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Monday, 3 November 2008

The Vintage Housekeepers Manifesto

  Welcome to a more scrumptious way of life!

If you are a vintage girl with a chaotic house, too much laundry and a child or six attached to your hip, then I promise you are in for a treat...
You see, I want to make your life lovely- to show you the way to a house that's as fresh as a daisy, help you create teeny rituals that will change your life and teach you to bless your days with the kind of tiny joys that often pass unnoticed....
We Vintage Housekeepers, you see, live by a set of  rules that define our scrumptious days.
A set of rules I like to call The Housekeepers Creed:

Wear a pinny and wear a smile!
Be happy with your lot and learn to see the beauty in everyday things.
Give into exhaustion and put yourself before everything and everybody else.
Live mindfully and remember that happiness is in the detail.
Carve out a space of your own.
Give up being precious, but cherish your dreams, your children and your home.
Bake from the heart and love with all you've got.
Light candles everyday and plant the seeds of hope.
and finally...
Be mistress of all you survey and a darling with a duster...

Be Mistress of All You
Survey?? What On Earth Does That Mean?

Dear old Mrs Beeton (who wasn't old and by all accounts wasn't particuarly "dear" either...) tells us in the opening chapter of her book on household management that:

"As with the commander of any army, or the leader of any enterprise, so it is with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path. Of all those aquirements, which more particuarly belong to the feminine charcter, there are none which take a higher rank, in our estimation, than such as enter into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually dependant the happiness, comfort and well-being of a family....

Pursuing the picture, we may add, that to be a good housewife does not necessarily imply an abandonment of proper pleasures or amusing recreation; and we think it the more necessary to express this, as the performance of the duties of a mistress may, to some minds, perhaps seem to be incompatible with the enjoyment of life...."

Now, I don't know about you,  but I'm not abandoning the proper pleasures for any Tom, Dick or Harry. I may be a housework hedonist but show me a vice and I will show you how to enjoy it in style.
But before I collapse into my overstuffed armchair with a gin and tonic and a huge slice of chocolate cake, I want my spirit to be seen in every part of my establishment. Even in the cupboard under the stairs. I want to relax in a house that is as fresh as a daisy, cuddle with a babba pampered by the security of routine, and know that every moment of every day in our tiny little terraced cottage is as calm and peaceful as I could make it.
I am not here to be judge and jury on whether you are a full time housewife or not. Some of us work, some of us don't and we all have good reasons for choosing whether we stay at home or work full time or otherwise. We do not make such choices lightly and after fighting for the right to have the opportunity to create a life of our own, I find it abhorrent that so many of us are abandoning the sisterhood in droves and dictating how other women should be conducting their working lives or bringing up their children.
We do what we have to do and we should all respect that...
But no matter how we live, we all have one thing in common: we have homes that are supposed to nurture us. Homes that cocoon us from the big, bad world, protect us from the elements and provide a springboard for our children.  The difference lies in how far we come to rely on those homes. To what degree we allow our homes to reflect who we are, and whether or not we choose to accept the challenge of creating a place that nurtures our very souls.
There is nothing sexist about declaring yourself Mistress of your house. The opportunity to care about your house and your family live exists for every member of that family, but because it is in our nature to care more than our football loving husbands or terminally messy kids, we take on the role of Mistress whether we relish or resent it, because in all truth,all too often we have no other choice...
So Ladies, I am on a mission. A mission to make your life as lovely as it can be, whether you seem to be the only one in the house cleaning the toilet or not. You see, I have a theory. If we have got to do something, we might as well make it pretty. We may as well embrace  our roles as Mistress's of the drain plunger and the toilet brush and learn how to do it as scrumptiously as possible. If only so that thirty years down the line, we don't turn into the wrinkled old hag that resentment wants us to be...

Yes, but what do Vintage HouseKeepers Actually Do?

They keep house, of course. And they run families, and bring up babbas, and start delicious little businesses, and have pedicures and plan Christmas and worry about money and in short do all the thing's every other woman in the country does to keep her life turning over.   But they do it in a pinny. With purpose. Kind of the way their Nana'a would have done, had they been blessed with a Dyson, and enough self confidence to understand that in the end a cuddle with our babies matters a whole lot more than dusting the parlour ever will...

Isn't that awfully old-fashioned?

Oh absolutely, but then so are the deliciously snuggly paisley eiderdowns on our beds! We are old fashioned girls, but that doesn't mean we can't see the appeal of time saving devices like the tumble dryer...
Vintage Housekeeping is about making the mundane things we all have to do (like cleaning the loo!) as scrumptious as possible. It is about looking back at the way Mrs Beeton ran her household, and embracing our homes with the same zeal, committment and pride. But it isn't about cleaning twenty two hours out of every twenty four hours, nor creating homes more akin to museums. It is about celebrating the teeniest moments in our days, creating ritual out of good old fashioned routine and feathering our vintage nests with soul, history and happiness...

