Thursday, January 7, 2010


What happened to home making? I mean, most of us do it, in one way or another. But very few people call themselves "homemakers" anymore.

When I was growing up, a homemaker was another word for stay at home mom. But not all SAHMs are homemakers. And not all homemakers stay at home, or are even moms.

I like to collect old cookbooks. I find that in most of the 1940's and before books it always begins with homemaking tips. How to wash dishes. How to store foods (before modern refrigerators!) How to set a table. How to clear a table. And some of these books have basic homemaking skills too, aside from food and food preparing/storage/cooking/cleaning. How to press clothes, darn socks. Basic new wife skills I guess.

I don't know how many women found these instructions charming as opposed to assuming or condescending or annoying, but as a gal growing up in a "modern" world I do find it charming. And I wonder what happened? When did homemaking go out of fashion? Was it when women went out to work? When tv dinners made their first appearances? With the feminist revolution?

I do not think that women should be expected to be homemakers. I don't think that women should be expected to love homemaking. I don't think home-makers need to be women at all.

But, I do think it's a little sad that over the past several decades we've been losing what makes a home "made".

It's not the cleaning or the pressing or the sweeping or the cooking. None of those things by themselves or together make a home, really. I don't know that I can pin-point exactly what it is.

It's the feeling of home. The scents that trigger emotions or memories (bread baking, a wood stove, pledge!) It's the hazy memories of what feels like home. The way the sun came through the window onto the couch while you read, the scents and sounds of your neighborhood through an open window in the spring or while laying in the grass watching clouds.

But I believe at the root of all that is the peace in your home. Not that it's spotless, but that it's tidy and comfortable and inviting. That it's filled with laughter and home cooked food and acceptance.

I work full time outside the home. But I still consider myself a homemaker. I didn't always. When I was a young, newish mother, on my own for the first time (and second time!), our home was always a mess. I was tired and stressed. At the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do was the dishes. For a long time (and still sometimes I'll admit) we struggled on chore division. Chores, what a dirty word.

And, to me, a home-cooked meal was something that started with a frozen kit that I added meat to. Yes, really.

I worked outside the home too, you know? And I'd be damned if the chores were going to fall on me just because I happened to be the woman. But they still did. And they did disproportionately. And they still do in all honesty, though it's gotten better.

But not much has changed, really. There is still laundry and cooking and cleaning and dishes. What's changed was my attitude on it.

I'll admit, I am a natural slob. I just am. Over time (and still happening) was that by changing my attitude, I changed the way I did things. Honestly, I never really notice "cleaning" anymore. Once in a while we'll have a hard core clean day, or I'll look around and declare the house a disaster and sometimes it IS a disaster. Our home is rarely dirty, but often messy. But that's been improving too. And cleaning has just become second nature for the most part. For some people that's natural I guess. For me, it was effort.

First, I stopped looking at things as chores. As something tedious and monotonous and to be suffered though. I started making a conscious effort to look at them as things that bless my family. And they do. Our family functions noticeably better in a tidied and semi-kept  house.

It also helps that I started delegating. No more poor mom that does everything and feels sorry for herself about it. The kids each have responsibilities. They don't get paid for them. They will sometimes get paid for going above and beyond, but these are family responsibilities: things that have to be done to keep our home running smoothly. And because we are a family, we all help out. My oldest does the dishes and sometimes the laundry. My youngest sets and clears the table. Each of them is responsible for cooking (assisted) one day a week and for keeping their rooms presentable, they aren't always *clean*, but they don't look like a landfill.

And I'm learning to let go. I never considered myself a perfectionist, ever. But in some ways I am. If it's not "perfect" I'm not satisfied or I just wouldn't do it. I've learned to step back and let things be imperfect. Like the dollhouse I made for our niece for Christmas. It's fine. It's nice, but it was driving me insane because it wasn't *perfect*. It didn't need to be. She's 2 and she loved it.

And of course, homemaking isn't just cleaning and cooking. It's creating memories and traditions. A warm and safe place for you and your family. There are many, many things that make a home.

