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22 July 2007

Home Comforts

I am reading, yet again, Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson. I found this book about five years ago and it cemented my ideas about the importance of living in a home that I'd made comfortable and welcoming. One of the hurdles I had to overcome when I left the corporate world and came home, was the voice in my head that told me housework was menial and unimportant. Luckily for me, Cheryl explained that: "Our homes are the center of our lives, and we should allow time and resources to make the most of them that we can, and to care for them in a way that consolidates and elaborates their meaning for each of us. At a minimum, we should avoid thinking that time spent on our homes is wasted time, or that our goal should always be to reduce the time and effort we spend on them."

Cheryl is no Martha, who although I love many of the things she does, often confuses perfection and pretense with the hearty substance of a good home. She misses the essence. Cheryl gets right to the core though and intelligently examines meaning right along with stain removal, dusting and how to fold.

After reading Home Comforts, I started thinking more about the importance of my home, that I felt relaxed and comfortable there, and that if I could make my home exactly what I wanted it to be as well as safe, beautiful, open and welcoming, then I would be creating for myself and my family the best kind of home. Reading this book showed me that housework is actually the opposite of menial - it creates meaning, warmth and feeling of being cared for.

She wrote: "I first learned that housework has meaning by observing my grandmothers. The reason they made a fuss when they saw a granddaughter doing things in a 'foreign' way is that they knew - in their bones if not in words - that the way you experience life in your home is determined by how you do your housekeeping. Just as you read a culture in the way its people fold a shirt (or do not), the little domestic habits are what gives everybody's home the special qualities that make it their own and let them feel at home there. Understandably, each of my grandmothers wanted me to make a home in which she could feel at home.

"This sense of being at home is important to everyone's well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor and courage will decrease. It is a complex thing, an amalgam. In part it is a sense of having special rights, dignities and entitlements and these are legal realities, not just emotional states. It includes familiarity, warmth, affection, and a conviction of security. Being at home feels safe...

"These formidably good things, which you cannot get merely by finding true love or getting married or having children or landing the best job in the world, or even by moving into the house of your dreams. Nor is there much that interior decorating can do to provide them. Making a home attractive helps you feel at home, but not nearly so much as most of seem to think, if you gauge by the amounts of money we spend on home furnishing. In fact, too much attention to the look of a home can backfire of it creates a stage-set feeling instead of the authenticity of a genuinely homely place. And going in for nostalgic pastimes - canning, potting sewing, making Christmas wreaths, painting china, decorating cookies - will not work either. I count myself among those who find these things fun to do, but I know from experience that you cannot make a home by imitating the household chores and crafts of a past era. Ironically, people are led into the error of playing house instead of keeping house by a genuine desire for a home and its comforts. ... What really does work to increase the feeling of having a home and its comforts, is housekeeping."

Cheryl Mendelson is a Harvard graduated lawyer and has a Ph.D in philosophy, so the book is not shy of discussing the significance of the home and our place within it. But it's value to me was in explaining why we do certain things and why they make a difference. It's over 850 pages long so there are plenty of words on technique and methodology as well, so it's an excellent all round book on the whys and hows of homekeeping. If you're struggling with why you should be spending time on your housework, this book might open some doors for you.
Home Comforts details.


  1. Rhonda, I might have to check out this book, you described me to a tee in the sense that I do not like house work and feel it is menial and boring. I get bored with doing the same things day in and day out, sort of like groundhog day. I do want a welcoming home and of course I want it clean. Im just busting to get outside most days to enjoy the garden. Thanks for the tip Ill see if the library has a copy Neisha.

  2. I've finally come to understand the pleasures in housekeeping and it is partially due to you Rhonda encouraging me to appreciate dishwashing. I can't believe I actually enjoy it now. Housekeeping is no longer a dirty word to me. :-)

    I'm going to find that book too.

  3. Neisha, you might change your attitude after reading the book. Like most other things even a slight change in attitude leads to seeing housekeeping in a different and more favourable light.

    Polly, thank you for telling me about the washing up I remember those posts we made about it. It makes me feel good to know I've helped a kindred spirit. : )

  4. I loved the way she talked about her grandmothers in this book.

    She has to be one bright woman to be a Harvard grad, yet, a couple of grannys had such an influence.

    Gives us all hope! :)

    Great book, one I think is a must have for every home. I go back to it for reference quite often.

  5. Although I have always wanted a comfortable home, I too don't really enjoy housework as I see it as a "chore" that has to be done. I'm off to hunt for this book at my local library in the hope it will help to change my attitude

  6. I find the time I use cleaning the house as rewarding as I can truly meditate and engage in pondering the world. To me it is like meditation. Also being a Cancerian means we do love our homes and nest and really are quite happy to have a reason to stay home. I have explored the philosophical reasoning of home and like the quote that "home is where you are understood". To further understand my connection to home I spent a few years without a home and I learnt so much---oh my God, compassion for those without homes; the homeless, refugees etc. Truly we should never take for granted the safety and security of a home.

  7. Brenda, yes you can see she held them in very high regard and there was a lot of love there.

    Lisa, I hope you do find as much as I did in those pages. It will also give you a lot of info about homekeeping too.

    bella, you've hit on an important point there. I have contact with a lot of homeless people in my volunatary job and I now realise they suffer not just from physically not having a home, but also from the psychological effects of that.

  8. I, too have this book. While its length is daunting, it is so easy to read and filled with such delight in homekeeping that I always enjoy reading it.
    I think one of the things I've learned over the years is the difference between hospitality and entertaining. To me, Martha Stewart is all about entertaining. I once heard a speaker say that hospitality is to bless, not to impress. What a subtle, but important difference!
    I used to entertain and try to make everything perfect. All that I succeeded in doing was making myself nuts and intimidating the very people I wanted to have fill welcome. Now, I try to do things that will bless my guests and not worry about every little thing. As I have relaxed, so have my guests.
    Thanks for visiting my blog. Abner was so excited to hear from your 'dales! Have a wonderful day!