Routine, Sweeties- this is the key to health, wealth  and Vintage Housekeeping...

Oh, I know, it sound's so dull and aren't we all so used to the frivolous fripperies of domestic freedom these days? But our casual approach to the more mundane affairs of life is the reason why we live in a permanent state of  chaos. It is the reason why there is a mountain of laundry in the utility room and a sink overflowing with dishes. It is why we forget to take our library books back and run out of toothpaste twice a month...

It is Dear Housekeepers, why we don't know whether we are coming or going...

Not any more, ladies (and Gentlemen?), not any more, because from this day on we are going
to instil a teeny bit of order into our lives. We are going to create a routine that helps us to think straight when we get up in the morning: a routine that doesn't dictate every minute of every day, but helps us to create a life brimming with possibility and unchallenged by the weight of a chaotic house...

Seven days, seven tasks...

Every day of every week, (or at least on those days when there isn't something else to do, so divinely delicious that it just can't wait!) we are are going to have one aim: not fifty three little willy nilly tasks to get through, but one single aim....


We will allocate one task to each day of the week, according to our own personal schedule and family commitments, and voila!, we will have a weekly routine that covers the minutie of running a house and family.
Find time in the evenings for journalling, pampering, reading and snuggling.
Make time monthly for

Top to bottom day.
Suds day.
The Brocante Breakfast
and a
Treasure Hunt

And four times a year, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and buy some elbow grease for :

The Seasonal Scrub.

And before too long, you too, will be a Domestic Goddess!


Did I mention the dratted Domestic Goddess? Trust me girls she is a myth dreamt up by the ad-men. Even dear old Nigella admits her God Forsaken alter ego was a joke.
Here's the thing: contrary to what I may later try to charm you with, there are days when life is far from pretty. In fact there are days, dare I say it, when life is kind of rubbish, and I guarantee you will feel more like Mad Mary than Wonder Woman in a pinny. And that is why, my lovely Housekeepers, most of my routines are wrapped in scrumptious rituals and tied with a big fat bow.
You see, sometimes, kidding ourselves that life is lovely is the only answer...

But what the heck is a ritual?

Am I scaring you?  Does the very word conjure all kind's of horrible thoughts about voodoo dolls and frogs and boiling cauldrons? Look Hon, the only magic going on around here involves baking soda and a shiny sink, and that, I promise you, is about as spooky as things get (although we go a bundle on Halloween-it's any excuse for a party!).
In the world of The Vintage Housekeeper, a ritual is anything we do to make something ugly or dull, kind of lovely. A scrumptious little reward or treat we bless our routines with so we don't end up committing hari-kari everytime we have to get down on our knees and scrub the kitchen floors...

And ok so adding a drop or two of lavender to our elbow grease isn't going to create
miracles, and dancing while we hoover isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference to the fact that we would rather be soaking in a hot bath, but maybe the promise of a hot chocolate and a slice of home-made gingerbread at the end of a particuarly gruesome task, may mean that you get through it faster, and that you may finally understand the sheer scrumptiousness of delayed gratification. At least where housework is concerned...

Still not convinced?

What if I told you that all this routine and ritual was bookended by a million teeny tiny celebrations? That life for the Vintage Housekeeper is so delicious because we have learnt to recognise all the tiny, simple joys in our everyday, and we are all too willing to celebrate them? That the changing of the seasons is reason enough for a party (or a scrub!), or that putting your groceries away deserves a victory cup of tea? What if every little thing became a scrumptious blissful moment? That your morning shower was akin to a day at the spa? What if we finally learnt to honour who we are in everything we do: or we finally opened the door to our authentic selves and took her tap dancing around the kitchen?

What then?

What if I told you that this isn't about housework? (Fooled ya!) That the whole housework thing is merely a means to an end? That we are killing ourselves creating a home that satisfies who we are, so that we can go out and be that woman in the world outside our doors without the constant burden of a sink full of dishes? That we can walk back into that house, and be inspired all over again, by a home that reflects who we
are without jarring our senses with dust, dirt or a decorating scheme so bewildering we may as well be in the house next door?

What then Missy?

Who could you be if the thought of that mountain of ironing you have shoved out of a sight wasn't eating at your creative, authentic self and leaving you too exhausted to think about anything more taxing than tonights dinner?
Who could you be?

Anything else?

