Ever catch yourself standing on a stool, dusting the tops of your bookshelves with those multi-coloured feathery dusters, and wondering why on earth you were doing it? What relevance a clean top-of-a-bookcase has to your life, well-being or mental health? Especially when it’s a high bookcase nobody can see the top of? I have, and let me tell you one thing: being a domestic goddess is a huge scam. Most of the things we think illustrate a competent woman are enormous lies designed to keep you in such a tizzy of chores and errands that they leave you no time, energy or inclination to actually think about why dusting is relevant to the universe, or your place in it.
Most of us are brought up to be competent women. This doesn’t mean you can do mental maths really well, hammer a nail slightly upwards whenever you’re hanging pictures or know just how to spin a nut-wrench when you’re changing tyres so it doesn’t take forever. A competent woman’s tricks of the trade revolve around what to do when your saalan is too salty (stick a potato in the pot), how to get the grout between your tiles really super clean (vinegar and a toothbrush) and how to keep your flowers fresh longer (sugar your vase-water). The fact that I know these mean nothing, because out there is Zubeida Apa level totkay and nifty tricks that I don’t know. Somewhere out there is a woman making quilts from old shalwars and drying orange peel to make some organic mosquito repellent. You can’t win, and after my bookcase epiphany, I’m comfortably certain I don’t want to win.
My cleaning woman cuts corners. I know this. I know this because I was raised by an extremely detail-oriented mother and also because my yoga class is in my drawing room. Nothing like downward-facing-dog, held for a minute, to give you the chance to really examine the underside of your sofas in minute focus. So I spend plenty of time with Martha and a duster, explaining how the skirting needs to be brushed over with the phool-jharoo because otherwise the universe will implode, and if someone sees my dusty, grey skirting then my self-worth will plummet. Like a sad troll from the cartoon movie, if my skirting is grey then I will be grey, all my happy colours leached out by the misery of being caught out as a slattern with a dirty house. I have stopped apologising for untidiness around my house. It’s not a reflection on my integrity as a person if my dining table is covered with crayons and books and someone drops by. If I don’t see it as a problem then, I hope, it will not be seen as a problem by anyone else.
Women of the world, put down the evenly-diced tomatoes, the clockwork-washed laundry and the perfectly fluffed sofa cushions! Its all right if the paint is weird and flaking. It’s not a big deal if there are a hundred colour pencils and small plastic rubbish stuck in the sofa crevices under the big seat cushions! It’s not your sacred duty to make sure all the meat packets are the same size and weight! Because you know what? In the long run, at the end of the day, you are worth much, much more than that. When your children are adults they will not remember or care that your roses didn’t wilt for days because you put sugar in the vase water. They will not understand why the hell you keep telling them to do it too. They will remember that there was beauty in the house. They should remember that there was love, and fun, and sure they weren’t allowed to play in the drawing room because not everything can be thrown to the wolves, but their mother was competent and didn’t need to have a spotless house to prove it. When you die there should be more to say about you than “her house was really clean”.
The Ghareloo Woman Myth is designed to make us uptight and obsessed with things that don’t matter. It’s designed to keep our attention inwards so that we forget what it’s like to be a person who exists in the real world, not just your four walls. It is designed to make us screech “NO” all the time, because you just had the bedsheets changed, you just tidied up the table, you just had the room painted. Competent Ghareloo Woman never uses the nice tea set because it will break and the universe will implode with it. Compete Ghareloo Woman makes you take your shoes off at the door because dirt makes the carpet….dirty. Competent Ghareloo Woman spends too much time telling the help what to do and exactly how to do it, and thereby has a perpetual headache born of expectations unmet and self-pity for having to deal with incompetent staff. Of course nobody wants to live in a nasty pigsty of a house, but one must be able to draw a line and say enough. I will not make ice-cream at home by hand. I will not keep straightening the tassels of the carpets like a compulsive lunatic. I will resist, and I will channel my energy into something that improves my soul and intellect and personality. Nobody will look at your symmetrically hung paintings and extrapolate that their balance reflects your deep understanding of feng shui and mathematical harmony. When you take that time and spend it reading, you’ll be amazing at the next dinner party and that will be something much more fun. Time to be less house-proud and more you-proud.