tidy until it couldn’t be tidier, and then I relax, but I would no more dream of interrupting my work during the day to do housework, or indeed tidy when I had visitors over, than I would of serving them Madeira cake in my underwear. For the most part I am in the moment, doing what I am doing and my surroundings do not matter until my inner housewife clocks on and gets to work.

So tell me this and tell me no more: does your inner housewife never clock off, or are you a part-time sloth like me? Are you, my pretty one, an Andrea or an Alison??


  1. Oh no. Oh no no no nononononooooooooo. My house is definitely lived in-the only time I’ve ever been that psychotic about it was in our old house that was for sale, then I was a little nuts, but here? Absolutely not. There are stacks of dog eared magazines on the side of the bath tub, wires for cell phones, iPads, laptops lying in a pile on the floor beside the couch and umpteen different remotes on the ottoman. I mean, I have a child here and he’s growing up so fast that I will always choose snuggling and reading Harry Potter together or making pumpkin pie granola with him over dusting twice a day. I have plenty of time for that when he goes to college.

  2. Gill says:

    When my three children were all still under four years of age, I lived in a perpetual state of chaos which was tidied up at the end of the day ( when was that…I was breastfeeding?) or week- if that was how it went. Now all are in middle childhood years and life is so much tidier (open the drawer and sweep the wii controls inside, shut drawer) and so much less fun. All the mess is mine- magazines, baking, wool ends and bits of fabric. I no longer live in a state of Can’t Have Anybody Over Syndrome…but I do miss it! For everything there is a season, and the childhood toys are over oh so soon.

  3. tralalaEE says:

    Ah – but your lady could be suffering from her own OCD hell or living with someone elses (a means of control comfort for herself or for fear of getting the living **** beaten out of her because the soup tins aren’t lined up ‘just so’ for someone else). Either way, it was probably as scarey as hell to invite someone else in. Obvs there are always the gloaters of the parish who live to undermine everyone else – but more to be pitied than feared, non? For myself – clutter-bucket is the phrase you’re looking for – and whilst I clean as I go when cooking – the rest of it has to get in the queue 🙂 New site is looking fabbo btw – well done you!

  4. Carlie says:

    Well, I’m not to sure what’s better but I can tell you what I am more comfortable with. I grew up with a rather piggy lot of mess and disorder so I do think some tidying is required but I think this sort of living isn’t much fun and is a lot more work than just having a good sweep a designated times. My new routine (per someone else’s suggestion) is to have a good tidy whenever we’re leaving the house and also at the end of the day. You never come home to disaster or wake up to it. Good plan for me as long as I can keep up with it which is….. mostly.

  5. Sande says:

    I am most definitely on your side! I like to have a play and then the tidy up.

  6. Cynthia says:

    There’s nothing wrong with tidying up after yourself as you go but it’s rude to do it to others especially guests. Sit and revel in your friends and your mess and clean up after. It will always be there your friends will eventually go home your kids will grow up and move out and the time for them will be past. Enjoy them while you can.

    1. Alison May says:

      That is a very good way of looking at it! Mimi x

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