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The Challenges of Domesticity

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My mother was a true-blue career woman who didn’t care much for the domestic life. She didn’t care about cooking—she cooked just because we needed to eat. We ate the most basic dishes at home, supplemented by the occasional hot dog, or something out of a tin. While my classmates brought packed lunches to school, I went to a nearby cafeteria to have lunch. On Saturdays, a lady came over to clean the house, and on Sundays, another lady came to do the ironing.

I took it all for granted, since that was what I was used to. When I went away to college, and even after I graduated, nothing much changed. I still ate at small neighborhood restaurants, and had my laundry done at a shop. Instead of an apartment, I just rented a room to keep overhead costs low. 

It was a convenient life, but one that I now realize made me miss out on one important thing: learning to keep house.

Ahhh … housekeeping.

With the rise of feminism and the fall of many currencies’ purchasing power, housekeeping has become somewhat of an outdated word. It feels like something that belongs to old family-oriented TV shows where the mom stays at home and happily cleans and cooks for the kids, finding fulfillment in spotless shirts and linens. Admittedly, that was something I never paid any heed to before, because things just got done without much interference on my part. 

That is, until I suddenly found myself halfway across the world, in a two-bedroom apartment—complete with a kitchen, a sizeable living room, a toilet and bath, and even a big veranda with houseplants. My significant other had invited me to join him abroad where he worked. Here, there were none of niceties that I had gotten used to. I had to do everything myself. But the problem was, I didn’t know how. 

Oh, I could do the dishes and a bit of dusting, but the apartment and everything in it intimidated me, to say the least. While I had lived independently for a long time, this was the first time I had a whole house to keep, and somebody else to look after. I had not had the benefit of watching and helping my mother cook and keep house while I was growing up. I had no domestic experience at all to rely on.

So what was a clueless and accidental modern housekeeper to do?

Simple—what she has always done when she has had questions: turn to Google.

I could not thank the heavens enough for Google at that point. I turned to it for everything—from how to thaw frozen meat, to how to clean the microwave, to how to clean water stains from the sink, to how to cook certain dishes, to how much powder to put in the washing machine. I learned to read clothing-care labels, to decipher the settings on the washing machine, and how to iron men’s dress shirts. I learned the local terms for basic grocery items. I learned to bake bread, cookies, and cakes without having any prior baking experience—and even without a mixer, just an old-fashioned wooden spoon. 

At this point, I am far from being remotely good at any of these tasks. While my fear of frying has lessened a bit, my dependence on my laptop while cooking hasn’t eased up, nor is the vacuuming going any faster. Maybe one day I’ll get to the point when I can do these things without thinking about them so much. But until then, I will continue to keep house with my laptop. 

This experience has given me a newfound admiration for women (and men!) who can do all this without complaint (and even enjoy it!), day in and day out—and often with a husband and kids to look after on top of it all. I have an even greater respect for working women balancing careers, mommy and wifely obligations, and housework!

But most importantly, I gained a better understanding of why my mother would much rather pay somebody else to do all these things than do them herself. 

Now that I know what keeping house entails, I’ll probably do the same.



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