My Home Rules: How to streamline the home
by Helen Hayward
When I had two children in London, twenty-five years ago, I found looking after them easy. Loving and looking after my kids was straightforward. However loving and looking after my home was not. I had long been instructed to put my career first. So I did. Yet what to do with the mushrooming laundry by the bathroom door? And what if I actually liked cooking?
Ten years ago, I decided to make a study of home life. I would ask 60 people to sit down to talk with me about how they kept their home life afloat without shouting too much. I would also ask these questions of myself. 1. Is there an art to running a home? 2. Can it be a satisfying thing to do? 3. Has the work we do around the home – which accounts for roughly one quarter of our waking hours – something to teach us about life itself?
Fast-forward to today and these are some rules I’ve developed to keep me sane and to make my home a place where I feel at home.
- Make the bed each morning. Over time, I’ve come to realise that housekeeping is a conversation that I have with myself, much of which is beneath my conscious awareness. When I make my bed first thing I send myself the message that I can stay on top of whatever else life throws at me that day.
- If a task takes a few minutes or less, do it straight away. Open the letter, put on laundry, plan the meal. When I can address the little things, the big things have a way of taking care of themselves.
- Whenever possible, touch things only once. Over the years I’ve streamlined my routines so that I only give a minimum of my precious attention to domestic necessities.
- Attend to whatever it is as it arises. By doing tasks as they come on to the horizon it’s easier to sneak past my resistance to them.
- Leave home in a state that makes me want to return to it. When I spend an extra minute cleaning up the kitchen, and throwing stuff into a basket in the hall, I’m able to walk back into my home and feel at home there.
- Make or do something creative every day. This, my most important rule, redeems the effort of keeping a pleasant and attractive home. It helps me tap into the love that makes it all feel worthwhile.
Helen has written a new book, Home Work, about how to find joy and interest in managing the home. Here’s an excerpt from the book.
When Wendy Berry applied for a position as Royal Housekeeper, at Prince Charles’s Highgrove Estate, the job description was brief. It was ‘to streamline and ensure the smooth-running of the household.’ When I read this line in Berry’s tell-all memoir, standing up in the library with my kids nearby, my first thought was, isn’t this what it means to look after any home – to streamline and maintain its smooth running? To care about it in a way that leads you to take pride in details that you might otherwise not?
I have never aspired to be a royal housekeeper. Still, these days, I have what I call my housekeeping hour. Instead of spreading household tasks across a day – even while sitting in front of a computer tasks and errands flit through my mind – I give over an hour a day to them. Rather than feeling pulled this way and that by a stream of tasks, I’ll do as many as I can inside my housekeeping hour, usually early evening. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I skip the hour altogether. Or I’ll split it in two, with half first thing in the morning and the other half before dinner. On the weekend, if the garden or pantry gets the better of me, it might spill into the next hour. It’s a kind of discipline to take my apron off when the hour is up. But when I do succeed, setting the kitchen timer and making a game of it, I find I can rake leaves, cook rice, hang laundry, pay bills, change bedlinen, water herbs and repair clothing, and finish the hour feeling better about life than had I not done these things.
I’ve developed some rules to keep my housekeeping hour on track. I keep a mental list of what needs doing. So my energy doesn’t flag, I might make a cup of tea and a snack before I start. I try to put one thing on my list that I don’t want to do – often an admin task or a repair – knowing how quickly these can build up and fester. I put my phone on the stairs during this hour, so as not to lose precious time down rabbit burrows. And on Sundays, I might skip the hour altogether.
I think this practice works for me because it gives me a sense of control over my home and my day. I’m not losing myself in tasks that I don’t ultimately care about. I’m giving a finite amount of time, love and energy to tasks which, once done, allow me to rest easier than if I hadn’t done them. Most importantly, having a housekeeping hour ensures that I have time for other, more creative things – which for me is the whole point of home life.