It’s all too easy to think the primary job of the housewife is cleaning. Television commercials and sitcoms certainly give that impression. But homemaking is more than cleaning. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that cleaning is not even at the top of the list. The making of a comfortable and pleasant home encompasses a wide range of tasks and skills. Homemaking in the truest sense of the word requires insight, creativity, and most of all…love.
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Homemaking is More Than Cleaning
It is six o’clock in the evening, and the lady of the house is sitting in the living room reading a magazine. She is brushed, combed, perfumed, and chic. The children have come from school and stowed their belongings in proper places. Pictures hang straight, pillows are fluffed. Lamps are lighted to throw circles of light on two or three pieces of sparkling crystal. The flame of a fat candle reflects in a beautifully polished silver vase. On the kitchen stove, a big stew, fragrant with herbs and wine, is simmering slowly. Salad greens are ready in the refrigerator. The table is set for dinner. Everything looks ordered, waiting and peaceful.
This excerpt from a favorite vintage homemaking book, Keeping Up With Keeping House by Mary Kaltman, sums up the very essence of homemaking. The passage goes on to explain that while there may well be dust on the piano and the kitchen floor needs mopping, the overall effect is one of peace and comfort. This homemaker has achieved that sometimes elusive sense of balance in the home.
It is the rare homemaker who has time for an always-spotless, impeccably decorated home and gourmet meals, while also tending to the needs of children/partner/pets. Never mind laundry, grocery shopping, errands, household finances, gardening, and the other 100 and 1 tasks the average homemaker is responsible for. A woman (or man…men can be homemakers, too!) can drive herself around the bend expecting perfection in all these areas every single day. And what’s the point of it all?
Home should be our sanctuary. Our refuge from a world which is not always kind and gentle. It can and should be a place of comfort, ease and yes, beauty.
So how do we provide that for our families and ourselves without working ourselves into a constant state of exhaustion and frustration?
Priorities and Illusion
What do I mean by priorities and illusion?
When faced with a choice between waxing the kitchen floor or cooking dinner, most families would rather sit down to a tasty meal even if the floor under their feet has waxy yellow buildup. A tidy family room in which everyone can relax after dinner and watch their favorite sitcom is more important than dusted baseboards. Clean underwear beats out clean windows.
Does that mean you never have to mop the kitchen floor, dust the baseboards or wash the windows? No. But it means when time is short you choose the tasks that provide the most pleasure and comfort for you and your family.
If one keeps up with things on a regular basis, just half an hour a day of focused effort can at least provide the appearance of clean. Unless you live alone in a small apartment (no pets!) you’ll certainly need more than that over the course of a week or month. But even 30 minutes well-spent goes a long way toward a clean and tidy home.
In the passage I quoted earlier, the homemaker has created an illusion of good housekeeping. The home is tidy, dinner is well underway, and she’s even managed to add some beauty to the scene with candles and decorative items. Sure, the furniture may be dusty but the overall effect of the home is warm and comforting. She can dust tomorrow.
Making a home appear well cared for calls for creativity and perhaps a bit of subterfuge. Everything looks better by candlelight, including the homemaker!
Tidiness goes a long way, as well. The floors might be gleaming, windows washed, curtains crisp from the ironing board and light fixtures sparkling but if the floor is littered with toys and discarded shoes and the sofa piled with clean laundry the room isn’t going to look clean.
A kitchen floor clean enough to eat off won’t mean much to a hungry family if there is no plan for dinner. So if today isn’t the day to mop the floor, do a quick sweeping, set the table and have something delicious simmering on the stove. If you are a full-time homemaker, creating a welcoming environment for family members who have spent the day at school or work is a special gift.
There are plenty of how-to cleaning resources available and it’s certainly worthwhile to learn how to clean thoroughly and efficiently. But I think it’s just as important to learn how to create a peaceful, warm and inviting atmosphere in the home.
I’m always looking for more inspiration and lately I’ve been enjoying several Korean homemaking YouTube channels. While the minimalistic aesthetic in many of these is not my personal style, there is something rather enchanting about them. They make me want to slow down and savor the process of homemaking.
Hagreendal is a favorite:
I hope I’ve inspired you to expand your vision of a housewife and recognize that homemaking is more than cleaning. Much more.
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