I just wonder when people stopped "home-making". . . I know it's something that I had to actually go out and learn, and I wonder how many other people have had to do the same. It doesn't seem to be something handed down over the generations anymore. It used to be necessary enough that it was included in cookbooks and now . . .?

It does seem there has been a bit of a resurgence, since the recession. People have been coming back to their homes and centering in. We've stopped eating dinner in the car on the way to the next practice or recital. We're coming back to the home, back to the table.I think that's a good thing. For us, for our children and for their children.

I'm under no illusions that "the good old days" were really that good. Homemaking was hard, tiring, often thankless work. I know this. But, why have we gone so far to the other extreme? There can be balance. 

What are your thoughts on homemaking? How do you define it? Do you think it's necessary in todays world or something that should as minimal a part of life as possible?


Valkyrie said...

Damn it. You made this blog disappear yesterday and I had written out a really long comment. I basically blogged on your blog. I love this blog, I love the subject. It's something that is very thought provoking for me. I wrote a thesis for my Sociology of Women class on this very subject.

Now I can't remember what I said yesterday, but trust me, it was brilliant! ;-P

gardenofsimple said...

oh damn! Sorry, I had to edit it a bit. I wish I had seen your comment!

AmyBean said...

I have so many thoughts on this subject and I've tried to articulate them at various times and I just can't seem to say everything. It's a complex issue for me, I guess.

I want to be a homemaker. I really do. But I'm just not. It's the getting into the habits that I can't do. I keep wanting to do things "my way," which means "whenever the hell I feel like doing things." Which is never. So our home is not "made." And I am saddened by that, in a way. I want our home to be full of light and life, and I want my hands to be busy and happy, and they're just not.

Thank you for the reminder of where I want to be, and why I want to be there.

gardenofsimple said...

Amy, I used to feel the same way. I was just NOT a homemaker and had no desire to be. Somewhere, somehow, along the way that changed. Like I said, part of it was a concious effort to change that. To change the way I looked at it. Ad my children grew, it became easier. I think in part because they seem to grow so fast, and I felt like the time and this life was just slipping through my fingers. I really wanted to be present in it, enjoy it, savor it.
Something else that has helped, is reading Soulemama when I found her blog about 18 months ago, I sat down and read the whole thing, all her archives. She is a daily inspiration to me. Her blog and her words are a daily reminder to enjoy this fleeting time in my life.
And sometimes that means letting the dishes set in the sink or the laundry go undone. And sometimes that means taking time AWAY from home and AWAY from my family, even if just for a few hours so I can recharge and come back and be the best mom and wife and homemaker and me that I can be.
There is no one rhythm. No perfect absolute answer to this topic. But I do hope that you find YOUR rhythm. Because when you do, it's kind of magical.

Sara said...

What does homemaking mean to me? You described some of my journey in your blog. Where my story diverges is that I've been homemaking since I was a little girl. Caring for babies and animals, cleaning the house, helping with homework, etc were all things I did as young as 6, 7, 8. I watch Jesse and she is acting like a little homemaker at age 3 almost 4. So I can't say that my rough childhood made me take on those responsibilities, but perhaps it is just innate to Jesse and I to care for people, things, our home, our pets, our family, etc.

I am a working mom, though, so there is the daily struggle to find the balance with a clean, well organized home and a comfort level that I can take mentally and the physical restraints. Doing too much "housework" in one day will wipe me out by 4pm, so I have to allot days for certain things or ask Jon to do them for me. I've learned to let go and just do what I can at my pace. Jon helps, the kids help, and like you said, the family learns the RHYTHM. The family rhythm is the goal. Soule Mama has it going on and she is such an inspiration.

My dirty secret is this though: I am a good mom, a pretty good house cleaner, but I'm failing at the homeyness (decorations/interior design) that speaks to what I want my home to portray. I'm pretty bare bones in my home decorations and I wish I had more of a warm homey decor.

gardenofsimple said...

I'm the opposite of bare bones! Definitely cluttered! That's what I've had to work on, letting go of things that don't work for us. I have a hard time giving up "perfectly good items".

One thing that helped me with decorating is thrift stores. I prefer the worn, rustic look so that makes it easy anyway, and I can experiment with different styles and set ups for not much money.