Thursday, May 31, 2012

A lady’s guide to basic house keeping

Alright, I know very few people actually enjoy cleaning, but it’s still a necessary part of life, and, if you get good at it, it can work in your favor.  I’ve always kept my college dorm spotless and organized, and the result was that my friends loved coming over for tea or dinner.  Despite the fact that I occupied a room roughly the size of a broom cupboard with a refrigerator box sized bathroom, I still managed to make it an elegant little abode.  So, here are my basic tips and tricks, as well as the benefits, of having a well-kept room:
1.        A general rule of thumb is keep clutter to a minimum everywhere.  There are certain exceptions to this (old libraries in Victorian houses are, by default, allowed to be cluttered and mysterious, the better to hide arcane books that will become the focus of horror films.  College professors, meanwhile, are also permitted to accrue in their offices piles of paper so large that they begin to resemble leaf piles), but other than that an effort should be made to prevent or disperse heaps or messes of any kind.  Clothes belong in a hamper or a drawer/hung up in a closet, not scattered all over the floor like an ersatz carpet.  Books belong on shelves, not stacked in piles, and for the love of god don’t leave them open and face down – that breaks the spine and damages the book.  Papers are harder to corral, but I’ve found that astute use of alligator clips to keep them all together usually reduces the chaos.  Bulletin boards also help.  I could go ad nauseam in the vein, but I’ll summarize by saying that if it’s in a pile/all over the floor, it shouldn’t be.  So your job is to figure out where it should be and arrange it as such.

2.       Yes it takes time to clean, but that doesn’t excuse not doing it.  If you find yourself bored by the task, put on music or an audiobook and, for lack of a better term, get over it.  Chaotic rooms are unpleasant to live in, whether you realize it or not.  You wind up tripping over/breaking your possessions, losing stuff, and generally not making good use of your things, with the added detriment of needing to replace lost/broken items.  Also, the brutal reality is that no one likes a slob.  People will not want to visit you if your dorm room/apartment/house/residence of an unspecified nature looks like ground zero for a nuclear war.  Furthermore, there are few things less lady-like than having to dig your lost panties out from behind your desk or greeting your guests with a heap of dishes festering in the sink. 

3.       Keeping your room organized will cut down on time you spend looking for things.  If you make a small effort to put your items back where they belong you will save ages digging around in search of a missing shoe or your AWOL car keys.  Am I starting to sound like your mother, dear reader?  Good.  As much as we all may hate to admit that childhood admonishment to clean our rooms served any purpose other than to annoy, the reality is that our parental units were right in insisting that a clean room is, in every way, superior to a messy one.  Not only is it more aesthetically attractive, but it will help make you more efficient in every way. 

4.       Making sure your room clean has the added benefit of minimizing allergies (if you have them), and will keep the creepy crawlers away.  And while not everyone here has a dust/mildew allergy (I do), no human being thrills to the idea of cockroaches, spiders, and other creepy crawlers taking up residence in one’s abode.  Regular dusting, vacuuming, and general scrutiny and care, however, will prevent or at least greatly limit all of the above. 

5.       The way your room smells is important.  This may seem trivial, but scent is one of the most primal aspects of the human brain, and if a room doesn’t smell good it will drive people away and may serve to depress/annoy you.  You can fix the problem with incense (I strongly suggest you invest in good Japanese incense, so your room doesn’t smell like a head shop), scented candles (make sure the scent in question won’t be too overpowering or artificial in execution), sachets (store these in drawers with your clothes to keep moths away and keep your garments smelling fresh), or atmospheric perfumes (again, make sure they don’t smell too artificial).  Avoid cheap, synthetic air fresheners like the black plague.

6.       Make your room interesting!  Allow it to express yourself.  Dull, bland rooms are not the goal of housekeeping.  Clean, interesting rooms are.  And, even more importantly, make sure you decorate to please yourself.  After all, if you don’t like living there, why should anyone else enjoy it either?  Notably, I find a great way to spruce up dull rooms (especially ones with hideous wallpaper/drabs walls) is the strategic use of art prints or posters, and as for the ugly sofa you rescued from the alley, you can cover its sagging self with colorful throws and cushions (and pesticide, in case of lurking insect life) and turn it into a couch fit for a queen.  (Expect future articles to include more information on how to decorate less than lovely abodes). 

7.       You don’t have to do all your housekeeping every single day.  A few things should always get done (putting laundry in the hamper/washing the dishes/making the bed), but other things (vacuuming, mopping, doing the laundry) can be spaced out to weekly or even monthly occurrences, depending on what your individual living quarters require.  The end result is a balanced workload so you, dear lady, do not burn yourself out.

This chaos occurred during my finals. 
Yes, dear reader, I did at one point have a messy room.  Mea culpa.
8.       Lastly, don’t let your housekeeping build up.  If you do, you will inevitably give up on trying to tackle the mess and simply allow it to grow out of control.  At that point matters usually progress until someone stages an intervention or the Hoarders team shows up on your doorstep, whichever comes first.  Instead, just grit your teeth, get the broom, and do your part for the day, so it doesn’t become an added burden for tomorrow. 

