Best Book You’ve Never Heard of on…Housekeeping

I left home not knowing how to keep house.  I didn’t know how to do laundry, clean a sink, or swish a toilet.  I couldn’t mop the floor.  I didn’t have a clue how often to change the sheets or wash the towels.   And by the time I was old enough to realize that I should know how to do all these things already, I was way too embarrassed to ask.  This was back in the days of dial-up internet access, so I couldn’t run to the computer and search for what I wanted to know–as if I even knew what to search for!

I got married, had a baby, and still thought I was the only incompetent housekeeper in town when my friend raved to me about her latest find:  a giant book about housekeeping. “It’s like being introduced to a whole secret world I didn’t know existed.  My mom didn’t teach me how to do any of this!”

I got myself my own copy of Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House and was hooked from the opening line:  “I am a working woman with a secret life:  I keep house.”  Cheryl Mendelson believes that domesticity is undervalued in America (c. 1999, when Home Comforts was first published).  Far too many of us don’t know how to keep house, and we certainly don’t understand the deeper meanings behind housekeeping.

Mendelson contrasts her own generation’s attitudes towards keeping house with her grandmother’s,who first taught her that housework carries deep meaning, and finds that the loss is ours. (If you read the first chapter and find yourself longing for a grandmother who was an expert housekeeper in the old Italian–or old English–tradition, you’re not alone!)

Mendelson is passionate about the hows and whys of domesticity, and she has the utmost respect for housekeeping, which is ultimately about making your home into a place in which you can feel at home.

Mendelson’s enthusiasm for housekeeping is delightfully contagious. Far too many people think housework=drudgery, but Mendelson’s eloquent defense of the domestic arts inspires and reminds me that housework is worth doing, and doing well:

Modern housekeeping, despite its bad press, is among the most thoroughly pleasant, significant, and least alienated forms of work that many of us will encounter even if we are blessed with work outside the home that we like….Housekeeping actually offers more opportunities for savoring achievement than almost any other work I can think of. 

Each of its regular routines brings satisfaction when it is completed.  These routines echo the rhythm of life…You get satisfaction not only from the sense of order, cleanliness, freshness, peace, and plenty restored, but from the knowledge that you yourself and those you care about are going to enjoy these benefits.

Mendelson cares greatly about the meanings of the domestic arts, but she also tells you how to get the job done.  This 884-page book contains detailed instructions for every possible household task, so that I need never again skip mopping the floors or sanitizing the towels because I don’t know how.  She explains traditional housekeeping routines as well as how to ease into a cleaning routine of your own.

Mendelson’s instructions for every possible laundry-related task fill 15 chapters and are so extensive I found Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens to be extraneous, and not half so interesting either.  And she also has chapters devoted to topics I’ve never needed to know about, such as liability for home accidents, contracts for household help, and domestic employment laws.

I think that our culture values domesticity more today than it did when Home Comforts was first released twelve years ago, but Ms. Mendelson’s passion for housekeeping continues to inspire me, and I still regularly pull the book off the shelf when I’m not sure how best to tackle a household task.

Readers, have you read Home Comforts?  How do you find out what you need to know about housekeeping?  If you’ve got any great books or blogs to recommend, share them here!

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh, I love Home Comforts! I got a copy for Christmas one year, and it has been such a good tool for getting my housekeeping routines in order. For housekeeping, I also love the Flylady site because it helps me break the house down into simple, manageable zones. The book Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck is also helpful for enviromentally friendly cleaning. I don’t follow everything in the book, but I do like to check it out from our library every now and then.

  2. says

    Sounds like a great resource. Every now and then when you’ve got the little ones around, you need some type of standard to draw you back into doing a complete job. There is great value to Mommy work, despite the tongue-in-cheek poems I write about it!

  3. says

    Oh! Thank you SO much for this post. I, too have many of the same struggles you mentioned in your opening paragraph. Ugh. I want so badly to keep a clean and tidy home…but often become overwhelmed with all the question marks I have about “how clean” when to clean…where to clean! Sounds ridiculous to admit that.

