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This Modern Home Ec Book Will Stop People From Asking, "You Live Like This???"

I want to buy Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House for every man, woman, and adult baby I know!

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I consider myself to be a relatively clean and shit-together person, but there are still plenty of times when I don't know what the h*ck I'm doing.

So when I saw a friend’s copy of Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson, I was like HI YES SOLD...and since reading it, I’ve been talking about it to anyone who will listen.

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I want to buy it for every man, woman, and adult baby I know! It’s relevant to both people who already care about their home to some degree and to people who don’t know that you have to actually wash hoodies.

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It's basically an encyclopedia of housekeeping—and is incredibly well-researched and comprehensive—but is also a pretty fun* and fascinating read.

The softcover is a genuinely beautiful reference book, but it’s also 906 pages, so after it arrived, I immediately bought myself the Kindle version so I could read it on the subway.

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That’s how much I love this book!!! I legitimately wanted to be able to have it with me at all times.

I highlighted almost all of the book’s first chapter, wherein Mendelson (a lawyer!!!) makes a beautiful, thoughtful, highly-reasoned case for why you should care about keeping a home.

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“Housekeeping is an art: it combines intuition and physical skill to create comfort, health, beauty, order, and safety. It is also a science, a body of knowledge that helps us seek those goals and values wisely, efficiently, humanely.”

And!

“The sense of being at home is important to everyone’s well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor, and courage will decrease. It is a complex thing, an amalgam. In part, it is a sense of having special rights, dignities, and entitlements — and these are legal realities, not just emotional states. It includes familiarity, warmth, affection, and a conviction of security. Being at home feels safe; you have a sense of relief whenever you come home and close the door behind you, reduced fear of social and emotional dangers as well as physical ones.”

Like, YES, Cheryl!!!

If you already believe a home should be clean/tidy/cozy/happy but have never been able to articulate exactly why it’s so important to you, you will feel seen. And if you aren’t a terribly neat/tidy/clean person, you will feel gently dragged (like, just the right amount). In either case, you will feel inspired.

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From there, Mendelson gets into every aspect of keeping house. The book reminded a lot of the 1950s Home Ec book I bought at an antique store a few years ago—and I mean that in a good way. I wish I'd had the option to take Home Ec in high school, and I think a lot of people my age do too.

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Knowing what you’re doing makes cleaning a lot easier and more efficient— because, as Mendelson points out, if you don’t have baseline domestic standards or knowledge, “you are like an infant negotiating a flight of stairs for the first time. It feels hard and complicated. You have to focus your whole mind on it, and it wears you out.”

YES IT SURE DOES!

I skimmed several sections because they didn’t apply to me and/or were a little dry, but I love knowing that if I ever have a question about domestic employment laws, or want to know literally every single different type of carpet, Cheryl’s got my back.

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Along with the amazing intro, here are the sections I would recommend reading straightaway if you’re mainly interested in becoming a more competent keeper of your home (or your dorm room, or whatever):

Kitchen Culture. This chapter is all about cleaning your kitchen, with a big focus on doing dishes effectively (which I didn’t think I really needed but...I totally did 😳).

Laundering. (Exactly what it sounds like.)

Bathrooms. (Same.)

Aprons, Rags, and Mops. This is where you'll get a great overview of what tools and products to use for different surfaces, in different rooms, etc.

Sleep. This section covers (heh) beds and bedding, closets, and just general bedroom practices. (She also dips into the psychology of how we feel in/about our bedrooms, which is fascinating and surprisingly moving.)

Safe Food. Mendelson takes a very hardline stance on a few things, one of which is preventing foodborne illness. (“Cleaning your refrigerator often and carefully is one of the most important jobs in your home.”) It’s hard to argue with her research; I’m a believer now.

Safe Shelter. OUR HOMES ARE BASICALLY DEATH TRAPS is what I learned reading this section. But seriously, it made me a lot more conscious of little ways to be more thoughtful about home safety. Like, slipping and falling in the home is no joke!!! And I think most people are taking more risks around the house than they even realize.

Mendelson's tone is that of a slightly-uptight-but-you-love-her-anyway big sister.

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She takes housekeeping seriously—though I thought her wry “jokes” were pretty delightful—but that’s what makes the book work so well. We need to learn these kinds of things from someone who cares deeply about the subject matter.

She speaks with authority, but stresses repeatedly that her declarations are all suggestions.

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“The goal is always to pick and choose, to find the patterns and habits that work best for your own homes and that create the goods at home that we most value and need," she writes.

She also reminds readers that being neurotic about cleaning isn’t a good thing (“The housekeepers who have done the most to give housekeeping a bad name are those who are compulsive about it”).

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Here are a few lines that I especially enjoyed:

• “I told him [her boyfriend] straight-out that the three-hole punch, a complete run of PC Magazine, and several collections of literary reviews did not belong in the kitchen cabinets over the sink and that I could not live with this. He shrugged, and so I married him.”

• On the topic of home-cooked meals: “But it is in everyone’s interest to do away entirely with feeling ashamed of how or what one cooks. If you cannot avoid having only sandwiches one day, the rational response is to feel slightly sorry for yourself, not to blame yourself.”

• “You will often read and hear half-jesting advice to the effect that you should spend your housecleaning time on only those areas of your home that people are going to see when they come visit. This is bad advice and a bad joke.”

• “If a lifestyle has been imposed on you that leaves you without enough time to eat real meals, I think you have a right to resent it.”

• "While dirt should continue to arouse your fighting spirit, it is perfectly all right to surrender to insignificant stains."

• On the topic of refrigerators: "In fact, to compare someone or something to the homely refrigerator is a common form of humorous derogation. ... Despite how important refrigerators are to us, practically and emotionally, most people probably underuse or misuse these splendid machines."

• “To keep things in perspective, it may help to consider the recipe for roast beef in one of my great-grandmother’s cookbooks, which called for, among other things, a cow.”

• “(See chapter 47: ‘Kindly Light.’)”

Honestly, I cannot recommend this book strongly enough! It's SO thoughtfully written, incredibly useful, and everyone I know is getting a copy for Christmas.

AMC

Because, as Cheryl writes, “No one is too superior or intelligent to care for hearth and home.”