I didn’t know ironing was a thing until I met my mother-in-law. She told me, with a straight-face, that she liked to put on music and work her way through a pile, nay mountain of ironing which included, but was not limited to: boxer shorts, socks, pillow cases, sheets, duvet covers, tea-towels (that’s dish towels in Yank speak), towels, and the cat. Ok, not the cat, but definitely the towel the cat slept on.
Growing up I remember my mother sometimes ironing my father’s shirts, though more often than not…not. Otherwise she ironed on an as needed basis. I use my iron on an as needed basis too. Mostly I use it to melt those little plastic bead things my kids like to make. Occasionally I iron the two items of clothing I own that are linen. Otherwise my iron comes out approximately ten times a year.
I figured ironing for hours a day was a generational thing. There was less polyester blend in the 50s and 60s. I figured it was something quaint, like ringing your clothes through one of those machines that used to regularly maul people. Maybe it was a hold over from the age when housewifery was an art form. Lest we not forget those were also the days when it was common place to drink martinis, smoke, and pop a few Valium. So imagine my surprise when I found out that some of you Brits still spend huge chunks of your day ironing.
Some claim to enjoy it. They find a peaceful, meditative quality to it. If I try really, really hard and practice some willing suspension of disbelief I can almost understand that. The monotonous action, the fleeting sense of achievement. To you I say this: If you truly find a sense of zen by ironing your pillowcases, go for it. I also say you’re weird, but hey, whatever floats your wrinkle-free boat.
But I suspect that for the majority, it’s not enjoyment of ironing as much as a perceived notion of that’s the way it’s done, a deeply ingrained sense of must-ness which surrounds so many things British.
My table manners must be impeccable lest the Queen pop by for tea.
My house must be show-worthy clean lest the Queen comes by for a visit
My sheets and tea towels must be ironed lest…I don’t know, the Queen comes over and dries your dishes?
Don’t get me wrong. Your former colonists take the housewife games seriously enough. I mean, we have whole reality television shows devoted to cleaning. We probably out-bleach you by a decent amount. But you guys. You guys! You’ve got the ironing thing down. If there were an Olympic event for ironing, you would be gold medalists every time. Brits are the Usain Bolts of ironing.
Others swear they don’t mind the ironing because they do it while they enjoy a bit of guilty-pleasure television. Somehow the chore justifies the pleasure. The sense of guilt which comes from binge- watching Orange is the New Black on a Thursday afternoon is, in my experience, limited to the female sex. I’ve yet to meet a man who feels remorseful about stretching out on the couch and watching television in the middle of the day.
To you I say: Watch the damn television show anyway. You don’t need to justify it and your kids aren’t going to suffer if their sweat pants aren’t ironed. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee your kids aren’t going to care let alone notice if their creases are sharp. And if they are of an age when they can recognize the sharpness of creases and complain about it? They’re old enough to iron their own damn clothes.
Ask yourself, who are you ironing for? If you get a deep sense of pleasure and satisfaction from ironing a giant mountain of clothes, by all means, keep calm and carry on pressing. But if you loathe it, stop and think about why you’re doing it. There are lots of chores which are necessary evils. But ironing everything? Pretty far down on the list. Maybe it’s nice, but it’s not necessary.
And in the space between nice and necessary, there’s a lot of room for other things.
Consider this a housewifery intervention. For the love of all that is creased, stop ironing everything.
I don’t expect you to go cold turkey. Start with the tea towels. Seriously. No one needs to iron tea towels. Then the kids’ stuff. Tee shirts do not need to be ironed. Your kids are going to look like depression era dust bowl waifs by the time they get to the school gate anyway. Next up? Boxer shorts. It’s highly unlikely the Queen is going to visit and if she does, she’s probably not going to ask your husband to drop trou to make sure his boxers are ironed.
The standards you set yourself, just like the settings on your iron, can be adjusted. Throw off the yoke of must-ness, of that’s the way it’s done. Watch television without justification. Allow yourself the freedom to explore other pursuits which bring you a sense of satisfaction and joy. Reading a book, exercising, binge watching Game of Thrones. Anything. There’s a world of a difference between should and need and that world filled with so many things better than ironing.
Go forth and find them. The Queen would be proud.
Your wrinkled former colonist