How can we make light of life’s practicalities?


© Laura Eades 2013

“Nunight my love. Ps. Your side of the bed”, texted my husband to me, while I was working a nightshift, “looks like a Tracey Emin installation”

I bet your new year’s resolution isn’t to do more chores. But somehow, in the ideal lifestyle – and it’s January, after all, so we’re doing that quick inventory of what we’d wish for the forthcoming year – so many dusty, burdensome and even stressful (in the case of financial chores, for example) tasks trip us up. Weigh on the backs of our minds. Make us feel less competent than we should.

How bad was I before?

Two years ago, my to-do list plagued me. But so did the stuff that wasn’t even on my to-do list. Like clearing up, washing, … OK, I’ll use the word: Housework. Banal stuff. I was running my theatre company by day, and working on the newsdesk at night – all thrilling stuff. Important stuff. Of course I didn’t have time to pay my student loan, buy milk for cereal, mend the zip pockets on my waterproof, reupholster some dining chairs or empty the junk out of the attic.  We hired a cleaner once a week – our weekends together were too precious to spend cleaning.

Oh, the attic. It hung over my head. I dreamt about it – about climbing up there and finding so more clear space than I’d ever imagined – a whole other flat altogether. My therapist got good mileage out of my attic.

When my husband would bring up planning a holiday – which of course he would, because he’s a teacher and has proper breaks,  – I’d freak out. The bureaucracy of booking cottages or flights seemed overwhelming. But holidays were the only time I ever seemed to relax and really step inside our relationship, the only time there was really clear space.

But now…

Now, our flat is far from perfect. But it is a place I’d willingly spend time. You can feel the space inside it. I can write a novel here. Having a life that’s conducive to enjoyment and relaxation is very, very important.

Four things changed me.

  1. Firstly, pregnancy. People talk about nesting. I spent the month leading up to the birth of my daughter fixing things, beautifying, finishing, chucking. I realised that if I didn’t do it then, it would be much, much harder after a baby came. Fortunately, we had summer together (the baby came in September) and we spent a lot of it getting our space in order.
  2. Secondly, on decluttering. Yup, Leo Babauta sorted me out. It was for decluttering that I first visited the zenhabits website. My husband helped me clear up. Decluttering became our test case for learning how to do general housework.
  3. Thirdly, I had a maternity year away from work. So I had to get a grip on housework. I’m not joking, it felt overwhelming. I’m used to being competent, efficient – to spanking tasks I’m given. I didn’t mind doing housework, but I hated being bad at it. And don’t get me wrong – when I say I had a maternity year off, I don’t mean I spent it cleaning windows and baking fairy cakes. When you have a newborn around, you don’t have much time to worry about dusting. In fact, breastfeeding is its own kind of torture since you’re rooted to the spot most of the time, looking at the detritus you can’t pick up. But, once I began to see housework as a network of tiny habits – little systems that can be installed and practised until they are done unnoticed, unconsciously; the mechanisms of the machine of our relationship, then I (we) started streamlining how things got done. I know, friends, we have much still to learn.
  4. Fourthly, I moved abroad. Then we had to face the hard choice: Was I going to keep all my junk in (expensive) storage, or was I going to get rid of everything I didn’t want? Moving house was a great opportunity. We’re still moving towards the perfect ‘kit’ for our life.

Here are some things I haven’t yet found solutions to:

(and I’ll be looking for solutions to in the course of blogging about it over the next year)

  • Booking holidays is still stressful and expensive
  • There’s still a swearword-inducing tupperware drawer
  • We are about as financially savvy as a pair of teenagers
  • Washing hangs around on a clothes horse for days (especially when I’m doing a novelling spurt)
  • Cooking supper with a shouting toddler under my feet is stressful (though in fact we both like cooking ordinarily)
  • Shopping here in Berlin is a nightmare, because we live on the 5th floor with no lift
  • My dad is drove a van over in October (gulp!) and bringing the last of our boxes of junk with him!!! Yes, I can no longer ‘pretend’ to be living a zen lifestyle leaving a pile of stuff in England – but I’ve still got to decide the fate of 100 pairs of 3d glasses, etc
  • Tidying surfaces happens in an ad-hoc manner so they breed clutter
  • Our clothes drawers are horrible. I can’t find my brastraps. They are in there somewhere!

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What, of life’s practicalities, are overwhelming for you? I’m serious. This is a seemingly stupid topic except living in chaos drives us mad. So… do you have any wisdom to offer? Need help? Click on the grey dot with ‘plus’ sign to open the comments section below