Why yes Sweetheart! Plenty actually. You see, although I stand by my promise to make life that little bit more scrumptious, fairy dust alone just won't cut it...
The secret of being a Vintage HouseKeeper is good old fashioned hard work, (please don't faint!), a scrumptious work basket full of tools,  a planner that will set you on the straight and narrow, and a a commitment to the values at the heart of BrocanteHome...

And those values are?

1. Have Integrity.

In her book, "Things I Want My Daughter To Know.", Alexandra Stoddard reminds us "Do
your best in every situation. Not because you want praise or gratitude, but because doing less would be out of character. Do what needs to be done.".

This speaks volumes about how often we are willing to compromise ourselves simply to save others from feeling uncomfortable. Don't do it. Have integrity in who you are, what you believe in and what you are capable of. It isn't about showing off, so trust yourself to do what needs to be done.

2. Seek authenticity.

Authenticity isn't a destination; it is a never  ending path to becoming who we really are.  If we see this path as the route to where we want to be, then it is essential that we never give up the search for all those things that make our hearts clatter with sheer joy. Sarah Ban Breathnach says that we have to learn to trust ourselves, to make friends with intuition and listen to our hearts.
"Only the heart know's what is working in our lives. When you listen to your heart and follow it's wisdom you have achieved authentic success, because authentic success is living each day with a heart overflowing with gratitude."

3. Put order before beauty, but make beauty your raison d'etre.

Look I am the first to admit that there is nothing sexy about housework. I am not here to tell you how to scrub your toilet or banish unsightly stains, but I do know that beauty does not exist in chaos. I understand, and more than that I want you to understand that making the ugliest jobs part of a satisfying ritual will help you come to terms with the fact that no-one else ever remembers to mop the kitchen floor. I understand that housework will never be as satisfying as making things pretty, but in order to make things pretty we first have to deal with the dross. there is just no getting away with it, but once it is done we are free to dwell on all that is lovely. We can putter to our hearts content, we can re-arrange the flowers on the mantle-piece, change the pillowcases on the beds, and tuck sachets of lavender betwwen our sheets, safe in the knowledge that the house is clean and tidy. A blank canvas waiting to be made beautiful.

4.Think and act locally.

It might surprise you to hear that the whole world is often on  your doorstep. By choosing to think and act locally we  support our communities and the small businesses that give it life. There are so many worthy aspects to this: so many good reasons  why we should act locally, not least because by thinking locally we are in essence acting globally by optin out of a world driven by greed at any cost, but also because by acting locally we are supporting the diversity so harshly challenged by the big comglomerates.
Yes it means working a little harder. Yes it means challenging local businesses to expand their horizons, and yes, there will be somethings you just can't buy within walking distance. But more often than not that little furniture shop in town has a shelf full of catalogues  stuffed with furniture you cannot see on display.  The bookshop can probably order any book in print, and I'm sure if you ask nicely, your local florist and deli will be able to order whatever your heart desires, however obscure. they need your business and unlike the bigger boys they are willing to put themselves out to get it. Use them or lose them.

5. Don't pretend you are Superwoman.

...Or even Martha Stewart, when you are plainly anything but. BrocanteHome isn't about stuffing mushrooms or doing the twenty seven fling boogie five times a day. It is about doing what you feel up to today, to make life a little more bearable. It isn't about perfectionism. in fact it celebrates all that is imperfect, but lovely all the same. It isn't about killing yourself to prove you are a Domestic Goddess, it is about creating a home that nurtures you and your family whichever way you see fit. Nor is it about creating a  house for a  design
magazine, it is about creating a sanctuary where no-one else matters.
It is about having a really lovely, cosy, comfortable space where you can lie back and dream your dreams in peace. That's all. Please don't get in a fluster.

6. And get up early!

I know what it is like to never have a minute to myself. I know how it feels when there is a two year old having a tantrum, a grown man screaming about lost socks, dinner burning in the oven, the milkman at the door and your Mother on the phone. Of course I do. It is my life. There are moments when I want to go and hide. To walk out the door and never come back simply because in the past twenty four hours I haven't managed to carve out five minutes for myself. It's life. That's all. There is very little to be done other than to grit your teeth and get on with it, or do as I do, and get up an hour earlier or stay up an hour later, just so you can have sixty minutes entirely to yourself, to do whatever it is that has been making you itch with frustration all day, whether it's writing your novel, or resting your eyes as you listen to your favorite CD. think of it like this, by getting up an hour earlier every day for a year, you create a fortnight you previously spent sleeping. A whole fortnight to do as you please.

Time then is my gift to you. Use it wisely.

Ready Housekeepers? Let's make life scrumptious!



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