Yes, it may seem tiresome.  Yes, you may be busy.  Yes, the fight against entropy is never ending.  The fact remains, however, that keeping one’s home tidy, though sometimes boring and unpleasant, is a necessary aspect of being a lady.  Well-kept living quarters will aid in your efficiency, health, and social life.  Your things will last longer, you’ll spend less money, and you’ll generally feel better.  So put on some enjoyable music or make a game out of your work (a spoon full of sugar and all that, hat tip to you,  Mary Poppins), and get out the dustbuster. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ladies of Fiction: Lisbeth Salander

Lisbeth (and Mikael) surrounded
by adoring fans
Lisbeth Salander, a lady?  I hear you cry in confusion.  How does a surly, piercing studded hacker chick deserve to be called a lady?! 

Simple, I reply, Lisbeth possesses the raw power and determination that any lady should be proud to call her own.
One of the most vital points of being a lady is learning not to judge simply by appearances.  Lisbeth may not wear the elegant gowns or comport herself in the manner we tend to associate with a lady, but what she lacks in overt appearance she makes up for in her internal fortitude.  Lisbeth’s life, from the start in the novels, is a harsh one, in which she is branded insane and thrust into the uncaring maw of asylums and foster homes.  She regularly is mistreated and/or outright abused, and generally has her life made a living hell.  It has damaged her, without a doubt.  Her withdrawn personality and spike riddled appearance serve as armor against a world that has proven itself utterly untrustworthy. 
That being said, however, Lisbeth does not lie down and die.  She does not give up.  Every time someone tries to destroy her, she rises again with a vengeance worthy of the Furies themselves (notably, my friends and I have recently introduced the term ‘Lisbeth’ as a unit of measurement for female rage).  Given all the suffering she has been through, Lisbeth could be forgiven for shutting herself off completely from the world.  Instead she takes her gifts and fire-forged determination and uses them to fight against those who would hurt her or others.  In spite of everything, she overcomes her obstacles and, in her own, asocial way, manages to develop friendships and even romantic relationships.  It isn’t easy, and at the end of the novels it is clear that Lisbeth is still in many ways her ever prickly self, but Lisbeth’s determination never wavers through it all. 
Every life is touched by suffering to some degree.  Sometimes that suffering is great, sometimes small, but the exact size or degree aside, it can make us want to shut down, curling in on ourselves against the world.  What we can learn from Lisbeth is how not to do that.  Obviously, we can’t (and in most cases shouldn’t) lash out at the source of our suffering as Lisbeth does, but we equally cannot allow whatever tragedies occur in our lives to bind us, blind us, and shut us off from the world.  It may seem impossible, and in some cases perhaps the trauma really cannot be overcome, but if a person does not try, how can one ever find out?  Better to take a note from Lisbeth and fight against that which seeks to damage us, rather than meekly lying down and allowing it to rule us. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Lady Reviews: Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?

My copy of this lovely book
Of all the books I read as I developed this blog, arguably none proved quite as influential as Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?, by Pamela Keogh.  It’s rare to find a book that purports to help one achieve something that still manages to be fun, down to earth, and never hold anything over the head of its readers.  From page one it is established that the reader is, in fact, a Jackie, a Marilyn, or some hybrid thereof, and aims to help you play on your natural abilities.  (Your humble writer, in point of fact, is a perfect split right down the middle between these two amazing ladies.)
This off the bat affirmation that the reader has the traits of Jackie or Marilyn is a huge lift.  All too often, in reading books designed to make one a lady, one finds that the author assumes an obnoxiously condescending tone that does nothing but turn one off.  The implication is that one would have to do eons of work to even become slightly attractive, and even then one would merely be a pale knockoff (I’m looking at you, How to Live Like a Lady, which I’ll be reviewing all too soon…). Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn?, however, never slips into this rut.  It maintains, instead, a voice that is reminiscent of a sassy girlfriend, telling you exactly what you need to know and never talking down or demeaning you while she’s at it. 
On top of all this, the book is loaded with information on the two ladies featured in its title.  It handles how they comported themselves throughout life, how both cultivated their respective images of First Lady and Hollywood starlet, as well as providing a peek at the women behind the archetypes they formed.  One is treated to well written mini-biographies of these two, from Marilyn’s rags to riches story to Jackie’s savvy political maneuvering both within and without the Whitehouse.  They were the leading ladies of the age, and their lives of drama, glamour, and all too often tragedy make for a fascinating read. 
And lastly, besides being honest and a good jumping off point for those interested in the two ladies discussed therein, Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? affirms a simple truth for its readers:  You are worth it.  Who can say what it is – perhaps love, wealth, fame, or some combo thereof – but you are worth it, and while it may be a hard road to travel to get what you desire, to settle for less would be a crying shame if not an outright crime.  Settling does nothing but leave one with regrets.  Better instead to strive to be one’s own woman, using the wisdom of two women who lived their spectacular, by turns glittery and grimy, lives with panache beyond telling.