Home is where the art is for Helen
There’s a menu on the wall of her kitchen and it’s not from the local takeaway.
It lists a week’s evening meals, the times at which they will be served and which family members will be sitting down to eat them.
Helen Moyes is one of those women you would love to hate, if only you secretly didn’t wish you could be as beautifully organised as she.
She is a home-maker to the core, a practical soul who has family life all wrapped up – with a ribbon on it.
And now the Ecclesall mother of three is offering to impart her knowledge to others so that they too can make their house a happy, well-run home.
Helen is no Stepford Wife attempting to shackle women to their Stardropped kitchen sinks, however. She is a professional home-maker; she’s got a qualification in it.
She trained as a Home Economist at the former Sheffield Polytechnic. “People think that’s just cooking. It’s not; I studied everything from the best methods of cleaning to time-management and household budgeting,” she says.
And she believes that her skills, once so prized, then scorned as old-fashioned and unnecessary, are right back in fashion.
In the hardest of times, people go back to traditional values. They want to go home.
Only, the return journey is proving difficult.
There’s a science to home-making and you need to know the formulas.
Before women got careers and families went to the four winds, The Knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. But what now?
Cue Helen the Home Coach. She will arrive on your doorstep, a cross between Mary Poppins and Nigella Lawson, a hybrid of Kim, Aggie and your bank manager. She will guide you through the domestic mire. She may even have a poke around in your fridge and tell you what to cook for a week’s worth of family suppers while she’s at it.
The Home Coach strives first to find what clients feel is lacking in their homes, or in themselves as home-makers, then sets about giving them the know-how to improve things. Everything from cooking to cleaning, saving money and reducing waste, decorating and decluttering to getting a grip on paperwork.
The elderly widower whose wife did everything needs to learn how to plan and cook healthy meals and how to tackle the kitchen floor.
The career mother who has spent vast amounts of money on cleaners and ready-meals and suddenly needs to pull her horns in. The young couple who don’t believe their basic cookery skills could stretch to hosting a dinner party... All are candidates for home coaching.
Says Helen: “Homes do need to be managed, but people have lost the art.
When people come to me they are often a bit overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Or they’re worried they will mess things up . A lot of the problem is about a lack of skills, but even more of it is about a lack of confidence.”
A teacher at family centres too, the most common problem she encounters is the inability to cook meals.
“So many women tell me they can’t cook and that really saddens me,” she says, all the while making wholegrain bread as casually as if she were washing dishes. “Cooking can be such a relaxation and so satisfying too.
Knowing you can have friends round for supper, or you could organise your own child’s birthday party is a great feeling. It’s empowering.”
Is she a domestic goddess? She laughs heartily. “Only as far as I want to be. I’d hate to have a perfect home; I want one that my family feels happy in. And I’m not out to turn our home into a place so spick and span you won’t want anyone to sit on the sofa.
“My very best tip is don’t get obsessed,” she adds, rolling out dough into fat sausages and flat little patties. “I think an immaculate home is the sign of a mis-spent life.”
The way a home looks can also cause families to feel uncomfortable, “That can be because the place is too cluttered, but it can also be because they’ve gone too far down the minimalist line and the place is too neat and clinical.” says Helen.
Her period semi isn’t like a showhouse; the soft furnishings are home-made rather than designer home store. Tidy but not clinically so, it feels homely and well-used (a description she takes as a compliment). But here and there, I spot eye-opening examples of her practical aplomb. The toilet roll dispenser in the loo? Industrial-sized, it must contain a dozen rolls.
The colourful clutter on the shelving unit as you walk into the kitchen? It’s not clutter at all. It’s a carefully co-ordinated filing system worthy of any office, on which the smooth-running of the house hangs.
There are files for bills, files for appointments, a file even for takeaway menus – the Moyes family are just as partial to the occasional fast-food treat as you or I.
Ten minutes have passed; Helen has taken the flatbreads out of the oven, fished around in her fridge for the houmous she made earlier and presented me with a plateful. The perfect hostess, she has already given me tea – with a choice of flavours and milk – and home-made apricot couscous cake.
She reckons there is an increased call for skills like hers as families who bought in the services of a small domestic army – everyone from odd-job men to ironing ladies – cut back on the household budget, then realise they don’t know how to do the things themselves.
“My learning in the art of home-making started through watching and then trying out: cooking and baking from my grandmother; gardening from my grandfather; cleaning and juggling work and family from my mother; sewing from my auntie. But we don’t all have these people around us any more,” she explains.
Divorce, another sign of the times, could also bring more clients. Men who have always relied on their wives to keep the food cupboards stocked, women who put all the home finances in the hands of their husbands; all need to learn how to cope solo.
Helen plans to come in on a professional basis and give the gentle support and advice that a friend of a family member would have done – on a one-off visit or through a series of coaching sessions. Her maximum charge is £25 an hour, but she hopes to introduce cheaper phonecall and Skype coaching, too. After all, saving money is always top of a good home-economist’s agenda.
Helen’s top tips
Hot water is just as good at cleaning floors of dirt and bacteria as a cleaning fluid. I know; I’ve tested it.
White vinegar is very cheap and great for cleaning windows, baths and sinks and de-greasing kitchen blinds and appliances.
Bicarbonate of soda is a multi-purpose cleaning product. You can even use a small bowl of it as a room de-deodoriser. It even absorbs the smell of fresh paint.
When your spray bottle of anti-bacterial household fluid runs out, make your own with 500ml of water, a drop of washing up liquid and six drops of tea tree oil.
Invest in a good micro-fibre mop. They absorb dirt very efficiently.
When it gets really grubby, pop the head in the washing machine.
Don’t think you need to rush out and buy something for tea. Look at what you’ve got in the fridge and work out how to make a meal out of it. Most of the time, it is possible.
Plan in advance what you’re going to eat each night. But don’t be too inflexible; menus can swap days and times can change to suit the family.
Grow as much of your own food as you can
Put leftovers into plastic containers and treat them as ready meals. Grab one from the fridge or freezer and have a home-made meal in minutes.
Be sensible about sell-by dates. There’s not a lot that’s going to spoil in a bag of flour.
Keep only the things that mean something to you
Keep the house tidy by assigning each family member their own basket or bag. Put anything you find around the house into the appropriate bags.
Everyone knows where to look when they can’t find something they left lying around – and the house is tidier.
Design your own home filing system. It will help you keep on top of bills and you’ll be able to find every piece of paper you need.
Helen would like to hear your household tips. Contact her at www.homecoaching.co.uk