Kirstie and the zen of housework

(82 Posts)

This popped up on my FB a minute ago and made me wonder…

I think Kirstie is wealthy and therefore has the luxury to pick and choose the domestic work she fancies when she's in the mood. However, it's the strength of the reaction that got me: people saying that essentially she must be crazy to think that domestic work is something to take pride in and enjoy.

But the utter lack of value we place on domestic work must be related to the fact that it's traditionally <scornful voice> women's work, mustn't it? And therefore sneering at someone who claims to enjoy it and find it worthwhile is a bit like using the word 'girl' as an insult. As in cry like a... or throw like a…

You've seen my posts on here. I am well committed to the cause of feminism. Out and proud. And yet I also can find pleasure and satisfaction in running an orderly household.

Well, just wanted to say it really smile

Someone I know (she is a MNer, I just don't think she posts so often any more so I am going to say what she said) pointed out that a lot of people - including by the looks of it that article - were misinterpreting what Kirstie said, anyway - she said she enjoys it, not that everyone else really must agree. To be fair, from the quotations in that piece, I do think that's what she's saying, that she likes it and lots of people she knows like it.

I think that is something that often happens with women: it's assumed we all hate and belittle each other, so that what KA must be meaning is 'you slack tarts, how dare you not love this'.

Anyway, side issue. I agree. I think equal numbers of men and women like a clean, reasonably tidy environment. If they didn't we'd never see those threads where someone says their husband is complaining about the amount of housework that gets done. It's just that it's generally supposed to be women who bestir themselves to do something to make said household clean.

Btw, I cannot express how much it pisses me off when someone responds to a woman saying 'my partner won't help with the housework' by saying 'well lower your standards and let it get messy!' as if this is some kind of treat, to live in a pigsty.

Pootles2010 Tue 07-Jan-14 16:33:42

Yes I agree with the pitting women against one another - particularly with regards to working/stay at home mothers, breastfeeding/formula feeding, etc.

It seems we must all belong in one camp or another, and hate women who make different choices to ourselves.

EBearhug Tue 07-Jan-14 23:28:06

I agree with Kirsty, at least in part. Like her, I quite enjoy ironing - that repetitive smoothing, and getting all the wrinkles out of things, I do find that quite calming. And having clothes which at least start out looking clean and ironed does help me feel a bit more in control of life.

OTOH, I hate vacuuming, though I do it because I hate a carpet with bits on even more - but I can't remember when I last dusted. I do enjoy the results when I do do it, but if I had someone else to do the labouring part, I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy the results then, too.

Domestic work is important. I had a go at someone else the other day at work for leaving the kitchen area really messy. Yes, we have cleaners, but that's no reason for taking them for granted and making their job even worse by our own carelessness. Actually, they're some of the most important people in the building - it would be a horrible place to work without them, and that would be a lot more noticeable than other people not working. I'd be surprised if they're on more than minimum wage, though.

JayEmm Wed 08-Jan-14 00:09:03

My objection to this isn't about whether or not people take pride in their housework, or enjoy it, it's the suggestion that it might be good for your mental health - 'enormously therapeutic', 'keeps her sane'. Some people will experience that but a lot of us don't, rather the opposite in fact - relentless, repetitive tasks that don't use any thought and just involve drudgery are not my idea of either a good time or a mood stabiliser.

SinisterSal Wed 08-Jan-14 10:33:42

that goes back to the wealth thing and being able to pick and choose. It would be enormously therapeutic to do something calm and repetitive like ironing when you are need it. But anything calm and repetitive would do the trick there, if it's your choice to do it for as long as you fancy.

For me there is satisfaction in doing a job well and standing back, dusting off my hands and doing a smug little 'There!'.

But housework is relentless, you can be looking at your lovely clean floor smugly when right behind you they are walking mucky footprints across it.

That's why DIY/Gardening/car maintenence is much better. You get the satisfaction of doing a job done well and the chance to savour your handiwork. That shelf won't need putting up again by evening (ermm...), the lawn is done for two weeks, the car won't need the oil changing again tomorrow.
And there is definitely less scope for others' carelessness and disregard for your work leading to the job needing to be repeated in an hour.

