It’s Monday, 7 October, 1907, and, in the small town of Ashburton, New Zealand, my great-aunt, writes in her diary that the “Washing and ironing” are done. It is the first sentence of her diary entry. She is twenty, and lives at home, and seems to be Mother’s main helper. Monday is usually washing/laundry day.
Fast forward, Monday, 7 October, 2013, and her great-niece, is writing in her blog that the washing and ironing are not yet done. The washing is on its spin cycle, so it will be ready soon. The ironing won’t be done, unless there’s a national ironing emergency, for ironing is the one domestic duty she resists with a passion. In her modern house, because she has a washing machine, washing/laundry day can be any day, or any hour, and usually is. She is not Mother’s helper and she’s no longer 20.
But, despite the differences in time, place and age, what fascinates me (and, quite truthfully, often depresses me) is that I am, like dozens of my female forebears, primarily engaged in ‘domestic duties’. I, in common with many women, come from a long line of apparently inescapable domesticity. I have had a wonderful education and a small, but certainly less than brilliant, career , yet, for all that, here I remain, mistress of domestic duties.
Most of the time, I am very happy being my own boss, in my own home, because I have a good home and a comfortable life. But, sometimes, just sometimes, I wonder what might have been, and I feel sad. Which is silly, since what might have been, never was! But, more than missed, mythical opportunities, what really makes me sad and mad and angry, if I think too much about it, is that I devalue my domestic life because, for years and years, and, even to this very day, we are subtly told that our domestic roles/duties are ‘small change’ value, especially to the economy. They are not ‘real work'; they don’t ‘count'; they don’t ‘produce'; they don’t contribute to the tax base of the nation. Our Minister of Social Development and Employment, Paula Bennett, never tires of telling us that being in the work force is where we, women, will find our full potential and our rightful place.
And she could be right, but I am a bit ‘old school’ and believe that the diminishment of domesticity comes from societies that refuse to take in to account the enormous worth of unpaid female labour in the home and in caregiving roles. Our own Marilyn Waring wrote The Book (If Women Counted) on this subject. (Sadly, still to be read by me :( ) However, despite progress on how Governments/Countries account for women’s worth in national accounts, the public perception of women’s domestic contribution to the economy, as negligible, remains.
Now, just as my washing has been swirling in the machine, so have the ideas in my brain. And I think I have found a solution that will propel domestic activity to pride of place in our nations. The solution is simple; our living spaces, particularly our laundries, must be redesigned. We must bring the laundries out from the sheds, and basements and garages, and dark, back rooms, and hide-away closets, the bathrooms and the tiniest spaces. We must bring them in to the light and make them a feature room of our homes; a place of warmth and love , the place that everyone wants to be, and to gather. Move over open-plan kitchen, TV/media room, home library/office, tool shed… welcome to The Laundry, the home of lavender and loveliness, sunlight and enlightenment. Let’s give the laundries a Sarah’s House make-over treatment. Let’s make The Laundry the number one selling point in Real Estate; no more indoor/outdoor flow or street appeal when marketing a property; let’s advertise the beauty and wonder of the laundry room. And, if we can’t go quite that far, at the very least, let’s give them equality of space in our residence.http://www.sarahrichardsondesign.com/portfolio/sarahs-house-2/laundry-room
Whilst we wait for that to happen, my washing needs to be hung. Come with me to my back room laundry. It’s always good to have a helping hand. Together we can see what, if anything, has come out in the wash.
Welcome to my laundry; the main space
and all angles
and all details
Links for the heavy-duty wash;