Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Secret Weapon

My secret weapon is Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. Shall we say inspiration? Reference manual? Encouragement? Cheryl Mendelson has a “passion for domesticity,” something she kept secret for many years until she decided to write a book about “how a home works, not how it looks.” This book doesn’t have craft projects in it, or  suggestions for interior design. It is an 884 page manual on how to house-keep with sensible directions and scientific and historical background presented with  the wit of someone who knows  that not everyone likes to do housework and who understands that there is more than one  right way to do things.

Last week I was reading Chapter 2, “Easing into a Routine,” (which I’ve never read before despite  having owned the book for almost ten years now). Reading is an excellent way to avoid  doing things you’re not sure you want to do (or are intimidated by, e.g. chores that have been put off for several weeks). But as I finished the chapter I discovered that I felt absolutely inspired and motivated. Cheryl describes the exact experience I’ve been having since I stopped doing housework routinely three semesters ago!

An increasing number of households do housework without any system,  schedule, or routine,   more or less reacting to each situation as it  arises. This makes things harder, not easier. ... In  nonsystematic  housekeeping, chores are tended to only when the resources of one of the  household’s systems are exhausted: ... when it is the dinner  hour and the cabinet is bare; when    dirt and disorder are beyond  tolerating. When you keep house like this, domestic frustrations and  discomfort begin to be felt long before you reach the point where you  decide to do   something about them. ... Moreover, the amount of work  is more than it would have been had   there been daily tending to chores; everything has become worse than it would have been. And worst of all, the only time you get to experience anything like a well-kept house is immediately after the emergency response measures are taken.”

She also described what I have been struggling with since I finished  school and no longer have homework as a priority:

Cleaning, laundry, and other chores are far harder after you have let them go  for two weeks; the energy you must summon to tackle them becomes greater the longer you have procrastinated...

And she offered hope:

But a tired working person is often able to do things that are routine and habitual. No thinking is required; minimal inertia must be overcome.”

She so precisely described my situation and experience that I am amazed! What I particularly love is that she makes it seem feasible to get back into the routine of “systematic housekeeping” and explains how doing chores can be easy and satisfying. You must get the book (at least check it out from the library) and read the first two chapters, I think there would be copyright problems if I tried to quote them in their entirety here.

I started to implement some of her suggestions. After only three days I  can already feel (and see) the difference. Up until a couple weeks  ago I would do whatever chore seemed to need it most each day (depending on my level of energy and motivation). But I often ran into a problem. “If you have no system, you have to reinvent your housekeeping or debate what to do first every time you do it, and the required mental effort is a major obstacle, especially when you are tired.” After I read Chapter 2 I made a schedule for myself with a list of daily chores (e.g. straighten the bathroom, wipe counters) and a list of which larger chores I’ll do on each weekday (e.g. Wednesday is take-out-all-the-trashes day because that is the day we need to remember to take the trash can out to the street. And Thursday is pick up the house day so that Friday can be vacuum-the-house day.)

I haven’t scheduled all of the chores yet, and I am severely intimidated at the prospect of dusting, but the bathroom and the kitchen have looked pretty good for the past three days. I am starting to think the tub needs to be scrubbed, but instead of spending energy trying to decide if I should spend my energy cleaning the tub or vacuuming, I already know what my priorities are. Yay!

I love my secret weapon. It is one of the best Christmas presents I ever got.

Mendelson, Cheryl. Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House. Scribner: New York (1999). ISBN: 0-684-81465-X. All quotes from page 20.

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