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Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life

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Keeping House is a wide-ranging and witty exploration of the spiritual gifts that are gained when we take the time to care for hearth and home. With a fresh perspective, mother, wife, and teacher Margaret Kim Peterson examines the activities and attitudes of keeping house and making a home. Debunking the commonly held notion that keeping house is a waste of time or at best a hobby, Peterson uncovers the broader cultural and theological factors that make housekeeping an interesting and worthwhile discipline. She reveals how the seemingly ordinary tasks of folding laundry, buying groceries, cooking, making beds, and offering hospitality can be seen as spiritual practices that embody and express concrete and positive ways of living out Christian faith in relationship to others at home, in the church and in the world.

175 pages, Hardcover

First published March 28, 2007

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Margaret Kim Peterson

7 books1 follower

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews
Profile Image for Sara.
602 reviews
March 1, 2012
Wonderful surprise! In my experience, books like this tend to be both legalistic and sentimental, addressed solely to women who are assumed to be wives and mothers who wouldn't (or shouldn't!) dream of doing any meaningful work other than taking care of their families. I have zero tolerance for such books but someone gave this to me, so I thought I'd give it a chance. I'm so glad I did.

Peterson describes the concept of "home" in ontological terms and explores our universal longing for a home - a place where we experience shelter, rest, nourishment, kindness, safety, conversation, beauty and hospitality. Her essential refrain is that we need homes in which our basic human needs are met with predictability and that we owe it to ourselves and the people we live with to figure out how to do that. It degrades us to live in places that are perpetually a mess, where dinner is always an emergency, no one can find a clean shirt to wear, and you can't readily welcome guests. We should respect ourselves enough to respect housework instead of viewing it as mere drudgery to be squeezed into the margins of our already-full days. She writes, "In a society dominated by its monetary economy, it is easy to assume that any unpaid activity is either a form of consumption or an oppressive waste of time." Ouch.

Peterson describes how the very concept of "housework" became "women's work" post-industrial revolution, and how the increasing availability of "time-saving" appliances and no-preparation food has contributed to our current perspectives on feeding and clothing ourselves. She recognizes that some households cannot function well without outside help, but she cautions us not to hire out our housework because it's "beneath us" or "we have more important things to do". Such an attitude implies that taking care of our homes is a waste of time and that those who end up doing our housework are less valuable than we are as human beings (a particular problem considering the fact that most of these people are minority women, a group that is already treated poorly in our culture.)

I loved the ways that Peterson challenges our modern views and practices surrounding different tasks around the house, considering how our homes are built and organized and how cooking, cleaning, shopping and decorating are portrayed on television and in magazines...

On fancy kitchen gear: "That tools are meant to be used would seem to go without saying, but this is another point at which contemporary culture blares a contradictory message. Domesticity magazines are filled with articles about just what expensive brands of cookware are the best, side by side with more articles about how to avoid dirtying any of it by using disposable dishes, all surrounded by ads for packaged foods pitched as means for freeing people from the need to cook - or clean up - at all. But a kitchen is meant to be dynamic rather than static; you equip a kitchen so you can work in it, not so you can look at it or bypass it on the way to the microwave."

On buying more that our houses can hold: "Just how problematic this is is suggested by comments like those of the cable television show Clean House, which features professional cleaners tidying up other people's messes. Asked by an interviewer what advice she would give to someone whose house is in serious need of help, the host replied, 'You know what they say: after you binge, go home and purge. That's as simple as I can make it- go home and purge.' It is a fascinating, disturbing image, made all the more so by the casual assumption that what it describes is normal and unremarkable. This television personality assumes that people necessarily deal with our culture's overwhelming abundance of food by alternatively gorging themselves on it and vomiting it up. And she concludes that they must do the same thing with culture's overwhelming abundance of consumer goods: first they binge, then they purge.... (food and household goods) are to be treated with appreciation and respect, and sometimes this means saying no to too much. This does not necessarily mean being 'less materialistic.' In a way, it means being more materialistic. It means taking material things seriously enough to be willing to get rid of them or to decline to acquire them in the first place."

