Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Housework Is Honorable Work

 

“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.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor

    When I used to study Zen, we could treat anything as a meditation. Even now with my Jewish faith, housework is a way to serve others and G-d. Although, not always. . . 

    • #1
    • October 19, 2020, at 7:44 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Stina Member

    Jessi Bridges: 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

    Thank you for such a convicting essay.

    • #2
    • October 19, 2020, at 7:46 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  3. Dr. Bastiat Member

    Beautiful message. And beautifully written.

    • #3
    • October 19, 2020, at 7:56 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. Stad Thatcher

    One of the worst expressions the left uses is “only a housewife.” I think the title Domestic Goddess is more appropriate . . .

    Besides, we guys do housework too. I just got back from the garbage dump, but I emptied and reloaded the dishwasher before I left.

    • #4
    • October 19, 2020, at 7:57 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  5. MarciN Member

    With three kids, and now three kids, two sons-in-law, one grandson, and two dogs who visit often, I’ve got it down to a system: trash, dishes, and laundry. :-) As long as I keep up with those things and never think “Well, that’s done,” things seem to hum around here. :-) 

    There are some tricks to the trade such as never go upstairs or downstairs empty-handed. :-) Don’t put it down–put it away. :-) And always keep a box going for things that have outlived their usefulness. :-) 

    I had a funny experience when the kids were in middle school. I had read a good article about spring cleaning and the importance thereof. The author said to post on the fridge a sign-up list of chores that needed to be done. “That’s a good idea. There’s more to be done than I can do.” I carefully wrote out my list, and on a whim, at the end, I wrote, “Clean out trash barrels.”

    After that, it was really funny. I watched my husband and three kids read the list carefully, not committing to anything on it, get to the end, do a double-take, decide quickly anything was better than cleaning out the trash barrels, and sign up for the other things. :-) 

    I learned that if I took the one job no one else wanted to do, I could get all the help I needed. :-) 

    The one immutable rule I have is that he or she who cooks also cleans up. American families have it backward. People who cook usually don’t clean up, as my kids’ friends have told me numerous times. “Mrs. N, that’s not fair.” But it does work. :-) One of my kids’ friends spent the summer with us, and she said at the end, “That’s pure genius, Mrs. N.” Yes, it is. It’s too easy to make a big mess when you’re cooking when you think others will clean up after you. When you know you’ll have to clean it up too, you scale back your ambition to a reasonable level for a weekday supper. :-)

    And I still have time for Ricochet. :-) 

    • #5
    • October 19, 2020, at 8:17 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  6. DonG (Biden is compromised) Coolidge

    There is satisfaction from doing and finishing chores. It is having a result that is key. It could be a pile of clean and folded clothes or a mowed and trimmed lawn, but having that visible result is satisfying. It is especially satisfying knowing that it is being done in service of the family you love. FYI, in economics, they call it “home production”.

    • #6
    • October 19, 2020, at 8:35 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  7. Gossamer Cat Coolidge

    When I went through my feminism phase, I refused to do housework or cook because “the boys didn’t have to do it.” Well eventually I realized how much I loved the fact that my mother did it. It is indeed what makes a home someplace you want to return to over and over, a sense of order and cleanliness. So I applaud all homemakers and if I had been fortunate enough to get married and have children, I would have joined your ranks.

    • #7
    • October 19, 2020, at 8:41 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  8. Suspira Member

    I admit it—I don’t like doing housework. But technology, in the form of podcasts, has made it much less onerous. Vacuuming remains as the job I truly hate as it is too loud to allow for podcast-listening. Maybe I should break out the big old noise-cancelling headphones and conquer this one last obstacle to a clean house.

    • #8
    • October 19, 2020, at 8:45 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. JustmeinAZ Member

    I am lucky enough to have a husband who does what I don’t like – toilets, vacuuming, his own laundry – and a housekeeper to do routine stuff every two weeks. That leaves me time for cooking meals, baking bread, ironing – all things i enjoy. And leaves me time for my needlework and Ricochet!

    When I retired I told everyone I looked forward to being a housewife. Love it!

    • #9
    • October 19, 2020, at 9:09 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  10. Al French of Damascus Moderator

    MarciN (View Comment):

    The one immutable rule I have is that he or she who cooks also cleans up. American families have it backward. People who cook usually don’t clean up, as my kids’ friends have told me numerous times. “Mrs. N, that’s not fair.” But it does work. :-) One of my kids’ friends spent the summer with us, and she said at the end, “That’s pure genius, Mrs. N.” Yes, it is. It’s too easy to make a big mess when you’re cooking when you think others will clean up after you. When you know you’ll have to clean it up too, you scale back your ambition to a reasonable level for a weekday supper. :-)

    I usually clean up when I cook. And I don’t wait until the meal is over. A lot of prep tools can be washed while the food is cooking.

     

    • #10
    • October 19, 2020, at 9:59 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  11. Full Size Tabby Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    One of the worst expressions the left uses is “only a housewife.” I think the title Domestic Goddess is more appropriate . . .

    Besides, we guys do housework too. I just got back from the garbage dump, but I emptied and reloaded the dishwasher before I left.

    Mrs. Tabby (who left the paid labor force 18 months after our first child was born) intensely dislikes the term “housewife.” “I am not married to the house.”

    Mrs. Tabby does like the term “homemaker,” which is what the OP beautifully describes – making a pleasant place in which the family refreshes and recharges so that everyone is ready to go out to make the world better by being their best selves. 

    • #11
    • October 19, 2020, at 10:02 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  12. Full Size Tabby Member

    Now I want a “super-like” button (or the ability to multiple-like). 

