Home life


Walking down our oatmeal-colored stairs a few months ago, I realized: I’m never going to wake up in a clean house if somebody didn’t clean it the night before. And one of those somebodies is going to be me. It was a revelation. I’d spent years idly assuming that with a good enough system, the house would basically clean itself. Suddenly, the steady effort of keeping a home in order snapped into view. I could resist reality, or I could find a way to get interested in it.

Getting interested in the reality of domestic life has been a process, and it’s still underway. For instance, right now I am spitefully writing instead of tucking any dishes at all into the hulking black dishwasher. (I did scrape the remains of a mango into the compost bin, imagining it would get grisly if left for morning.) A few books have helped.

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, was probably the first domestic book I read as an adult. (I read all kinds of odd books as a kid, which I won’t hold myself accountable for.) Its bright rigidity held a lot of appeal for me: its certainty that a house must be cleaned all in one go—no half-measures—and that drawers are hard to organize because they’re overstuffed. The intensity Kondo treats as necessary spoke to the all-or-nothing part of me. I didn’t follow her method a tee, but I did start folding t-shirts just as she implores.
  • Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought me Home, by Jessica Fechtor, and An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, by Tamar Adler—both recommended to me by Lisa, I think!—got me thinking about spending more than two reluctant minutes a day in the kitchen. The meditative, deeply practical way both authors relate to their kitchens gestured toward a gracious world of possibility that I wasn’t quite ready for. Still, it gave me some hope.
  • The Perfectly Imperfect Home: How to Decorate and Live Well, by Deborah Needleman, is such a pleasure. Illustrated by tk in loose watercolors, it paints an easy portrait of how nice life can be. Paging through it at Lisa’s place, I picked up on what a difference an interesting side chair can make in a room. It gave me lots of things to look out for, and modeled a kind of shameless pleasure in being a homebody.
  • Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson, is one Amy suggested to me as we hung around the kitchen of Quip’s old offices. It’s a TOME, an opinionated instruction manual shot through with personal asides. I see it as the sterner, but similarly warm-hearted, companion to The Perfectly Imperfect Home. From Home Comforts, I learned to keep all the surfaces in the kitchen wiped down and, most importantly, dry. Do I? Not always. But I think about it.

Reading is a surefire way to get myself to spend time with a topic, and sheer time spent with a topic often softens me up to it. I’m softening up to home life, step by step.

Diana Berlin