One of the many weird things about having my Instagram account is that people I know in real life will sometimes say something along the lines of, “oh, my friend Anna follows you on Instagram! I told her I know you in real life, and she wanted to know if the house always looks so tidy“. And then the friend and I laugh heartily at the very suggestion that the house looks anything like it does on Instagram, in normal life.
I live with one untidy male, two untidy children and a puppy. When I say “untidy”, I don’t mean “occasionally leaves their shoes in the hallway”, or “leaves a teaspoon in the sink after making a cup of tea”. I mean seriously, chaotically, pathologically messy. I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not looking for any advice on how to train my family to be tidy. It’s a lost cause. Yours may be the very definition of neat, and relish in having a place for everything and everything in its place, and more power to you, but I think mine have a missing tidiness gene (not from my DNA), and that’s the end of that. If I gave up work, all hobbies and my entire social life, and dedicated every minute to keeping my house tidy, I still don’t think it would be enough.
Now, none of this is a new concept. We all know Instagram and other social media tends to show the polished aspects of life. Whether it’s filtering your face to remove your crow’s feet, showing the pretty field of wildflowers while cropping out the industrial estate beside it, or photographing a coffee table styled with fresh blooms, an intellectual novel and a Diptyque candle, it’s all about presenting the aspirational side of life. We all also know that very few people actually live like this (if you do, come, tell me all of your secrets!). There are dedicated #instasham and #instareality hashtags on Instagram for those who show the truth behind the glossy images and, genuinely, every time I’ve ever done so, I have an influx of messages from people who say “oh, thank god!”. There’s a solidarity in showing our reality.
I thought I would offer up a few examples of my family’s input into my carefully decorated home. I could write a book, but I’ll keep it to the edited highlights. We’re all busy people, and there’s only so much chaos we can tolerate in one sitting. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin (flashbacks to Listen With Mother on the wireless, there).
The Utility Room
I wrote a blog post about the utility room here. It was meticulously planned to maximise the modest space available, and the intention was for everything to be stored behind closed doors. I envisaged everyone coming home via the back door, leaving coats, shoes and bags in their allotted spaces in the utility room. In fact, I didn’t just envisage it, I literally BUILT a room for this purpose. What actually happens is that they come in through the kitchen doors, drop coats on the floor the moment their feet cross the threshold, and chuck bags immediately on to the kitchen table. Shoes are swiftly kicked off in the kitchen (or one in the kitchen, one upstairs, to add extra fun to the next morning’s school run), where the puppy immediately and gleefully seizes them and gnaws through the straps.
I took some shots of the utility room as soon as it was installed. Fresh flowers were artfully arranged. A solitary, tonal coat was hung. Artisan-made brushes that have no purpose other than to look pretty were strewn. There was an oil painting.
I haven’t taken any new pictures of it since then, because this (below) is what it really looks like. I took that two minutes ago, exactly as it looks, with a pile of clean washing on the floor (I have 3 lovely, wicker laundry baskets, they’re all elsewhere, full). It’s a testament to Stuart, who made my utility room, that the overloaded hooks haven’t been dragged from the wall. We’re a coat-heavy family. I need to do an audit and put all the winter coats into hibernation, which will help matters, but it’s quite low down my list of house priorities. It makes me laugh that I spent hours deliberating over which brass hooks to use in here – you can’t even see them under the coat mountain! I have to admit, though, that this room doesn’t bother me too much. Utility rooms are made for – well – utility. If it’s a choice between an Instagrammable boot room and owning fewer coats, then I’m in the “more coats” camp every time. I just need the other occupants of the house to put their coats there in the first place and we’re winning.
The Fancy Wallpaper
The House of Hackney wallpaper in the hallways was a massive splurge. I fell in love, bought it on a whim when it was discounted and then it sat in a box for 9 months while I saved up for a decorator. It’s a good job that, years later, I still love it, because there will be no funds to replace it for the remainder of my living days.
My children understand the value of this wallpaper and treat it with all due respect, as you can imagine. Please see Exhibit A: the googly eye sticker on the flower, and Exhibit B: the toothpaste smear outside the bathroom.
The toothpaste smear is standard from my youngest. She will only tolerate a small amount of toothpaste on her toothbrush, yet squirts half a tube out every time, removing the excess with her finger and wiping it anywhere she chooses. Windowsills, sink edge, cupboard door…. and the wallpaper outside the door. It sponges off. Deep breaths.
As to the googly eyes, I bought both children a roll of these stickers from Flying Tiger, and they are the bane of my life. What a mistake. They pop up all over the house, in inappropriate places, adding an Anya Hindmarch-esque look to various inanimate objects. I’ve actually left the sticker on the wallpaper here, it’s been there for years now, and the blue flower with eyes reminds me of the Cookie Monster, which I quite like. Here’s a further example on a little lamp in the kitchen…
The Downstairs Hallway
After the builders finished at the end of 2019, I repainted the downstairs hallway to cover up all of the scuffs and generally freshen it up after months of abuse. I kept it the same colour, Railings by Farrow & Ball, and gave myself a pat on the back for my efforts. All just like new again.
