In this article the author shows that housekeeping and homemaking is a skill that is being lost by many young women and mothers. Looking at the fact that God is the God of order and beauty, the author encourages Christian women to reflect that in their homes by keeping them tidy, orderly, and hygienic.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2010. 4 pages.

Home, Sweet Gleaming, Gorgeous Home

Few of us are as tidy as we’d like to think – and I’m no exception. Clean, orderly and beautiful are every woman’s ideal when it comes to home; but turning dream into reality is not as simple as it might seem in today’s make-it-happen world. It’s not just women who are busy away from home who have this problem. Those at home have it too. In fact, it may even be worse for us, because it takes more discipline to organise time well when there are fewer external constraints forcing the issue. I know that it’s the tyranny of the urgent rather than the important that dominates me too often. Whatever screams to be done is generally what wins; and housework frequently loses. Except, that is, when visitors are imminent...

It really does seem as if we have a problem organising ourselves these days. As one modern-day manual on housekeeping puts it, “many of us don’t know where to begin. There are people out there with top-of-the-range kitchens who have no idea how to cook a Sunday roast; there are others who spend hun­dreds of pounds on cashmere yet have no hope of washing it properly. There are others who cannot sew on a button, iron a shirt or unblock a drain. Shocking, isn’t it?”1 The point being that there are clever women out there making impor­tant decisions, organising offices and staff – who cannot organise their own homes. Perhaps you think I’m exaggerat­ing – but let me offer some evidence. Over the past few years I’ve called in at some rural addresses to pass on a message or drop something off. Quite often there’s no one at home (many rural women have hands-on involvement in farm management these days) – but the view through the ranch slider is quite a shock. Benches covered in dirty dishes and half-eaten meals, toys scattered all over the floor, damp washing on clothes horses and spread all over the lounge furniture, newspapers and business papers scattered everywhere, and half the curtains still closed – at mid-morn­ing...  I’m sure you’ve walked down suburban streets on winters’ mornings and seen houses all closed up, curtains pulled and condensation covering the windows. You can imagine the damp, and the smell (and the multiplication of dust mites) inside ... there are teenagers’ bedrooms, aptly described as bomb sites, tips and the like. Beds unmade, drawers spilling out underwear, jewellery, tee-shirts. There are so many clothes on the floor that you wonder if there’s anything left in the wardrobe. What’s happening? Why are so many homes looking like this?

Perhaps a little summary of the social history of housework would answer the question. I enjoy reading books on household management. Perhaps the classic of the classics is Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which set the standard for many decades after it first appeared in 1861. It was written to advise ordinary middle-class English­women on how to clean, decorate and manage their homes; and how to cook and serve meals for family and guests in a wholesome, cost-effective and attrac­tive way. Perhaps the best part of this book is the detailed chapter on the way a housemaid should clean bedrooms, drawing rooms and dining rooms. Beeton-run homes would indeed have been clean, tidy, well-polished – lovely homes to live in and visit. Beeton was the ideal to which pre-World War One homemakers aspired.

Comparing Isabella’s instructions for housemaids with the cleaning methods of own life and times, it would seem that we have lost something our grand­mothers or great-grandmothers knew, doesn’t it? As Clare Coulson notes,

The knowledge gap when it comes to household management is a widely acknowledged fact. I have countless friends who, through little fault of their own, have a patchy knowledge of how their home works and invariably have to call their mother or a friend when they are faced with a domestic problem. But what happens to the people who don’t have anyone to call on...?2

It’s worth asking what happened, post-Isabella, and try to figure out why we’re – literally – in this mess.

Household History🔗

We tend to think back nostalgically to “the time of our grandmothers” – who kept home so beautifully and fastidiously. Women’s magazines sometimes run articles romanticizing “grandmother’s” – baking or cleaning methods and the like. They allude to weekly routines for washing, ironing, baking; and daily dusting and polishing routines. But that, if I examine the historical facts, was more a feature of my great-grandmoth­ers’ household management. Their era, going back to the 1890s and stretching forward to the 1920s and 1930s, was a time when what we regard as sim­ple household jobs were much more major affairs, requiring whole days to complete. While we throw a load into our washing machines then go on with another task, they spent a whole morn­ing lighting coppers, boiling water and starching linens. It should be added that ordinary middle-class housewives were able to employ maids to help them. All my great-grandmothers had maids, whom they had to train and oversee – but who provided them with freedom to go out and leave the children, or to have friends in for a stylish afternoon tea. This involved a certain loss of privacy, of course. But their homes were definitely tidy, well-ordered, and clean.

This state of affairs continued into my grandmothers’ first decade or two of marriage – but then came the War, and the consequent loss of maids to wartime employment in factories or on farms. The maids never returned, but new, labour-saving household machines became available and my grandmothers became dab hands at turning on switches and washing, sewing, ironing and cook­ing with much greater ease and speed. Their houses were still very tidy and clean. They had grown up with certain values and standards, and wanted to maintain them. They did not work out­side the home, and could still achieve their standards, on their own, with the help of their new machines.

But it was all beginning to break up, in their lifetimes. Their daughters (my mother and aunts) were married in the 1950s and 60s, and by then routines were relaxing. Certainly, there was no “washing on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, baking on Friday” kind of regime. My mother’s habit was normally to whiz around the house first thing in the morning, and have all the necessar­ies – kitchen, bathroom, living room all cleaned and the household tidied, beds made etc, by morning tea time. After that – sewing projects, gardening, teaching Bible in Schools – and being there when we came home from school.