EBearhug I'm the opposite, I hate ironing but love vacuuming. I think it's because when I vacuum I can see the difference to the house right away. Ironing just seems to be being a bit fussy with the clothes instead of getting them put away quickly grin

Totally agree about the cleaners comment too. When we stay in hotel rooms Dh thinks I'm crazy for leaving everything tidy and sorted.

My feeling about this topic wasn't so much whether Kirstie (or anyone else) should or shouldn't find domestic work a massive chore or a zen-like vocation…

My immediate reaction was to wonder about the reasons why we think of domestic work as meaningless, repetitive, low status work. Is it because it is meaningless, repetitive, low status work or is it because it's women's work that we think of it that way?

My grandmother passed on a number of housekeeping books she used when she married in the 40s. What struck me about them was the way the authors spoke about the work of managing a household as a worthwhile endeavour, something a woman could take pride in. Not so today, it's regarded as drudgery to be fitted in around actual, important stuff.

I deliberately use the word 'woman' there, because of course those 40s books were written for women, because only women ran households. And therein may lie the problem: if men ran households, would the work be regarded as meaningless drudgery?

I don't know...

Avalon Wed 08-Jan-14 14:06:43

I've read some of these older housekeeping books. It seems to me that keeping a house well was seen as worthwhile and indeed, important.

Yes. It was seen as worthwhile and important when only women did it and when there were few other options for "respectable" women.

Chicken and egg argument really, but I wonder whether domestic work is thought of as mindless drudgery now because it was (and is, let's face it) primarily women's work. Or whether it was delegated to women because it is mindless drudgery.

There's also a social status aspect too. Privileged groups in society have always had someone on low wages (or no wages, in the case of married men and slave owners) to do it for them. Maybe that's it. Mmm Hmm? Is in a Yoda mood today for some reason

SinisterSal Wed 08-Jan-14 15:35:18

Yes I agree Buffy, and I like running a household efficiently etc, there is challenge to it

But I think we tend to conflate the roles of Housekeeper & Scullery Maid when we discuss this. The 'Housewife' is both, so does both planning, managing etc as well as scrubbing toilets etc.

Treats Wed 08-Jan-14 15:44:35

It's telling that those books are from the 40s though. This was an era when the men were returning from the war so subtle pressure was being put on women to leave their jobs so that the men could have them back.

Also, before the war, middle class women would have expected to have been able to afford some sort of help in the house - a 'daily' to do the laundry and cleaning, and probably some sort of childcare. The war opened up all sorts of more interesting and lucrative employment for the people who previously did domestic work, and even after some of these jobs fell away, people didn't fancy returning to scrubbing toilets.

So it became much less common for middle class households to have domestic help after the war, and - rather than admit to a fall in living standards - they started presenting housework as a worthwhile occupation for women. Something that we should be pleased and proud to do. Something that any decent woman would choose to do on behalf of her husband and family.

I had the same thought as LRD - that what KA said about what SHE likes to do was being twisted by the headline writers into what she thinks everyone else should like to do.

And I don't mind either ironing or vacuuming when I'm in the right frame of mind. It's repeatedly HAVING to do them that is depressing.

SinisterSal Wed 08-Jan-14 15:52:01

It's having to do them and then 5 minutes later the place looking like you never bothered.

Have you ever come across the Zen Habits blog? I love it, I think is has a post on mindfulness and washing up!

SinisterSal Wed 08-Jan-14 17:22:00

Oh must look

It would be better for the blood pressure anyway

Here's a monkey (as in like a monk not a primate) example

Here's the Zen Habits post I remember. Just reading this blog calms me, I don't even need to do any of the things he suggests grin

TheDoctrineOf2014 Wed 08-Jan-14 18:28:02

Sinister, that's a good pint about gardening etc not being immediately messed up afterwards.

MostlyCake Wed 08-Jan-14 20:05:00

Thanks for the link to the zen habits blog, I like the point the writer is trying to make.

MooncupGoddess Wed 08-Jan-14 20:23:21

V good post, Treats.

