For much of the past year, in various lockdowns, many of us (4.1 million, to be precise) have found solace in the unlikeliest of places: Stacey Solomon’s Instagram account. The Loose Women star, previously best known for coming third on The X Factor in 2009 and winning I’m A Celebrity the following year, had us mesmerised with her ‘tap to tidy’ Instagram stories, which show a toy-strewn room become an oasis of calm, or a messy cupboard that – with a tap – is stocked with neatly labelled jars. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out why: we’re desperate to create order amid the chaos. ‘It’s definitely about a sense of control for me,’ nods Stacey, over Zoom from the grey sofa under the ‘Love’ sign that is instantly recognisable to her followers. ‘I have a tendency to catastrophise and doing something that you have control over is an escape from that.’
Now the phenomenon has spawned a book, Tap To Tidy, a guide to organising hacks and crafting projects tied together with her distinctive chatty tone. Thanks to pre-orders, the book shot straight to the top of the Amazon best-seller list before it was even published last week. And it’s not only Stacey who has captured this zeitgeist. There’s been a surge in women cleaning, crafting and organising their homes, from Mrs Hinch to the Home Edit. Where once we might have drooled over avocado toast or been inspired by a fashion or fitness influencer, now Instagram is flooded with immaculately arranged storage boxes, colour-coded bookshelves and tips on making your taps shine. Yet few have captured the emotional impact quite like Stacey. ‘It’s a coping mechanism,’ she explains, ‘my form of meditation. The point is not the end result, but the space that I’ve created for my mind.’
Being open about her vulnerabilities is part of her appeal, and she often shares the imperfections of family life. Since 2016 she’s been in a relationship with EastEnder- turned-reality-star Joe Swash, and they live in Essex with their blended family. As well as Stacey’s sons Zach, 12, and eight-year-old Leighton, the couple have a toddler, Rex. Joe also has 13-year-old Harry from a previous relationship. Her advice on making that dynamic work is: ‘Give yourself a break. Sometimes, a blended family is amazing and sometimes it’s heartbreaking. There will be moments when you feel like you are completely failing. But, if you love your family, that is absolutely enough.’
Now 31, Stacey looks back on being pregnant at 17 with a mixture of disbelief and appreciation for what it taught her. ‘I look at Zachy and think, four years older than him, I was having a baby...’ Her eyes widen. ‘What the hell? I don’t even know what I put my parents through. I went from feeling invincible, as teenagers do, to really vulnerable. I would sit there thinking, I could die at any minute. I might not wake up tomorrow.’ With hindsight, she knows it was postnatal depression. ‘With each of my children, I had a slump where I was unable to enjoy it in the way that some people can. With Zach, I didn’t know it was postnatal depression, but I knew I had to find a way to cope with those thoughts. Setting my mind to a task like organising something allows me to feel a bit more in control of that.’
It’s striking to hear her say this since, if there’s someone you expect to be happy, it’s the always-laughing Stacey. ‘Sometimes, my anxiety is really dark. Like, I can’t breathe, and feel like I’m having a heart attack,’ she says, before adding, ‘I’ve known for a long time that my personality makes me seem not very intelligent, or not very serious. It doesn’t matter how somebody is, or how they appear to be, there will always be things in their life that make them anxious. Hopefully, I can destigmatise that.’
It’s easy to see why so many have fallen for her honesty. But the ‘orgfluencer’ trend has its critics; those who say it perpetuates the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Stacey has little time for this. ‘Equality is about choice,’ she says. ‘I’m a feminist, Joe’s a feminist, my children are feminists. If you have equal opportunities, you should be able to decide how you live your life. Being a full-time mum or taking pride in your home doesn’t make you any less of a feminist than the woman who becomes a CEO.’
Of course, during the past year, many women have found themselves at home not out of choice. Women are more likely to have been furloughed and the increased childcare burden has fallen harder on women. Has this pandemic pushed feminism back? ‘No, it has just exposed inequality that was already there,’ says Stacey. ‘If there were equal opportunities to
start with, women would be working in different sectors in different positions. That’s the issue, it goes back to the root.’
Stacey says she makes a conscious effort to show her sons that she and Joe are an equal partnership, ensuring they see her working and Joe changing nappies. ‘But every film they watch, every advert they see positions men and women in a certain way,’ she sighs. ‘My sons are being conditioned, so it’s about me trying to decode that at every opportunity. Zach’s old enough to have proper conversations, not just around gender inequality, but also racism and anti-Semitism. Our kids are living through massive moments in history. Leighton’s younger, so I have to softly chip away.’
And that’s on top of everything that’s been hard to navigate recently. When I mention home-schooling, she lets out a weary long exhale that will be a familiar sound to most parents. ‘The problem with my two,’ she begins, ‘is their attention span is not great. I am constantly having to prod them.’ Well, soon home-schooling will feel like a bad dream, and Stacey is looking to the future. Joe proposed on Christmas Eve and wedding planning is well underway.
‘Obviously, I can’t have any dress fittings at the moment but I’ve been looking at designs over Zoom so, when I do go in, we’ve got something to go on,’ she says briskly. ‘It’s at the end of July so, if all goes well with the four stages, hopefully we’ll have a proper wedding where people don’t have to wear masks.’
I hate to reduce a woman to her surname, but... will she be Stacey Swash? ‘Oh my God,’ she yells. ‘I don’t know. It sounds weird, doesn’t it? My kids are Solomons as well. They could change their names, but I wouldn’t want to put them in the position of choosing between Joe and their dads. So, no, I don’t think I’ll change my name.’ She pauses, then backtracks. ‘Maybe I will. The boys and I have to have a proper chat...’
Suddenly, there’s barking as Leighton comes into the room, letting the dogs in behind him. ‘I’m hungry,’ he says. While assuring him that lunch is coming, she flips the camera on her phone to show me Leighton grabbing some crisps before walking out, leaving the dogs having a scrap on the tiles. She has to go – kids to feed, home-schooling to monitor, presumably something to tidy. The real world is complicated and messy. Right now, maybe Stacey Solomon is just the tonic we need.
‘Tap To Tidy’ (£14.99, Ebury Press) is out now
PHOTOGRAPHS: ELLIOT WILCOX FASHION: ALEXANDRA FULLERTON
FASHION ASSISTANT: SAMMIEY HUGHES. LIGHTING TECH: JARED PRICE. HAIR: CHARLEY MCEWEN AT FRANK AGENCY USING LIVING PROOF. MAKE-UP: PENELOPE RYAN USING URBAN DECAY.