Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

What Are You Going to Give Up?


I love it when a Times Online columnist espouses one of my views loudly and publically on a long weekend so as to get the attention of all the reading masses on my behalf.  It means I get the feeling of being validated without having to get out of my pyjamas.

My opinion: Women can have it all, just not all at the same time.

Minette Marrin’s opinion:  Don’t even bother trying.

The esteemed Ms Marrin says the only way to ‘ do a demanding job, pay attention to family and friends, preserve a competitively toned body, maintain an elaborate beauty programme, including trips to dermatologists, depilators and assorted beauty bandits, keep up with tweets, emails, telephoning and aggressive networking, dress stylishly, shop for food, cook elaborately, entertain regularly, attend school functions, keep up with reading, listen to music and remember jokes’ is to be really rich and pay people to back you up. Nigella’s Team Cupcake, par example.

On the one hand, Marrin says the pressure on working mothers is unavoidable (until, Otter says, their husbands and partners wake up to the revolution and start doing their 50%). On the other hand, she says women can decide to ignore the aggressive consumerism that underpins much of the last paragraph and – now here’s the revolutionary part – just let things slide. (After all, Otter says, most of their husbands and partners have been doing the same and getting away with it for generations.)

Marrin doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t stop working, stop having babies or doing things that they love. She means they should stop competing with other women, stop trying so hard, drop their standards, do less.

And – here’s the rub – she says ‘fortunately, doing a lot less is quite easy when you try — or, rather, stop trying.’

She says we should think of each thing we give up as an opportunity gain. Giving up two hours at the salon means two hours extra to keep up with friends. Giving up cooking elaborate meals means more time with the family. Giving up fashion magazines means less lusting after and trying to afford inaffordable items.

Living in a land that still expects good mothers to be home by 12.30pm ready to cook the family a hot lunch, I’ve had to give up a whole lot of things in order to make time for what matters to me: writing, working, exercising and spending time with the people I love. Here’s my list of things that have gone out of the window:

1. Keeping up with the laundry. Why do it? So that some housewife in the sky will give me a good report? I address the piles, with the dubious but enthusiastic help of certain members of my family, on a need-to-wear basis.

2. Ironing. We embrace the crumpled look.

3. Sorting socks. Puh-leeze. I put all socks in a large container and then bring them out when my South African friends and family visit for them to sort. It makes them feel useful and they can go home and tell stories about how hard it is living in Europe. 

4. Baking. I’ve taught my children how to do it. One kid made biscuits this weekend, another made carrot cake muffins. Team Cupcake’s got nothing on us.

5. Complex depilation. None in winter; bikini, leg and armpit on a need-to-display basis.

6. Beauty salons. Expensive time wasters.

7. Highlighting my hair. Ditto, plus I get to be cutting-edge grey.

8. Posh creams. Ditto. Nivea is the way forward.

9. Long make-up routines. Nivea’s tinted moisturiser rocks.

10. Soaking pulses. Tins and cans are just as good.

10. Buying fashion magazines. Blogs are better written and more interesting and they never make me lust after a Prada handbag.

I love Marrin’s mantra of Just Do Less. If it speaks to you, then what are things you’ve given or are giving up? I need more time for reading and writing and will gladly accept tips.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

19 thoughts on “What Are You Going to Give Up?

  1. My mother had such high standards that I competed by having low ones, I think.

    After three years in Germany, I finally bought an iron last week (because the children needed me to iron their bead projects).

    I visited the salon last week for my first cut in three years (and boy am I sorry- should have waited another three. Which is how long it will take me to grow it back out from the massacre).

    But I do soak my pulses. The first time I soaked kidney beans instead of pouring them out of a can, I knew I could never go back. They just taste that much better.

  2. I so agree on all of the above – it’s the way forward!

    I gave up ironing a long time ago – only my husbands shirt’s get done, on a need to wear basis.
    Hair cuts – once a year – long hair doesn’t need any more, especially when its scrunched up in a clip anyway.
    Shopping – except for once a week for food and as rarely as possible for clothes and shoes.
    TV – wastes a perfectly good reading opportunity, unless it’s a good movie.
    Newspapers and magazines – the important stuff manages to get relayed to me anyway. Like you I find blogs much better than mags anyway.
    Make-up and nail polish.

    I like the baking, so that stays on my list, but the kids do some too. They sort the laundry themselves, sort of, now so that’s one less chore.

  3. i don’t even have kids requiring my attention and am completely with you on numbers 1,2,5,6,8,9,10,11

    i’d add such useless tasks as washing windows/vehicles (rain is god’s car wash), making the bed (you’re just going to get back into it in a few hours!), and going to the grocery store (recently became a convert to delivery, and found i save time AND money).

    also, anything i can’t order on Amazon, i probably don’t need.

  4. I was wary of taking up elected positions at my children’s schools (very important but time consuming business). Preferring to jump in when the teacher was in a bind and act the (comic) super hero and save the class outing or Christmas cookie bake up.

