Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From grimace to gift – my simple home-making journey.

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Today's guest blogger is the lovely Penny Reeve. I hope her post will inspire you, as it has me, to see home making as an act of love. - Asta x

A book, a blog, a facebook page and a dishcloth. That’s what it took to change my perspective on keeping house.

I used to see housework as a required but certainly never enjoyable chore. When the husband ran out of underwear, visitors were imminent, the mountain of clothes swallowed the lounge etc, I’d take a deep breath and mutter my way to a fairly tidy equilibrium.

But the house keeping tasks I performed were done out of necessity, not because I wanted to do them. I struggled to keep a standard of cleanliness that I was happy with.

Some of this was direct a result of my life overseas. My husband and I have served cross-culturally for several years of our married life. Our last stint was in Nepal where we employed house help four days a week. It was wonderful. Not only was I able to develop a wonderful relationship with the woman who worked in our home, I could focus on learning language, surviving with two young children and no baby wipes, and enjoying life in another culture. But house work wise, I am humbled to admit it, I think I cleaned our toilet maybe three? times during those five years. And I certainly never dusted.

When our time in Nepal finished and we returned to Australia, a strange thing happened. As part of the general upheaval of re-entry I realised a cluttered, messy house made me stressed. I reacted to tension by going on mad, tight-lipped, cleaning frenzies. But even with this new motivation for keeping house (It’s the dishes or my sanity!) it was always me against the chores, against the repeated slog, against the continual build up of dust and stuff and clutter.

Then I found a book – Penelope Wilcock’s In Celebration of Simplicity and I read it, a little bit a night, and felt as if my soul had found its home. Paring down my life to the necessities allowed more room for the valued and important. I began going through my home, one section at a time (careful to only act the zealot on areas under my jurisdiction – ie not the toy cupboard. Not yet anyway...) I began to sort. I thought about how our family lived and I made a pile of objects no longer used or needed and I gave them away.

Next, I bumped into a link on Asta’s Facebook page (which she shares with her friend Ellen Scott Grable): The Simple Living Challenge -http://www.facebook.com/thesimplylivingchallenge  that led me to another book: Down to Earth by Rhonda Hetzel. This book introduced me to an idea I’d never really considered before – that housework could actually be ‘Home-Making’. Each and every task I did around the space that was my home could become a deliberate act of love, AND a commitment to a simple lifestyle. Then, in that same book, I found a pattern. A knitting pattern. For a dishcloth.

Yes, laugh. That’s what I did when I first heard of a hand knitted dishcloth. That’s what my mother did when I told her I was making one. But I found that (other than actually being quite wonderful to use) sitting and knitting my variegated aqua coloured dishcloth while relaxing in the evenings put an entirely different slant on the way I viewed my role about the house. Suddenly even doing the dishes, that awful chore – my most hated of all tasks – became special. Became worthy of time and an offering of beauty.

Beauty is something I need – and it doesn’t have to be extravagant or elegant beauty. In fact many people will enter my house and wonder at the mismatched cushions and the apparently clashing decor. But I am committed to redefining our house into a Home and I’m attempting to do it by sprinkling time and love into everything I do.

Here are a few of the little changes I’ve made, things several years ago I would have rolled my eyes at and dismissed. But that is how changes go, little bit by little bit.
·         I’ve started knitting dishcloths. Some for me, some for my mother – even if she did laugh at me!
·         I cut up old clothes I would have otherwise thrown out and I now use them to mop up floor spills or dust really yucky things.
·         I polish my sink. (Yes, my head is down and I am a little shy about this one. It sounds so, well, anal. But it really does help me feel less cluttered and makes dishes as a task for the children seem less daunting.)
·         I’m using old fabric scraps to make unique handmade thank-you cards, and I’m finishing some long stored cross-stitch kits in preparation for distantly drawing birthdays.
·         I cut up an old T-shirt and crocheted it into an oven mitt – okay the pattern needs some alterations, but I’m very pleased with my first attempts. It saved me having to purchase a new one from the shops only to find I didn’t like it.
·         I’m saving up, $2 by $2 for a pair of fair trade shoes for myself. (This is a shift in my shoe buying mentality from ‘just go get it’ to ‘plan and wait and buy with purpose’.)
·         I’m baking bread and cookies from scratch. It’s actually very cheap therapy, fun to do with the toddler who is a challenge to amuse at times, and receives lovely compliments from the bigger kids!

I know there are so many other areas I can look at and change, but I don’t have to do it all at once. I feel like just recently I’ve learned a different way of viewing home, a different way of loving the people around me and I’m encouraged to keep learning. What about you? IS housework tiresome, or is it becoming home-making? How do you manage the shift? I’d love to read your stories/ideas/suggestions.

Penny Reeve is the author of 11 children’s books. She is passionate about children, faith and social justice (oh, and knitted dishcloths!). She can be contacted via her website www.pennyreeve.com or via her Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Penny-Reeve-The-Penny-Drops


  1. Great post Penny! I've been away for two days and my people did a great job picking up where I left off. But within 5 minutes of being back, I had my apron on and cloth in hand, as I HAD to sort out the sink and benches!! Took no time at all, and the 'sparkle' is not just a reward, but a sign to enjoy something else, now that the kitchen is in order. Love the knitted dishcloths. Well done!!!

  2. Penny's post has me hunting for someone to teach me to knit now. I just can't wait to make some of those dishcloths Dorothy.

    1. Thanks, Penny and Asta.
      I've got to admit I love a sparkling sink too.
      Your knitted dishcloths sound like the perfect prompt to remind you of the attitude needed for housework.

  3. I have never had a sparkling sink. But the new me will have! Asta

  4. Cool! That all sounds so homely and happy! :0) Glad you liked the book x

  5. The funny thing is that I actually find knitting boring! But dish cloths are just small enough, and they slow me down enough to be thoughtful that I actually enjoy making them. I'm currently cross-stitching a bookmark (dug up from the depths of my craft cupboard when I was sorting that space a while back) but once I've finished that I'll be making another dishcloth. Perhaps to give away. :)
    As for shiny sinks... here's a little article I once found. It does make me smile, and no, I don't follow all 12 steps listed in the Shiny Sink 101 list:

  6. I could have sworn I left a comment here the other day but I can't see it anywhere :-( ... so I'll try again!

    I love my vegie patch, and also make my own laundry powder, Spray n Wipe, and prewash spray - the Footprints Team are encouraging me to share my recipes in the next issue, great way to save $$$ and really quite easy to make!

  7. I share your excitement about this Janet. Making your own really does make cleaning more fun. I am so excited by the simple combination of vinegar and water in a spray bottle. I spray 'everything' and wipe dry. It works like magic. :)

  8. Thank you, Penny :) When I'm loving my home-work I start with shining up my sink. Usually, if i get that far, I get no further than that! But I love the thought of knowing 'where to start' with the tasks, and then work out from there. Afterall, the kitchen is an amazing place! Catherine Earp (I seriously do not get how to make comments in my own name here. I hope it will all become clearer in the near future).