- Woke at 9, had a shower, got dressed
- Put on a load of washing
- Had breakfast
- Answered my work emails, wrote some university emails
- Went to the market for fresh fruit and veg
- Cleared the table, cleaned the table, swept the floor, cleared the desk, cleaned the desk
- Stacked the dishwasher and got it running
- Wrote up some lecture notes
- Hung out the washing, put another load on
- Cooked lunch
- Wrote up some more lecture notes and did all the research for a History of Maths assignment
- Hung out the second load of washing, emptied the dishwasher
- Wrote up more lecture notes
- Stopped for toast at 6.
Still stubbornly attempting to get a first in your degree, even though you know you have to get an average grade of 90% in all of the modules you’re currently taking: it turns out this is not good for free time.
When J first moved in with me, there was a brief phase during which he would come to me to tell me – with some pride – about what he’d done that day. Like, for instance, loading the dishwasher.*
Nine months on, J comes to me to tell me – with a lot of pride** – about what he’s done during the day. Like, for instance, telling one of his (young, male) colleagues that he, J, thought that the sacking of Sky’s football presenter Andy Gray for his off-air sexist remarks was absolutely justified.
According to J, the subsequent discussion about equality involved him asking his colleague – who lives with his parents – whether he did any housework, and why (not)?
This, my friends, is what we call progress.
That, and the beautiful sound of Flatmate hanging up the washing.
*It didn’t take long for him to stop that. Especially when I came in from uni one day and walked into the kitchen with the words, “Hi J, guess what? I’ve just walked in and taken my shoes and coat off, and emptied the washing machine and hung up all the clothes, and then put another load of clothes in to wash, and now I’m saying hello to you, and oh, look, the dishwasher needs emptying so I’ll do that, and once I’ve done that maybe I’ll get round to putting the kettle on, and if you’re really, really lucky, I might even offer you a cup of tea. You can ask me about my day now.”
**He was so pround that he ended his account of the day with “…you could blog that. If you wanted.”
I live in the tiniest flat in the world. Seriously. I’m not very good with house measurements – I find it difficult to visualise, which sometimes leads to me lying down flat on the floor to work out whether the room is wider than 5’6″ – but for the internet, I tried. Our flat is indeed wider than 5’6″. But not by much. My bedroom (which I share with J, remember) is 7′ by 10′. The whole entire flat is probably 20′ by 30′.
This is fine, really. Well, mostly. Well, sometimes. Look, the problem is that my bedroom is surrounded by other rooms, effectively. On one side, we’re right up against the bedroom wall of the flat next door. And to my neighbours, I’d like to say: it’s ok, we weren’t throwing a toddler at the wall the other night. I’m sorry. That thud you may have heard, and that yelp of pain, that was me. I was trying to steal back the covers because J likes to try to gnaw them to shreds in the night, and then because I failed, I flounced over and hit my knee on the wall. One of the walls is an outside wall. We have a window and everything, although due to some fluke of nature, it doesn’t open at the moment. We share one wall with our kitchen, and the last with the bathroom. I’m hoping my neighbours didn’t hear me thudding against their wall, because according to the maintainance manual, that wall is fairly heavily sound- and fire-proofed.
But the “internal” walls – they’re not soundproofed. Not even a little bit. So from our room, you can hear the shower go. You can, if you’re really lucky, hear Flatmate singing in the shower. You can hear anything that involves the kitchen sink or the dishwasher, because they’re right up against the shared wall.
All of this is just a prelude to say that last night, J was trying to “fix” the printer. There was nothing wrong with the printer until he tried to make it wireless, and it clearly just didn’t want to lose the comfort of being connected to my laptop by a cable. So the printer basically went “well, go on then, MAKE ME PRINT!” And then it sulked. And after trying all the options there are in every combination until half past 11, J sulked too. So I demanded that we just go to bed and ignore the sulky printer.
