What is it you like about housework? Is it:
a) That lovely fresh clean atmosphere you get after an hour or two of polishing;
b) The fact that you can, at last, see the carpet;
c) Like housework? I only like to watch others doing such tasks on TV.
If your answer is c, then there are two things you need to do: hide your head in shame and avoid Anthea Turner.
Ms Turner is the true domestic goddess; a woman who is vehemently proud of her pristine home; a woman who is no stranger to elbow grease and gleaming mirrors; a woman for whom clutter is an absolute no-no.
She may appear fluffy, with a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-the-mouth smile, but when she opens a disorganised cupboard she cannot help herself: she lets rip and tears the reprobates to pieces. Nicely, though. She still has her image to think of.
And don’t even think of coming up with the excuse that you are too busy to clean up as it will not cut the mustard. So, that told me. Gulp.
The television series The Perfect Housewife has seen dozens of hapless women come under her scrutiny.
Not only does she peer down their grubby loos, pick over the remains of last week’s dinner in the kitchen sink, she also takes them under her wing and teaches them how to do the housework.
Two women are pitted against each other and at the end of their two week challenge; one is crowned housewife of the week. And there’s a tiara and everything. How I would love to get my hands on that.
Trouble is, I’m more desperate housewife (in housework terms: think Lynette).
“I think people trust us,” says Anthea. “The programme isn’t cruel, like some are, and I really think it is the only way they are probably going to sort their houses.”
She cannot understand why people hoard and clutter their homes.
“There was one woman who had kept every single baby gro her baby had had – the child was now a teenager.
For goodness sake, what are you holding onto all that for? What’s the point?
“Keep the first pair of shoes and two outfits that are special. If you’re not careful you get bogged down in it.
“Some people hold onto the past and can’t move forward.”
And toys? Don’t get her started. Children have far too many and there is a reluctance to clear and sort them out.
“Ninety-five per cent of the homes I go into have the same problem: clutter,” she says.
“I went into one two-bedroom maisonette and cleared out two skips worth of stuff they didn’t need.
There were broken toys, things the children didn’t want any more.
“I grew up in an era when children really coveted a toy and if they eventually got it, cared for it and looked after it. It’s just not like that any more.”
Stoke-born Anthea, whose television career was born in 1986, admits the BBC3 programme, which is about to start its third series, is a great vehicle for her passion for housework.
Passing on her pearls of wisdom on how to fold towels so that they are just so and the art of folding t-shirts, which I just cannot master, despite watching the DVD over and over again, are just part of it.
She advocates the uses of baskets and implementing systems. This is not just housework – this is a ruthless business pursuit that needs to be done efficiently and to a deadline.
But it isn’t just the tidiness of Anthea’s Surrey mansion that makes many women – come on, girls, admit it – green with envy: it’s the sheer organisation.
I could have wept with joy when I watched as she opened her ultra organised linen cupboard. It was like looking at a piece of still life art.
“I’m busy as well so if I want a pair of sunglasses I know I can go to a drawer and find them. I don’t want to spend 20 minutes searching for this like that,” she says.
But she claims she is not obsessive about her home. Friends are able to relax there, she has dogs and children can play there without fear of getting a stern telling off for leaving shoes in the hall.
Homes are expensive, whether they are bought outright, mortgaged or rented, so surely we should take more pride in them and appreciate them, she asks.
“There are dining rooms that have karaoke machines in them and stuff all over the table so you couldn’t sit down for a meal,” she says aghast.
“There are CDs and DVDs on show, all gathering dust, most of which will never been listened to or watched. Why make more work for yourself?”
But, even this domestic goddess, who also runs a furnishings company, admits to having help.
“If you are working, job juggling, you should look at your income and if you can afford help, do it; don’t feel bad about it,” she says.
“Otherwise there is time to do housework. It isn’t something to do in between having a coffee and watching daytime TV.
“It’s a job and people should be proud of it and be proud to do it really well.”
Erm, that’s me off to find the duster, then…
“Ninety-five per cent of the homes I go into have the same problem: clutter. I went into one two-bedroom maisonette and cleared out two skips’ worth of stuff they didn’t need. There were broken toys, things the children didn’t want any more”
Anthea’s top ten tips
1. You can’t run a home that’s a mess, so you must de-clutter it. If it’s not beautiful, useful or seriously sentimental, it goes.
2. You have to clean. People who say “my house is a bit of a mess, but I’m really clean” are talking rubbish. You can’t have a tidy house if it’s not clean.
3. Make the house into a home. Rearranging furniture, adding some candles, or making even small tweaks can make a difference.
4. Run a home like you would a small business and treat it with the same seriousness. If you’re job-juggling, then it’s more difficult than if you’re a full-time housewife/husband. If you are a housewife, take pride in that.
5. Storage is important. Try vacuum-packing to save space. Wicker baskets are marvellous for putting things in.
6. Think about how you run your home. Could it be done more efficiently? In the series, one househusband keeps all his shoe-cleaning things in a lounge drawer but he cleans his shoes in the kitchen.
7. When children get to a certain age they can help by putting dirty washing in the right place and making their own beds.
8. Don’t use too many household cleaning products that are harmful to the environment. Try cleaning with vinegar, or just use one damp cloth swilled in cold water and one dry cloth.
9. Avoid wastage. If you’re cutting up a lemon, put the left-over half into the dishwasher.
10. Domestic paperwork (bills, guarantees, insurance) is very important. A proper family diary with everyone’s events and parties in it helps organise the household.
This article appeared in The Birmingham Post in February, 2007. It must not be reproduced without the prior permission of Jayne Howarth