After not very long at all, I noticed that the wall looked really watermarked. I checked for a leak and found nothing. I was baffled, until one day when I saw my eldest come out of the downstairs toilet, having just washed her hands, cheerily shaking the water off them as she went. Mystery solved. She does this every time. To be clear, there is a lovely hand towel in there. It’s from Anthropologie and is carefully chosen to contrast with the wallpaper. I suppose I should just be grateful she’s actually washing her hands.
The Kids’ Rooms
I’ll use my eldest’s room as an example. I could just as easily use the youngest’s, apart from she often likes to hang out in our bedroom, claiming the wi-fi is terrible in her room, and she messes that up instead. My kids are 12 and 9 now, so we’re past the toddler and pre-school years where everything was at risk of ruination, where cutlery was routinely found in the bath, toothbrushes in the shoe cupboard, and the remote control, after 3 weeks of searching, located in the toy oven. Luckily, the house was completely unrenovated at that point of our lives, so the crayoned walls and carpet spillages weren’t too much trouble.
The pre-teen years, however, simply bring a different sort of chaos. Kitty has a cracking bedroom, it’s massive and really beautifully decorated, if I do say so myself. I have learned that the more floor space there is, the more they will cover it in all the stuff of tween life. Despite only ever appearing to wear the same, solitary sweatshirt and pair of jeans, this child’s floordrobe game is STRONG. She has quite a lot of clothing, I’ve always loved clothes and buying them for the kids is a great source of pleasure for me (or it was when I could coerce them into wearing the pretty dresses and piecrust collars I wanted them to). Apparently, however, every time an outfit is considered, it’s necessary to remove the entire contents of the wardrobe, try them all on, and then discard on the floor, creating a carpet of clothing. If requested to put them away, after around the 27th time of asking, the carpet of clothing will be swept up as one, and bundled into the wardrobe in a giant ball. Hangers will not be considered as they’re “too hard”.
I’d also like to give a special shout out to the general hiding of the household glasses and crockery around the room, sometimes in drawers and cupboards (why? WHY?), often with a bonus layer of mould. Wrappers must never go in a bin, but perhaps under a pillow. Crumbs and half eaten biscuits? Floor. Doors and drawers are not to be shut under any circumstances, wide open is the only acceptable state. Finally, always ensure there’s an unidentifiable sticky patch on the floor or, even better, on the vintage desk your mother bought, hand-sanded and oiled for you.
I’m sure I was the same at that age (although I never only eat half a biscuit), and this is payback for what I put my own mother through, but I had to give the room a deep clean this week for some filming that was being done at the house, and it took 3 hours. Consider me well and truly paid back. Oh, and we need a window open, even in arctic conditions, to air the room, or it’ll smell like a locker room, notwithstanding the amount of nice toiletries provided.
Sofas And Cushions: Seek And Destroy
Admittedly, I have covered both of our sofas with a lot of cushions. I love cushions. However, while one or two add extra comfort, seven tend to become an obstacle to sitting. Personally, I like to make a neat pile of the ones that aren’t propping me up, replacing them nicely when sofa time is at an end. Everyone else favours the “hurl them at random around the room and do not, under any circumstances, replace” method, so there’s a very slight difference of approach there. As a result, my sofas do not look like they look on Instagram, but instead like they’ve been ravaged by burglars, until I intervene. Every day of my life. Underneath every cushion also lurks a number of wrappers, which is where they are shoved after consumption of the contents. I really enjoy the rustling when I sit down. The dog joins in by burying her deerskin chews behind the cushions too, so that’s a fragrant treat.
The Spare Room
The spare room is (or was) the only untouched room in our house. The reason I haven’t done anything with it is that it needs a lot doing to it – new Velux windows, new electrics, new plumbing, eaves storage, new carpet and full redecoration. It’ll cost loads and is a low priority, so has become a store room for all of our household crap. Recently, however, I decided to make one corner of it nice. Naturally, I documented this on Instagram, and here it is in all its glory. I added a mural of a Klimt painting, dressed the bed, and made my pretty corner. Only it’s exactly that, it’s a pretty corner in a wasteland of out of season clothes, spare bedding and endless boxes of books.
Now the “reality” images below are a bit worse than the daily reality, as I was mid-epic-sort-out when I took these, but really only a bit. It did look like this when I shot it for the ‘gram, though. Since I took these last week, we’ve had the loft boarded out for storage, so all the stuff can go up there, and I think this might be the most excited I’ve ever been! And the rest of the room can catch up, decoratively speaking, in due course. What an illustration of the great big Insta-sham, though? Overnight guests are all provided with blinkers and instructed to keep their eyes forward, and then to go straight to sleep, without looking around the room even once. If they peek, they don’t get breakfast.
The conclusion is that my house is a tip and, unless I evict my housemates, will probably remain so. Yes, I get in a minor fury when I’m tidying up. Yes, sometimes they help, when pushed. But it’s a happy, family house where I’m not precious about the things in it, you don’t have to take your shoes off when you come round and it’s all there to be enjoyed, even if I did have to reupholster my velvet footstool because it got yogurt on it. I like to look at my own Instagram feed sometimes, to remind me how the house can look. And it’s just ever so important to remember that social media ain’t real life. I certainly never set out to portray my chaotic life as in any way aspirational, or to suggest I live in a show home, because I don’t. As you can now see.
I’ll leave you with two final pictures, the first entitled “Tell me you have a dog without telling me you have a dog“, and the second “Toilet roll enhances bathroom plant“. I’m off to pick up some cushions…..