No sooner had we fought for the bathroom, tripped over each others’ discarded books and clambered over the mountain of my knitting to get into bed, than we heard Flatmate cleaning the kitchen. At midnight. I don’t know what posessed him. Only two nights ago, I asked him not to run the dishwasher after 11. Only one night ago, I sent J out at 11:45 to ask Flatmate not to clean the kitchen because we could hear him. Did he forget? Again? Did he think that the annoyance of him doing the cleaning at midnight was less than the annoyance of him not doing the cleaning and then running away for the weekend? Or was he just being really passive-agressive? I have no idea. We could hear things clanking, and him singing, and because I was so tired, I didn’t even get angry, I just got the giggles.
Eventually I fell asleep – only to wake up at 6 in the morning with J draping himself over me and headbutting my neck. I don’t know why he thinks this is endearing.
Me: J, what are you doing? It’s really early!
J: Noooooooo, we have to get up! It’s getting-up time! I heard an alarm!
Me: [sits up to look at clock] No you didn’t. It’s 6 in the morning. We don’t have to be up til 8. You don’t start work til 11. Stop it.
And he rolled over and fell back to sleep. Thanks, J. To add insult to injury, when we actually did get up, J had no knowledge of what he’d done. So that was fun. And as he was heading out the door to go to work, he said “oh, I sent you an email this morning with that thing I needed printing. Can you go to uni and do it?”
No. No I could not. Instead, I went to the market and bought many jars of pickle, and some limes, and an aubergine, and Moroccan mint tea, and smoked mackerel. And then I came back home and uninstalled the printer. And then I reinstalled the printer, and this time I was really kind and understanding and let it keep its USB umbillical cord, because it clearly just wasn’t ready to be its own independent device. And now the printer works. So there. I may not be able to get a full nights’ sleep ever, and I may not be able to make Flatmate learn that the middle of the night is not an appropriate time to do housework. But I can access printer.
Oh, yes, indeed, I have a one-track mind. Did you know I went away for a week? This was delightful for many reasons – I got to see my family and friends, and I did a grand total of not much tidying at all.
Well, while I was away, J did some extra shifts. The day before I was due to get back, he had his first day off for 10 days. And (probably partly because I had pointed out that all hell would break loose if I came home to find that there was so much mess I couldn’t unpack) he spent a large portion of that day off cleaning.
That night, I called him to check in and see how his day had been. “Not great,” was the answer. He’d done everything he’d meant to do; the house was, if not spotless, then at least only acceptably grimy round the edges; he’d spent time playing his beloved computer games; he’d cooked a nice dinner for himself. “But I just feel… angry,” he told me. “I’m in the kitchen and it’s clean because I cleaned it and I should be pleased, but I’m not. I’m just grumpy, and I don’t know why.”
Now, I know that feeling. I know it well. That feeling of angry dissatisfaction after surveying all the work you’ve put into making the house nice, knowing that it’s only you that’s done anything? I think a lot of the people who read what I write would understand that feeling.
So. J has had his epiphany. He’s had one week of dealing with the kind of crap he and Flatmate pulled on me, and he’s been talking about making a cleaning rota ever since. Of course, he hasn’t actually made one yet. But you know what he has done? His share of the cleaning!
Last time I posted, I was just about as dejected as I ever get. (This makes me feel extremely lucky, by the way, because the way I felt then – although grim – was nothing compared to the way I felt when my granddad died, and nothing at all compared to the way some people feel every single day.) But, you know, for somebody who’s not depressed or recently bereaved, I was pretty fucking sad. And angry, too. Don’t forget angry.
It turned out that what I’d decided to do, which boiled down to taking back my space in the flat, both literally and metaphorically, was exactly the right thing to do. I told J what I’m doing, and why, in a conversation in the pub that involved two big gin & tonics and a lot of arm-flailing. And I haven’t told Flatmate at all, because I can’t be arsed to deal with the conversation about self-esteem that will inevitably follow.
(Our house rules are a little unusual:  food is not a moral issue.  your actions do not reflect on your worth as a person. This means that nobody’s allowed to talk about foods being “good” or “bad”, because really, shut the fuck up. And while you can say “crap, I didn’t do the washing up. That wasn’t very good of me. Sorry.”, you can’t say “crap, I didn’t do the washing up. I am a terrible person.” Flatmate is basically ok with , but has difficulty with .)
