Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Housewife Thing: Who Has Time to Read?

If I’d known that housework was such HARD WORK, I would never have agreed to do it. Women of my generation made a choice long ago not to be slaves and to do less housework than our mothers did. According to an ongoing study since 1968 by the National Science Foundation, women did an average of 26 hours of housework a week in 1976, compared with about 17 hours in 2005 (and I think they're lying about the 17). But there was always an assumption that if we wanted to we could keep house as well as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. (Note my sinister associations with housework: Mrs. Danvers as opposed to Donna Reed.)

Why did no one tell me that my mother’s neat house was not the result of a zombie-like devotion to appliances and elbow grease? After my pre-Christmas visit, I felt a certain competitive instinct about housewifery. I wanted a completely neat cozy house like my mom’s.

My house has never looked like my mom’s. The whole concept is a different style. Old instead of new. Books instead of decorations. Plants: our antique geranium is getting ready to bloom for the first time in a year. Everything else utilitarian. Junk flung into closets instead of organized in plastic storage boxes. BUT MY VISIT TO MY MOM’S CHANGED ALL THAT. There’s something so enticing about clean table surfaces. No books and magazines in the living room. Her sofa is not covered with animal hair. The kitchen is spic ‘n’ span. There is no mildew on her bathroom tiles. There’s only one flaw in her housekeeping: a white artificial Christmas tree stuck in the shower no one uses. That’s the only point where I feel she has gone wrong. She offered the tree to me, but my husband says no to a white tree. (Anyway, Christmas trees make me cry, so we assemble our Martha Stewart tree on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day is really long enough for the Christmas season.)

After a day in her house, I also viscerally wanted Christmas decorations: my mom gave me two snowmen wearing little sweaters and hats, which I have set up in a corner of the “back room” because my husband has forbidden me to put “my people,” as he calls them, in the living room. I also have a kind of plug-in light-up Last Supper thing I have snuck onto a bookshelf. I HAVE NEVER HAD THINGS LIKE THIS AND THEY ARE NOT TO MY TASTE BUT THEY SORT OF PUT ME IN THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT OF ANOTHER GENERATION AND THEY FIT MY PRETENSE THAT I AM A PRE-FEMINIST '60s HOUSEWIFE (until Jan. 1, when I revert to the 21st century).

But it’s damned hard work. It takes hours. Here’s a sample of a minimal housewife schedule:


1. CLEAR all tables of mail, books, magazines, remotes, CDs, catalogues, coasters, and laundry baskets. Then dust and POLISH tables and bookshelves while you watch The View.

2. Remove animal hair from couch with tape rolled around hand.

3. Vacuum.

4. Cook meals.


1. Clean closets in bedrooms. Weed out half of your clothes to give to Good Will. Hang up rest of clothes.

2. Watch half of The View before returning to the bedrooms.

3. Clear table surfaces.

4. Sit down and look at the carpet and think about vacuuming.


1. Clean kitchen: wipe cupboards, bleach sink, mop floor.

2. Watch one-fourth of The View between kitchen activities. Realize that watching The View cuts into your reading time.

3. Put your head in the oven and then go read.


1. Clean the bathtub

2. Clean the bathtub again.

3. Clean the bathtub again.

4. Admire the gleam of the bathtub.

5. Skip The View because you really don’t want to hear anything about Tiger Woods ever again.


Take day off.

Day 6

Take day off but realize you have to get cleaning again or all your work is undone.

This is drone work, guys. It's HARD. This homemaker euphemism is for the birds: it's houseWORK and don't you forget it.


verity said...

Argghh - I never meet my housework standards. And I should be doing some now rather than reading blogs!

Frisbee said...

My standards are pretty low but even one room a day is a lot of work. My mother did ALL the rooms every day. And she ironed! Oh dear and to think I didn't appreciate it...

Ellen said...

We too have a house of books and little to dust. Our schedule has been the three of us clean the house together every 6 weeks whether it needs it or not, but alas, we've fallen away and 8 weeks have gone by. I tidy up in the morning, and after supper, we do dishes, make the bed (and change it every three weeks -- well he does), and do washes and dries using the machine.

But beyond that nothing at all.

I'm glad to hear you visited your mother.


Frisbee said...

Tidying and dishes are enough!

There are a couple of rooms I haven't gotten to yet. But it's time to start over again so maybe I won't get there ever.

Selective cleanliness!