New review – Dirt: Quirks, Habits and Passions of Keeping House

// 10 September 2009

Sian Norris reviews an anthology which explores our feelings about dirt (and cleaning it up)

Cover of DirtDirt: Quirks, Habits and Passions of Keeping House is an anthology of women and men writers, journalists and commentators exploring their relationship with all things dusty, cluttered and grimy, as they seek to share and unravel their histories and tales of housework.

Edited by Mindy Lewis, the stories range from the struggle to keep your home immaculate after the birth of a baby, the OCD compulsions that can haunt day-to-day life and, most commonly, the housework habits we have inherited or rejected from our mothers, who, more often than not, taught us how to wield a duster.

As a child whose mother saw fit to hoover every day and clean the skirting boards once a month, Mindy Lewis’s own horror of the sound of the vacuum struck a chord with my own experience of my family’s cleaning habits. And that is what this anthology essentially does, it tells universal stories and experiences, so that you will recognise your own life in at least one of the tales, or be offered a new perspective on situations that may arise in your relationship with your home, your family and your space in the future. In this way, the collection was like sitting in a room with all your best woman friends and telling each other secrets and confessions about their family, their lives and their relationships, all through the medium of housework.

A lot of the most moving tales relate directly to the relationships to those around you, and most particularly the mother-daughter dynamic. Rebecca Walker reflects on how her mother taught her how to keep house, and how her mother’s actions inform her own home-life today, sometimes negatively, sometimes positively. Lisa Solod Warren’s story ‘A Clean, Well Cluttered Place’ describes the difficult process of cleaning out her mother’s house, after her mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimers forces Warren to move her into a home. This is a common theme throughout the collection, how the authors grow to understand and see something new of their parents in this process of “clearing out” after serious illness or death. The seemingly cleanliness-obsessed mother is laid open as her children go through the clutter of life, photos, letters, journals and old clothes, all carefully and tidily stored, waiting to be discovered and her history revealed.

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