The Elegance of Housekeeping

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2020, women spent an average of 2.4 hours a day doing household tasks, and men spent 1.6 hours. Let’s put aside any gender issues for now, and consider the fact that most of us spend a good deal of time every day doing household chores. Is it really possible to find elegance in something as seemingly dull and mundane as housekeeping? 

Everyday elegance is all about infusing deep beauty and meaning to the simple, ordinary rituals of our lives. No matter our situation, most of us have at least some homemaking tasks to do each day. Besides the pleasure of living in a clean and tidy home, housekeeping can provide a daily rhythm, clear our minds, and fill us with gratitude. 

Our housekeeping routine can add the elegance of structure to our days. There was a time in my life when a full-time job and active children left little time for housework. Now that I’m a retired, empty-nester, I have plenty of time. In either case, I benefited from a daily housekeeping schedule. Author and pastor John C. Maxwell said, “The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” 

What does your housekeeping routine include? Do you make the bed as soon as you get up? Is the kitchen swept right after dinner? Does the bathroom get cleaned on Tuesdays? What have you decided to delegate or pay someone else to do? There’s comfort in having a predictable plan and schedule. Decades ago I taught with a delightful gentleman who told me he wound his grandfather clock every Sunday night before going to bed. It was a soothing ritual he enjoyed each week like clockwork. 

Routine housekeeping tasks can offer the elegance of mindfulness. As a college student long ago, I couldn’t settle in for a serious study session until my dorm room was spick and span. Getting my environment in order was part of my study ritual. My daughter, a successful lawyer, calls it “productive procrastination.” We both find clearing our space helps clear our minds.

In a wonderful little book called A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, a Buddhist monk shares how cleaning methods employed in Zen temples can be used “as a way to cultivate the mind.” After years of unavoidable multi-tasking, I now enjoy giving my full attention to a specific task such as cleaning a window, ironing a shirt, or filling the birdbath. It’s during this time when I often come up with my best ideas. Agatha Christie said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” 

Housework can fill us with the elegance of gratitude. Caring for our home and possessions reminds us of all we have. Furniture to polish. Clothing to launder. Dishes to wash. Trinkets to dust. Whether we live in a rented apartment, a tiny house, or a grand estate, we can be thankful for a roof over our head and a pillow to rest it on. 

We can’t overestimate the importance of home, and therefore, of home-making. Winston Churchill said, “We shape our homes, and then our homes shape us.” Rather than thinking of housework as drudgery, we can learn to view it as an opportunity to add everyday elegance to the place we call home and to the lives of the people who live and visit there. §

“When all else fails, cleaning house is the perfect antidote to most of life’s ills.” ~ Author Sue Grafton

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The Elegance of Decorating Like an Artist

There are many famous paintings of home interiors, demonstrating the importance houses have had to people throughout history and throughout the world. These beautiful paintings of bedrooms, parlors, dining rooms, powder rooms, and kitchens are as different in style as our own homes. Inspired by paintings such as Henri Matisse’s Interior with Phonograph (pictured below), here are ten ways to add beauty to any room. 

