Sweeping Changes: Thoughts on Keeping a Clean House

For a healthy, restorative home environment, there's nothing like a little old-fashioned housekeeping.

| March/April 2005

My grandmother knew how to keep a fresh, uncluttered house. The brick patio under the wisteria was always swept free of blossoms, ready for a picnic lunch. The living room was tidy enough for drop-in guests, the teakettle whistled on a spotless stove, and when you got tired, you simply folded back a neat bedspread and crawled between clean sheets.

Keeping house was a central part of my grandmother’s life in a way that’s uncommon these days. Even though a healthy, revitalizing home environment is still important, many of us have tossed housekeeping into the corners of our lives. Others squirt newfangled chemicals around the house for a quick but risky clean. Perhaps instead we could incorporate some traditional skills into our modern routines—and remind ourselves of the value of keeping house.

Reflect on your goals

“If a woman wanted to maintain her self-respect in the neighborhood, she had to finish hanging out her last piece of laundry by ten” every Monday morning, writes Phoebe Louise Westwood in Yesteryear’s Child (Heritage West, 1993), a memoir of growing up in the early 1900s. Today, lacking such a framework of social constraints, we possess the freedom as well as the burden of determining our own personal priorities, routines, and standards.

Sit back and let a few motes of dust collect while you do a little old-fashioned thinking. Do you prefer a practical, down-to-earth approach to keeping house, or a more mindful, spiritual approach? My sister wants her home to be ready for spur-of-the-moment visitors in twenty minutes or less. I’d like ours to be a haven from allergens. Perhaps you want yours to be a nurturing retreat from the world or an orderly workplace.

Think too about what level of general cleanliness you desire—or need. Take stock of what’s working and what’s not. Even at our house, where clutter tends to procreate wildly, I cook regular, wholesome meals and keep us in clean, albeit unfolded, laundry.

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