    • #12
    • October 19, 2020, at 10:09 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Guruforhire Member

    I remind my wife that poor sanitation has killed almost as many soldiers as combat.

    Its not just honorable, its essential.

     

    I also try to talk about putting the economics back into home economics.

    • #13
    • October 19, 2020, at 10:33 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  14. Jessi Bridges Contributor
    Jessi Bridges

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    When I used to study Zen, we could treat anything as a meditation. Even now with my Jewish faith, housework is a way to serve others and G-d. Although, not always. . .

    There are times when I have to remind myself that because work is commanded by God, it is good and valuable. Even, or especially work in the home. It honors Him about all.

    • #14
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:06 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Jessi Bridges Contributor
    Jessi Bridges

    Stad (View Comment):
    Besides, we guys do housework too. I just got back from the garbage dump, but I emptied and reloaded the dishwasher before I left.

    I appreciate all the work my husband does around our home too! I joke that I love the patriarchy because he does the jobs that I definitely don’t want to (or can’t) do! 

    • #15
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:07 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. Jessi Bridges Contributor
    Jessi Bridges

    MarciN (View Comment):
    It’s too easy to make a big mess when you’re cooking when you think others will clean up after you.

    I learned long ago to clean as I go and it won’t be so bad when I’m done cooking. And to clean it up right away, especially after dinner so I can rest and enjoy the evening with a book and a cup of tea. But I admit, there are times when I’m lazy (or tired) and I leave it for the morning. I always regret it!

    • #16
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:10 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. Charlotte Member
    CharlotteJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is one of the best essays I’ve ever read on Ricochet.

    • #17
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:11 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  18. Jessi Bridges Contributor
    Jessi Bridges

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    There is satisfaction from doing and finishing chores. It is having a result that is key.

    I used to ignore this and view the housework as something that will just need to be done later, so why bother now. It was to the detriment of myself and my home. I’ve since learned to appreciate the things that are accomplished, even if they are small and temporary. There is satisfaction in getting things done!

    • #18
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:13 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Charlotte Member
    CharlotteJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jessi Bridges:

    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.

    I just wanted to give everyone an opportunity to read these magnificent sentences again.

    • #19
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:13 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  20. Jessi Bridges Contributor
    Jessi Bridges

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    Well eventually I realized how much I loved the fact that my mother did it. It is indeed what makes a home someplace you want to return to over and over, a sense of order and cleanliness.

    This is true for me as well. When I reflect on the things I appreciated about my home growing up, a lot of it has to do with what my mother did. I didn’t notice them then, but I definitely do now and I want my kids to have the same sorts of things to look back fondly on.

    • #20
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:15 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  21. Jessi Bridges Contributor
    Jessi Bridges

    Suspira (View Comment):

    I admit it—I don’t like doing housework. But technology, in the form of podcasts, has made it much less onerous. Vacuuming remains as the job I truly hate as it is too loud to allow for podcast-listening. Maybe I should break out the big old noise-cancelling headphones and conquer this one last obstacle to a clean house.

    I’m SO grateful for podcasts for that reason too! And books on audio.

    • #21
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:18 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Charlotte Member
    CharlotteJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Stad (View Comment):
    Besides, we guys do housework too.

    All those “studies” about how unfair life is for women because they do most of the laundry or whatever drive me absolutely nuts. The studies always specifically exclude things like mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, cleaning the garage, etc. Those tasks are done more often by dudes so of course they shouldn’t be counted because then it would look like men are actually contributing and we can’t have that.

    • #22
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:18 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  23. Jessi Bridges Contributor
    Jessi Bridges

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):
    I am lucky enough to have a husband who does what I don’t like

    What a blessing!!

    • #23
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:19 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Jessi Bridges Contributor
    Jessi Bridges

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    Mrs. Tabby does like the term “homemaker,”

    I do too! When I stopped working outside the home, I became quickly accustomed to writing “homemaker” on any application or form asking for my occupation. I will proudly claim that title!

    • #24
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:20 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  25. Charlotte Member
    CharlotteJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):
    When I retired I told everyone I looked forward to being a housewife. Love it!

    I honestly cannot wait to retire to my home and putter about all day. (Although since I am only 46 I guess I shall in fact be waiting for awhile longer.) Cooking and tidying and organizing and economizing are immensely satisfying. Who wouldn’t want to be in a comfortable, cozy, pleasant home all day?

    • #25
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:22 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  26. Charlotte Member
    CharlotteJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Sorry, @jessibridges, didn’t mean to take over your thread. Apparently I have Many Thoughts on this topic. 🤣

    • #26
    • October 19, 2020, at 1:25 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Jessi Bridges Contributor
    Jessi Bridges

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    This is one of the best essays I’ve ever read on Ricochet.

    This is so very kind. Thank you.

    • #27
    • October 19, 2020, at 2:25 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Nerina Bellinger Inactive

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    This is one of the best essays I’ve ever read on Ricochet.

    I second Charlotte’s comment. Absolutely stellar essay!

    • #28
    • October 19, 2020, at 5:26 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  29. Nerina Bellinger Inactive

    @jessibridges, I don’t know if you listen to Andrew Klavan at all, but he would LOVE this essay. He exalts wives/mothers who make houses into homes. I can’t like this essay enough.

    • #29
    • October 19, 2020, at 5:30 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  30. Nerina Bellinger Inactive

    @jameslileks, can we nominate a reflection for your “post of the week?”

    • #30
    • October 19, 2020, at 5:31 PM PDT
    • 6 likes