Here Comes Everyone Housekeeping

Emily Stimpson published a blog piece on Wednesday, Housekeeping 101: Catholic Style, and the XX chromosome component of the Catholic internet exploded in wrath. How dare a single, childless woman blog about housekeeping? What could she possibly add to the internecine debates of the mommy wars?

I think she does have something to contribute, something vital and necessary and fundamental. It’s hidden, beneath flaws, some serious, in the writing, but it’s there. And it has the potential to refocus the topic of home-making in a different and refreshing direction.

Everyone makes a home somewhere.

This is important. Everyone makes a home somewhere. Everyone is a homemaker. Female or male, married or single, fertile or sterile, interested or disinterested. This topic isn’t proprietary to motherhood, and I think the intellectual division, the abstraction, of homemaking from motherhood is a very good thing.

We should also, out of justice, refuse to play the numbers game. I’ve seen several comments expressing the sentiment that ‘she isn’t managing a household because she doesn’t have children’. This is ridiculous. Her household is small, it has different needs and is certainly less challenging than one that contains children. But it’s still a household. If she can be disqualified from talking about managing a household because she hasn’t experienced the challenges of mothering a large family, then so can I, because I ‘only’ have two children. And I dare you to tell me I haven’t managed a household. I’m a lab manager. Essentially, I manage TWO.

But I like to understand the order in which things happen.  The specifically controversial post is second in an ongoing series of posts on the Catholic home based off a previous piece, a zero edition, that she wrote for OSV. And thus I consider what she says in these to be pertinent, to understanding the irritating one.

The zero edition is entitled Your Catholic Home, and republished on her blog. I like this one fairly well. She is doing something that I love, picking at archetypes, trying to get at the universality underneath. And she comes up with five principles, virtues, for making one’s home expressively Catholic: stewardship, authentic self expression, prayer, gratitude for God’s creation, and material detachment.

The chief problem here is that, while she is tightly focused on the physical aspects of a home, it’s difficult to separate those from all the other aspects which make up a home. There are the people who make up your home, their health and age and temperaments. There is the community you live in.  The economic and societal resources you possess – adults know that fixing a leak as soon as you find it is better than letting the leak continue, but what if you have to choose between fixing something minor and feeding your children or fixing your vehicle? Detachment from one’s material possessions is a virtue, but reducing clutter isn’t the only way to achieve it. And beauty in Texas (or anywhere an HOA lurks) is not as easy as casually spreading a packet of seeds. So while I agree with the principles in general, I think her expression of them is occasionally condescending here. Like any other virtue, there are as many different ways to practice these as there are people. I don’t think she means to be condescending, but I’ll talk about this a little later*.

Moving on to the first post in the series, we have The Catholic Home, which is her reflection on what she wrote, and why she wrote, and what she’s going to continue to write about over the next several weeks. This is only a introductory post for the ones that will follow, but it contains a pertinent bit of information about her intentions for them, including the housekeeping one that has everyone upset:

“[I]have decided to spend the next several weeks going over my five points more in depth, trying to give some practical examples (and lots of pictures) of how I do this in my home. As I go, I would love for you to weigh in below and tell me how you do things in your domestic church, too. Just no death threats please.”

The concept, then, for her subsequent pieces are to explore through examples how she personally works out these principles, not just in her own home, but also in the homes of other women she knows well. And she is interested in how we work them out as well. Whatever the flaws in her initial essay, this isn’t the attitude of someone who wants to make a prescriptive set of ways to be properly Catholic through housework and interior decorating.

So lets take her up on it. Lets all write about the challenges and failures and successes of how practicing stewardship helps make our homes – as families with lots of children, families with a few, families with none, as people who are single, who live alone, or live with friends, as men and women. Because there are as many ways to practice a virtue as there are people who attempt it, and the one thing that is certain is that we all need the practice.

* I’ve decided that I’ll have to write about the third post (Housekeeping 101) and it’s flaws, and the issue of condescension later – either tonight or tomorrow – if I want to get anything done in my own home today. We need to finish school, and wash the white laundry, and I need to make hummus and pitas for dinner.

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4 Responses to Here Comes Everyone Housekeeping

  1. Melanie B says:

    Yeah, most of what I saw I really don’t think was along the lines of “How dare a single, childless woman blog about housekeeping?” It was more like, “Wow, this piece (the Housekeeping 101 piece) really seems to miss the mark in terms of tone and specific advice. Why is that?” And then that she’s single and childless is more of an explanation for why she misses the mark and not an expression of outrage at her daring to say anything about housekeeping. At least that was my thought process and that’s what I was mostly seeing: “Oh, maybe the reason this piece seems to not quite connect with mothers is because she’s specifically offering insights into managing a house with children when she doesn’t have children of her own, and so is a secondhand witness of other people’s households. She’s missing some of the lived experience and therefore while she gets the general outline right, the details just feel off.”

    • GeekLady says:

      Well, that’s certainly something I’m getting into tomorrow. But I did see several comments along the lines of ‘why is she writing about homemaking at all when she doesn’t have children?’ and I find comments like that fundamentally unjust.

      • katecous says:

        But she specifically addressed mothers of children. She went out of her way to address mothers of children, which does tend to give the impression that SHE thinks housekeeping is generally the preserve of that specific demographic.

        Honestly, had she just spoken in terms of broad principles and then examples of her own *personal* experiences, with references to her specific living situation and the acknowledgement that others will have different challenges, it wouldn’t have made hardly a ripple. Her two errors, as I see them, was in 1) talking about The Catholic Home in a sort of “this is what the Catholic Home is” way at the beginning of the Housekeeping 101 piece, and 2) telling mothers that we should be able to keep house the way SHE does because she has friends with small children whose homes are beautifully kept, so she knows it is possible. I’m still not sure what she thought she was doing there.

        • GeekLady says:

          Honestly, I’m not sure whether she adds the perspective of friends and family with children because she thinks that housekeeping is the preserve of the female with children demographic, or because she knows that they form a large chunk of the demographic and is making a naive attempt to make them feel included in the conversation. But more on that in a bit.

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