This is my new favorite book!Â There are so many great sections, but I want to focus today on her chapter on the fantasy of housekeeping and “dream houses”.Â There are all sorts of high-end gadgets that are marketed to people who don’t even clean their own households. People want to dream and fantasize about their perfect house, and yet the time that women spend on average cleaning has dropped by 50% since my Grandmother’s day. During that same time, no other members of the household have started spending more time on housekeeping. That’s not good.
Clothes and toys lie strewn from one side of the house to the other, there seems to be nowhere to put anything, and we find ourselves wondering whether the whole family is likely to come down with typhoid if the bathroom is left uncleaned for yet another day or week or month.Â And in the midst of it all, there too often sits someone who is reading a magazine or watching a TV show about the dream house rather than tidying up the house he or she is in.
Our culture completely encourages this kind of fantasy life and house-porn over the real day to day, unglamorous (but worthwhile) act of keeping house.
There has surely always been a gap between the way people keep their houses and the way they would like ideally to keep them. But many of us, I suspect, are demoralized by the task of keeping house in part because we know that our houses, no matter how well kept, will never look like the palaces in the dream house publications. And so we give up, preferring unattainable ideals to less than perfect realities.
It is so easy to get caught in this trap. We moved about 6 months ago from a house that had become my “dream home” by the time we left. It had the floors I always wanted, the perfect layout, a great yard, and it was painted in my favorite colors. We moved to a great new home, but it has carpeting in the main living areas, a red wall in the living room, and a smaller kitchen. Our furniture was bought to fit in our old house, and doesn’t match properly in our new house. This house has some great new features, like we now live on an open space (a preserved nature area) and we have a full guest living area in the basement, but I found myself having such a hard time being motivated because I didn’t *love* it the way that I loved my old house. I made a few changes – first in my attitude, and then in the rooms, and it has become much easier to take care of the house. I am finally enjoying it again. I never realized how important my attitude was until we moved.
The other thing that I’ve recently learned, and that this book reinforced, is that my goal as a stay at home mom is not to have a perfect house. My goal is to take care of everyone and help them to feel comfortable. This includes a clean house, but not one with the finest furnishings or artwork. It just needs to be clean and welcoming.
I think we will realize that elaborate, spotless perfection is really not the point. The point is the continual re-creation of welcome and nurturance, not in some theoretical or disembodied sense but in simple, practical provision for the needs of the body: food, clothing, a place to sit, a place to sleep.
Ironically, perhaps (given what is often called the materialism of modern society), these basic needs are too often met with neglect (no one makes any effort to provide clean clothes or meals) or resentment (whoever is providing the clean clothes and meals sees that work, and is encouraged by others to see it, as “drudgery”). The result is that those needs become something to indulge in fits of commercialized excess (“treating oneself” to a day at a spa or a weekend at a hotel, for example) rather than through happy daily routines of baths and meals and clean sheets.
Yeah, why do we do that?!
The rest of the book goes on to talk about the simple details of sheltering, clothing, feeding, and keeping a household. It is both simple and profound at the same time. It is not the kind of book that makes you feel like you need to start working yourself into a frenzy. It is a simple encouragement to bless your family and those outside of your family by making your house into a place that will nurture souls. I really recommend this book.