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“Laundry,” by shutterstock.com
I have folded this same towel hundreds of times. And that floor, I’ve swept it more times than I can count. My dishwasher has endured load after load, always with the exact same dishes loaded in the exact same way. I know every nook and cranny of both toilets in my home, including the spot where the pee always puddles (I have 5 kids after all). And surely, if it were possible, my vacuum would be tired of being run over the same floors day in and day out.
Yes, there can be a mundane repetition to housework. It bores many and we’ve certainly demeaned housekeeping and homemaking. We treat it, in the words of Cheryl Mendelson, as “unintelligent drudgery.” Ask any woman who is not yet married, but who is not still a child, if she looks forward to keeping house for her family one day. We can all likely guess her answer. Militant feminism has made sure of it.
Headlines often refer to housework in negative terms. Some of the ones that popped up in a quick Google search included:
“Chore Wars” and “Dirty Little Secret,” both negative puns.
Our culture presents keeping house as a nuisance rather than necessary and wonderful work. What a shame.
And not only does the way we talk about housework demean and degrade the work itself, it also demeans the one who does it. If there is so little value in cleaning and caring for a home, then surely only the lowliest would be found tending to such things. There is a battle over who does the work at home. But it’s not a fight over who wants to do it, but rather a fight over who has to do it. It seems like no one wants to.
But there is more to housework than simply doing what needs to be done so that everyone has clean, wrinkle-free clothes in the morning and a clean mug in which to pour their coffee as they run out the door.
One of my absolute favorite books about keeping house is called Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. In it, she details both the art and science, as she calls it, of housekeeping by detailing cleaning, laundering, sewing, cooking, record keeping, and more. But she also describes, in the most vivid language, the true and beautiful value in keeping house:
Housekeeping creates cleanliness, order, regularity, beauty, the conditions for health and safety, and a good place 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. (p.7)
When we approach housework as simply something that needs to be done, it becomes sterile and so does our house. And I don’t mean sterile in a good, clean, sanitized sort of way. I mean it in a barren, empty, cold kind of way. When there is no heart behind the work and no love in the chores, keeping house fails to create the warm and comfortable home we all desire for ourselves and for our families. You’re simply cleaning up a house rather than cultivating a home.
What makes housework honorable is that it comes from a place of love that develops into a place of comfort. The work of your hands isn’t mechanical. Instead, it is meant to create an atmosphere of vitality, rest, joy, affection, and love. It is meant to create a home. And a home is more than just a facility for sleeping and eating and storing your things.
Sally Clarkson, her book The Life Giving Home, describes a home as “a space that supports vibrant, joyful, productive living and supports growth of body, soul, and spirit.” (p.xv)
A place like that can only be developed by intentional and dedicated work of the hands, from the heart. A place like that won’t spring up by accident amongst people who argue over who is going to do what because each views the work before them as boring and unintelligent, or worse, unworthy.
Housework is honorable because it honors the people who reside within the home. The reason I fold that same towel as many times as I do, and why I continue to wash those dishes for them to be dirtied and washed again, is because I love the people who live here. I cook meals I know they enjoy so that their nostrils are filled with the inviting aroma and so their bellies are full of what they enjoy. I want to honor them.
How people feel in my home matters. It impacts their individual lives and it extends outward to the world around them.
What our culture could use right now is a positive view of domestic work. And not just a positive view, but a high view. Home is important. The atmosphere of a home is important. Order and beauty and warmth and joy in a home do wonders for our minds, for our health, and for our hearts. And work like that, work that can impact people so deeply, is significant, honorable work. We would all benefit from viewing it and treating it as such.Published in