About a year ago I moved into my dream house. It’s big, and old, and full of sunshine, and my bedroom has a view of the entire London skyline. There are apples and cherries and blackberries growing in the back garden. I’ve produced many a banquet in the kitchen, and held many a teaparty in the dining room. It doesn’t get much better than this, and I’ll be desperately sad to give it up when I leave.
But a house comes with responsibilities, and I can’t tell you how much time over the past few months I’ve spent cleaning the skirting board, hoovering the stairs, dusting the bookshelves, remembering to restock the toilet roll, and waiting around for people to deliver fridges, service boilers, prune trees and fix washing machines. Even just washing the dishes and keeping up with my laundry take more time than I’d really like to spend on them.
Don’t you find sometimes, that an awful lot of your life is spent just keeping things ticking over like this? I often joke about wanting a PA or a mail-order bride – she could take over all this admin, and leave me free to get on with the things I really like doing, like riding bikes and writing blog posts. Wouldn’t we all get a lot more done if we didn’t have to keep up with the housework?
There’s a serious side to this, of course. I went to a lecture by Haleh Afshar a few years ago, in which she argued that the capitalist system “assumes that every worker has a wife” – i.e. a general all-purpose domestic servant and childcare assistant. The school day, she pointed out, starts at exactly the same time as the working day, which puts working mothers in a difficult position, since they (well, most of them) don’t have a wife to take the kids to school for them.
I know lots of couples (my parents included) who’ve agreed to divide their duties, so that one works, and the other takes care of the domestic sphere. This usually means less disposable income, but also less stress, and more time to spend on the things they find important, be it children, bicycles or stamp collecting.
Single people, of course, don’t have this luxury and, since I don’t think my budget would stretch to a mail-order bride, I’m rather relieved that I’ll be downsizing considerably over the next six months. That’s not to say that I won’t still spend most of my time sorting stuff out though. I doubt a day will pass where I don’t need to fix something complicated on the bike, work out why my tent’s leaking, find somewhere to wash my socks, stand in line for a visa, brave an internet cafe to update my website, sort out what to have for dinner, make expensive international calls to unblock my debit card, or figure out why I have saddle sore again and what to do about it.
But somehow all these things feel more immediately relevant than whether the shower’s leaking or the windows need cleaning again. I’m cutting myself down to size – rather than rattling around in a massive house, with far too many possessions (even though I rarely use most of them, and pretty much wear the same outfit every day), I’ll be just a person, a tent, and a bike. Anything surplus to requirements will be quickly jettisoned. I’ll have to do admin, yes, but all of it will be absolutely essential, and will contribute towards one very simple purpose – keeping myself alive and moving.
I’m on the lookout for a tent at the moment, and I’ll definitely be going for one without skirting board.