Tuesday, May 17, 2005

How Family Circle Messed Up My Family


Family Circle Total Know-How Archive

I caved in and bought the latest issue of Family Circle from the supermarket check-out rack: I couldn't resist the "The Whole Family Guide to Getting Organized" advertised on the cover.

I've been reading Family Circle, Women's Day and, less often, other women's magazines since the age of 11, devouring the Helpful Hints and features on decorating, cleaning and organizing. About two years ago I decided to kick the habit: the decorating schemes were never to my taste; the tips on household organization and maintenance were always the same and never worked.

This month's feature (not yet online) was no surprise:

Clean-sweep as a family Each night before bedtime, clutter-bust for 15 minutes. To avoid arguments, take turns choosing the pick-up music (Dad's Otis Redding or Junior's Jay-Z) and race to see how much debris can be raked before the song is over.

I don't know who Otis Redding is much less Jay-Z. I've tried to stage these communal clean-up projects and got nothing but resentment. Are there really women out there who get their family picking up clutter to music as a jolly bedtime routine?

Share chores with neighbors Child care, bulk grocery shopping, even lawn-mowing during vacations can be rotated with neighbors to save time and build your community network.

Where are these bucolic villages where neighbors chat over the backyard fence and exchange chores? I've never even borrowed a cup of sugar, or known anyone who has. I know people want to live this way and believe that they should--I certainly do--but does anyone really?

Hire a local student Have him run occasional errands for you--the small expense may turn out to be a big bargain.

Where is this pool of students available for baby-sitting, errands and other casual work? Students old enough to work are flipping burgers or, in the case of the girls who live next door, selling Avon.

Forget about Martha Stewart, the impossible ideal: does anyone really live according to Family Circle standards--covering coffee cans with contact-paper, cutting up greeting cards with pinking sheers to make gift tags or using egg cartons and shoe boxes for 100 different purposes? I used to save egg cartons and tried to use them to organize paper clips, screws and "other small items" as recommended but it made a complete mess. Now that we have curbside recycling I feel a little less guilty about trashing those coffee cans, egg cartons and margarine tubs, but I still feel inadequate.

Some of the projects featured in Family Circie are clearly idiotic. Every year or so they run a story on women who save thousands of dollars on groceries by couponing. Typically, they feature a Couponing Queen who spends a year clipping coupons from packages and women's magazines, maintains elaborate coupon files, meets with other couponers from her neighborhood weekly to trade coupons and then (with the author of the article in tow) uses her coupons to buy $500 worth of brand name groceries for pocket change. Why on earth would anyone do this? Anyone who can tolerate this kind of drudgery could make lots more money as a secretary--part-time.

Still I worked hard and unsuccessfully to achieve the Family Circle lifestyle--with disastrous results. My husband was chronically furious about my household organization schemes and attempts to save money; my kids have never forgiven me.

Three years ago I gave up. Now I never even ask anyone to pick up or flush after themselves much less help with the housework--they never did, and now at least they don't yell at me. I don't try to save money: I buy whatever the kids want immediately, no questions asked. It's depressing: one of the central goals in my life since I was a child was to have a beautiful, completely organized house and to save as much money as possible. At least I have my job, which I like.

Does anyone ever manage to follow the recommendations in women's magazines? Are there really women out there who make the egg carton system work? Who make monthly menu-plans or freeze the week's meals in advance? Who have family calendars with schedules and assigned chores that people actually do stuck to their refrigerator doors? Who are they? Where are they? How do they do it?

6 comments:

Boofykatz said...

This is Nirvana you are looking for.. or do I mean Shan Gri La?
For what my opinion is worth, and that is very little, and I must post here a GROSS GENERALISATION WARNING, the people with the cleanest homes and neatest gardens have the dirtiest and most disorganized minds. Anybody who washes their car every week is seriously lacking a life. Yeah, I know, rant, rant, rant.

Irene Vartanoff said...

The reason these articles keep showing up is that housewives, i.e., family janitors, have consistent problems with getting any cooperation from the "king" and the "royal family" they serve. Otis Redding is "Dock of the Bay," a big hit when he died in the 1960s, and a very good rendition of "Try a Little Tenderness." And totally unsuited to cleaning a house.

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