There are plenty of things that I think we should bring back from the '60s: dresses, music, movies and television shows. But about 26 hours of housework a week? Not so much.
Yet that's what our mothers and grandmothers did -- and it's exactly what I did for one terrible, mind-numbing, bleach-filled week. I lost a pound, but also my level of patience with household chores dipped to a new low (it was pretty low to begin with). I'll explain.
Last month, a study was released that made a correlation between weight and the amount of housework performed, comparing data from 1965 and the average housekeeping habits of women in 2010. (The vintage data came from extensive time-keeping diaries from 1965, if you were wondering.) It turned out that the average woman was indeed more compact than females today and that she also did about 25.7 hours a week of housework. Today's figures were a bit more shameful at 13.3 total hours.
The cynic in me immediately pointed out the study's sponsor -- Coca-Cola -- and went on an unrelated diatribe about corn syrup in the food supply then vs. now, and then pointed out that correlation does not equal causation, but that's another story for another time. But the part of me that hated coming home to last night's dishes in the sink was intrigued.
Though I've covered all things home and style-related for about eight years, my dirty little secret was that my house was always a mess ranging from "mild disarray that might pass as artful" to "I thought I had a coffee table somewhere." When I was in my earliest 20s, it was generally received as a cute quirk, akin to really, really loving Motley Crue in a non-ironic way. But now, two apartments later, it struck me as a sign that, while my record collection had evolved, I hadn't.
So maybe I needed a cleaning intervention. Some sort of structure, perhaps. And the 1965 plan offered me just that.
Now, you've probably already done the math and worked out that 26 hours a week ends up being about 3.7 hours of housework a day. This isn't the sort of thing that inspires one to rush home, especially if you have a time-consuming job. With that in mind, I figured that I'd start on a Saturday, to get me somewhat used to the routine.
I hadn't accounted for an uncharacteristically gorgeous day, as I brought my cleaning supplies out from hiding. However, that day's four hour odyssey wasn't so bad because there was just so much to do. In fact, it was hard to stop me from filling trash bags of old clothes to donate. Same for Sunday, when I threw out all sorts of expired canned goods that might have been around since our last federal budget surplus when "Dr. Feelgood" was topping the charts.
But by Day Three, my zest had quickly turned into dread as I boarded the bus headed home at 8 pm. Accounting for traffic, eating and everything else needed to minimize the impact of the workday, I figured that I would be up until at least 11 pm cleaning. Which is a terrible way to spend an evening.
And that's how I ended up cursing into a bucket of bleach-tinged water at 11:30 at night, scrubbing down the tub (which really needed it) and thinking: This is why so many people had drinking problems in the '60s.
As the days passed, the scene repeated itself at night. During the day, my brain was preoccupied with what still needed to be done in the house. My home was no longer a refuge, a place to heal from the various indignities of modern life (such as forgetting that someone fell asleep on me on the subway), but an adversary that taunted me from afar. I'd be at work, in a meeting and my mind would drift to the living room carpet and how the hell I was going to clean it without access to a shampooer. (The solution: Pour baking soda on the carpet as if it had ignited, wait, then vacuum.) I'd come home, half-listening to a terrible sitcom and aching all over from scrubbing things. My hands were no longer adorably manicured with bright red nails, but weirdly shriveled sponge-holders that needed obscene amounts of lotion to look human.
Did I mention the ache? I swear, it was worse than spending an hour at the gym. I hate to admit this, but the sensation gave me a sick thrill after a while ... because I technically was losing weight and getting in better shape (quicker) than my usual gym routine. (I lost about a pound and, by all accounts, half a dress size.) The non bleach-damaged side of my brain will remind me that spending over three hours a day doing anything other than sitting or sleeping is bound to get you in some kind of shape. But still.
Even more sick is that the cleaning proved to be a better release of any pent-up aggression. Spend an hour at the gym and all you'll have to show for it is a sweaty T-shirt. But spend an hour cleaning the kitchen and you'll have laboratory-caliber counters. There is a certain degree of pride there, even if having pride in one's counters does make you sound vaguely Amish.
By the end of the experiment, my home was incredibly clean, but I was a mess. I vacillated between a nagging desire to keep the place pristine and adopting the devil-may-care attitude of leaving my martini glass wherever I damn well pleased. Weeks before, I wouldn't have even noticed that action, but now it was as politically-charged move. Let a drop of gin hit the counter and suddenly I was Gloria Steinem.
For a few days, I still vacillated, trying to keep up the illusion of domestic perfection. And then I just gave up. There really is a better way to spend my time than being a slave to my home. And that is doing pretty much anything else.
And if you feel like giving your own home a scrub, click through the slideshow below of cleaning tips and tricks.
Do you have a home story idea or tip? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (PR pitches sent to this address will be ignored.)
We’re basically your best friend… with better taste. Learn more