But what happened to my generation? Well, I was a primary school child in the 1960s, and it seems to me that as TV be­gan to hold sway, as teenagers began to rebel and go out and about more; as telephone conversations and cars provided more opportunity to communicate with friends, family life became more mobile and fluid, and household routines broke down. Couple this with many mothers beginning to work in part time, paid employment outside the home, and soon housework was something relegated to “whenever” anyone had the time or felt so inclined. This was the beginning of the era of teenage bedroom bomb-sites and parental rows over how and when the tidying-up should occur. Student flats, to which these teenagers graduated, were habitually messy – and regarded by the older generation as dens of dubious activity better not inquired into.

Modern-day Madness🔗

By the time I and my friends married and set up house (in the 1980s) it was the received wisdom that housework was unskilled labour any fool could do – and that it took so little time there was no excuse for anyone to stay home doing it during valuable employment hours. Yes, get out and make some money! Wealthy professional baby-boomers living by this philosophy also hired cleaning ladies, nannies and the like; and did their best to stimulate their children by cramming in thousands of extra-curricular activities to add to sports and homework. Small wonder that nobody, least of all their worn-out professional parents, had the time or the motivation to insist these children learn how to clean toilets, showers, kitchens – or bedrooms. And what the wealthier do, the less wealthy aim for. So many couples both work outside the home; and so few take the time to train their children in the skills of homemaking.

Well, the end result is that few people know how to keep a home clean and tidy any more. We have lost the valu­able knowledge, routines and discipline our great-grandmothers held dear. We have messy and disorderly homes, and neither we nor our children know what to do about it. Now, I know full well that I am writing to many who are not this way. Our churches are full of model housewives. But it seems to me that most of western culture has this problem to a greater or lesser extent, and if we’re not careful we’ll lose it as well, if we succumb to certain of these trends.

However, we have to ask – does it really matter? Were our great-grandmoth­ers right, or were they house-proud and just far, far too fastidious? Did their fetish lead to judgmentalism and hyper-criticism of others? (Sometimes I do wonder about the occasional comments I hear about someone else’s house being “so dirty”. Was it really unhygienic, or just a bit untidy??) I do think hyper-criticism is wrong, but I also think, based on my reading of the Bible, that a clean and orderly (and attractive) house is a God-given blessing. And something we should work hard to create.

Order and Beauty at Home🔗

God is a God of order and beauty, and we should reflect these aspects of his character as we carry out our housework. Homes ought to be places of peace, not chaos. They should rest the eye and heart of all who live there, not distract or irritate them. I also think it is impos­sible to sit down to work of any kind, or to enjoy a focused conversation, amidst domestic clutter or chaos. Our homes should be places where visitors are re­freshed and encouraged, not made to feel embarrassed by excessive untidiness. (Walking into someone else’s bomb site feels like intruding on an embarrassing family argument). Obviously, guests can also be made to feel embarrassed by the tenseness of an over-zealous homemaker, too – but I feel a mess is even worse.

A lovely, tidy house is part of our witness to Christ’s love of order and calm, too. I know that we need to be relaxed and unworldly in our attitudes – but order is a bottom line. And our problem today is more one of disorder than of excessive order. The Proverbs 31 lady’s home was clearly one where order reigned. We do bring shame on our husbands, our children (think of their friends visiting) – and on Christ – when we preside over a pig pen! But every­body in the home has a responsibility to keep it tidy – I know that. Perhaps all of us would do well to reflect on Psalm 90:17. God wants homemakers to be able to see the fruit of their labours last a while. Please, husbands and children, don’t spoil it!

Are you too busy to keep up a good tidying and cleaning programme? Perhaps it is time to reduce some of your work hours, or ministry activities? There are things as important and as basic than income; and service to Christ begins at home, after all...  Are you one of those who, for whatever reason, never learned how to manage a home? Would you like to learn? I often wonder whether a class in household management rou­tines might be a useful thing for the experienced ladies in our churches to run. Given the dearth of knowledge in this area, it may well be a blessing to younger women – if they requested it. Consider new converts, perhaps those from sadly-messed-up homes where mother was absent, or incapable of teaching these things. Perhaps you could help here, as part of some training in the Christian way of life? It could be made part of spiritual discipleship of a younger woman. I remember Elizabeth George telling how, as a new Christian, she asked two more mature friends from church to teach her how to organise her life better. They taught her about Bible reading and prayer and how to care for her husband and children; but they also showed her how they kept their houses clean and tidy. It was all part of one, complete spiritual package.3

Housework should never be seen as mindless drudgery or a boring chore. Cleaning, tidying and re-arranging the home are more a skill or an art form, and their results a genuine pleasure. Let’s take delight in doing them well.


  1. ^ Clare Coulson, House Rules: The Stylish Guide to Running a Home and Having a Life (Bantam Press, London, 2005), p. 7
  2. ^ Ibid., p. 9
  3. ^ Elizabeth George, A Woman After God’s Own Heart (Harvest House, Eugene, Oregon, 1979), see esp. pp. 164-6. (This whole book is really about being a Christian homemaker.)

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