Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House
With the start of the new year, your thoughts might—and I emphasize might—turn to spring cleaning. It may seem a little early, but January is the traditional month for airing out and dusting off the old in order to let in the new. If so, you’ll find that Cheryl Mendelson’s “Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House,” is the holy grail of domestic order. A philosopher, lawyer, and occasional academic, Mendelson published her doorstop sized-volume (at over 850 pages) in 2005. Its numerous chapters cover the basics as well as the finer points of everything from cooking, laundering, sewing, and furniture care, to that rapidly disappearing art, ironing:
“To iron well,” Mendelson writes, “linen should be quite damp—damper than cotton needs to be for good results.”
Among my favorite chapters is “Vacuuming, Sweeping and Dusting,” (hint: you begin at the top and work down). Especially helpful is “Neatening,” which not only examines the methods by which a house is kept orderly, but the underlying social conditions that can hinder the outcome:
“Achieving basic orderliness depends on learning a new set of habits, habits geared toward living with material plenty, for the likelihood is that your present ideas about how to stay neat were invented in a world that knew only material scarcity.”
Also fascinating are three chapters devoted to care of the bedroom. In the morning beds are aired before they are made, clothing is properly folded and organized in drawers, and in the closet, there is crumpled tissue paper inserted into garments with puffed sleeves (to keep them from being crushed). A household of this order might be a thing of the past, but luckily, there is Mendelson’s book, which you can pick up whenever the mood for that lost world strikes.