  1. Color ~ The most striking aspect of Matisse’s painting is his use of bold bright color. Every memorable room has a distinct color palette. You may prefer pastels, earth tones, rich shades, or even a monochromatic look. Study paintings, magazines, and friends’ homes to find a distinct color palette that speaks to you.
  2. Music ~ Matisse named this painting Interior with Phonograph, even though the record player is only partially seen to the right of the painting. I wonder what album was turning on that phonograph the day Matisse created this masterpiece. Music fills a house with beauty and emotion. 
  3. Flowers ~ Notice the flowers on the table. Are they pink roses, carnations, or maybe azaleas? I wish I could lean in and smell them! The tablescape wouldn’t be as attractive without that little vase. Flowers always make a house feel like a home.
  4. Food ~ Fruit, bread, wine, and cheese are often included in paintings. The big pineapple and peaches on the table make Matisse’s room come to life. Food represents comfort and joy. The sight, smell, and taste of delicious food should be a central feature of our homes.
  5. Decorations ~ In this scene, we see a gold tray, a basket, a decanter, and the flower vase. Each object adds to the beauty and function of the room. Think about the decorations, accessories, and art in your home. Does everything serve a purpose and make you smile? 
  6. Textiles ~ Imagine this room without the yellow swag curtain, the red and white striped tablecloth, the rug in the far room, and the patterned wallpapers. Textiles make any room more comfortable, warm, colorful, soft, and welcoming. 
  7. Light ~ Whether a room is lit by a candle, a lamp, or the bright sun streaming through a window, lighting makes all the difference in the atmosphere of a space. In this painting, Matisse captures the cheerfulness of a sunny day. Adjust the lighting in your home for the purpose and mood you’re trying to create. 
  8. Composition ~ Just as every painter must make decisions about where to place objects in a painting, we must decide where to place things in our home. Don’t be afraid to move around furniture, art, and necessities until you have everything arranged in the way that’s most practical and pleasing to you.
  9. Cleanliness ~ Let’s face it, no matter what style it is, a dirty home isn’t elegant. Pay someone, bribe someone, or just do it yourself, but the cleaning must be done if we want our home to sparkle like this Matisse painting.
  10. People ~ Not all paintings of interiors include people. Often it seems as if the homeowner has just stepped out while we get a glimpse of their private dwellings. However, if you look closely at the center of this  painting, you’ll see the small face of a bearded man, perhaps approaching an open door to the home. Matisse reminds us that homes are nothing without people. Those who live in and visit our homes are what truly fill a room with style, beauty, and love. §

“Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.”
~
Hazrat Inayat Khan

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The Elegance of Quality Over Quantity

The oil painting known as Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer, features a young woman wearing an exquisite earring. Her bare face and turban-wrapped hair, bring focus to the pearl earring and, more importantly, the simple beauty and elegance of the girl.

I think of my own jewelry box and note the painting is not named Girl with a Bunch of Cheap Earrings. My jewelry is just one area that I could apply the concept of quality over quantity.

Quality can be defined as the standard of something as measured against other things of its kind. For example, Godiva chocolate is considered to be of exceptional quality. For about the same price, one could indulge in a single Godiva chocolate or a whole bag of M & Ms.

Quality over quantity means choosing better over more.

We don’t live in a time that supports this lifestyle. Fast food means we can get a big greasy meal for less than the tip at a sit-down restaurant. Fast fashion means we can buy ten shirts for the cost of one cashmere sweater. We can get the kids a cartful of plastic toys from the dollar aisle, or one classic board game.

There are many good reasons to adopt the idea of quality over quantity. It reduces clutter. It’s more sustainable for the planet. It saves money in the long run. It honors fine craftsmanship and design. It helps us gain more clarity about our personal preferences.

I’ve long been a believer in quality over quantity; however, glancing around my bathroom, I see evidence to the contrary. There’s a shelf of half-empty bottles of hair and skin products that didn’t live up to their promise. There’s a drawerful of makeup that isn’t exactly the right shade or formula. There’s a basket of gloppy nail polish I’ll never wear.

I’m committed to eliminating the clutter, forgiving myself for the waste, and finding a single high-quality version of the products I need and want. I’m not going to stop there.

Here are just a few areas where we can more consciously apply the philosophy of quality over quantity ~

  • clothing and accessories
  • food and pantry items
  • furnishings and home decor
  • cleaning products
  • books and magazines
  • toys and games

Quality over quantity doesn’t just apply to material things. We can think about quality when choosing our activities, our entertainment, our relationships, our conversations, and even our thoughts.

I need no convincing of the elegance, simplicity, and wisdom of choosing quality over quantity. As Steve Jobs said, “Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.” §

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