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Messy homes mess up lives
Aggie MacKenzie |  Thursday, 17 March 2011

Housework is the focus of an international conference in London today.

Feeling guilty about the dishes you left in the sink this morning? The cupboards you never get around to cleaning out? The dust piling up under the bed that is difficult to move? Maybe you need to tune into a conference on professional approaches to housework opening in London today (March 17) and listen to famous British Dirt Detective Aggie MacKenzie talking about the dark underbelly of 21st century housekeeping -- and what to do about it.

But first you can read Aggie's interview with MercatorNet, in which the presenter of the internationally popular UK television series, How Clean Is Your House, discusses the importance of a clean and tidy home to the self-esteem of adults and the security of children.

But first you can read Aggie's interview with MercatorNet, in which the presenter of the internationally popular UK television series, How Clean Is Your House, discusses the importance of a clean and tidy home to the self-esteem of adults and the security of children.

MercatorNet: Isn't cleanliness a bourgeois value that we got rid of in the 1960s? Don't we have better things to do today than keep our houses spic and span?

Aggie MacKenzie: There are many important things we have to do today and we should not get obsessed with housework. But keeping a clean and tidy house is certainly not bourgeois. In days gone by dirt was a social taboo among working class families, especially in Scotland where I come from. My goodness, if you didn't have your washing on the line by noon you were regarded as a trollop. There was a lot of social pressure involved and a fear of criticism, however, which could make things uncomfortable at home. We have to strike a balance between what makes a home both healthy and happy.

The homes we dealt with on our TV show were at the other extreme. Some would not have been touched for years, decades even, and were full of harmful bacteria -- listeria in the fridge, grime everywhere. There were people with permanent coughs, skin infections. On the whole, the people living in these houses had built up an immunity to the bacteria, but it was very dangerous for anyone visiting. We had a microbiologist with us on site who warned us that we should all be wearing masks. After cleaning one house -- it was filled with junk brought home from a landfill -- we were all ill and on antibiotics.

Household economics 101: human capital
Michael-Burkhard Piorkowsky | Tuesday, 7 June 2011

If other social institutions had to perform the tasks of the home, society would immediately collapse.

Many valuable goods are produced in the home, but because they do not involve payment they are largely invisible to what we normally think of as "the economy" and the work of producing them is not recognized as a profession. At a recent conference in London -- Sustainable Living: Professional Approaches to Housework -- Dr Michael-Burkhard Piorkowsky, Professor for Household and Consumption Economics at the University of Bonn, presented a paper on what household economics tells us about this profession. His paper, "The Competences of Housework", can be found at the website of the Home Renaissance Foundation, sponsor of the conference. Here, in an email interview, he answers some questions from MercatorNet.

MercatorNet: Some people might be surprised to learn that a university professor has anything to say about housework. From which academic perspective to you approach this subject?

Michael-Burkhard Piorkowsky: I am an economist and my arguments are grounded on a special branch of economic science called household economics. It has a tradition in early home economics and in advanced modern micro economics. Gary Stanley Becker has elaborated the Human Capital Theory and the New Home Economics, stressing the economic dimension of "productive consumption". He was honored with the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1992. Some new influences in this field came from the New Institutional Economics, insisting that institutions matter, because the "consumer" is embedded in the household and family context.

You have described running a household as "a genuine management task". What sorts of things do you include in this task?

Household management includes all tasks directed to the development of the household, i.e. the household group and assets. It starts with the initial formation of one's own household and the dynamic, ongoing creation of a lifestyle pattern, setting goals and allocating resources to these goals.

Deciding to leave the parents' home, living alone or in partnership, renting or buying a flat or a house, organizing the interior, deciding to have or not to have children, feeding them and bringing them up, looking for healthy food, caring for the elderly, being informed about private pension plans, taking care of the environment -- these are all examples of managerial tasks that contribute to sustainable living in the home.

From Ivory Tower to Three Bedroom Detached

Can the Ivory Tower help to revive Home Life? By Ann Wolfgram Brodeur
It’s no secret that many homes in our affluent western society are suffering poverty. It’s not always of the economic kind, but usually of the spiritual kind.