    I’m going to check out this book! Have a wonderful week ;)

  4. says

    I was looking for a book just like this a couple of years ago. Instead I ended up with a manifesto with what looks like a roided up Soviet woman athlete on the cover! Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. says

    This sounds like a book I need to get. Housekeeping is such a mystery to me! I bought a book that I thought would be like this one a while back and I wasn’t too thrilled. I put it on my wish list on Paperback Swap (unfortunately new books aren’t in the budget right now), although the list is very long, so who knows when I’ll finally get the chance to read it, but I am excited! Thank you for the recommendation!

  6. says

    This is so funny; I actually ran across this book fairly recently, and thought it was interesting, but seemed unnecessary…but then not. I love the idea of a manual, one that can be dogeared and stained and passed down. Excellent review!

  7. says

    Thanks for this recommendation! Now I know what to get my Sister, who is getting married soon. :) And I’ll probably pick up a copy for myself as well. Neither of us know a lot about domesticity. lol

    • Anne says

      I’ve given a few as housewarming gifts (along with something more immediately fun, like some cute linens or a scented candle). Hope you both love it!

  8. says

    I’m going to look up this book right now. Sounds like an uplifting read. I have read a few books on housekeeping, and often they are either way over-board ‘martha-esque’ -impress-everyone-ness, or they make it sound like housekeeping is a chore that you have to get over with as quickly as possible.
    I’d love a book that gives, not only a how-to, but a sense of dignity to the tasks.

  9. Laura says

    This book looks great!
    I too left home totally unprepared. I stumbled along. I picked up a copy of something called Queen of Clean and learned a bit. Mostly, I just figured it out by myself. I would have loved to have had this book for sure! I still may pick it up.
    Thanks. :)

    ((Hugs))
    Laura

  10. Brenda says

    I do like Home Comforts as well….and I think the introduction was almost the best part! This book has a lot of thought put into it, never talks down to the reader, & is a wealth of information. I don’t own it, though I probably should: I have checked it out of our public library at least 4 times! :o

  11. Aimee says

    This is one of my favorite books!! I found it B&N several years ago, and found it to be actually kinda lifechanging!

  12. says

    I love this book. I made sure my children knew how to keep a home. They have both thanked me for it. Many of their friends didn’t have chores. One friend had never iron anything by the time she was a senior. Awesome gift for a new bride or in a Cleaning Gift Basket.

    Blessings,
    Pamela

  13. says

    Sounds like a great book. I was the same as you and instead of help all anyone would say if ‘Why cant you keep anything tidy?’ Before Christmas last year I found Flylady.net and she has been an absolute life changer for me. I now know how to set up routines, organise my house and do it all without heaps of stress. I dont always do everything right but as she says ‘Housework done incorrectly still blesses our family’

  14. says

    Whoa, that’s some serious housekeeping info (800+ pages). :D
    I related to you not knowing how when you left home. My mom was/is a good housekeeper (with the exception of clutter; she does not believe in clearing out what she isn’t using; says it makes her feel like the house is “dead”…hmmm). I no longer practice Catholicism, but I was raised Catholic and when I was a little girl, I had catechism classes (CCD) on Saturday mornings. Every Saturday when I got home from CCD, our kitchen chairs would be in the living room; Mom had mopped the kitchen floor and it was in the process of drying. All the toilets would be filled with blue as they soaked for their pending scrubbing, and the clothes dryer was humming as it dried all the towels and bed linens in our home. Mom later became a working mom and it was a stressful time in my childhood. Those routines went by the wayside. Us girls (and especially me, the oldest) were expected to take on a lot of the chores that were previously a part of Mom’s routines. Sadly though, we were not taught *how* to do them. My parents were frustrated that we didn’t always do them well and I latere realized I was frustrated too because I didn’t know what their expectations were. I’m doing my best to do a better job of training my own children, not only so my expectations are clear to them, but also so they will have the necessary skills to take on their own routines in the future. Thanks for the book suggestion. I’ll check it out the next time we’re at the book store.
    blessings,
    Toni

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