Kirstie A always comes across as a bit Marie Antoinette to me. 'Oh I love housework! It's so calming!' Well yes, maybe if you only do it occasionally because you can very easily afford a cleaner to do it... and if you make an active choice to do it rather than having to get up at dawn to rush through laundry and vacuuming before dashing off to your low-paid and long hours job.

EBearhug Wed 08-Jan-14 22:43:23

EBearhug I'm the opposite, I hate ironing but love vacuuming

We should probably live together or something. smile

Or at least, I think this sort of thing is worth considering when deciding whether to live with someone.

EBearhug Wed 08-Jan-14 22:48:43

that's a good pint about gardening etc not being immediately messed up afterwards.

Huh, they haven't seen how quickly bindweed can grow in my garden.

Mooncup, I think you're right about Kirstie being a bit Marie Antoinette. She said something recently about people getting compensation for being without power over Christmas, that [[ http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013/dec/30/kirstie-allsopp-power-outage-compensation-spoilt they should just get some blitz spirit]] and muck in together. Which is jolly splendid when your expensive many-bedroomed house is unaffected and anyway, you've got a gennie tucked away just in case. I expect those affected were ever so cheered up by her comments.

SinisterSal Wed 08-Jan-14 22:50:55

Bindweed and bloody brambles, you need a bush clearing hatchet to get from my back door into the shed

I think what jay says is important.

Linking it to mental health is problematic. I do think it is close to the whole 'women need to do x because their health/brain is fragile'.

I do think that living in a tidy environment is good for mental health, and so is doing something small, end-stopped and practical, that feels like an achievement. The issue is, how come this is still gendered?

<puts self in running for the 'stating the obvious' prize>

thecatfromjapan Wed 08-Jan-14 23:21:54

I've written a long answer, and deleted it.

Having thought quite a bit about it, I'm thinking that most of its lack of calue has to do with the fact that it is work women do. Obvious really. But here's a thing: It is work women do, on top of the other work women do. In order for it to persist as work women do, in addition to other work, and work men don't do, it has to be conceptualised as "non-work".

I think we all know it's not. It is incredibly valuable: it produces a pleasant living and working environment that is sanitary and relaxing - benefits that are (theoretically) hard to cost in monetary terms, but easy to "feel" as an experience. It is hard labour - actual hard labour: there is a lot of it; it needs to be done again and again; it is real work when considered as labour. It is not mindless: yes, you can consider it as being not terribly cerebrally taxing but I think we all know you have to think about it to do it properly; you have to plan; it requires forethought. If you put thought in, you will get a better result.

But, weirdly (and much like childcare), it is often conceptualised as non-work; as something akin to the dirt it is all about shifting.

And, of course, there are weird paradoxes, that highlight ambivalent thinking: meal-production in the home (which can be thankless, exhausting, drudge-work) v. well-paid (male) chefs outside the home; house-keeping (fairly high status) v. cleaning (fairly low-status); running a household (with aura of giving staff orders, management, keeping accounts) v. housewife.

I think there is something in the fact that housework is stuffed into time-corners, rather than granted a status as something real, and necessary. As something stuffed into time-corners it becomes something that feels as though it shouldn't exist, and there is a feeling that no-one is responsible for it, really (thus women end up doing much of it).

There has been at least one excellent thread on housework on mumsnet. Someone linked to a book (by a woman) which spelled out why housework is valuable, and deserves to be seen as valuable, life-enhancing labour.

It is a lot like childcare, in a way. The danger, for women (I think) is that, because it is something with which we have often been identified, and our identity sort of collapsed into it, we then devalue it in order to distance ourselves.

There is also the issue of value, and valuing, in a capitalist society. Value "has" to be a question of scarcity, of more and less. Housework can only be valuable, and excellent, if some people can "do" it better than others, if there is a sliding scale of excellence, if there is lack and failure - and people and value attached to that failure. That doesn't sit well for progressive women(we know that we are constantly, as women, being made to fear being called failures).

So, I think there is also a whole issue about a radical way of valuing things at the centre of the "Value of Housework" debate.

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