Thursday, March 24, 2016

Nine books to help us do our housework

I thought I'd clean out the kitchen pantry before Easter. After piling everything on the bench, scrubbing away sticky smears, spills and dust, and making two bags or pots into one where there were double ups, I discovered a disaster in the fridge. My youngest son admitted he was responsible. He'd laid the milk down without tightening the lid, and all the vegetables in the crisper were floating in milk, looking like some sort of raw, creamy soup. Housework isn't my favourite occupation, and sometimes I feel like I'm drowning in it. 

Still, it has to be done, so we might as well use any help to improve our frame of mind about it. I've found housework often crops up in stories.

Several old movies I've come across are so riddled with stereotypes, we may want to cringe rather than clean. In fairy tale land, Disney's Snow White scrubs up the seven dwarfs' messy little miner's hovel. She even checks that they've washed their hands before meals. Elsewhere in the wild west, Katie Brown suggests that Calamity Jane's grubby cottage needs 'a woman's touch' and shows her how to make it sparkling clean. Wild Bill Hickok and his friend Danny Gilmartin are so impressed by all the fussy trinkets and frilly curtains, Calamity decides she needs to follow Katie's example if she wants to win the heart of a good man. If you want to avoid these gems, there are warning signs to look out for. I think the main one is lots of cheesy singing. Heroines trill like little birds as they wield their feather dusters. What we're really looking for are stories that might inspire people in the real world to bother to get off our backsides for just as long as it takes to get the job done. I think I found a few.

1) The Hired Girl
The Hired Girl 14-year-old Joan Skraggs makes cleaning seem like an art form. Her willingness to just get stuck into the job helps improve the quality of her own life on several occasions. Once, her employer's son reproaches his father for keeping such a bright girl stuck cleaning the oven. The old man replies that somebody has to clean the oven, and Joan is being well paid for it. He adds, 'I notice you're not putting up your hand.'  It's true, that since we all like our ovens to be clean, we might as well get them done with Joan's matter-of-fact attitude. My review is here.

2) Until the Harvest
Until the Harvest (Appalachian Blessings #2) It's set in the 1970s, and while other girls are thinking about careers and women's lib, this heroine, Margaret, is happy to admit that she quite likes cleaning. You can make a difference to your quality of life straight away and go to bed pleased with your progress. What's not to like? You can bless others too. Wiping smears of toothpaste off the sink for her needy neighbours only takes a second and makes them happy and grateful. My review is here.

3) Jane of Lantern Hill
Jane of Lantern Hill In theory, it sounds like a plot fail. The young heroine is coerced away from her clingy mother to stay with the father she barely remembers, and finds great satisfaction in keeping his house clean for him. It might not have worked for many other authors, but L.M. Montgomery could pull it off. We feel Jane's genuine pleasure when she manages to get a recipe right, or finds a method to remove stubborn stains. She's a born lady-of-the-house, and since our homes are our havens, whatever makes a girl happy is fine. Her dad, Andrew, gives the impression that he's doing her a great favour by standing back and letting her have her way with all the cleaning, since she's never had the opportunity to be in charge of anything before. What a guy!

4) The Thirteenth Tale
The Thirteenth Tale This wasn't one of my favourite novels, but I did like the character of Hannah, who revolutionises the dysfunctional household for a short period of time. The bedraggled young narrator eventually realises that the bright, angelic aura Hannah seems to wear is simply because she's clean. Of course things quickly slide downhill again once Hannah leaves. My review is here.

5) Little House on the Prairie series
Little Town on the Prairie  (Little House, #7) These books make the weekly drudgery of a woman's daily grind sound noble and interesting. There's a chapter in Little Town on the Prairie when Laura enlists the help of Carrie and Grace to help her do a tremendous spring clean to surprise Pa and Ma, who are taking Mary to college. The descriptive writing makes it sound like a marathon, and the girls come off as total winners and heroes when the job is achieved.

6) Clara Morison
Clara Morison This is a colonial novel set in my own home town, Adelaide. The heroine hopes to be a governess, but finds she can only be hired as a housemaid. Next door to her employers live three sisters who do their own housecleaning, because they can't afford a maid of their own. They are my heroes. My review is here.

Some non-fiction

1) How to Win at Housework by Don Laslett
He's a male cleaner by trade, and asserts that he really is passionate about his calling. That makes me sit up and take notice. I mostly remember his chapter entitled, 'What to Expect from your Husband and Children.' You flip to that page number and find nothing but blank pages with a few grubby hand smears.

2) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
I haven't read this new release yet, but lots of other people have been talking about it. It would seem the author uses a heartfelt approach as the basis of her method. If an item sparks joy, keep it, and if not, toss it. Reminds me of some advice I once heard that everything we own should be either beautiful or useful, or as a bonus, both. If any of my blog readers have read Kondo's book, I'd love to hear your recommendations.

3) Spotless by Shannon Lush
I bought this, along with 'Speed Cleaning' from K-Mart, because they looked pretty enough to motivate me. There's nothing like photos of other people's lovely rooms to inspire us to imagine that ours could look the same. Her tips for cleaning each room or area are pretty comprehensive too, and I doubt there's anything she didn't cover. Shannon Lush's enthusiasm for cleaning isn't quite contagious enough for someone like me to catch, but I do get inspired to think that others really do enjoy it.

As always, if you can think of any other books which might inspire us to get stuck into, or even like our housework, please let us know. 


  1. Still not inspired! Unless it is to return to a couple of those reviews. :)

    1. Hi Paula
      Marie Kondo's book was very inspiring. I gave it real good go, and while I haven't yet resigned myself to defeat, it hasn't been an overnight magic wand. (14 months of slowly decluttering.)
      There are two mini - movies in Japanese which 'spark much joy' and motivation, based on Kondo's life and art if tidying. Well worth watching, reading and following on Facebook. But as fir a quick fix, there ain't no such thing. It's the tortoise approach unfortunately. ☺

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    4. Hi Noleen,
      Your feedback is just what I might have expected to hear. Even if her method has a lot going for it, work is still work, and there's no other way of looking at it :) Still, it does sound like an interesting approach, and it's good to hear how you've found it, having given it a decent trial.