Leah McFall: True love is agreeing on non-essential household chores

'What I love about this concept, if you try it, is that you're both acknowledging there are three of you in this ...
Alistair Hughes

'What I love about this concept, if you try it, is that you're both acknowledging there are three of you in this relationship: you, your partner, and your dirty great lump of a house.'

OPINION: So, I've been reading a book about housework.

God, I love doing this. Seriously, it's one of my favourite activities. There are few things more satisfying, except maybe knocking five, maybe six frozen cream puffs out of the box, heating them until the chocolate sweats, then lining them up like snooker balls and eating them consecutively. I discovered this pleasure reasonably recently but I've spent months, if not years, reading about housework.

When I read about someone cleaning a house, I assume an ecstatic state. I begin to see lacy soap-sud patterns and imagine the gleam of buffed wax on a wooden floor. I can suddenly smell lemons.

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My pupils dilate and my mouth sort of hangs open.

My husband had the same look during the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, which reminds me of a conversation I had, around that time, with Maddy.

"Mummy, how do you know the right person to marry?"

"Well, Maddy, you just find someone who looks at you the way Daddy looks at Richie McCaw." (I didn't actually say the last part out loud, but it hung over my head in a speech bubble. Parenting small children is basically just years and years of opening your mouth before quickly closing it again.)

It's a weird hobby, as far as hobbies go, but housework literature is underrated. I would go so far as to call reading it a laxative experience; I feel rather squeaky afterwards.

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For example, how fabby is this sentence? "For Venetian blinds, rinse an old sock in warm, soapy water, put it over your hand and run your fingers over the slats."

Personally I don't believe anyone has done this since the Cuban missile crisis, but I read it in the paper only last week.

I will never stick my hand up a sock for this express purpose, even though I should; there's been spotty mould on our bedroom blind for the best part of a year.

My intentions are good; I own a tile brush to scrub the grouting. We've lived here six years and I've only scrubbed the grouting once. My grouting is a disgrace but if you think that's bad, you should see my skirtings. My skirtings would curdle milk. In fact, there probably is curdled milk on my skirtings.

So, this book I've been reading. You've probably heard of it: Drop the Ball. It's by Tiffany Dufu, who has a big deal career in corporate America running leadership programmes for young executives.

Tiffany Dufu is driven, gifted and successful. In other words, Tiffany Dufu and I have nothing in common. But her central message brings me home like a pigeon to a fancier. Do less.

Tiffany, like me, makes lists. Unlike me, Tiffany actually ticks things off. But here is the essence of her genius: as well as assigning herself and her husband a list of household jobs, she adds a third column of the jobs neither of them will bother doing. Yes! A column of tasks that require no action! That she and her husband have actually taken the trouble to sit down, talk about and agree!

What I love about this concept, if you try it, is that you're both acknowledging there are three of you in this relationship: you, your partner, and your dirty great lump of a house. Like an 80s Camilla Parker Bowles (who keeps popping up, even on one's honeymoon on the Royal Yacht Britannia) the housework persistently intrudes on your partnership.

One of you will care more about this than the other does, and before you know it you're in a downward spiral of mutual resentment, disagreement and regret. This won't end well, unless you're Camilla.

Trust me, there's nothing more revitalising to a relationship than sitting down with your husband and a nice sauvignon and populating the Third Column.

Imagine simply agreeing to trip over the bags of bark chips on the patio for the next six months. Nobody's going to spread them until spring; you've both agreed on that. The liberation! This will bond you more than dinner-and-a-show. The two of you are finally ganging up on your bully of a house. If it feels naughty and transgressive, that's because it is.

Of course, what Tiff intends is that you prioritise the essential chores to free up time for you to realise your higher purpose, which in her case coincides with her professional objectives. Do less, certainly, but only to achieve more.

But I think stopping at the do less is perfectly acceptable. In fact, finishing the book is now in my own personal Third Column, along with making shortcrust from scratch (nope), Pilates (never gonna happen) and choosing a signature scent.

Go on, have a cream puff. Why stop at one?

 - Sunday Magazine


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