Chapter 8 of The I Hate to Housekeep Book, “The Rest of the Pea Patch,” addresses some pretty mundane matters, but it has some of the best lines in the whole book, and a few really good pieces of advice. Oddly, I come to it after a moment of great domestic minginess. Today is a dark day — it looks like it’s going to rain soon — and I’ve spent the morning waiting for a large delivery of groceries, receiving it, and then putting the groceries away. Needless to say, despite ordering $160 worth of stuff, I forgot to order a large jar of mayonnaise and I also forgot cottage cheese and eggs, so I’ll be heading out to the store this afternoon anyhow. On the bright side, though, all the canned goods were delivered, and those are the things I hate carrying the most. One conserves energy where one can.
Having received said delivery and put it away, I thought the thing to do was go upstairs and tackle Chapter 8, here, but on getting to the top of the stairs, I noticed I’d left the hall light on downstairs. Though I didn’t feel like trotting back down — I’d set up my workspace, I was ready to go — I thought, “No, I’ll feel guilty if I leave that light on. I’m wasting energy. Even if it’s JUST ONE LIGHTBULB.” So I went down, flicked the switch, and came back upstairs feeling very virtuous. And sitting down with Chapter 8, I see that I was being a very good girl indeed: Mrs. Bracken would approve. Chapter 8, you see, is, in large part, about saving on your electric bill.
Peg Bracken is a big fan of knowing what you’re spending on things that seem like little things but surely do add up. There’s much talk of kilowatts and fuse boxes and having a man show you how to do this or that, and having a man call the electric company when you have a problem, because men get taken more seriously over the phone. I don’t dispute any of this, personally, but there’s no question it could be a bit of a turn-off to the more adamant of the feminists who’d pick this book up today. Regardless, for those of you who want to pay attention to energy consumption, there’s probably a good deal of validity found here, though of course appliances and our notions of energy-efficiency have evolved dramatically in the last fifty years.
There’s one tip in this chapter — and when you get down to it, Chapter 8 does seem a bit random in its selections — that I’ve always meant to take on, but have never done, which is that every room in the house should have a Useful Box. In my own case, I think every room would be a bit excessive, but you basically have to take her point. Bracken’s useful box is an old cigar box, or tin, or shoebox, in which you keep the following items: a pair of scissors; a roll of cellophane tape; a pencil; a ballpoint pen; a notepad; spools of thread in black, white and beige, each with a needle (ok, I’d skip that one, personally); and a nail file (GOD yes, an emery board SHOULD be in EVERY ROOM in the house).
The point of the Useful Box is, obviously, that these are things one always needs, and at the moment one needs them, one shouldn’t have to trot downstairs or upstairs or to anywhere, really, more than three paces, to get to them. We keep our fingernail clippers in the bathroom, which makes sense, for the most part. Except, the place I am, 95% of the time, when I need a nail clipper, is in the kitchen. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure this out, but a few months ago I began to keep a nail clipper (and an emery board) in the box on the kitchen table where I keep postage stamps and spare keys. Now, when I need to trim a nail that I’ve messed up while cooking, I can do it without leaving the kitchen. I felt like a genius, when I figured out that I could do this. I mean, no one’s stopping me from spending $2.50 on another nail clipper; and I can keep it wherever I want! It’s small; it’s not bothering anyone. But it saves me a lot of time and effort, having the clipper right there. So, bully for me. I am sure Bracken would approve.
Bracken points out that the Useful Box is even good to have in the bathroom, and I have to agree. Some day, when I am a good person, I will arrange for a Useful Box to live in the bathroom. I do have a roll of Scotch tape in there, and a pair of scissors; but the scissors are the ones I use to cut my daughter’s hair, and I probably shouldn’t use them for more heavy-duty messy jobs. Similarly, in the bathroom’s useful box, if I were really good, I’d keep a really long pair of tweezers, because they are useful for fishing things out of the drain, like disgusting clogs of hair which we should really be grateful for, because they trapped the nice earring that I just dropped down the drain. Don’t ask me how I know this, by the way, just take my word for it.
There is a very long section in here on the matter of ashtrays, which would have been a pressing domestic concern in Bracken’s era, but is no more, since pretty much no one smokes anymore. At least, no one smokes inside the house. I have attended more than one PTA-based party and noticed small covens of guests huddled outside on the back deck smoking cigarettes, but I’ve never seen anyone openly smoking indoors. The day of the ashtray has come and gone. It’s a shame for the fans of mid-century modern design, because some of those ashtrays were pretty cool looking items, though I’m more of an Art Deco person, myself. I wonder if people will start to collect ashtrays again but use them for something different, like holding their jewelry or as candy dishes or something. Except I don’t know anyone who keeps candy dishes around, what with people caring about diets and stuff like that. On the other hand, people do smoke pot legally these days. Maybe the shelter magazines have articles about Bringing Back the Ashtrays. I wouldn’t know, since I don’t read shelter magazines, but if anyone reading this has links they want to share, feel free.
Speaking of ashtrays: The last paragraphs of Chapter 8 advise us on what to do with our fireplace in the seasons when we’re not using it. (The fireplace is, of course, really nothing more than a very, very large ashtray. The issue, of course, is that while you can always just wash an ashtray and put it away, you can’t just wash and put away your fireplace.)
I get that fireplaces are seldom the most fascinating things to behold, when there’s no fire burning in them (and even then, I don’t find them that interesting, though I do find them a source of angst, because I worry about the house burning down). Our current residence has a fireplace, and it gets used maybe five times a year, but I really don’t spend any time wondering, “how can I figure out how to make that gaping hole look better between April and November every year?” If I decided to get artsy about making the empty fireplace look nice, my husband would probably think I was off my rocker and trying to kill us all. So I don’t worry about the fireplace. Frankly, I’ve got better things to do with my time, like perfecting rugelach.