Lastly, I'll mention that the author is a Christian and her convictions are grounded in her understanding of who God is and how we have been created to live. Her insights here are pure gold, so if you're interested in the spiritual aspect of home-life you'll appreciate Peterson's theological mind. However, I'd also recommend this to people who are not Christians because I think that her insights apply to all of us and are delivered in an accessible way that is still useful to those who don't share her religious beliefs.
Profile Image for Jessica Snell.
Author 7 books32 followers
October 8, 2019
I liked it very much, and thought I'd share a bit from it.

Her thesis is that keeping people clothed and fed is something that Jesus endorsed as a worthwhile activity (she quotes the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25), and so it is an honorable activity that can be engaged in for the love of Christ. She says,

"There is undoubtedly more to the merciful service that Jesus describes in Matthew 25 than caring for the daily needs of the members of our own households. Housework is a beginning, not an end. But it is a beginning - not a sidetrack, not a distraction, but a beginning, and an essential one at that - in the properly Christian work of, among other things, meeting the everyday needs of others . . ."

That's why I like this book so much. It doesn't, like some I've read, exalt housekeeping as a glorious, high thing. It's not. But it is necessary, and produces real goods, and so ought not either to be despised. This book does a great job of placing it in its actual place, and honestly, it was a relief to read someone who got its place so exactly right. As a women who spends hours every day doing exactly the sort of things she talks about (cooking, cleaning, cleaning up after), it was encouraging to read a short, lovely treatise that affirmed that what I do is good and worth doing, and why.

I disagree with a few of her points here and there - occasionally the tone feels a wee bit snobby - but overall, this is a book that does an excellent job in having a real opinion, but also showing grace to those who might be in different circumstances than the author, and so might have to make adjustments she does not have to make.

Here are a couple passages that really stood out to me. She talked about how people sometimes view housework as divided into two cateogories: the creative (e.g., sewing pretty curtains) and the janitorial (e.g., scrubbing the toilet). She says:

"On the contrary, all of housework is creative, including the so-called janitorial part of it. When God created the heavens and the earth, he started with chaos and ended with a finely differentiated and beautiful universe. Housework is all about bringing order out of chaos. that heap of damply repulsive clothes on the bathroom floor turns into stacks of neatly folded laundry in a matter of hours; a dining table piled high with junk mail, school papers, and forgotten socks turns into a table neatly set for a meal; a sack of potatoes, properly peeled, boiled, riced, and seasoned, turns into a dish of mashed potatoes that the individuals assembled around the table are happy to eat."

Isn't that beautiful? And so true. A little later, when observing that after creation, God continued to be involved in the universe he made - not just creating, but sustaining - she says,

"Housework and gardening and God's providence itself are exercises not in futility, but in faithfulness."

I think that's my new housekeeping mantra: "This is not futility; this is faithfulness."

And the book is full of observations like this, the kind that feel absolutely familiar when you read them, but that you know you've never been able to say so well yourself:

"But if there are places to put things and it is simple and convenient to put them there, then picking up the house becomes a kind of active meditation, like putting a favorite puzzle together and seeing the familiar picture - the tidy house - appear anew."

And I'll end with my favorite part:

"The good news of the gospel is that the longing for home need not be merely nostalgic. Home is not just a real or imagined memory. Home is also a promise made by god to his people . . . The Christian community is not a spiritual club; it is a household, God's own household (Ephesians 2:19), whose very sacraments are physical acts evocative of home: a bath and a meal.

"A well-kept house thus possesses a kind of sacramental quality. It is no substitute for either the kingdom of God or the church. But it is a kind of foretaste of the kingdom. A nuturing and hospitable home can be a reminder that god has always been in the business of making a home for people, that God desires that people should have the food and clothing and shelter associated with home, that one day our tattered and partial provision of these things for one another will be gloriously supplanted by God's perfect provision of shining robes and a sumptuous feast in God's own house."

