As a modern girl, I know I’m not supposed to enjoy housework. The trick, supposedly, is to have a high-flying career, so you can afford to pay someone to whoosh round your place, leaving you to focus on more important things. But here’s the thing: I quite enjoy cleaning. Dusting across the top of picture frames, loading up the dishwasher, unloading it again, polishing the flecks off a mirror. A number of my friends think it strange. Nowadays you are meant to find solace in meditation or mindfulness rather than mundane housework. But, for me, the process of cleaning feels like a more straightforward route to nirvana. Put on the radio, put down your phone. ‘Cleaning as therapy’ — a ditty, in fact, printed on to one of my favourite tea towels.
Admittedly I probably enjoy it because I’m not expected to devote all my time to it. It punctuates my life, instead of dominating it. The washing machine did, after all, do as much for women’s liberation as the vote and the Pill. I can leave for work in the morning, and come home to find a bundle of clean laundry, ready to hang out. If that’s not cathartic — and progressive — I don’t know what is.
This isn’t to say my own home is impeccable; far from it. And there are some tasks I can never bring myself to enjoy; I loathe ironing and have to chivvy myself along when it comes to emptying the bins. But it is comforting to know that many of the day’s stresses can be soothed away with some humdrum chores.
There are plenty of mod cons you can buy to help with it all. And while undoubtedly useful (I could write reams about Muji’s telescopic ‘cleaning system’, with its mops, rollers, duster, brush, etc), it is the old-fashioned tips that bring me the most joy. So here are some of my favourite — and most reliable — which use only the most basic of ingredients. No Cillit Bang or Mr Muscle here!
I would recommend stockpiling bicarbonate of soda, to flush down the sink with cider vinegar and boiling water to keep everything clear. A small pot of it kept in the fridge will also prevents odours from lingering.
Lemon juice dissolves soapy stains from the bathtub and shower head, and removes the smell of onion or garlic from chopping boards when mixed with coarse salt.
If you let the vacuum cleaner suck up a piece of cotton soaked in lavender oil, it will keep moths and other little creatures at bay.
Scrunched-up newspaper is useful for cleaning windows, and flour is excellent for removing grease stains.
When washing towels, add a cup of distilled vinegar to help remove the build up of detergent that can leave them unable to absorb water. And for kitchen cloths, be sure to rinse them out in cold water, rather than hot, before hanging them out to dry. They will smell much sweeter for it.
None of this is revolutionary, but in a high-tech world, I find the simplicity reassuring. And while a spotless home is simply not worth obsessing over, a bit of housekeeping can offer a quiet moment for reflection. The world can be a messy place, and the chance to reorder small parts of it, if only temporarily, can be a fleeting delight.