    Built up a good relationship to the woman running the bio vegetable stand at the local farmers’ market and she now brings us a weekly delivery to our door on her way home.

    No television in the home. Surprising how much time that devise sucks out of people’s lives. My children spent that time playing and reading that other kids spent in front of the set. We never had to waste time negotiating whether they could watch more. Now that they are teenagers and we have numerous computers, a lot of time is spent online, which is neither good or bad, but just the reality of their lives.

  5. Ha ha! I likes what Ms. Otter says. Wot’s a Prada handbag, anyway?

  6. I loved, loved, loved this! Haha! Especially this one: “10. Buying fashion magazines. Blogs are better written and more interesting and they never make me lust after a Prada handbag.”

  7. Oh I embrace the do less – the only problem? It becomes almost impossible to do more again, even when you really, really need to. But I absolutely agree with the premise because it truly is so stressful to feel responsible for the perfection of the world, or at least every part of it that touches you. Utterly exhausting, and very depressing.

  8. Your sock sorting policy is HILARIOUS, Charlotte. Still cackling with laughter. That’s going to make me laugh on public transport for months to come.

    Shocked beyond words by that daily hot lunch thing. You. Must. Be. Joking.

    But I think overall this thesis is sound. I had to stop caring a loooong time ago about what other women were doing/earning/wearing – being someone who earns nothing doing something no one wants rapidly ends the contest. Liberating, in its way.

  9. My iron is still in its original packaging, having been purchased nearly two years ago, if that tells you anything.

    I stopped shaving my legs and go for a monthly wax instead. Yes, it’s more painful and expensive but it’s more convenient and wastes much less of my time, not to mention less shedding of blood.

    I’ve stopped reading the comments on any male-centred online news media when the article is about women, particularly if it’s to do with breatfeeding, feminism, divorce, sex or childcare. Keeps my blood pressure down.

    I’ve stopped feeling guilty about letting my kids watch too much TV and not cooking hot meals for them from scratch that often — they’re both picky eaters right now so I’m just rolling with it. Apples and sandwiches for the world!

  10. Husband does laundry. I don’t buy things that will require ironing. Socks get matched right before they go on the feet. Baking = chemistry = I never do that! Beauty routine is simple but could become simplier yet. And as for the grey? I’m cutting edge there too — but, dear, it is SILVER, not grey. Thinking of it so, makes me feel even more luxurious — silver hair and time not wasted is golden.

  11. I’m with you all the way, although I do pair socks up haphazardly as I like wearing mis-matched ones.

    I gave up ironing about 20 years ago!

  12. Great post. ‘Just Do Less’ works for me and it’s a slogan that’s good for the planet too. I loved the thought of your SA relatives sorting out the socks. And Team Otter Cupcake sounds like a dream team.

  13. Something I have been cutting back on recently is over-thinking and over-catering. I just organised a birthday lunch for my parents but instead of stressing out planning and preparing a complicated meal we went out to lunch and then came back to ours for dessert. I did Nigella’s thing of piled up brownies with candles and resisted the temptation to go for overkill by making other biscuits or homemade ice cream etc. It was great and importantly manageable (just) given that I’d worked all week.

    Other things I say no to- No ironing ever, no makeup except on very rare occasions, no volunteering to help with school things although I do contribute to bake sales and the like. I’ve recently said no to DIY. If I can’t pay someone to fix or paint something round the house then it’s just going to be undone. I want my weekends to be fun and DIY is the antithesis of fun (for me)

  14. Socks are horrible. They always end up missing. I gave up matching them a long time ago.

  15. Since starting back at work I have instituted a no-cooking Wednesday night dinner – it is the day of the week when I go to the farmers’ markets in the city in my lunch hour to do our fruit and vege shopping for the week. When I get home we put whatever were the pick purchases from my trip on a platter and we stand around (kid and baby included) and pick off the plate together: cheeses, raspberries, fresh baguette, heritage tomatoes, baby cucumbers, olives etc.

  16. I love this post and it gives me a little hope given my impending entry into the motherhood club (and then working motherhood club no doubt).

  17. I haven’t ironed in years, except the occasional dress shirt when we were going out and Jim needed it. I also haven’t worn makeup in years, haven’t shaved anything in decades, don’t use expensive creams (I make my own skin salve which is time consuming but I only have to do it once a year), haven’t read a fashion magazine in so long that the last time I was at the dentist and I picked up a copy of Vogue I was shocked at how many ads for makeup and perfume there were.

    One of the things I have given up on is keeping the place dusted perfectly, although I do still vacuum pretty regularly so my clients won’t have allergy attacks.

    What I can’t and won’t give up is reading and blogging!

  18. Hah – wish I could give up sock sorting but my OCD-brain refuses to let me! I have given up window washing and I have NEVER ironed. I figure hubby is sooooo good at it, having had to iron all his own work shirts since forever, that I would hate to mess with perfection 😉

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