Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Decline in Domestic Skills and Why This is All So Important

"The essense of being at home is important to everyone's well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your happiness, resilience, energy, humor, and courage will decrease...being at home feels safe; you have a sense of relief whenever you come home and close the door behind you...home is the one place in the world where you are safe from feeling put down or out, unentitled, or unwanted. It's where you belong or where, when you go there, they have to take you in...

Despite these rewards, American housekeeping and home life are in a state of decline. Comfort and engagement at home have diminished to the point that even simple cleanliness and decent meals--let alone any deeper satisfactions--are no longer taken for granted in many middle class homes.

 Homes today often seem to operate on an ad hoc basis. Washday is anytime anyone throws a load into the machine, and laundering skills are in preciptous decline. Dishes are washed when the dishwasher is full. Meals occur any time or all the time or, what amounts the the same thing, never, as people serve more and more prepared and semi-prepared foods. And although a large, enthusiastic minority of home cooks grow more and more sophisticated, the majority become ever more de-skilled. Dirt, dust, and disorder are more common in middle-class homes than they used to be. Cleaning and neatening are done mostly when the house seems out of control. Bedding decreases in refinement, freshness, and comfort even as sales of linens, pillows and comforters increase.
 It is not in goods that the contemporary household is poor, but in comfort and care. These defiencies of housekeeping can have serious effects on health. The decline of home cooking and regular home meals, along with the prevalence of the couch potato and television culture, coincide with skyrocketing rates of obesity and its related health problems. Allergy and asthma rates, climbing steeply in recent decades are exacerbated by modern housekeeping practices. Those who live in disorderly and unattended homes suffer higher accident rates. Inadequate cleanliness in the kitchen poses the danger of foodboorne illness. Germs and mold anywhere in the home can cause infections and allergies.

Household activities of all kinds are becoming haphazard, not only cleaning, cooking and laundering. Television often absorbs everyone's attention because other activities (such as music making, letter writing, socializing, reading, or cooking) require at least a minimum of of foresight, continuity, order, and planning that the comtemporary household cannot accommodate. Home life as a whole has contracted. Less happens at home; less time is spent there. Like the industrial poor of 1910, many people now, in order to work long hours with rare days off, must farm out their children for indifferent institutional care. People are tired, sleeping an estimated two hours less per night than people did a hundred years ago. There are fewer parties, dinners or card games with friends in homes.
Divorces break up countless households, and even intact families frequent moves break ties to friends and neighbors. The homes that reemerge are thinner, more brittle, more superficial, more disorganized, and more vulnerable than those they replace. These plagues rain on the lives of both rich and poor. Many people lead deprived lives in houses filled with material luxury. Inadequate housekeeping is part of an unfortunate cycle.
 As people turn more and more to outside institutions to have their needs met (for food, comfort, clean laundry, relaxation, entertainment, society, rest), domestic skills and expectations further diminish, in turn decreasing the chance that people's homes can satisfy their needs. The result is far too many people who long for home even though they seem to have one."-- Cheryl Mendelson

This is a long excerpt but this hit me so powerfully when I read it. It is so true. I am lucky to have lived in a home where my grandmother was determined to give us an old fashioned home. My mother was of the generation that was starting to slack in their domestic skills. My grandmother was there every day after school...gardening, making us practice piano, making our dinner and making sure we cleaned up after dinner. She died when I was just entering highschool. Dinners all but vanished. We all learned to live of of cold cereal and sandwiches that we made as we decided we were hungry. I was never taught to clean, do laundry, cook or make a home. Our house would be a disaster until company came then the day before, we always cried all day as mom was angry and yelling and we had to clean all day. Then the party was awful because she yelled at us the entire time to get this and that. We learned to dread company.

I saw the drastic difference in one generation to the next. It hit me one day that as our society is progressing, many kids now won't have the cozy home, homemade cookies and homemade dinners I was able to get from my grandmother in my youth.

Packaged dinners are becoming the norm. I even went to a high class cooking demonstration this Thanksgiving and they asked how many were making their first turkey. Most of the room raised their hands and these were older women.

I cannot figure out why we have decided domestics are a bad thing. I can't think of anything more wonderful than having a lovely home with lovely meals and feeling lovely ourselves.

When I began to put into practice what I am teaching you, all problems with romance dissapeared immediately.
I do not feel more servantile. I do not feel mistreated. My man goes out of his way to cater to me and adore me. He holds doors more. He wants to hold me more. He wants to treasure and treat me more. He compliments me more and love came back better than it was in the beginning. I began to feel more feminine, more lovely. Once I got through the gruesome task of cleaning the mess... which comes with time after putting in a few hours a day, I started to have so much more time. I started grooming more, because I had time to.
I started getting ahead on meals by making salads ahead of time... because I had time to.
I started to delight in making the most delicious looking desserts I could... and reveled in it... because I had time to.
I started to enjoy sewing, relaxing and reading in my home and even sunbathing as I painted my nails.
I was doing more work but because I kept up on it and had a lovely home to reside in, I had so much more leisure. I felt more lovely, more feminine and more relaxed day by day.
My home transitioned from a disorganized place I wanted to avoid to a place as lovely as a bed and breakfast.

