1.15.2018

Building a Homekeeping Library

I'm one of those rare individuals who not only enjoys cleaning, but also enjoys reading about it. (I'm a riot at parties)! Truthfully, though, the act of cleaning and getting your house in order can be an enjoyable process once you've learned to appreciate the benefits and rewards they bring: not only do you achieve an aesthetically-pleasing space but one that is easy to navigate, simple to maintain and comfortable to live in. By reading about some of the best practices for cleaning, organizing and maintaining a home, I've come to understand some of the best ways to do "chores" as well as how often to do them, what tools to use, even what thoughts to keep in mind while doing them!
Building a homekeeping library is something I've done over a period of time. I didn't go out and buy every single book on cleaning and organizing I could find. Instead, I've curated a small library of good reference materials that I do source often for good advice or for a refresher in the philosophy of clutter-free living. Below are the books and publications I have in my own personal library that I find informative and inspirational with a brief description of each.

1. Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook

It should really go without saying that "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbookis essential to every homeowner or apartment dweller. I refer to it constantly in my own pursuit of domestic organization and I recommend it to every new homeowner, including to young friends of mine who may be moving into their first apartment. Put simply, the book has all the answers to all the questions any homeowner or renter might conceivably have about the maintenance, layout and function of a home's exterior and interior spaces. It contains specific, detailed instructions and how-to's for all forms of cleaning and organization. It has checklists, timelines and trusted techniques that are beautifully presented in an organized and well-formatted book that is encyclopedic in scope and size. If you only get one book on the subject of homekeeping, get this one.

2. Laundry by Cheryl Mendelson

The author of "Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping Home" (another book worth adding to your library) also penned this 400 page book on the subject of laundry. Not only does the book instruct you on how to wash literally every form of textile in your home (from the canvas of your shoes to the fabric of your drapes, to every form of carpet and rug and table cloth) it also deconstructs and evaluates the chemical compositions and effects of the various detergents and solvents we use to clean those textiles. Every form of washing is researched at length, from hand washing to every cycle of the washing machine to every cycle of the dryer: every type of stain and every single way that stain can be removed. It's the most comprehensive book on laundry ever written and the information here is invaluable. "Laundry" will truly change the way you think about your clothing and how you do laundry.

3. Good Things for Organizing by Martha Stewart Living

All of the best organizing tips from the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine are gathered into this slim but inspiring volume of tips and ideas. Good Things for Organizing does a great job of incorporating truly innovative solutions that blend seamlessly into the way your home functions and looks, often using items you already have around the house or old pieces of furniture whose purpose you may want to reevaluate before relegating it to that upcoming garage sale. For instance, I love how the editors converted an old armoire into a charming hideaway office or how they made attractive bulletin boards for the bedrooms, the home office and the kitchen. The book is organized by room: kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom, etc., with simple but inspired ideas for how to keep those spaces functional and livable. The book has a warm feeling to it - it respects the notion of "home". Anyone who loves to DIY or craft as much as they love to organize will find lots of great project ideas here, too, from building your own shelves and storage units to converting an old hutch into a media center.

4. Organizing - a Martha Stewart Living Special Issue

The Organizing special issue that Martha Stewart Living magazine published in 2012 is an updated adjunct to the aforementioned Good Things for Organizing book, which was published in 2000. The contents here are also organized by room. There are an additional 12 years of organization and homekeeping ideas from the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine that have been gathered into this collectible supplemental issue that are worth having; it feels updated and modern. Advertisement-free, it is basically a book in its own right. The magazine can often be found on eBay or Etsy, or from private sellers on Amazon.