This is a very good book, and well worth reading and - I'm guessing - rereading.
Profile Image for Jennifer McMaster.
113 reviews4 followers
January 13, 2019
Beautiful, rich allegorical writing and I found this book so encouraging in its emphasis on finding joy in the repeat, every day, mundane tasks of life as we care for our homes, for those we love and live with, and for those we bring into our homes as guests. Each chapter was filled with gems that influence one's perception of the importance and necessity and even beauty of serving and providing for the basic needs that every human being has. The chapter on Food was especially delightful.
Profile Image for Anne.
32 reviews8 followers
July 15, 2010
If you love a book with an openhanded measure of perspective (as I do) this book will resonate. It's a reminder that we're human creatures. We live in dwellings, we take nourishment from food, we rest, and we understand the order provided by a family unit. It's a reminder of the pleasure and contentment we find when these needs are met with predictability. And so the work it takes to meet these needs, even if the benefit of the work disappears within the day (i.e. a meal prepared and then eaten), is worthwhile work, much to the contrary of the pervading insistence of our culture that we are ultimately minds rather than bodies.

Many readers will say that this book handles the mundane. I can't disagree, but I must add that it more than approaches the radical, that is, that which is deep-seated, intrinsic, and essential to humans.
Profile Image for Erin .
238 reviews1 follower
January 25, 2011
"Housework is all about feeding and clothing and sheltering people who, in the absence of that daily work, would otherwise be hungry and ill-clad and ill-housed."

I love this book! I think after years of being home with children and doing the often tedious daily tasks, it reminded me what important work this is. It also encouraged this first born female in "good enough" with regards to the standard of housework.

I loved her thoughts on hospitality.

A timely read for me.
Profile Image for Elise.
197 reviews11 followers
October 29, 2016
Delightful, encouraging book for a Christian homemaker. Neither patronizing nor dismissive, this gentle book encourages the reader to look at the day to day mundanities with half an eye to eternity. This is not another 'Shut up & make your husband a sammich' book.
Profile Image for Sarah.
596 reviews
June 10, 2010
Really dry. I appreciate her take on Christian homemaking i.e. not worrying so much about how great your house looks, but rather focusing on creating a haven, hospitality and keep things simple.
Profile Image for Kelley.
423 reviews6 followers
January 3, 2017
It's a symptom of the problem Peterson is writing about that I felt a little weird telling people I was reading this book or having someone see the cover. There's something so very June Cleaver about the expression "keeping house." And something so very undesirable about being associated with June Cleaver.

But Peterson sets the bar simultaneously higher - making caring for your home an act of spiritual service - and lower - freeing you from the picture-perfect, unrealistic ideal on display in every magazine and Pinterest board.

Her definition: "Making a home involves constructing and maintaining an environment in which people can flourish in ways which God desires for people to flourish."

She highlights examples throughout the Bible where people cared for loved ones or strangers in practical, physical ways. She uncovers all the ways that shelter and clothing and food are used as spiritual analogies for the ways God cares for us. And she gives the work we all do every day an eternal weight while lightening the impossible load of perfection. Everything from creative work (quilting) to common cleaning (bathrooms) has a place and a dignity. Peterson acknowledges the repetitiveness of much of this work, but shows how that reminds us of our dependence on God and His faithful provision.

Several times as I read I found myself thinking of the Kon Mari method - the pop-culture organizing gold standard for the last year or two, and butt of plenty of husbands' jokes. Peterson's book isn't primarily about organizing. It's more about doing well and with joy the daily work that we're more likely to despise. But there were a lot of underlying themes about having enough and using space wisely and being more careful about acquiring and more willing to let go. "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" struck a chord with me but lost me in the mysticism. I felt like Peterson gave me the proper perspective for priorities that were already resonating with me.

Here's how she explains it: "When there are limits to the number of things and the kinds of things there are in a house, the house can become a place that moves back and forth comfortably from being messy to being tidy. Houses inevitably become messy because people live there, and they are busy with all manner of things. But if there are places to put things and it is simple and convenient to put them there, then picking up the house becomes a kind of active meditation, like putting a favorite puzzle together and seeing the familiar picture - the tidy house - appear anew."

That's the perspective my heart was longing for!

