No boys allowed
Also still cosplaying at being a housewife
Call it nesting, call it the new year, but I’m beginning 2024 with a great deal of renewed fervor for housekeeping. A few notes in the home digest:
I am a mechanical idiot
But I still want to learn how to sew with a machine, in a very rudimentary way. I spent a good part of a Saturday trying to learn how to use a sewing machine, recently given to me by a friend.
Reader, rarely have I felt so stupid and incompetent.
I watched ten to twelve (very unhelpful) YouTube tutorials and I am still doing it wrong, somehow. Just getting the thing threaded took me about two hours, and there’s still something going awry that I don’t know how to fix. I am will be calling in more intelligent friends to come troubleshoot, in the flesh, because the internet has proved useless, but I am quite astounded at my incompetence. People who can sew—and sew well—are geniuses.
Why am I learning how to do this? I am not trying to be an accomplished seamstress. I have no desire to make clothes. But I want to take better care of the clothes I have and especially the clothes that my children wear (and wear out). I’d also like to know how to hem simple things, like curtains and napkins and rags. Sewing is a dying skill and one that seems important to reclaim, to me, a very dimwitted modern woman who still enjoys cosplaying at being a housewife.
I derive a great deal of joy and life satisfaction from a clean, orderly home
But I don’t think everyone feels the way I do about housekeeping, and that’s more than OK!
I sometimes field reactions to my housekeeping digests from people (mostly women) who feel judged about their homes. They don’t enjoy cleaning and organizing and tidying. I do, because it makes me feel sane, but this does not mean everyone ought to feel this way. We all have different ways of feeling sane!
I think tidiness is a fairly innate trait—but, importantly, it’s not one attached to morality or virtue. (See KC Davis’s great book How to Keep House While Drowning for more on this.) People can get better at it, for sure, but most of the enduringly tidy people I know have been that way for a long time, since their youth. These people are not better citizens or human beings or mothers than those who are untidy. This is important to remember.
If you want to be more tidy, if you desire this in your life, there are certainly ways to up your housekeeping game. Invite me over to clean out a closet, or start with Shira Gill’s excellent (but stupidly titled) book Minimalista. Shira Gill also now writes a great Substack, which I continue to enjoy.
But none of this is about virtue and judgment. Housekeeping, for me, is a pathway to joy. This is why I talk and think about it so much. It does not have to be your pathway to joy.
I am enjoying these home goods
Geometry kitchen towels
As with most of the good housekeeping things I know about, my mom introduced me to these kitchen towels (which she sold at her store). They’re made from post-consumer recycled materials and are incredibly absorbent and quick drying. The towels are a little expensive, but I only need about four to five on hand, as I wash them on frequent rotation. I’m gradually trading out all of my kitchen towels for these. Bonus: They come in about 1 million different charming colors and patterns. Geometry / $17
Win got me one of these for Christmas, and it’s 100% not necessary and 100% makes my winter candle life better, as I almost always light tapers during mealtime. No more hot wax being strewn across my table! Amazon / $9
Food-grade mineral oil
Speaking of tables: Why did I wait so long to treat and protect our busted wood kitchen table? This mineral oil has made it infinitely more durable amid all of the hardship our children inflict upon it on a daily basis. Oiling the table (along with other wood cutting boards) is now something I am going to add to my regular repertoire. Amazon / $9
Glass polishing cloths
I have a horror of water stains on glasses, especially on wine glasses, which I have to wash by hand. Even when I dry them upside down on a special rack, they still end up with spots, which makes me crazy. Enter these genius little cloths, which keep every glass perfectly spot/streak-free and make me incredibly happy. I wipe glasses clean right after hand-washing, which adds about 2 seconds + infinite happiness to my life. Amazon / $10
In most cultures of yore, there were dedicated places and times for women to retreat together.
Whether in specific seasons, in which particular work was required (such as tasks related to harvesting, processing and making food, mending, sewing, creating, etc.), or specific times related to our bodies (menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum), women were often separated from men, whether by choice or culture. I’ve been thinking of this, having recently finished Olga Tokarczuk’s massive historical novel, The Books of Jacob, and about how increasingly rare it is to find such spaces today.
Separating the sexes can, of course, lead to inequality and subjugation, as we all know, but I also think there’s something beautiful and peaceful in the practice of women having space to be alone with other women and girls. There is something inherently safe about being in a space that only has other women in it. I’ve felt it myself, when it happens by chance, to exist in a space that only contains other women and girls. You can let your guard (and your hair) down. You can breathe a little easier. Just for a moment.
I felt the beauty, strength, and support of women’s-only spaces strongly while attending postpartum yoga and breastfeeding workshops after Moses was born. It was comforting and healing to be in a room with just other women (and especially women who were all going through similar experiences). The one week someone’s husband came, he was treated kindly, but it changed the entire environment and experience. Women started covering themselves up while they nursed. They turned away from him. They started censoring their comments about what they were experiencing or began apologizing for being “TMI” in a way that they hadn’t when only women were listening. The presence of a single man (even a supportive, well-intentioned man) diminished the entire experience. It was no longer an entirely safe (or even useful) space.
In our gender-charged present moment, it’s verboten to suggest that women might want to preserve spaces that are just for them. But I increasingly feel its loss culturally and so continue seeking it out in small ways.
“So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs tough language—and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.”
— Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, Cat Bohannon
Aliss at the Fire, Jon Fosse