It’s no secret that many homes in our affluent western society are suffering poverty. It’s not always of the economic kind, but usually of the spiritual kind.  While even the lowliest home may have a cell phone and a flat screen TV, nearly all homes struggle with developing an ordered, cheerful and nurturing home life.  As Prue Leith has noted elsewhere, domestic life in normal, dual-income home can be quite grim, with a harried Mum or Dad plunking fast food on the table for dinner, while little Junior and Tabitha avoid chores in front of the television and the dust bunnies and dirty dishes pile up.  And after the daily rush is over and we collapse on the couch between piles of unfolded laundry and Gameboys, we think to ourselves, “How did it get like this?”

There are many things that go into creating happy, vibrant homes.  Sometimes we know what those things are and know how to make those things happen, but lack the time to do it.  Sometimes we simply lack the knowledge of how do things.  For instance, when I left the paterfamilial nest, I knew next to nothing about cooking and laundry.  When confronted with a stain on a perfectly good shirt, I would toss it in the bin for lack of knowledge about the wonders of lemon juice and sun light on most stains.  And I confess that I was hopeless when confronted with meat and fire, and often cruised the frozen food aisle at the market, attracted by its promise of speed and ease.  Now that I have my own children, I can see the value of domestic skills that are so often derided but are so very much needed as I try to thoughtfully create a warm, ordered and happy home.

Whether it’s the lack of knowledge or a lack of time, researchers are starting to see the impact of these deficits on home life and the lives of the parents and kids who live in these homes.  Each day seems to bring news of a new study on the impact of family dinners on the development and performance of children and stress levels in parents, or about the link between obesity and home life, or the connection between family consumer habits and pollution.  In short, researchers are beginning to quantify the impact of poor-quality home life on individuals, families and society at large.  In a society where most people do not lack the material basics, many are suffering because of a lack of consideration for a spiritual basic—the loving attention to the work of the home and all of the tasks, big and small, that go into creating a thriving home environment.

The Home Renaissance Foundation is singular in its conviction that the work of the home must be recognized for the critical role it plays in the development of individuals and society as a whole, and firmly believes that a healthy and vital society depends on vibrant, nurturing homes.  Dedicated as it is to promoting greater understanding and appreciation of the work done in the home and its importance for the humanization of society, the Foundation believes that research is at the core of revitalizing home life.  By fostering interdisciplinary research on the work of the home and its effects on people and society, the foundation hopes to develop curriculum tools and training programs for use in upper schools and colleges.  The organization also hopes to publish material aimed at helping busy mums and dads be more thoughtful about how they arrange their home life.  And, setting its sights on the rarified air of politics, they aim to use research influence policy development that supports those men and women whose profession it is to create thriving homes and a healthy society.

However, the current research is fragmented.  Dr. X studies the trends in childhood obesity while Dr. Y studies the relationship between advertising and chips consumption, yet they may not share information or even be aware of each other’s work.  And if academics are not making the links between their separate works, it is almost assured that policymakers, journalists and others are not.  In order to get researchers in different fields working together, the Foundation hopes to develop an internet-accessible database that will make available to researchers, teachers, journalist, policy makers, and others the latest, cutting-edge research in the social sciences.  The database will catalogue research into topics such as work-home balance, in-home care for the aging, best practices for effective home management, collected from academic journals, government surveys and studies.  In this way, researchers can see the panorama of work being done on various aspects of home life.  They will be able to see what work is being done and where work remains to be done, and they will start making connections that will enable us to better understand the relationship between vibrant, nurturing homes and a vibrant, active society.

There’s a lot of hope for our busy and often chaotic homes.  Through its research, publications and training, the Home Renaissance Foundation hopes to offer ways for us to bring some serenity and health to our harried, overstretched homes.  We can look forward to collapsing on the couch at the end of a hectic day, and saying to ourselves, “Look at how far we’ve come!”

Ann is a doctoral candidate in History at the University of Toronto, nonprofit consultant, mother of two little girls, Lucy and Lily-Therese.

Kitchens big enough to cook in – is it too much to ask?
By Prue Leith OBE, Building Design - The Architect's website, 3rd November 2008
From House to Home, a major conference for housebuilders, policymakers and sociologists is on November 20-21. Here, Prue Leith, cookery doyenne, discusses the bad effects poor design has on our lives.
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