Book Review: Cheryl Mendelson on Mastering Homemaking

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I’m a self-proclaimed Martha Stewart fan, and it’s not because I subscribe to the idea that a woman’s place is in the home; nor should women be the sole person responsible for the health and happiness of the entire household. I’ve just always relished the idea of having a clean and comfortable home filled with things that fill me with joy.

There’s a strange satisfaction that comes with cleaning and organizing that comes with completing even the smallest of domestic tasks. It’s a feeling that I always felt existed in opposition to my desire to pay attention to my career. How does a workaholic like me reconcile the urge to be domestic as well? Is it possible to be both?

While Martha Stewart launched a successful business and television career, lawyer Cheryl Mendelson used her passion for all things domestic to launch her writing career with the two volumes of housekeeping hints of biblical proportions. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House is a meticulously researched and detailed guide for serious home-keepers who believe in the power of a clean and orderly house.

Note I use the word “home-keeping”, and I use it deliberately: this book is not about how to speed clean your home, or taking domestic shortcuts. Mendelson has amassed an encyclopedia on virtually everything you wanted to know about housekeeping and were afraid to ask. Food storage, linen care, even musical instrument maintenance all make appearances on the veritable laundry list (excuse the pun) of subjects covered by Home Comforts.

This might seem to be a strange subject to write about for someone with a career in law, but Mendelson argues both that her demanding schedule and strong domestic background fuelled her need for keeping an orderly house as an independent adult. Her solutions are practical and yet seem rooted in a more romantic time, where homes were seen as places for families and individuals to flourish and grow instead of storage facilities to keep an increasing amount of meaningless possessions.

A client of mine referred to me this manual for some housekeeping issues that I was having and I was so in love with it that my own copy is being shipped as I type this post. I’m looking forward to creating a new approach to cleaning based on some of her methods. Some people may choose to take or leave her advice if they are happy with their existing routines, but I would recommend reading it anyway. The material is so extensive there’s something there to excite novices and experts alike. For those who think they know everything anyway, they may want to check out her other manual (remember I said she had two?) titled Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens. Three guesses as to what it’s about, and the first two don’t count.

Finally, for all of ye nay-sayers who are reading this and scoffing at the idea of housework as being a vital part of our existence, consider this quotation from Mendelson:

“Housekeeping creates cleanliness, order, regularity, beauty, the conditions for health and safety, and a good place to do and feel all the things you wish and need to do and feel in your home.”

Now that’s one smart lawyer.

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Psst- wanna see which books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.

Cleaning Out My Closet

KBB_mess_of_clothesIt was getting to the point where I couldn’t close my drawers. I couldn’t even get dressed in the morning. I had had enough.

It was time to follow in the footsteps of Eminem, and begin cleaning out my closet. Literally speaking- I’m not so sure how I feel about that metaphorically.

Ideally, editing your closet is something you should do regularly. I like having garbage bags or laundry hampers at hand to use for sorting, extra hangers, and a pen and paper for jotting any notes. Make sure you’re near a mirror!

Put on your favorite radio station or make a fashion show mix for your iPod. Pour yourself a glass of wine, dim the lights- why not invite a close gal pal for a second opinion?

Make sure you have a clean space on your floor or bed and get started! If you’re overwhelmed, start small– choose to empty one drawer, or start big by emptying all the things off your hangers. Then it’s just a matter of going through every piece of clothing you own. Don’t forget your laundry basket! (Just remember to put the dirty stuff back afterwards.)

I like to stick to one major rule: nothing goes back into your drawer or closet unless you are absolutely sure you want to keep it.

The stuff that doesn’t go back into your closet can be divided into two piles:

The discard pile should include things that you’ve outgrown, shrunk, and are stained, ripped or faded. (That includes any socks or underwear!) Check your clothes for funky odors. Retire anything you haven’t worn in a year or more. Try things on and be honest with yourself about what looks good. If the cut or color of something isn’t flattering, or doesn’t make you feel beautiful, it can find a better home elsewhere.

Sort as quickly as you possibly can to avoid lingering over decisions. When you’re done, stick the discard pile into bags to be donated- because that’s what you’re doing instead of throwing out your clothes. Right? RIGHT?

I also have a “pending” pile. It usually includes anything that I like that needs mending, as long as the repair is feasible and I’m willing to devote time to fixing it (or the money to pay someone else to).  If I have multiples of one type of item, I usually throw them on the “pending pile” too so that I can come back to them for re-evaluation.

Really try to keep only the things you’d use, or you’ve promised yourself to use. If your wardrobe seems to be missing certain staples, or you find yourself letting go of basic wardrobe items that need replacing, jot them down.

At the end of my cleaning frenzy, I was left with five shopping bags of donations, and a list of the gaps in my wardrobe so the next time I go shopping, I know what to look for and where to cut myself off.

And I can close my drawers.

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How did your last closet organization session go? Got any tips and tricks for us people who like to hoard a crazy amount of T-shirts like I do? Drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com and tell me how you got your closet from bomb-site to bombshell. Want tips from our fashionistas for wardrobe basics that will help flush out even the most label-starved lady? My sister L writes a great fashion blog that has tons of practical tips on how to incorporate the fashionable into any wardrobe.