I loved this paragraph near the end:

"A well-kept house thus possess a kind of sacramental quality. It is no substitute for either the kingdom of God or the church. But it is a kind of foretaste of the kingdom. A nurturing and hospitable home can be a reminder that God has always been in the business of making a home for people, that God desires people should have the food and clothing and shelter associated with home, that one day our tattered and partial provision of these things for one another will be gloriously supplanted by God's perfect provision of shining robes and a sumptuous feast in God's own house."
Profile Image for Crystal.
29 reviews
December 7, 2012
Margaret Kim Peterson takes a look at the seemingly mundane tasks of cleaning and hospitality and sheds a new light on them. She shows how the tasks of maintaining one's home is is a spiritual discipline, how it relates to scripture and that what we do for the least of these is doing it unto the Lord, whether that is scrubbing toilets, folding and putting away vast amounts of laundry and washing endless dishes. She helped to take the drudgery out of the daily work and replace it with a spirit of contentment, joy and peace.
13 reviews
May 14, 2012
This book is a rather exhaustive look at house keeping. My take is that the author is attempting to get readers to look at tending house as an important, spiritually nourishing, poetic task. While I think it is important to not take the work of cleaning, preparing meals, and washing up for granted, I do think the association Peterson makes between these tasks and Biblical ideals to be a bit inflated. A pleasant read if you love minutia!
Profile Image for Kristi.
290 reviews32 followers
January 16, 2014
A theology of housekeeping? Seems an unlikely topic to be interesting, but this book was simply fantastic in its exegesis and treatment of the seemingly mundane tasks of life - keeping a house, clothing and feeding yourself and others - to reveal their seminal importance in life and matters of faith. Great read, and I'd read it a second time.
Profile Image for Chelsey Hancock.
24 reviews11 followers
September 19, 2012
Really enjoyed the first part of this book - it helped me find joy in everyday tasks and taking care of our home. But towards the end she started getting a little preachy and pretentious so I had to stop. So I'd recommend to read the first few chapters and then stop when she starts talking about specific home tasks and things like that.
Profile Image for Callie.
700 reviews7 followers
August 16, 2013
preface : "Of course housework is about making a home, but a Christian home, properly understood, is never just for one's own family. A Christian home overflows its boundaries; it is an outpost of the kingdom of God, where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and there is room enough for everyone."
Profile Image for brooke sellers.
90 reviews10 followers
Want to read
September 8, 2007
My friend Joy recommended this one. She said it's about finding the sacred in the ordinariness of keeping house. But not in a Martha Stewart way. She thought I would like it and she is probable right.
65 reviews7 followers
April 19, 2010
Delightful and insightful--a fabulous way to look at home and the keeping of it. A must read for everyone, who lives in a dwelling alone or with others, who loves to keep house, or who has a love-hate relationship with keeping house.
Profile Image for Shari.
588 reviews10 followers
July 26, 2012
I was initially a bit dubious about picking up this book, worrying it would be preachy and anti-feminist. But a friend of mine spoke highly of it, and I decided to give it a go. I'm glad I did. I appreciated the focus on mindfulness, gratitude, and hospitality.

Profile Image for Anna.
173 reviews14 followers
May 2, 2012
This is a book that I will read again and again as time passes. It's not a quick read, necessarily, but it's a solid, interesting take on "home-making". It's one I feel like I could learn something new from each time I read it. I really, really enjoyed it. Maybe something for a book club??
Profile Image for Maureen.
85 reviews6 followers
July 24, 2007
i didn't want to like this book- but i actually did.

