Shabby Chic – How To Embrace Stress Free Living

By Josie Lloyd.

On your agenda of things to do today, how far up the list is tidying up? Like most of us, do you face the exhausting daily grind of the never-ending mess at home? That thankless task of sorting and putting away and wiping down surfaces which somehow seems to be your responsibility alone?

OK, but why do we all worry so much? When your kids, partner or spouse doesn’t seem to notice, why do some of us? I guess it’s because without the kind of front parlour that our Grannies had – which was always a sacrosanct space reserved for visitors – there is extra pressure for one’s home to be ‘pop-in’ ready. And that is a lot of pressure, because it’s hard not to wonder about what other people might think if they really saw the state of our kitchens, or the bin bags in the hall. In this Instagram world we live in where we’re bombarded with images of other people’s shiny expanses of clean surfaces, it’s easy to compare and contrast and to find one’s home lacking.

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This mostly low-level, but sometimes super-high fixation on tidying up is exacerbated because somehow, we’ve been fed this message that clutter – or indeed any sign of normal daily life – is bad. Somehow, the aesthetic of the European uber-rich with their shiny homes that are rarely lived in has filtered down to us the lifestyle choice we should aspire to. And we’re all flummoxed because, in addition to having a lack of time, we all have a vast amount of toot that we’ve collected over the years and absolutely no-where to put it.

We have the Scandinavians in on the act too, with their unpronounceable lifestyle trends of nurturing a cozy atmosphere with fresh flower petals, scented candles and having cashmere throws on hand at all times. I don’t know about you, but in our house, this is not remotely achievable. The cashmere throws would be chomped by the moths in seconds and nobody would be able to find a working lighter or matches amongst the tat in the kitchen drawer in order to light the flipping candles.

The Japanese are keen to have us adopt their lifestyle ethos too, with all this guff about rolling and folding and throwing away things we don’t wear. Utter rubbish, I say. We all need to keep those jeans that we’ll never get into at close hand nonetheless, just in case we ever do actually succeed with that diet, and we equally need to know exactly where that failsafe black top is (at the bottom of the pile on the chair in the bedroom obvs). Our underwear drawers should contain a tangle of seldom-worn fashion bras that can never be thrown out – because that’s how we roll.

So forget the Scandinavians, and the Japanese, it’s time to stand up and embrace Shabby – our quintisentially British way of life which has been tried and tested for generations and which is founded on the Four Pillars of Shabbism: messiness, dilapidation, clutter and bodged works.

Because we all know Shabby when we see it, right? It’s that welcoming pair of pants drying on the radiator. That half-mouldy but perfectly gin-and-tonic worthy lemon on display in the fruit bowl. That tin of plum tomatoes in the cupboard with a sell-by date of 1983. It’s never dusting higher than your tallest friend’s line of sight.

On a macro level, Shabbists believe that a ‘lived-in’ look and attitude promotes harmony and inner contentment via its innate rejection of social competitiveness and materialism, thereby enhancing human interconnectivity and spiritual wellbeing on a universal scale.

On a micro-level, Shabbists also believe this means you spend a lot less time fussing and tidying up and getting stressed about stuff and nonsense that doesn’t really matter anyway. Leaving you much more time to hang out with your friends and family. It’s a celebration of a life that is neither tidy nor empty, but rather one that is splendidly cluttered and full.

With Christmas on the horizon, the spectre of hosting some less shabbily minded members of your extended family might already by looming. We’re now getting those annoying Christmas ads reminding us that ideally, we should be perfect hostesses in high heels and flattering jeans, with a flawless spread of food and a visitor-ready living room complete with tastefully decorated tree. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed and to start thinking, ‘I must sort out the freezer/larder/airing cupboard. And sort out the rug and the sofa cushions before everyone comes ….’

But I say, take a moment and breathe. Stop beating yourself up about your home not being tidier or shinier. So what if your paintwork is chipped, the carpet is threadbare and there’s a damp patch on the ceiling? Or that your cupboards are messy and the fridge is crammed with jars that are glued to the shelves by their own sticky residue. That’s just real life for you.

And life is too bloody short to waste time striving for perfection, or caring too much about what other people thing about you and yours. Instead of looking at your home with a critical eye, it’s time to appreciate what you have. Stop worrying about what could be if only you spent a little bit more of your time and effort cleaning and sorting and start celebrating what actually is.

After all, time makes everything – and everyone – Shabby eventually, so why not try to just go with the flow? Get the wine out of the fridge – if you can find it – or put the kettle on. Put your feet up on the kitchen table, alongside all that other stuff, and look around. Relax. Everything you see in your messy, loving, gloriously cluttered abode makes it your home. And that’s just fine, because Shabby equals happy.


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Josie Lloyd has co-authored many best-selling fiction titles with her husband, Emlyn Rees, as well as several parodies including ‘We’re Going On A Bar Hunt’, ‘The Very Hungover Caterpillar’, ‘The Teenager Who Came To Tea’ and ‘Twas The Fight Before Christmas’. She is the author of ‘Shabby: The Jolly Good British Guide To Stress-Free Living’. She also writes as Joanna Rees.





‘Shabby: The Jolly Good British Guide To Stress-Free Living’ is out now.