 Instead of wanting to eat out all of the time, I couldn't wait to eat my next homemade meal.
I had more fun serving food on different dishes based on occasion because I had clean dishes to choose from and could select those that fit my mood instead of just those that were clean at the moment.
Because the home was spotless and meals were made, my love encouraged me to spent more time on things I enjoyed. His temper all but disappeared and I did not see disrespect anymore.

I do believe that most divorce, most troubled youth etc are a result of women not knowing how to keep house, cook or even raise children anymore. Obesity is a result of processed foods.
I once offered to cook meals for my sister who has chosen to work full time. Like me, she was never taught to cook or sew or keep home.
 I remember moving out and not having a clue what to do. I had never made a meal and even at 20 something years old when I'd say I wanted to, they'd all go "honey are you sure?" I should have been taught from a young age and quite competent at this point. I have mastered cooking and love to cook now.
My sister has rectified that problem with money earned from long hours at work. She literally never sees her children. She has a housekeeper and tends to eat every meal out. I believe she in her own way sees this as luxury. She works long hours and is able to afford to eat most meals out which should be great right? Or is it?
I began to cook meals for her twice a week on her soccer nights.
I saw her kids who seemed like they were bitter angry kids delight in running in. They had NEVER HAD HOMECOOKED MEALS on a weeknight like this before! Seeing their delight astounded me. Seeing them cry when they had to go out to eat instead of come to eat a homecooked meal at home broke my heart.
Her older son who would never eat, rushed in to see what was for dessert each meal. I saw my youth and the days my grandma used to cook for us and mourned that these kids weren't getting the same. The kids played and delighted. Family enjoyed interaction and one of my favorite days, the father was scheduled to go to Cracker Barrel for a meeting and rushed home for chocolate cake (all he could think about while there). Her youngest said he wished I was his mom and said it was his favorite day each week and those dinners suddenly stopped.

It broke my heart.
I can't even begin to say how much.
She went back to working long days, dropping her kids off at school at 7 and picking them up from after school care at 7 at night. Then perhaps practice.. then bed.
I watched her kids close off and smile less. I now hardly see them at all.
But I kept pictures of those dinners. I cry when I think of them. She continues to put her heart into her career. Her kids continue to grow angry and her husband completely ignores her.

There is a huge effect to choosing not to make a home. Women are not adored as they once were. Men are cold and distant. Women are depressed and lonely. Children are angry and alone. They don't see homes as havens. They see them as places they don't want to be.

I believe our society needs to relearn this lost skill before a loving home because a lost art.

I once took piano lessons and my piano teacher would put a little chart on the notebook along with the songs I was assigned to learn that week.

It looked as follows.

Wed__________            In the line I was to write the hours I practiced each day. It may say 30 min
Thurs__________                                   or an hour. I was to fill something in.

To hide the fact that I hadn't practiced a few weeks, I tried to lie and fill in times I hadn't actually spent in the alotted lines. On such weeks, as she saw how horribly I played the assigned tunes, she would look at me through the corner of her eye with a sly look that said she knew I hadn't practiced at all. I hated those weeks. I hated her dissapointment in me. I hated the dissapointment in myself.

I know at times, when overwhelmed, trying to stick to a to do list can seem enormous. I still want you to have your list. I want you to prioritise it and make sure that you are doing the most important things first. Each day I want you to pull out this list and your calendar. I don't want you to miss birthdays anymore. I don't want you to forget to plan well balanced meals. Those should be first priority.

Then I want you to write down how many hours you spend a day on your home.
Some homes may take about 2-3 hours a day. Others more. Others less.
The key is consistency. IF you actually take that time each day to focus on your homekeeping, it will come together. If you don't, like the piano teacher looking at me through her sly disappointed eye, your husband may have the same look because he as well as you will know you could have done more.

I believe that keeping up the lovely home that I have is far more rewarding than it would be to keep up a hotel or any business. I believe that serving amazing meals for my delighted family members brings me far more joy than working a restuarant ever could.
As a housewife, I am a lover, a chef, a manager, a counselor, a nurturer and a beloved. I live in the nicest of accomodations and get 5 star meals every day. When I do decide to lounge, I have a lovely home to do it in. I have lovely clothes and lovely meals.
and it is all because I have learned to manage what I have. You can too.

Much love always,

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