The rule of three or maybe it’s just me?

I love house magazines. My lovely sister-in-law buys me a subscription to Living etc. every year for my birthday. I look forward to its delivery every month (probably a little too much, seriously, it’s not healthy). I love looking at the beautiful houses and frankly I am just nosey. But the thing I always think, especially when it is a house with children living in it, is where is all their stuff? I know that they will have de-cluttered and tidied, and all the rest before the photo-shoot, but as a parent fighting a daily battle against discarded toys, half eaten snacks and mountains of dirty clothes, I would love to see those “before” shots too. It’s not that I see these pictures and imagine even for one second that my house will ever look that tidy and organised, and obviously I appreciate that neither do these houses usually look that immaculate. But it reminds me of the constant juggling act we as parents have to manage. Nobody has a tidy house, looks presentable, and is on top of parenting (without having a lot of help obviously!). It’s the rule of three.

Nobody has a tidy house, looks presentable, and is on top of parenting – it’s the rule of three.

Whilst not a scientific fact, there are not enough hours in the day to make it physically possible for all three events to occur simultaneously (without some outside intervention). I say it’s not scientific fact, but let’s consider the evidence. When was the last time your house was tidy – really cast your mind back and try and remember? Did you have any time that day to sit and play with your children or read them a book?  What did you give your children for supper that night? If it was a balanced, healthy, homemade meal, what did you look like that day?  Had you showered? Brushed your hair? Brushed your teeth? Eaten anything apart from the baby’s masticated scraps of toast after breakfast? Chosen clothes that were actually in your wardrobe rather than handily sitting on the end of your bed?

My house generally has various toys, unopened post, broken toys waiting to be fixed, packs of baby wipes, spare nappies, spare jumpers, odd socks, and a variety of other detritus cluttering every flat surface available. Then there are the piles of things (toys, clothes, jumbo packs of loo paper, and yes, more boxes of baby wipes) that sit on the stairs, in theory to be carried upstairs as we walk past (an efficient idea) but that generally sit there for weeks on end as we dash past in a mad rush to get out of the house/get children into the bath/get children into bed. Obviously there is a mountain of dirty laundry that also takes up half the bathroom, which is complemented by an equally large pile of clean clothes that sit on our sofa waiting to be put away – effectively our sofa his now our children’s wardrobe. And we must not forget the bottles of calpol that inhabit every room and the ubiquitous poo covered shoe by the back door (my elder son has an amazing capacity to find the biggest pile of dog poo and step in it whenever he leaves the house).

In line with the rule of three, while my house is a pig sty, I am generally reasonably well presented (aside from the odd smudge of porridge or snot on my shoulder from the baby). Having to go into the office and interact with human beings in a professional capacity is a great motivator for washing your hair and slapping on a bit of make-up. Equally we generally have a freezer stocked with lots of nutritious home-made food, that my husband and I batch-cook in the evenings and at weekends, and are ready to be re-heated by whoever is looking after our brood at the next meal-time (obviously we eat toast and sandwiches for our own supper).

When we have friends over I try to make the house look presentable and offer some semblance of organisation and order, usually by stuffing everything I find on the floor into mine and my husband’s bedroom (it drives my husband bonkers). But, the cost of this (semi-)tidiness is either a slightly less presentable me (hair is unlikely to get a wash and any make-up I have on will be left over from the day before), or a less exciting/inspired meal for our guests (if you are ever at my house and I serve you bolognaise, know that my hair will at least be washed).

Is it the rule of three of or is it just me?

Clearly, one could argue that this is just me – and quite possibly, the fact that I spend more time in my office than in my own home could explain my slightly more lackadaisical approach to the house-keeping. In an ideal world, to test this theory of the rule of three properly, I would gather data from a representative sample of parents, apply a robust modelling technique and subject my results to rigorous testing to check for any biases (I am an economist after all). Clearly we do not live in an ideal world – if we did there would be no more wars or poverty, I would be a gazillionaire and my son would never step in dog poo. So I will have to proceed with a more qualitative approach to my analysis based on feedback from my friends.

I conducted a comprehensive (ahem) survey of nine of my friends. Of these nine friends, three could recall and provide approximate dates for when the stars had aligned and they had managed to combine a tidy house, with a high level of personal maintenance and attentive parenting. One third is not bad. I started to question the validity of my hypothesis. But on further examination, it turned out that two had a grandparent staying (that takes care of the children then), and one had just come back from holiday, had not yet unpacked and the children had yet to destroy the valiant efforts of the individual who she pays to clean their house (which frankly doesn’t count). So, in fact, none of the interviewees (we will call them that to make it sound more official) had managed all three.

Whilst this research clearly has its limitations, I think that it nonetheless demonstrates that there is something to the rule of three hypothesis. I would happily be proven wrong, so if by any chance you manage to coordinate all three (and I mean properly – you need to have clean hair, not just hair mussed around with dry shampoo), let me know.

I will obviously then spend a few days worshipping you, endeavouring to achieve the your heights of organisation, before crumbling and accepting that for the vast majority of us the rule of three is how we live. And to be honest, I am alright with that.

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