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.

Blogger Template by pipdig