Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Home Comforts

If you are a traditionally-minded woman, there are some books which are a must for your library, like Fascinating Womanhood, Little House On The Prairie series, and, of course, Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. Now I have a somewhat vague idea, that I have reviewed this book before, so I'm not going to do it again, however...

However, I recently have decided to re-read it and it appeared as a good idea to write my thoughts about some of the things (and advice) she gives. Apparently, there are still lots of folks around interested in the subject of housekeeping since my latest post on the topic was quite a success.

The first chapter of the book is called My Secret Life and Cheryl goes into detail describing her personal experiences and the facts that in the circles she moves, overtly domestic women are ostracised. She talks about her family history and then delves into what could be called the philosophy of housekeeping.

Have you ever asked yourself why is it actually important to keep house, especially if you have a small household with grown children? You may even live alone so why bother? Most chores are rather repetitive, you wake up, you make your bed etc etc, and so every day. Now, Cheryl comes up with a simple but stunning explanation: because otherwise, your home won't feel like home, and without a proper home you don't feel safe and it will affect  your mental and physical health.

She also warns against LARPing as a homemaker instead of being one. Just doing some crafts can't really substitute regular housekeeping and create this special "homey" feeling. Here is a relevant quote: "...the way you experience life in your home is determined by how you do your housekeeping." (Ch.M., Home Comforts, Scribner Trade paperback, 2005 ed. p.5) All consequent quotes will be from the same edition, so that I'll only add the page numbers.

Have you ever experienced the feeling of restlessness? I think lots of people do nowadays. Well, apparently, it can be explained by the fact that since homemaking has become unfashionable, the comforts of home diminished greatly which in its turn, created a feeling of homelessness, of not really belonging anywhere.

Mrs Mendelson claims that American home life is in the state of decline which is detrimental to health and well-being and she even goes so far as to compare an average middle-class household with the 1900s industrial poor farming out their children to institutions and living in unsanitary conditions.

She is careful not to blame feminists though. Changes in family life evidently just happened out of the blue. She sort of hints that partly it was due to the invention of labour-saving devices but then goes on to say that all these devices were already present in the 1950s, and women still stayed home and dusted. She further states that some women of that generation were unsatisfied and taught their daughters to have careers which she claims, was a good thing, but then goes on to decry the consequences of it, as in lack of domesticity.

Anyway, she does mention the role MSM played in the whole thing by showing "degraded images of household work and workers" (p.10)  and reinforcing negative stereotypes. (I'm shocked, shocked I tell you! Why would MSM do such a thing? Could there be some sort of agenda behind it?) Cheryl calls housekeeping "the most thoroughly pleasing, significant and least alienated form(s) of work" (idem) and encourages her readers to be domestic.

She even touches on classical literature, mentioning Dickens, Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy who all extolled the virtues of good housekeepers, such as Agnes from David Copperfield, an example also used in Fascinating Womanhood , and reminds us that there was time, not so long ago, when life was much harder and homemaking was one ongoing struggle against dust, dirt, nasty smells, pests etc and that 1950s women loved their modern homes and enjoyed keeping them clean and sparkling. It symbolised their victory over forces of entropy.

Mrs Mendelson also discusses housekeeping standards, their disappearance and whether housework is arbitrary or superfluous. It's interesting that she mentions that folks used to iron everything. It's my personal opinion based on some real life experiences, that ironing had the same function an automatic dryer fulfills now (I don't have one, btw). When you iron wet clothes, they dry much sooner, instead of hanging for a week and contributing to the mold and mildew growth.

The summary of the chapter is that housekeeping in general isn't discretionary but something necessary for your mental and physical health, however small your household could be.


  1. I would love to have Mendelson's Home Comforts! Even the title of the book is so....comforting :-) I am baffled by the common lack of taking care of one's home, as I see home as an extension of oneself. Why would you not take care of yourself? I don't get that.

  2. You can order it online, it's a great book.
    I have the same problem as you do, in failing to understand how leaving in squalor is liberating:)

  3. I believe one reason people are always out and on the go away from home... they do not view their home as hospitable. If you are not comfortable in your own home you stay away from it. You go to a place you are comfortable. I know people I have known for years but never have been invited inside their home. They make sure to meet you in front of their door when you go to take them someplace. From hearing them talk I feel sure they are too embarrassed to have visitors. The house is full. They go there to cook a bit and read and sleep mostly. These are not young people. The average age is 75 ! I don't get it. Even if your house is not kept spotless it can be neat and tidy. How could you be comfortable in a big mess? Sarah

  4. Sarah, I regret to tell you but older women are often the worst offenders. Younger women may not be the best housekeepers, but they really care little about how others choose to live their life, unlike baby boomer feminist police:)