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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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Mendelson's tone is that of a slightly-uptight-but-you-love-her-anyway big sister.
She speaks with authority, but stresses repeatedly that her declarations are all suggestions.
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.’)”