The Power of the Mundane: Why I Love Housekeeping
So, Good Housekeeping. I am pretty sure that is a magazine for middle age ladies. The dusty one you always find in the waiting room at the dentist. Actually, I do happen to love that mag. (With a muffin and a latte).
Or…it could also be the cornerstone of a homemaker’s daily activities. A forgotten treasure in a world of junk mail, fast-food, and stainless steel appliances.
I am writing about housekeeping because I love keeping house. Not upholstery vacuuming kind, but the warm kitchen, cup of tea kind. I’ve liked it since I was a little girl, dressing up as a pioneer woman, playing house in our attic. As a student living at home, my job was to keep my room and the hall bath clean and guest-ready at all times. As a newlywed, I always took some time out of the weekend to freshen up our apartment and bake a batch of cookies. I enjoy it even more now that I am a mom.
First, A Disclaimer: I’m writing this disclaimer because I know some of my friends. You’ll read this post and get all condemned about the dust on top of your refrigerator. Stop. You are single moms, mothers of newborns, business owners, full-time working mothers, caring for parents, or maybe several of the above. You have a lot on your plate. Second, I don’t intend to reignite the old controversy of “SAHM vs working mom.” Goodness knows the activity of home making is not soley reserved for SAHMs. (If you are a working mom, I don’t have to tell you this.) I actually intend to discuss the widespread belief that making home and keeping house is a “lesser than” activity. This post is not about militant cleanliness and hospital corners on your bedsheets, but about rediscovering our value as women, mothers and homemakers.
Second, A Rant: Though I appreciate the advancements that the feminist movement has brought about for the women of this generation, I also regret that the practice of good housekeeping has been totally demoralized by it. These days homemaking is a joke. I have made my fair share of jabs at our good friend, Mrs. Cleaver. In fact, if you admit to liking it, you’ll get the usual “Well, why don’t you come over to my house then! Ha ha! I got cleaning for you, if you like it so much!”. As if you have no life, and their lives are far too important for such diminutive activities. As if the home, the center of all civilization, were nothing more than a dumping ground or a busy truck stop. The art of good housekeeping seems reserved for the neurotic perfectionist who follows after everyone with a Dust Buster. Ya know. The one with the mom jeans and loafers. I am sad to say that the feminist movement in many ways, has done just as much damage to the identity of modern women as it has good.
I love housekeeping. Here is why.
It fills the need inside to behold and create beauty: A friend and I were at Macy’s recently admiring the array of Kitchen-Aid mixers and retro-style red and teal mixing bowls. We may have even been drooling a little in the spatula section. Why make kitchen appliances so attractive? Maybe because women love beautiful things, and they naturally love to express that beauty in their homes. It’s stacks of neatly folded laundry, white dishes in the cabinet, the citrus-y smell of a clean bath. When I keep my house clean and orderly, I can enjoy it. I can see the colors and arrangements that I created when I chose decorations for my home, instead of mountains of clutter and crusty dishes. I can think about holiday decorations or what room I’m going to paint next. I can sit down in a calm, pleasant room and enjoy reading, blogging or other crafty things. My home is an expression of me. When I am surrounded by something beautiful, I am inspired to create beauty.
Tending to your home communicates that you love and care about those who are in it. Who doesn’t love to walk in the door to a warmly lit kitchen, pleasant conversation and the smell of something delicious in the oven? Can clean linens and freshly folded laundry really say “I love you; you are important to me?” I say yes. I have been blessed to enjoy the homes of some excellent housekeepers. When you enter the home of an excellent housekeeper, you know it. It’s a cup of coffee, a simple, home-cooked meal, flowers on the table, holiday decor, and the friendly whir of a washing machine. You feel a sense of “ah,” when you walk through the door. What is that? It’s called laying down one’s life for another. She’s serving others. She’s creating the feeling that someone else has been up before everyone, warming up the kitchen, stoking the fire, and tending to the little things that make life pleasant.
