Home Comforts

Is it just me, or is there a growing trend of women returning to basic home arts, such as cooking from scratch, and a general sense that the “home” needs to be reclaimed.

While thinking about that concept a few months ago I found myself asking how does one go about making a home in the first place?  I was pretty sure there was more involved than the sporadic vacuuming and loads of laundry that I tossed from basket to basket which summed up my housekeeping skills.

My mom was awesome at creating an intentional home, so I already had the basic groundwork, even if I wasn’t following through and putting the know-how into show-how.  But was there more I could learn?  Before the move to this new home I wanted to have as much knowledge as possible to get into this whole stay-at-home mom homemaker role.

I didn’t study this sort of stuff before, my time in college was spent in neuroscience labs elbows deep in cadavers or exploring adaptive equipment technologies to meet rehabilitation needs.  I knew being a homemaker would be a trial and error learning experience, but surely there were studies and papers on the subject.

What I needed was literature, research, preferably with a few charts and graphs thrown in.  So naturally I went to the library to study this concept of housekeeping.

There are books out there about housekeeping, though too many of them are dedicated to why we shouldn’t care about such stuff, how it is tedious and menial labor for second class citizens and so forth.  I wasn’t interested in this anthropologic/philosophical babble – I was seeking the knowledge that these articles and books all decried.  After wading through books about feminist angst and other not very helpful mishmash (type in housewife in amazon in the books section…)  I found some books out there about housekeeping.  Here were some common themes:

– The majority were written like blogs that were then bound. Short and somewhat witty,  with tips and insights suspended in thought bubbles every other page.

– Some had this kind of whiny snarky tone saying things like “Do you really want to prioritize pedicures every week and a perfect hairdo over playing in the dirt with your kids? That was me, till I had _inject life changing story here_.  Now I’m trying to be the mom my kids need.”  A few recipes for cupcakes follow paired with perfect pictures.  I made the mental sidenote that the author often still had a pedicure and perfect hair without a speck of dirt to be seen in any of the “real life” photos.  Hmmm.

– There were the “Yeah, life is messy and if you are really living life, you should be messy too.  Embrace the moment, leave the dirty dishes in the sink and dance in the rain.  Don’t worry about making the bed, just have a pillow fight and make hot chocolate.”  These had really sweet stories of the joys of family life balanced with the bitter moments of missing milestones because you’re wrapped up in the little things.  Sometimes I cried a bit while reading them and I enjoyed the gorgeous photography of kids skipping on misty-morning lawns or close-ups of freckled noses smelling dandelions.

– Let’s not forget the militant approach of “If you leave even one dirty sock out of the laundry basket the whole dam will burst.  NEVER LEAVE OUT A SOCK. Make sure there are serious and memorable consequences for the sock offender; if you can’t train your family to help out you are all going to DROWN IN FILTH.  Might I suggest 50 push ups?  It has the added benefit of being healthy.  Oh, here is my weekly workout program because what is the point of having an immaculate home if you can’t also have a drop dead gorgeous physique?”  These had pictures of kids with mud smeared soccer uniforms or a family of 5 in khakis and tastefully paired argyle sweaters staged on a farm gate or wheat field.

– Not to judge them by their covers….buuuuut most were shades of blue or orange with pictures of sunflowers, little kid drawings of smiling houses, or retro looking graphics with pinup wives in aprons and feather dusters.

– They were all pretty short and had quick fix steps to successfully keeping house effortlessly.

I already read a fair amount of lifestyle and homemaking blogs, and mixed in there are the cupcake making moms, the gritty-yet-dancing-in-the-rain moms, and the terrifying drill sergeant moms.  But when I want information on the how-tos of housekeeping, not advice on living, I go in for reading a book, an old school real book.  I also had this sneaking suspicion that housekeeping was a skill that anyone could master, not just mommy bloggers, because let’s face it; everyone benefits from having a home.

It's a lovely photo, but where is the housekeeping?
It’s a lovely photo, but where is the housekeeping?

I was disappointed by the fluff and stuff in these flimsy books.  I was already inspired, I had already decided to “make the break” and devote time for housekeeping, these books just were not providing the depth and breadth of a topic that I knew must have more.  I didn’t need 3 easy steps, or even 15 simple ways to ____, I needed an encyclopedia dedicated solely to what goes into making a home!

Thankfully my dad had already recommended this book a few years ago.  My insightful husband who listens to me when I talk about wanting books, gave me this book – what a wise man!  I have found a wealth of knowledge in Home Comforts, The Art & Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson.

One of my all time favorite books.
One of my all time favorite books.

Look at it!  It’s a tome of detailed how-tos and insights by an articulate and intentional woman.  The intro covers issues like easing into a routine and neatening.  That is where most other housekeeping books finish, but that is only page 34 of out of this 884 page resource (including index).  There are organized headings, graphs, glossaries, black and white diagrams, lists, and not a single glossy perfect life photo in sight – oh be still my heart!

Home Comforts is the bottom one, just look at the it!
Home Comforts is the bottom one, just look at the it!

With a copyright date of 1999 this book could not be more timely, but it was almost never written.  The author confesses she almost didn’t write this book because it was a touchy topic for many; it doesn’t fit into the Martha Stewart crafting-business-woman concerned with flower arranging or Halloween costumes for the kids mold.   In the introduction she describes it this way: “It’s about how a home works, not how it looks – what different fabrics are for, pantry and refrigeration storage, laundering and ironing, tuning the piano, cleaning and dusting, household records, books, laws, germs, allergies, and safety.”

Concise clear formatting
Concise clear formatting

She affirmed my suspicion that a location does not become a home because you spend time there.  Watching tv and eating occasional meals together in one space does not constitute a home in the sense that Cheryl Mendelson means.  For her, a home is an intricate ecosystem which she has studied in depth and now explains to others who wish to build their environment into a health home biome.  She set out to write “a book that tried to explain not only the hows but the whys and the meanings of housekeeping” (emphasis original to the text).  If that was her goal, then her final work is a staggering success and I am oh so grateful for her time and effort.

Ah bask in the clean straightforward text.
Ah bask in the clean straightforward text.


That darling little book on the left is also a worthwhile read
That darling little book on the left is also a worthwhile read

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the thought of reading this book, I recommend Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider.  It is a simple yet compelling book for starting out in the housekeeping track.  I’d say it falls in the gritty-yet-dancing-in-the-rain category, which is not a bad place to be.  Out of the all the housekeeping books I read (or browsed as the case may be) this is my favorite motivational one.

What do you think?  Is the art of homemaking lost, dying, a beaten dead horse, or experiencing a resurgence?


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