BEING very rarely at home, I was never particularly house proud. That is, house proud in any way, shape or form.
After nine years in my flat I hadn’t so much as painted the living room, never mind decorated it to any standard that might make guests feel welcome or create the sort of joy-sparking surroundings Marie Kondo works towards.
After a decade of saving for a deposit, just having some walls and a roof above felt like achievement enough. I had a sofa and chair, bookshelves, a bed and a desk that the former editor of these pages donated. There was nothing else I needed.
The shower flooded every single day, the boiler was on its very last legs and the living room took in snow during winter because one of the windows wouldn’t shut. But never mind, eh?
Some attempts at home decor were made. I painted the hallway and the bathroom. The colour chart showed the bathroom paint to be “mocha” – a light creamy brown. A light brown bathroom? No, I have no idea what I was thinking either. No matter – when the paint went on it was inexplicably lilac.
At least to me. It was paint’s answer to the white/gold or black/blue dress conundrum. Some people saw it as brown, some saw it as lilac, all saw it as hideous.
Foregoing samples was a rookie error not to be made twice. For the bedroom, I sampled umpteen blue paints and went with the very palest blue, hoping that if it turned out as miserably as the bathroom, it would be so pale as to be insignificant.
Once on the four walls, pale blue it was not. It was an oppressive, stolid dark mess with nothing to recommend it. So, I splashed out on some Farrow & Ball in a shade I knew I loved and started painting over the top. Two walls later I became terminally bored and vowed to do the rest at some unspecified later date.
That was around five years ago. Poor old neglected flat.
Then, lockdown. And suddenly I was home all the time. Working in the same spot I was volunteering in, socialising in that same spot too. For a change of scene there would be a move about a foot to the left of my table and on to the sofa. Staring at magnolia walls all day became interminable.
It was very cold. The bubbles in the laminate flooring were driving me mad. Why in God’s name had I never finished painting the bedroom? Last year I had a new bathroom fitted so that was something, but I couldn’t work from there. Zoom calls from the bath would look weird.
After much moral and practical support from friends, I found a painter and decorator. I found him in September and the first week he was available was December 21. I instantly regretted daubing about 30 paint samples all over the living room walls.
Here’s the thing, though. Packing up the flat was an almighty chore. Over the years I have somehow ended up with more than a sofa, chair, bookshelves, a bed and a desk. I have ended up with a lot of stuff. Stuff everywhere – in the wardrobe and under the bed, behind the sofa and under the chair. Piled under the desk.
And among that stuff, so many beautiful items I had forgotten about. Tea from Fortnum and Mason. Pyjamas made from softest cotton. Expensive toiletries. Fine bone crockery. Fancy chocolates long past their sell by date. Elegant clothes unworn that no longer fit.
What were all these things waiting for? Best, that’s what. The marshmallow experiment – the Stanford University study of delayed gratification – was my entire life. There’s several factors at play there. It seemed extravagant to spend money on a property when it was only for me. Anticipation is a pleasure: Christmas Eve’s benefit is that the fun is yet to come.
There was the nurture element too: my grandmother would always save anything special for “best”, an indeterminate point of time somehow fancier than the present.
But what’s the point in saving sweets so long you can no longer eat them? What’s the point in never wearing clothes you then outgrow? What is the point of beautiful gifts behind the armchair, unused and forgotten.
If 2020 showed anything, it is that the time is now. Wear silk on the sofa to watch Netflix; sip £20 tea from a china cup on a Monday morning; eat the £5 bar of chocolate for a mid morning snack. Who knows what lurks just around the corner.
I’ve never been sold on the notion of self care but maybe this is it – foregoing “best” for the immediate enjoyment of small, delicate pleasures.