by Melodie Davis
for release April 21, 2000
This Will Make You Feel Like Doing Spring Cleaning
The promotional lines for a new book suddenly caught my attention: "With central heat and electric lights, we have less reason to do all our major housecleaning chores in spring. We no longer spend two seasons burning wood, oil and candles..."
Well, at our house, we do still burn wood and I'm glad that helps to explain why my house is so dusty. I'm of the generation when I remember what a wonderful ritual spring cleaning was, but I rarely have time for it myself. I remember coming home from school and the whole house smelled fresh and clean after Mom, often with the help of her Mom, had spent the day washing walls, windows, airing bedding, washing curtains and the like.
So I'm of the generation that feels guilty, knowing these things should be done. Our kids, never having experienced much of the ritual, won't even know it is supposed to be done. I'm of the generation that squeezes little bits of spring cleaning in whenever I can grab a half hour and have the energy. I think today we are more likely to clean thoroughly when company is coming. Our kids may not even feel a need to clean up for company and may only do that kind of cleaning when they move into or out of an apartment, dorm room or house.
I used to worry that my kids wouldn't even know how to do things like wash walls or woodwork, although I've tried to teach them now and then. Now there is a complete "cookbook" guide to chores, although the publishers gave it the wonderful name of Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson, (Scribner, 2000). The book jacket says "Home Comforts is something new. For the first time in nearly a century, a sole author has written a comprehensive book about housekeeping." It is a guidebook that can be appreciated by both men and women.
While some of the procedures seem to be overly fastidious and make me really feel guilty, I like the emphasis on "the importance of private life and the comforts offered by housekeeping." The author is a philosopher and lawyer by education, so this is hardly a book saying we need to be slaves to our houses and domestic chores.
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, another author, writes of the book, "Recent changes in women's lives and expectations have tended to relegate keeping house to the realm of servant's work-the epitome of what no self-respecting woman (or man) would choose to do. In this entrancing book, Cheryl Mendelson restores keeping house to its rightful place as the custodian of the peace, order, comfort, and sanity of our lives, simultaneously instructing us in how to do it well and why it matters so much. And in so doing, she helps to restore dignity, value, and craft to the work that creates and sustains the private space that nourishes our humanity."
Wow. I never quite thought of housekeeping like that. Inspires me to go home and start cleaning window sills and air bedding which is exactly what I did after looking at a few of her suggestions.
Like a cookbook, there is more information in it than you can ever possibly use, from household safety to personal hygiene, and you probably don't need such detailed instructions on washing your hands: "First, moisten your hands with water, then add soap or disinfectant cleanser. Use 1 ml of plain liquid soap or 3-5 ml of antimicrobial soap" ... and so on. Then again, how many times do I think I have removed germs with a quick pass under a cold faucet while flying out the bathroom door.
Probably most valuable is instruction on how to clean various fabrics. I also like her chapter on what constitutes a real meal-for social if not nutritional reasons. Today's grazing and constant snacking in place of real meals is frequently done alone, while meals are best enjoyed with others. Therefore making the effort to have some kind of meal together each day as a household contributes to our social well being.
While I rarely get to do whole house spring or fall cleaning and instead work at those chores in spare half hours here and there, this book is a reminder that those chores are worth doing, worth keeping after. Hardly anyone loves housework, but this book comes close to making me feel like I am doing something more when I am tidying the kitchen: I am helping to create a comfortable and welcoming place for family, friends and visitors.
Do you think housekeeping is important? Send your comments and your age to Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 780 words; end material = 105 words
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