WHEN television presenter Kirsty Allsopp declared that washing machines in kitchens were "disgusting" and she'd dedicated her life to eradicating the practice on hygiene grounds, Twitter and the media erupted. Allsopp, a baronet's daughter, was branded a voice of privilege, and what emerged was a rabid debate about class, as well as where people who didn’t have the space for utility rooms were supposed to keep their washing machines.

Allsopp insisted she'd been joking, but the debate sparked a rash of newspaper articles about culinary status symbols, listing which gadgets, implements and furnishings might betray their owners' proletarian origins, and which indicate membership of a posh elite. The Telegraph, which likes articles like these, ran with the provocatively titled: “A washing machine and boiling taps – how middle class is your kitchen?” It then went on to advise against microwaves, unless they are hidden away in drawers, and to advocate “wine fridges” and “multiple dishwashers”.

Meanwhile, in The Daily Mail, also fond of aspirational lifestyle guides, Jan Moir asked: “How posh is your kitchen?” and expressed concern that all her top-end kitchen accessories had “been exposed as excruciatingly aspirational by my upstart washing machine, lurking in the corner of the room like a tramp at a white-tie ball”. Moir’s rules for the aspiring posho included, no bar stools, no televisions, no visible utensils or gadgets (hide them in a drawer), no wacky fridge magnets, no accessories from ranges by TV chefs, and – get this, Telegraph – absolutely no wine fridges. But plenty of copper, designer salt, and wicker. A cooker, if you must.

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Enough, please. No more of these lists that tell you that if you own a barbecue, an Aga and a NutriBullet, you are middle-class. Let's bin those quizzes that allow us to find our precise position in the social strata – including reverse-snobbery versions such as Rod Liddle’s Are You An Overeducated Elitist Snob?

In their own materialistic way, these lifestyle classifiers are just another updating of the old 1954 Nancy Mitford guide to U and non-U (upper and non-upper) class speech.

Back when the Mitford essay came out, it merely educated the British public in the ways that the word "toilet" rather than "lavatory" or "dinner" instead of "luncheon", were a dead giveaway of their class. Now we are forced to look at almost every aspect of our lives as a form of consumer class manoeuvring. What kind of washing machine would you like? Would that be the overeducated elitist model with the Remain sticker on the fabric conditioner tray cover? Or (and I’m just plucking from the air one of the new class categories that have emerged in recent years) the “emergent service sector worker” model, with an extra setting that allows you to programme your immigrant country of origin? Take time to think it over, because what you choose is going to say a lot about you.

There seems to be an inexhaustible hunger for such social status identification lists, which are targeted not at the actual upper classes, but at the aspirational strivers. They’re about the promise that it’s possible to climb the class ladder, accessory by accessory, leaving behind one’s embarrassing past along with the microwave, the fridge magnets and the bar stools, as they are tossed into the ever-flowing river of landfill. They invite us to believe that class is not really a matter of wealth, but the symbols we adopt.

And I don’t buy it, this notion of social hierarchy in which it’s possible for us to drift between classes simply by adopting the right accessories or linguistics. The whole thing seems a superficial play-acting of social mobility. For, what really divides the rich from the poor is not whether they have a wine fridge, or keep their microwave in a drawer, but wealth, property and power. Sure, we can pretend it’s all a funny game to do with kitchen accessories, or the words we use for the toilet or the meal we eat in the evening (is it tea, supper or dinner?). But the real markers lie elsewhere – in trust funds, inheritance tax allowances, private educations, and prime location properties.

So, put down the class guide. After all, these articles, once read, can never be unread. They can only ever leave us with the bitter aftertaste, the hint of regurgitated opprobrium, every time we visit a kitchen – perhaps our own, perhaps our parents', perhaps a friend's – and notice the washing machine beneath the worktop, or the microwave sitting on its surface.

What was last week’s great washing machine row really about? It certainly wasn't about the hygiene issue around having a washer in your kitchen, nor even about which accessories you'd need to make your kitchen look posh. Rather, it was about keeping us caught in a spell, dazzled by a consumer promise of social mobility, content in the belief that it’s not political change that will dissolve the stain of inequality, but the right kitchen appliance, in the right place.