A Precious Resource

Annie says:

Within days of ejecting my then husband from our somewhat chaotic home
I purchased a copy of "Home Comforts The Art and Science of Keeping
House" by Cheryl Mendelson, and a very precious resource it has turned
out to be.  Sure, some people might wonder whether: a) it would have
been better to buy the book earlier and b) whether the book might have
saved the marriage.  The answer to both has to be a resounding "No".
Let us never confuse keeping home with nurturing a relationship.

Still, I had bought "Home Comforts" with a view to reducing costs.  There is no better place to find out how to deal successfully with dog vomit (and even the best behaved dog will vomit where you least want him/her to), stain management on Oriental rugs, why you should exercise extreme care in bleaching white fabrics, and all sorts of other weird and wonderful snippets of information.  The book is a veritable treasure trove.

Mrs Mendelson has been a laywer  in NYC, and also a professor of philosophy in Columbia university.  She also has, as she puts it, "a secret life" – keeping house.  She brings to it all the passion and scholarship that characterizes the very best American research.  She brings the same kind of methodical passion that makes "The Cooks’ Illustrated" the uniquely valuable publication that that too is.  (Those galant testers in the Cooks’ Illustrated test kitchen will spend days making and tasting rice pudding 36 or so ways, in order to provide their readers with the perfect, simple rice pudding; the acme of all rice puddings that will bring tears to the eyes of strong men…)

Mrs Mendelson is no less thorough.  One tip that I have proved time and time again in my home is "The Broken Window".  She points out that modern police successes show that any time any sign of social and physical neglect remains unaddressed in a neighbourhood, anti-social elements will feel more inclined to commit crimes and misdemeanours.  So one broken window more or less attracts other damage and leads to social deterioration.  The same thing happens where tidyness is concerned.  She writes:

"When people are cooperating in maintaining a household, the domestic equivalent of an unrepaired broken window can result in a chain reaction that eventually sees the home in complete chaos.  It happens like this.  Someone is reading in his favourite chair while sipping a cup of tea, after slipping off his shoes to get comfortable.  His wife hands him an important piece of post, and after reading it, he walks off to make a telephone call, leaving behind the post and the torn envelope, his novel spread to mark his place, his shoes, his half-empty cup and the chair looking nicely sat in.  He does not return to this chair for the rest of the day, forgetting his tea and novel after the phone call and getting involved in something else. 

Now the ‘window’ has been broken in this room.  Anyone who walks in will feel entitled to add more disorder because the room is already slightly, even if pleasantly, disorderly.  The next person therefore leaves her stack of papers at her chair and throws her jumper on it.  After something like this happens four or five times, the room is littered and the disorder soon preads to the next room.

Or say one person does a lacklustre job cleaning up after a meal.  Some dishes or pots or work surfaces are left unwashed.  Everyone who walks into the kitchen afterwards feels entitled to add to the mess, leaving a glass and plate on the work top or more crumbs on the table…."

Sounds familiar?  Mrs Mendelson suggest that learning new habits is the only remedy.  But that will be for another post.  For now, just notice what happens when any one thing is left lying around.

Share Your Thoughts