See also the table of contents for the Keeping House series.
In this chapter, the author spends some time developing the theme of home as found in the Bible and fleshing out a bit of what a home is and contending that households established by single folk are just as legitimate as those set up by married families. Since Willa covered this already, I will proceed to my own ramblings.
So in the last chapter, she established that having a kept house matters. Here, now, she contends that keeping a house matters — that is, the menial work itself is valuable, and not simply the effect.
At one point she gives this example:
One lifestyle magazine quotes a woman who said of a particular point in her life that she had decided from then on to spend as little time as possible “doing things that just don’t matter.” The result? “I haven’t had my head in a toilet since.” I doubt, however, that this woman’s toilet has gone uncleaned in the intervening years. I suspect that someone else has been cleaning it, someone whose role in life, her employer imagines, is to do work that “doesn’t matter.”
Now, since the person in question was someone a lifestyle magazine was interviewing, she’s probably right, this is probably someone who has hired out her housework. However, my initial response to her response was a snort. It is clearly the response of a “cleanie” who can’t imagine using or having a gross bathroom. Ha.
I, however, have been at the “doesn’t matter” point myself, and the result was not that I hired out the housework, but that I did as little as I could get away with. So, the back, non-public bathroom of our home was absolutely atrocious and terribly embarrassing. I hardly noticed, since I had decided it didn’t matter. Then one day a friend came to visit and just before she arrived, the toilet in the main bathroom stuck and wouldn’t flush. Not thinking things through, I simply shrugged and thought that since this friend lived only down the block, she probably wouldn’t need to use the bathroom. Still, I served plenty of coffee and water. To my horror, she asked if she could use the bathroom. I apologized that it was out of order. She pressed the matter. I had to stammer that yes, there was another bathroom she could use, if she could climb over my mound of clothes to get there and would still be willing to use it once she saw it. Thankfully she was an understanding soul who had been at that place herself, and it didn’t seem to phase her, though I felt mortified. Indeed, that might have been the initial catalyst for my change. It opened my eyes to how I was living.
Now, back to the book, pretending I never told you that I have been and can be content living in squalor, at least in the back and private corners. We shall return to the author and try not to mock or resent her Cleanie heart. No, remember, that’s where we are trying to get ourselves, even if it comes hard for us.
So, what are some good things about housework? What are some reasons we might choose to do our own housework, even if we could afford a maid service? Something beyond being too frugal, too cheap, to do so?
“The rhythms of housework also provide a way to resist the relentless 24/7 pace of modern life in favor of something more suited to human embodiment and relationality.” So, it grounds us in the rhythm of Real Life.
When we teach children to do housework, “we encourage the child to see himself as a worker and contributor to the economy of the household.” And if we want our children to think housework is valuable, then we need to think and act like it is valuable. I think she forgot that some of us are still trying to convince ourselves, much less the children.
Housework is creative, transformation, repetitive work that pictures God’s own.
Housekeeping exemplifies faithfulness and providential, sanctifying care.
By performing these duties, we mirror God’s own work: it is physical and real, it is transformative, it gives grace, it is meticulous and all-encompassing, it is humble and sacrificial service. It is a way given to us to imitiate, to symbolize, God’s own work, to image Him as He created us to do and be.
Being an overthinking type, these philosophical-type reasons resonate with me more than the practical, physical, more obvious reasons. However, I believe that is a gnostic weakness and temptation. I have long lived believing that the inside can be clean without that affecting the outside. The outside is rather irrelevant. I am slowly coming around to seeing that what is inside works itself out to the outside. People cleansed by grace should grow into being clean and gracious in all they do and all they are. That is sanctification.
And that includes housekeeping.