quick read. the author's premise is the holiness of housework. the author used the Word and tied it to different aspects of homemaking.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
20 reviews
March 7, 2010
Just cant seem to finish this one...liked it at first but then it seems to keep on going on the same theme without getting anywhere
Profile Image for Laura.
27 reviews
September 3, 2016
A thoughtful, spiritual look at house work. Helps me find the zen in things like dishwashing, laundry, and grocery shopping. A welcome perspective on the mundane, told from a Christian perspective.
Profile Image for Candace.
41 reviews
March 10, 2021
As a perpetually unorganized, harried mother of three young children, I was very excited to read this book. I need all the encouragement I can get and overall this book is encouraging. On one hand, the author seems to give grace to our situation (plight of the working mother) that we don’t have enough time to cook, clean, and manage a household the way it was done in generations prior. Our culture unfortunately sees this work as drudgery instead of necessary work that all should be grateful for. Unfortunately on the other hand, the author can come off a bit snobbish. Microwave ovens, dishwashers, and cookbooks that rely on convenient shortcuts are looked down upon unfairly. The author does mention that having a baby, is similar to having an emergency and can throw a household into chaos, but the author has one child.Perhaps she has forgotten the race we have for bath and bedtime, leisurely housework just isn’t in the cards.

With that said, I did enjoy the parts on how the sacred and mundane often cross over. I will try to find enjoyment in a job well done and remember parts of housework I look forward to (I do enjoy cleaning the bathroom). My inability to create a routine is most likely the greatest cause of household distress.
October 3, 2017
This is not a book on how to keep house. It has no ideas, tips, guides or instruction. This is a book about justifying biblically why you should keep House. If you are reading the book you probably don’t need justification, biblically or otherwise, on why you should keep House.

The author spends the whole of the book using bible passages to justify the various aspects of keeping house or to justify in her opinion of how far a Christian (which I am not, by the way) should go in doing so. “If you are too efficient, everything will fall a part of you get sick”. I don’t think that word means what you think it means lady.

What’s worse is the biblical language used to justify these options is a stretch at best in most cases.

I’m not even sure why I put myself through the misery of reading this book, except for that I’m a bit OCD about finishing books once started.

This is one of the few, maybe only, book that I have ever read that has zero redeeming qualities.
13 reviews
March 16, 2021
This is my favourite book of the year. I loved the approach to Christian homemaking, and how it was done in a way that showed homemaking can be for you whether you are single or married, man or woman, with children or not.
Profile Image for Emily Vandiver.
2 reviews2 followers
January 6, 2022
Keeping House was not what I expected, in a good way. There are no "how to" guides, very few suggestions. Instead, the author presents a theological, biblical, historical meditation on the role of keeping house in the life of God's people.
Profile Image for Martha.
5 reviews2 followers
September 26, 2017
This book was simply a great read. As the title suggests, it was not so much about HOW to keep house but instead a philosophical look at WHY. I couldn't put it down. Read it if you need biblical encouragement to joyfully stay- the- course, serving the Lord Jesus through your litany of "Keeping House".
158 reviews
November 4, 2017
A refreshing look at the philosophy behind housekeeping for people in any demographic, not just people who list "homemaker" as their profession. I appreciated that it challenged me!
Profile Image for Jess.
177 reviews8 followers
June 4, 2019
This is a great resource for a high school student or someone needing to discover or re-discover the joys and the reality of keeping house.
Profile Image for Kelsey John.
32 reviews1 follower
April 2, 2015
Great thoughts on what a home should be (pages 27-29):
1. An Inn - A place where a traveller can go for simple accommodations and safety.
2. A Sanctuary - A place set apart for relationship.
3. A City - An active place with lots of people, not isolated.
4. A Castle - A place of rich, ceremonious beauty. This can involve beauty beyond necessity, but it can also just mean a humble place with structure and attention to detail.

When I read pages 77-81, I gained a better appreciation for the value and satisfaction we can get from making things by hand, even though nowadays that can be the more expensive or time-consuming option. "Handwork is an art that binds people together across generations." "Cooking, cleaning, laundry -- these things are necessary and important and perhaps more lasting, at least in their effects... But it is important to make things too -- things to wear and things to use, things to keep and things to give, things that can remind us of our own essential physicality and of our links to past and future generations." Handiwork can provide a different kind of satisfaction than the necessary daily tasks like cleaning that can be very draining, especially for me.

Good thoughts on the food production industry on pages 112-117, and on how we should react as Christians.

Pages 120-124: Food and eating are as much about social relationships as they are about nutrition.
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