It’s the repetitive and “mundane” things of life that leave the greatest impression. I firmly believe in The Power of the Mundane. If you ask someone to recall happy (or not-so-happy) childhood memories, you will probably hear them begin with something like, “Well every day, we…”, or “My mother always…” Every time we visited my grandma’s house, it was always the same. The same meals, the same toys in the cabinet, the same pink bars of soap, the same trip to the grocery store. And we loved it. We looked forward to it every time. In fact, when something at her house changed (say she changed the wallpaper in her kitchen, or moved a piece of furniture), you kind of felt a little sad. It’s sameness and routine that creates that sense of “this is how life is.” See, keeping house involves a list of repeated activities that are completed predictably over, and over, and over. You always hear people complain about the repeated picking up of toys, or endless mounds of laundry. But I think that’s the beauty of it. The cumulative years of those daily activities: cooking dinner, folding laundry, tidying up all matter. In a frantic, unpredictable world, these monotonous chores and exercises are comfort and stability. Your family will remember these cyclic, domestic activities and whether or not you were cheerful or disgruntled about them. You may as well be cheerful, because they are not going away. As the keeper of my house, I hold the Power of the Mundane in my hands. I have the power to shape my family’s sense of “this is how life is.”
Anyone can do it. Cleaning and tidying your house is the simplest, least expensive way to make your home gleam. Anyone can do it. (Why doesn’t HGTV have more shows about house keeping?) It’s not the hardwood floors, expensive furnishings, or designer fabrics to make your home feel beautiful. Go ahead, girl, dream about that big house with the chef’s kitchen. If your current kitchen looks like Katrina, what on earth makes you think your chef’s kitchen won’t be a bigger version of the same catastrophe? More square footage and grand entryways won’t make it home-like. It’s the housekeeper, people. I say, let’s stop fantasizing about what we want all the time, and start making life pleasant with what we have. You would be surprised at how quickly your “need” for that additional square footage would diminish were you to begin to clean and care for the space you have. Whenever I start to feel down in the dumps about all the things I “don’t have,” the quickest cure is to hop up and start appreciating what I do have by caring for it. Scrub down the bathroom, re-arrange some furniture, hang those pictures in the hall, put on some music and a kettle for tea, and you have made a home.
It brings economic value to the household. Scouring that awkward crevice between the toilet and the baseboards, attacking an overwhelming, unorganized garage, making plans with two (or even three) sides of the family for the holidays. Housekeeping is work. Which may explain why so many go to such great lengths to avoid it. Get out your calculator and add up the following costs: weekly maid service, laundry service, meals prepared by a personal chef (or the cost of eating out three meals a day). For those who are home with children, calculate the cost of daycare or a full-time nanny. While you are at it, factor in the savings generated by savvy bargain shoppers and coupon moms. For those type A’s who tend to the household accounts and bill-paying, add the cost of an administrative assistant. If you are the gardening or lawn service also, make sure to include that too. For the holidays, catering services and fresh-prepared treats from the bakery. The list goes on.
The homemaker is providing a significant, economic contribution to her household. Housekeeping requires a skill set called management. It’s multitasking, attention to detail, project management, budgeting and resource allocation, planning and scheduling, and the ability to anticipate needs before they arise.
Can you really make a marked difference in the lives of those around you and the forthcoming generations by such basic, simple activities as loading the dishwasher and wiping down the mirror? Keeping plants alive? Is it that simple? The little-known truth, my friends, is yes. The widely-believed lie, is no.
And that is why I love housekeeping. It inspires beauty and creativity, demonstrates hospitality and thoughtfulness towards others, generates economic value and creates a much-needed sense of security in an unstable world. The Power of the Mundane within the keeping of the home; that is the invisible agent of influence over culture.
This post is dedicated to my mom, mother of seven and housekeeper extraordinaire. “An excellent housekeeper lives in her house, not for it.” -Cheryl Mendelson, author “Home Comforts: the Art and Science of Housekeeping.”