I imagine that a majority of people wouldn't get too excited by the thought of reading a book called Keeping House, but I was, just a little bit. Regardless to what careers and interests we have, one thing we all still have in common is that we have to get knee-deep in housework in order to live in and look after our homes. So, as I wouldn’t even come close to receiving the title of domestic goddess, I was excited to read this book because I knew I would learn a thing or two.
The book is divided into six key chapters, the first, ‘Clean House Basics’, explains how a clean and well managed house will make your life in general happier and less chaotic. It suggests some good habits that are worth trying to establish and lists jobs that you should find yourself doing daily, weekly, monthly or annually. There is definitely a good sense of logic at work here and I found myself taking note of areas in my home that I should pay attention to more frequently.
Chapter two, ‘Sparkling Surfaces’, is probably my favourite. It's tells you things like how to make a chlorine bleach solution (and what to use and not use it on), there is a spread on cats and dogs, with advice on how to keep your home as hygenic as possible; it discusses cleaning problems you may incur while living with furry friends, such as unruly behaviour, ticks and fleas, and odours. However, for me, the real diamond cleaning advice tells me what cleaning product to use on which surface! Hardwood floors, stone floors, granite, marble, limestone, slate, carpeted, you name it, it tells you what to use to maintain each surface and offers advice on how to remove stains. It then goes on to cover the same kind of information but for walls (painted, wallpaper, wooden, glass), furniture, window furnishings and heating appliances.
In 'Gleaming Kitchens' (chapter 3) and 'Beautiful Bathrooms' (chapter 4) you are given more detail on how to keep the two most important rooms of the house spotless. You'll find advice on cleaning and unclogging drains, how to look after sinks, countertops, floors, pots and pans, utensils and shower enclosures; absolutely everything is covered.
The fifth chapter 'Laundry Fresh', as you would expect, covers all things laundry related: using washing machines (including explanations of care labels), stain removal, drying clothes, ironing and folding (storing). Apparently I shouldn't be rolling pairs of socks together into a ball as it will stretch the elastic on one of them; I should be folding each sock in half and placing them on top of each other, (fortunately my socks aren't that fancy so I reckon I can let that slide). I should also have separate drawers for my knickers, my bras and and my previously worn tights, and while that all sounds very neat and proper, I just don't have that many drawers going spare!
Finally, chapter six talks about food. There are some great lists that tell you where things should be stored and how long they should be kept in the fridge or freezer, as well as how to look for the best fruit and vegetables when shopping. There is also a section on basic food safety, a suggested list of kitchen equipment and advice on entertaining guests (place settings etc).
If I'm honest this book does at times make me raise a cynical eyebrow, it can all seem a bit much. However, there is so much valuable information included and it is so thorough, that had I been given a copy when I first went to university, although undoubtedly unappreciated at the time, it would have become a well loved manual for life. As an adult already managing my own home, I find some things a bit obvious and others a bit over the top (although I think the author is just being as thorough as possible), for example if I find fruit or vegetables with bad bits I don't just throw them away as we are told here, I cut off the bad and use the rest. Now, I don't doubt that the advice given would be the best to follow if you are trying to be as food safe as possible, but for me it's about balance, and while I don't want to live in squalor, I know cutting bad bits from peppers and roasting the rest doesn't kill me. So while I might be thinking on occasion 'who do you think I am Mary Poppins?'. I like to think that I sit in the middle of all the cleaning regimes, where clean and organised are important but not the end of the world, I can’t imagine anyone ever got near the end of it all and wished they’d done more cleaning in their lives! However, I appreciate that we all have different levels of house pride and this book covers every little detail.
This is the kind of information that you gather over a lifetime all squashed into one neat and orderly book, so it is going to be more useful to some than others. If you already have the cleaning standards of Hyacinth Bucket then you are unlikely to find anything new, but for everyone else I think you'll find it helpful. I particularly loved the inclusion of homemade solutions that you can make for a variety of jobs; relying on bicarbonate of soda will save me from traipsing to the supermarket to read the backs of dozens of bottles, trying and work out which is appropriate.
Keeping House is a neatly designed, well presented book which seems perfectly in keeping with its subject matter. It is well structured and written in a simple manner that gets straight to the point, making the whole housework thing sound easy. While household tips might not offer the thrill of a crime novel or the lure of a baking book, it is extremely detailed and could possibly prevent me from permanently staining slate floor tiles or ruining a kitchen work surface. I don't advise you sit down and read the whole thing like I have unless you happen to have a bit of an obsession with cleaning, but It is an incredibly useful guide perfect for dipping into whenever you have a cleaning or general house keeping query.
Keeping house by Cindy Harris
Published by Ryland Peters & Small
All photography © Ryland Peters & Small