Saturday, October 06, 2012
these are 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 us seem to think, if you gauge by the amounts of money we spend on home furnishings. IN face, too much attention to the looks of a home can backfire. And going for nostalgic pastimes- canning, potting, sewing, making Christmas wreaths, painting china, decorating cookies- will not work either. Ironically, people are led into the error of playing house instead of keeping house by a genuine desire for a home and its comforts. Nostalgia means, literally, "home-sickness."
What really does work to increase the feeling of having a home and its comforts is housekeeping. Housekeeping creates cleanliness, order, regularity, beauty, the conditions for health and safety, and a good p lace to do and feel all the things you wish and need to do and feel in your home. Whether you live alone or with a spouse, parents, and ten children, it is your housekeeping that makes your home alive, that turns it into a small society in its own right, a vital place with its own ways and rhythms, the place where you can be more yourself than you can be anywhere else.
Despite these rewards, American housekeeping and home life are in a state of decline. Comfort and engagement at home have diminished to the point that even simple cleanliness and decent meals- let alone any deeper satisfactions- are no longer taken for granted in many middle-class homes. Homes today often seem to operate on an ad hoc bases. Washday is any time anyone throws a load into the machine, and laundering skills are in precipitous decline. Dishes are washed when the dishwasher is full. Meals occur any time or all the time or, what amounts to the same thing, never, as people sevre more and more prepared and semi-prepared foods. And although a large, enthusiastic minority of home cooks grow more and more sophisticated, the majority become ever more common in the middle-class homes than they used to be. Cleaning and neatening are done mostly when the house seems out of control. Bedding decreases in refinement, freshness, and comfort even as sales of linens, pillows, and comforters increase. It is not in goods the the contemporary household is poor, but in comfort and care.
Household activities of all kinds are becoming haphazard, not only cleaning ,cooking, and laundering. Television often absorbs everyone's attention because other activities (such as music-making, letter-writing, socializing, reading, and cooking) require at least a minimum of foresight, continuity, order, and planning that the contemporary household cannot accommodate. Home life as a whole has contracted. Less happens at home; less time is spent there. Like the industrial poor of 1910, many people now, in order to work long hours with rare days off, must farm out their children for indifferent institutional care. People are tired, sleeping an estimated two hours less per night than people did a hundred years ago. There are fewer parties, dinners, or card games with friends in homes. Divorces break up countless households, and even in tact families frequent moves break ties to friends and neighbors. The homes that reemerge are thinner, more brittle, more superficial, more disorganized, and more vulnerable than those they replace. These plagues rain on the lives of both the rich and the poor. Many people lead deprived lives in houses filled with material luxury.
Inadequate housekeeping is part of an unfortunate cycle. As people turn more and more to outside institutions to have their needs met 9for food, comfort, clean laundry, relaxation, entertainment, society, rest) domestic skills and expectations further diminish, in turn decreasing the chance that people's homes can satisfy their needs. The result is far too many people who long for home even though they seem to have one.
--excerpt from Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson