Cleanliness and the wonder of ‘tidy as you cook’ | Jack Marshall’s column

I was a tidy child, a tidy teenager, and am a tidy adult. When I was younger, my bedroom was always flawless, bed made and duvet folded over just so, everything in its place, right down to the right angle-straight posters on my walls. On holidays, family members would marvel at and rib me for my orderly suitcase, all tightly balled-up socks and rolled t-shirts.

At uni, I’d be the one hoovering and washing up - call it what you want, but there’s a very real sense of small satisfaction at the tangible improvement you can wreak by wiping slowly-crusting plates and vaccing up hardening peas threatening to scurry under the fridge. It’s not a control thing (promise), I just never found it disagreeable to keep things neat.

And in no realm of adult life does this habit pay off more than in the kitchen. You know those people who seem to have an in-built compulsion to use every utensil possible? The uncanny ability to use two wooden spoons, a whisk, and a sieve when making toast? The chefs who leave a small mountain range of washing up with its own trig point every time they cook?

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I’m the polar opposite of that. Tales of writers who profess to only being suitably fortified to enter the creative zone when suitably surrounded by chaos and mess baffle me. Declutter, clarity, focus. Rare is the occasion when the kitchen doesn’t end up cleaner than it started post-cooking: prep ingredients, measure first, wipe, mop, and wash. Slow it all down.

Tidy kitchen, tidy mind

While the onions are softening, I’ll rinse a bowl and scrub some cutlery. While a sauce is reducing, I’ll attack a wok with a wire brush and lather up a starchy pan before the flecks of mashed potato stick. And I will concede that some will find this all faintly strange - pseudo-psychologists will probably link it to my parents divorce in some way or another.

But then I look at my brother, who is a whirlwind of crumbs, splodges, and unstoppable mess in the kitchen, and I begin to think my compulsion for cleanliness simply boils down to the inarguable fact that tidy spaces look nice. And why wouldn’t you make it look nice?