I was full of unholy glee as I deliberately ignored the washing machine, J and Flatmate. It was incredibly relaxing to hear and see all of those things that would usually infuriate me being directed at people who weren’t me. And it helped, too, that I’d done a couple of days of paid work. That always makes me feel better, because at the moment I work in a warehouse full of cardboard boxes, which as we all know, are brilliant for taking out your frustration on.
What have I learned from this? Well, quite a lot, actually.
Firstly, I have to work this summer. If I don’t, bad things will happen. But I kind of knew that already.
Secondly, it turns out that the easiest way to get other people to modify their behaviour is to modify your own. Because, you know, I talked with both J and Flatmate on multiple occasions about the housework, my impending exams, and so on. But it’s easy to listen to requests that you change the way you’re behaving, and easier still to listen and then not change your annoying behaviours.
In my case, the behaviour that I modified was the way I was saying what I was saying. By asking, I was giving them the opportunity to ignore me. By telling them, I denied them that option. For instance, asking them to remember that I was studying for my exams and to be considerate of that – that’s easy to nod along to and then forget about. Telling them that because of my exams, I was studying on the desk, that I’d already had dinner and that they’d just have to work around me – that’s impossible to ignore. I was where I said I’d be, doing what I said I’d be doing, and completely ignoring them.
When I say it like this, it seems obvious. And there’s a big bit of me wondering why on earth I ever thought that just asking them to be nice would work. And an even bigger bit of me wondering how I ever managed to take over the clothes washing so comprehensively without any of us noticing. But then I start wandering into the kind of territory where I blame myself because the men I live with weren’t considerate of my stress, and didn’t think in any sensible way about how they could help with that. And that there, that’s not right.
So, I’m just not going to fret. I tried an approach that didn’t work; now I’ve found one that does. Hopefully it’ll start to become a habit for all of us, and then I won’t need to even think about it anymore. Well. I live in hope.
I am a grumpy bastard. Why?
- I’m bleeding.
- I’m trying to use more emotional energy than I actually have, resulting in tears before bedtime.
- My eating patterns are all out of sync, so I feel crap.
- Have you tried revising while hungry, grumpy and tearful? Not good.
- FOR THE LOVE OF CEILING CAT, J, I TRIED TO CARE ABOUT YOUR COMPUTER DYING, BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? WE HAVE BOOKS! READ A BOOK! (You also have models to make, and photographs to sort.)
- FLATMATE! CLEANING THE BATHROOM IS NOT SOMETHING FOR WHICH YOU SHOULD RECEIVE A COOKIE! (Also, I would have noticed it was clean all by myself. Because the dust was gone.)
Evolutionary psychologists would no doubt tell me that I “see dirt” better than any man, regardless of my shortsightedness. But evolutionary psychologists would also tell me that I like the colour pink, possibly because of menstruation, so I think we can safely ignore them.
On the other hand… I do see dirt. When I have my glasses on, I see dirt all the time. I think of it as my cleaning-brain. The one that tells me that I’m a disgrace to femininity. I’m hearing from it more than usual at the moment, actually, because revising at home means that you notice the cleaning that you haven’t done. And we have hard floors (as opposed to carpet) in almost every room. You really notice the dirt when it doesn’t get ground into textiles!
I live with a man. Not a man that I’m in a relationship with – he’s a friend; we have separate bedrooms – but a man nevertheless. And this creates a certain dynamic, whether I like it or not.
For instance, I get very touchy about how much housework we both do, because I don’t want him to revert to a stereotype. I don’t want to have to ask him to “help”, because it’s his flat too. And I don’t want to divide the housework by task, because frankly, I don’t care if he doesn’t like cleaning the bathroom, it’s a life skill that he should know. Likewise, I don’t always want him to do the washing up, partly because I can wash up my own damned plates, and partly because – cynic that I am – I don’t want him to have an excuse to not do other housework.
All of this is making life quite frustrating at the moment. I don’t want to do any more of the housework than I do already, but I keep seeing the dirt. It is a dilemma. Thankfully, not one that I’m spending too much time over. My mother’s excellent example has shown me that in the long run, exerting your willpower over your own cleaning-brain and refusing to do more than your fair share makes for a more equitable household. Even if it does get a bit dusty while the other party works out that there isn’t a magic bathroom-cleaing pixie.