5. Clotheskeeping - a Martha Stewart Living Special Issue

Another publication worth tracking down is the 1998 "Clotheskeeping" supplement that was published by Martha Stewart Living. Though nowhere near as comprehensive as Cheryl Mendelson's Laundry book, it succeeds where Mendelson's book falls a bit short: inspiration. In addition to examining all the basic washing, drying and folding techniques, the publication examines subjects like the classic white shirt and how to know when something fits. It looks at shoe care and how to store vintage clothing, the various kinds of wool and how to update tired garments with new buttons, collars and embellishments. There are craft projects and an inspiring look at buttons, too. This magazine is harder to find but copies do show up on eBay and Amazon from time to time.

6. Remodelista: The Organized Home

Published late last year, the latest book by Remodelista is all about how to organize the spaces in your home to make them more functional. Employing a "less-is-more" approach, the constant push towards minimalism in Remodelista: The Organized Home can at times feel a bit anemic but the principle of the book and its multitude of ingenious little ideas makes it worth having. The book is not at all prosy - staying true to its minimalist nature - and relies instead on bright, crisp imagery of a perfectly-organized pantry or closet to say what it needs to say. The chapters are divided by rooms and there is a definite emphasis on paring down to the most essential of essentials. The book advocates natural cleaning, living in a plastic-free environment and investing in quality storage that is also stylish. Remodelista has a very definite and recognizable brand and it may not be for everyone: pared-down rooms awash in neutrals with not a stitch out of place. The resource guide at the back of the book has excellent information on how and where to donate, sell or recycle your unwanted goods as well as an extensive list of retailers that procure containers and stylish storage options to help you get the look.

7. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

This bestseller took the world by storm a couple of years ago and once I found out what it was about, I had to have it in my collection. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was written by professional organizer Marie Kondo, who lives and works in Japan. Essentially, it is about the "Japanese art of decluttering and organizing" but it is much, much more than that. It is a philosophy book. Although it does offer up some step-by-step advice on getting rid of things you no longer need or want, its primary purpose is to get you to think differently about your "stuff": treating objects as though they have energy or a kind of life force of their own. Throwing your clothes on the floor, for instance, is a sign of disrespect for that object; even hanging your sweaters, which leads to stretching and pulling, is a form of abuse. Folding them is a much gentler and kinder option. The book forces you to look at the objects you keep near you as things that have the potential to be sacred. If they are not sacred and have no purpose, they are taking away from your enjoyment of life and sapping you of energy. I find the philosophy to be very positive. My criticism of the book is that too often the solution is to "throw it away." In today's world, the concept of donation and/or recycling would have been a more responsible suggestion. Also, not everyone will be inclined to organize the way Kondo suggests: putting everything of one type (clothes, books, shoes, papers) into a giant pile in the middle of the floor and sorting this way. I'm sure it is effective but it requires absolute devotion and the strictness of her insistence of doing it this way - and only this way - may put some readers off. The book is well worth a read, however, as I do believe it has the power to alter your way of thinking about how we live with objects.

8. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

Scandinavians are known for their organization habits, which is why I trust everything Margareta Magnusson says about the subject of decluttering. That, and the fact that she is "somewhere between the age of 80 and 100." The idea of preparing one's home for an eventual death may sound very morbid, but the book is for all ages. Stemming from the widespread reality of households with too much stuff, the book makes it okay to let go of those things we have forgotten or no longer need or use. The motivation? Getting your house in order before you die so that your family and friends are not left to deal with it once you're gone. By dealing with your surroundings in the here and now, you will also be able to leave the world knowing that what you have is all that you need and want - no extraneous baggage weighing you down, literally or figuratively. And it's never too early to start to minimize, reduce and be mindful of what we bring into our homes to keep. Much like Marie Kondo's book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is a philosophical one. It forces us to look at our surroundings - and the objects contained within - as reflections of ourselves and by doing so enables us to shed what feels wrong or ugly or obstructive.

My home is always a work in progress and there is always a cupboard that could be put to better use, a drawer that could be edited or a storage box that could probably be emptied, but I'm happy with how my home looks and functions, for the most part. Still, these books are nice companions to have in my pursuit of a good, clean, functional living space and I still refer to them for inspiration and ideas. I hope you will too!

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