Why would a feminist be good at housework?

Not only do I hate housework, I’m horrible at it. Mess doesn’t bother me in some basic way it annoys other people. If I see something on the floor, I feel no strong need to pick it up.

But here’s the problem: I live with four other people in a house that fits us only if we are super organized. Our home is a Victorian built in 1911 with tiny, flat closets and no garage. Basically, zero storage space. So, though I may be missing the gene that makes you like everything in its proper place, as previously posted, I don’t like to yell at my kids and I don’t like to waste time. The antidote, I’ve slowly come to realize, is keeping life organized.

I’ve been getting lots of help in this area from a fascinating book called Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. I bought this book years ago, not because I was interested at all in keeping house. I’d read about it on Salon and was intrigued that the author was a philosophy professor, Harvard Law grad and was also obsessed by housekeeping. Why would someone so smart care so much about housekeeping? But the book was just too huge– over 8oo pages. I only read her intro and decided this woman wasn’t just obsessed, she had OCD. Whatever I was missing, she had too much of. Clearly, a smart woman cared this much about housekeeping only because she was crazy. I stopped reading.

This all happened when I was single and lived blissfully alone in a one bedroom flat I rented. But now, I need help.

Last week, after repeated letters from the library, I finally set out to search for my kids overdue books. That’s when I came across Mendelson’s book on the shelf, covered with dust (which she wouldn’t like) ten years since I’d opened it. I’ve had it near me ever since. Quite simply, this book is saving my life. Or rather, it’s helping to give me my life back. Mendelson’s housekeeping isn’t about wasting time, it’s about saving it.  Because God knows, I don’t have hours to spend looking for my kids’ books. Who does? Or, maybe more importantly, I don’t have the energy to waste being pissed off at my kids while I’m looking. Instead, I need to conserve crucial resources (time and energy) by designating a shelf in the house where we keep the library books. I need to make sure we keep up with putting them there. Duh.

I’ll admit, I was a little worried I was so into this read. Had getting married and having kids messed up my brain? Had I developed OCD? If I did in fact do what Mendelson recommended, would I ever do anything but clean and organize? I wanted to know: What has this woman done since she wrote this massive book besides clean house? I googled her. Since 1999, Mendelson has written and published three more books– all novels. She also teaches and lectures. That sold me–  keeping house allows you to accomplish more, not less.

Not only that, something else in Mendelson’s book changed the way I think about housekeeping into something that actually inspires me. She writes that making a home a home is not about decor or furnishings. She thinks we spend too much money on all that. Nor is making a home about Martha Stewart type knick-knacks, in some nostalgic quest to make an old fashioned, homey home. Mendelson writes:

“Ironically, people are led into the error of playing house instead of keeping house by a genuine desire for home and its comforts. Nostalgia means literally, homesickness.

“What really does work to increase the feeling of having a home and its comforts is housekeeping. Housekeeping creates cleanliness, order, regularity, beauty, the conditions for health and safety, and a good place to do and feel all the things you wish and need to do in your home. Whether you live alone, with a spouse, parents and ten children, it is your housekeeping that keeps your home alive, that turns it into a small society in its own right, a vital place with its own ways and rhythms, the place where you can more be yourself than anywhere else.”

I get what she is saying– a home that functions well, that relaxes and restores you and your family, is not about presenting a perfect, finished product. What makes a home a home is the continual process of caring for it.

2 thoughts on “Why would a feminist be good at housework?

  1. Hum.

    Looking around at the piles of stiff on and near my desk reminds me I am intending to do some organizing (and laundry) this weekend.

    Hope you took care of the library books

    – Gilles (the librarian)