2 February 2015

House work

… it has become too easy in our time to assume that childrearing, housekeeping, and caregiving, along with all the varieties of manual work, are somehow undignified and unworthy. And we have attempted to lighten and improve them by means of gadgets and institutions. But I would argue that these are the most basic and the most noble vocations. How can we live, or how can we live for very long, as a people if we don’t take care of the children, keep house, and give care to all things needing care? I think the hierarchy that places work done away from home above work done at home is utterly phony. 
Conversions with Wendell Berry, University Press of Mississippi 2007.

If I had to choose only one author to read for the rest of my life, it would be Wendell Berry. He is not afraid to speak the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be. I try to follow his example. His books inspire me to be a better woman, wife, mother, grandmother, writer and yes, housekeeper. He reminds me of the fine tradition I'm part of and why it's so important to humanity. 
And despite what I just wrote, I do "get it". I understand why housework is seen as dull and boring. I thought that myself when I worked outside the home and before I slowed down and changed how I looked at the world. House work interrupted what I wanted to do. It didn't occur to me that the work of my home was something that was capable of giving satisfaction and pride. Over the years, housekeeping has gone from being a full time occupation, a job that women took pride in, to being a something that's supported by appliances, short cuts, life hacks and convenience foods. Now, instead of being creative work that changes with the seasons and is different in every home, the housework of convenience and technology is monotonous and uninvolving. It's work we either put off or try to get through as fast as possible.

Whether you work full time in your home or full time away from the home, housework never ends. There will always be something you can do in your home and it's up to you to end your daily housework when it suits you. I wrote about that in my book and it's still as true today as it ever was. I think you have to have a fundamental change in mindset to understand what housework is, the importance it plays in life and that without it, we don't amount to much.

I feel very comfortable now in my role as homemaker. I also feel comfortable being a working author. One doesn't cancel out the other, they're both important to me; both contribute substantially to my happiness and how I view the world, both require intelligence and creativity. We are all capable of doing more than one job, much more. I think those who feel trapped by housework and those who just don't do it, have not made their homes into the places they need them to be. I found that when I thought about my home, when I changed things around to better suit how I work, when I took control and started working how I wanted to work, when I understood that house work is a creative process, it got better and easier, and I was happier. Making my house a home is a work in progress where there'll always be something to do, something to change, plans to make and something to look forward to. And that is the difference. If your home is part of your life plan, when it stops being just a place for clothes and sleeping. It becomes part of a inventive process that makes your life better, so it's just common sense to do the work to make sure it continues.
Housework is done by women and men now, and by some children. It's not as narrowly defined as it was before - women's work. So why is it still seen by so many as dull and tedious. Why don't we understand that if we want to live in a clean, comfortable home, serve healthy food, send our students and workers off every day to learn and earn, or be one of the workers or students who goes out well fed, clean and happy, that we have to work to make it happen. Nothing will ever be handed to us on a platter with a card that says, you deserve this. So never underestimate the power of house work. It makes everything else possible.
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