Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Scrubbing Couture

Once in a while, I realize that there's this whole other plane to domesticity of which I am rarely aware let alone part. Like when I visit Martha Stewart's website, out of morbid curiosity, and find a Valentine's feature on how to make handmade paper envelopes for distributing your home-baked, hand-decorated cookies.

What amazed me was the thought that there were housewives out there who had time not only to bake and decorate gift food but to handmake individual envelopes for them. Are there stay at home moms out there with that kind of time? Apparently. I would love to meet one....I have a few chores she can help me with in her free time.

I was equally amazed, as I browsed a magazine in the doctor' office, that you could purchase designer cleaning items-- rubber scrubbing gloves, dustpans, mops, scrub brushes-- in a bewildering array of modern colors and styles. And darn it, some of that stuff is cute. The bright blue rubber gloves, with their bold floral cuffs in a contrasting retro print, were so obviously a symbol of Ultra Domesticity that I felt a bit guilty for sneaking a look at the price tag to see if I could afford them. Ten bucks for a pair of rubber gloves is certainly beyond Walmart prices but not unreasonable. Perhaps the Martha Stewart woman wears these sort of gloves so her hands aren't rough for all that delicate paper she uses in her handmade envelopes.

All of this got me thinking.

Is it so wrong to want to bring beauty into the more mundane aspects of homemaking? The Martha Stewart Syndrome, embodied by the envelope-making house goddess I describe earlier, is really just a hyperextension of a good idea--- that everyday tasks deserve a bit of the extraordinary. Ms. Stewart has made an empire by commercializing that concept and creating a cult of the domestic where perfect women fill their perfect homes with exquisite creations that display their feminine prowess. Think Stepford Wives and pink angora sweaters. This stereotyping of the feminine role is just as damaging as the
Power Woman myth or the Sex Kitten myth or any of a dozen distortions of womanhood society thrusts in our faces.

But I really did like the cute scrubbing gloves. Does this mean I'm one step away from become a pink-sweater drone?

I don't think so.

Because, like I said above, the everyday truly does deserve touches of the extraordinary. Those of us who labor at home face any number of routine, mundane tasks daily. Dishes need washing, floors sweeping, clothes laundering...the list goes on. Even the most motivated house-cleaner-- which I am not-- has to admit there is something rather plain about dish soap and mop buckets. So why not infuse a little beauty into the process? Will cute scrubbing gloves remove my dislike for cleaning the bathroom? Not entirely but it will give me a bit more joy in the process. Will a mod-striped dustbin inspire me to dance Cinderella-like with my broom? I doubt it, but the artistic part of me will sigh happily when I see the colors.

When we take time to elevate aspects of our housekeeping routines, we elevate our attitude towards those routines. It could be as simple as picking out a cooking apron in a fun print that you wear each time you prepare a meal--- not only do you spare your clothes but you've created a small ritual for yourself, a tiny space for beauty to inhabit part of your day.

Certainly, moderation and common sense must be a part of this incorporation of beauty. It's all too easy to be swept up in our consumerist society's notion that being is the same as having. The things we use in our homemaking do not, in and of themselves, define us as homemakers. Nor will they give us a heart for tending our household. As with anything in life, a right perspective is important.

We all could benefit from small, deliberate acts of beauty in our daily routine. Maybe for one woman this means flowers on the kitchen window; for another it may be a little bit of lip gloss even though only a toddler will see it. Deliberate beauty could surface in way a wall is painted or the color of a pair of curtains.
It could even be found in a pair of bright blue, retro print scrubbing gloves.

Which I still just might buy.

Oh, and the gloves, among other interesting household items, can be found

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