I recently opened a cupboard, looked inside just a little more closely than usual, and saw to my surprise three bottles of Harpic and two of Mr Muscle. Now, just to clarify, this wasn’t a moment of “bowl me over, it’s the passage into Narnia” amazement, more a mild wonderment that here was a family of cleaning products living completely under the radar.
It reminded me of a long-held dream, where one day everything in my home is under control. No standing in front of the tumble dryer hoping that the clothes inside are ready because they are needed immediately. No nagging guilt about just how long it has been since the kitchen floor was washed. No leftovers lurking at the back of the fridge until it’s no longer safe to eat or freeze them. Or possibly even to touch them. Nope, a perfect home, with a place for everything and everything in its place, run using streamlined systems.
And I thought of the moment in “Jane Eyre”, where our heroine is just about to leave Lowood School and go to become the governess at Thornfield Hall:
“The box was corded, the card nailed on… I had brushed my black stuff travelling-dress, prepared my bonnet, gloves and muff; sought in all my drawers to see that no article was left behind; and now, having nothing more to do, I sat down and tried to rest.”
It had always seemed marvellous to me to have reached a moment where there was nothing more to do. To be up to date with everything.
But Jane Eyre’s world at this point is an incredibly narrow one. She has had no contact outside Lowood for years, and is now leaving because, in her words, she is gasping for liberty.
I continue to yearn after order (and a dry pair of jeans), but I’m also so grateful that my life is not the circumscribed one that Jane Eyre sought to escape.
There is comfort as well in knowing that I am not alone. Nella Last – a superlative housekeeper – noted on 19 December 1941:
“I had a little time to spare this morning and decided to get my Christmas cake and the box of Christmas decorations from under the stairs at the back. When I packed odd bits and bobs in any handy tin, and put them away to save, I did not think of labelling them, and really had some excitement this morning, finding things. I find I’ve two pounds of lump sugar, one of icing sugar, and a lovely tin of mixed chocolate biscuits.”
And what of the rogue cupboard? Reader, I tidied it.