You may have guessed by some of my categories that I like being domestic. Growing up, though, it wasn’t always this way. My mom was and is a great keeper of the home – she not only kept things clean and running smoothly, but she also really made it feel like home. I, on the other hand, would often swear as a teenager that I didn’t need to learn how to do the dishes or other types of housework well because I would one day hire someone to do those things.
Fast-forward to today. While I still don’t do cartwheels over doing the dishes, I now have logged a fair number of hours under my belt doing them, and not just for myself, but for other families I have worked for. I’ve also folded lots of other people’s laundry, made other people’s dinners, shopped for other people’s groceries, and put away lots of other people’s toys. Some would say that given that I have a B.A. in economics and experience as a research analyst, this work would be beneath me. Some people even go as far as to say that this type of work in general is beneath anyone who has an education and the opportunity to do “more important things” than domestically-related tasks, even if those tasks are for her own family. But is that really the case?
That’s where this book, “Keeping House: A Litany of Everyday Life,” by Margaret Kim Peterson, comes in. As a professor of theology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, Peterson is no intellectual lightweight, and that made her angle on this topic all the more intriguing. As she opens her book, for example, she recounts a crossroad in her life where her professional and academic world was colliding very loudly with her domestic one:
“My adventures in housework became more intense, however, during the years of my first marriage. I married my first husband at the end of my first year in graduate school and buried him four years later, at the beginning of my sixth year. Over the intervening years his worsening illness absorbed more and more of my energy, until in the last few months of his life I could do little more than moan to my therapist, “I can’t cope; I can’t cope; I can hardly get to the grocery store. . . I understood then, with a clarity that I have experienced at few other times in my life, that getting to the grocery store was one of the things that Really Mattered. The dissertation could wait; dinner could not. Forget all the abstruse theological ideas that my classmates and teachers seemed to debate with such verve in the graduate seminars I was attending. Forget fantasies of “accomplishing something.” Perhaps somewhere in the world there were people who measured their days by how much they got done — at work, in class, wherever. I measured my days by whether, at the end of them, the members of my household had been dressed and fed and bathed and put to bed. If we had been, then that was a good day. I had done what mattered most. Everything else was gravy.”
The reason I highly recommend this book is that regardless of whether domestically-related tasks are a woman’s job or a man’s job or even someone else’s job, they do matter, because they involve taking care of people and continually providing order and beauty, which are all reflections of God. This book is one of the first I have read from a Christian perspective that actually fleshes out a “theology of housekeeping” in a gentle yet intellectually sound manner. She doesn’t attempt to judge anyone in how or how often they keep house, but instead goes through the different areas of our life that are affected by housekeeping and brings in Scriptures to explore further how we could interact with God and love others through him in these areas.
But that’s all I’ll say for now. If you struggle with feeling sometimes like your housework is a diversion from more important things, or if you don’t think that but feel alone and weary sometimes because everyone else seems to think it is drudgery, I think you’ll find this book to be a refreshing encouragement.