I've been listening to Woman's Hour on Radio 4 this morning - whilst engaged in my own domestic goddess activities. They had a discussion about housework and whether or not we should up our standards.
There was a report from a place where they teach housekeeping skills, including the remarkable concept of ironing sheets with regular creases in them.
Well I have to say that this is one of my bug-bears. My own dear mother had very high standards of housekeeping, but without ever making a fuss about it. She just got on and did it - all of it, entirely unaided. It wasn't until we had children that I began to fully appreciate the size of the task she'd taken on.
But now with my own house to keep, I find I'm not a natural domestic goddess. Oh yes, I'd love to have a perfect house, always tidy, but relaxed so the children feel happy to play creatively, I'd love to put healthy nutritionally balanced, organically sourced, home cooked meals on the table - yes table, not sofa in front of the TV, I'd love my children to be able to go to their wardrobes and find exactly the items of clothing they need, all beautifully laundered. I'd love all that, and much more besides, but the honest truth is that real life, well my real life, isn't much like that at all, and I'll bet neither is yours.
I inherited impossibly high standards of housekeeping from my mother in my genes, but I didn't inherit the mental capacity to devote myself to doing it. My mum would have been the first to acknowledge that things are different these days, but that doesn't stop the feelings of inadequacy that well up when I'm just too tired to cook an evening meal, or when a child asks for their PE kit, only to find it still festering in the laundry basket after a week.
The fact is that I'll never be able to live up to those standards, so any idea of raising my own standards, which are hard won as they are, is unimaginable.
In recent years I've tried lots of ways of coping with housework. I've had help when I could afford it. A cleaner is wonderful and someone to iron in theory is a boon. But gradually I've taken back all these tasks. Now I do it myself and to my schedule. I've decided that what works for me is to keep the kitchen under control and to have the sitting room tidy for at least the main part of the day. I try and make the hall reasonably clear of clutter, I make a meal plan once a week and I shop to a list. I really really do try hard to cook four of five times a week, and I try and make sure that between Friday evening and Sunday evening, I've washed, dried and ironed all school uniform and husband's work shirts. And that, dear reader is the sum total of my domestic goal setting.
My aspirations are sometimes higher, but I'm learning very slowly not to beat myself up if and when I fail to achieve them. After all, I really don't want to go to my grave wishing I'd spent more time with the mop. I just want my family to be warm, well-fed and happy.
And I am learning, it is coming along because I think I've defined what my baseline is and accepted that anything over that is to be welcomed, but not expected.
I believe that we all have a different level of tolerance when it comes to housework, and that's why no single system or routine or approach will work for everyone. I've done some reading and my favourite advice comes from The FlyLady. Now I know it's a quirky style, not for everybody, but I've incorporated some of her ideas into my life and for me they've made a difference. What appeals to me is her compassion. It's enough to battle your own inner critic, without someone else adding to your burden, but at least you get a supportive, 'been there, know how it feels' from The FlyLady.
So my reaction to Woman's Hour? Well, to all you real domestic goddesses out there, you have all my respect, at least now I appreciate everything you do, but I'm really not likely to be joining your ranks anytime soon.
This is Maria Cilley's (The FlyLady) book, if you're interested in reading more about her approach to housekeeping. I bought it a couple of years ago and gave it a go. At first I didn't get very far, but something must have stuck, because gradually I've found that I have incorporated a number of her ideas. I once thought about giving the book away to the charity shop, but a little voice in my head stopped me, and now I'm glad it did, because I still go back to it from time to time and find more helpful advice.