  9. This has been one of my favourite books for a long time, not so much for the how-tos but for the wonderful opening pages, "Beginnings".

  10. Hello Kimberly, thanks for stopping by. That subtle difference between hospitality and entertaining is spot on and very insightful.

    Jenny, I love the beginnings too. It's a wonderful book. I wish I had more than the library copy. The librarian must think I have the worst memory as I keep borrowing it. LOL

  11. I've just put a hold on this book at our library, if I like it as much as everyone else seems to then I will probably add it to my collection of books.


  12. I bought this book from Amazon when it first came out and was not available in Australia. They accidentally sent me two copies, one of which I gave to a friend (there was no way to post it back to the US). I'll have to have another look.

  13. I have just reserved this book at my local library, it sounds wonderful.
    I actually quite like housework and over the years have been given many stares of disbelief when I have mentioned this fact.
    I can't stand mess so the obvious thing to do is to keep things clean and tidy. For a long time I did this because I feared being judged for having a messy house but I realised that I really liked having an organized comfortable home for my family.
    I am looking forward to reading this :)

  14. As usual, you've inspired me Rhonda :-) Not that I take much convincing to read another book ;-) But I'm like Neisha, I hate housework, I *really* feel like it's groundhog day every day, the constant monotony! What I *want* to be doing is playing with my kids and savouring their time at home as they grow up so fast! Clearly, I need something to change my mindset, and this might be it? Thanks, Julie.

  15. "This sense of being at home is important to everyone's well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor and courage will decrease."

    Hmm... Now I have to read it!

    Thanks for the recommendation.


  16. Well after reading all the posts regarding this subject I packed the 3 and a half year oldup with his dad out in the shed to do boys stuff. I cleaned the house today, I also put up some framed pics of family on the walls and got some nice warm fuzzy things around. Its a new house and with so much finishing off to do. I cooked a big sunday feed and we all pigged out.
    I think what I was trying to say earlier was that I dont just do once things a day its like 10 times as my 3 and a half year old boy likes messing up the place quite a lot.The pics up on the walls look fantastic. Neisha

  17. I love this book, and have borrowed it from the library several times (one day I'll get my own copy). My favourite section was the Grandmothers too. Irish and Italian, weren't they? Growing up, my (Yugoslav) mother wouldn't let her daughters lift a finger at home, and being lazy, we let her do everything. I'm not letting that happen with my children, who already know a lot of the housekeeping basics. It's very hard to 'clean up your room' if you don't know where to start, and what that actually means to the person who requests it. Does it mean put things away? Or dust/vacumn/sweep? Or Make your bed and throw everything underneath it? Or take EVERYTHING out of every drawer, cupboard, make more of a mess, and eventually have everything pristine for a day (that used to be my method!)

  18. I bought this book three or so years ago, and was an instant fan. I have read almost the whole thing once, and the most interesting parts of it three or more times. It has really sunk into my psyche, and informs all my opinions about housework, even though I haven't referenced it for a year. When I have tried to introduce it to family and friends, to help explain to them why I am enthused about housework, I have invariably been told, in one way or another, that the author is a perfectionist and the book is ridiculous... I understand that they have a mental block about valuing housework, so they just don't get it: it's not about doing everything perfectly, it's about making the best possible use of the time you do spend on your home and taking pleasure in it. I never did think I would get over the 'chore' mentality, but I did, and it's partly due to this book. Although I must admit, I still have not gotten over cleaning the bathroom and toilet (especially showers! ugh!), and Cheryl Mendelson was awfully sparse on information when it comes to cleaning bathrooms...

    PS I wanted the UK edition and the only one I found available was the softcover, in an awful lipstick pink and orange. I do wish I had found one in the UK hardcover like you have pictured, it's so much more pleasant to look at. Good thing it's the content that counts and not the cover!

  19. Neisha, remember that it's not just your job to clean up. If you son is making a continual mess, maybe it's time to start showing him how to put things away too. Although the mother in me knows that's not going to be easy. I think you'll enjoy the book.

  20. Lenny, I hope you get as much from the book as I did. Let me know when you read it what you thought.

    Kate, I wish I had my own copy. It would be agreat reference book, plus motivational aide to keep in the home.

    Michelle, I just know you'll get a lot out of reading Home Comforts. It's good to find a book that explains things we're already doing.

    Julie, I used to hate housework too but I've worked on my attitude and now I realise that instead of being a neverending line of housework that is repeated day in day out, it's more what you do on a certain day - if you do it mindfully, it's unconnected to what is coming afterwards.Thinking about what I'm doing, and more importantlyly, why I am doing it, made a real difference to me. I wasn't working my way through the list of chores, but making the bed comfortable for tonight or washing and ironing these clothes so I feel good about going to work in fresh and clean clothes. It was important for me to disconnect each task from a list and just concentrate on doing that one thing. I know you'll get a lot from the book.

    Wildside, I liked those sentences too. Let me know what you make of the book. : )

    lazy cow, you're right, we have to spell out the tasks we want others to do. Mostly they don't understand what's expected.

    Louise, you hit the nail right on the head. I so agree with these words you wrote:
    "I understand that they have a mental block about valuing housework, so they just don't get it: it's not about doing everything perfectly, it's about making the best possible use of the time you do spend on your home and taking pleasure in it." There are some who never will get it or even know that by getting it they will make homekeeping much easier on themselves.

  21. I really need that book... and with your inspiration maybe I can get my act together. Creativity seems to take over and the house... well.... you know the rest of the story!


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