Cover of book: Home Work

Helen Hayward
Home Work

In Home Work: Essays on Love & Housekeeping, Helen Hayward writes thoughtfully about the value we give to housekeeping and the domestic side of our lives. She explores the art of running a home and, in the context of her own life, asks where our sense of worth comes from.

This question is particularly relevant for those who find themselves picking up most of the domestic labour that comes with family life and the conflict this can bring between professional, social and domestic identities. As Hayward writes: “The problem was that, depending on my mood, I felt split between the down-to-earth and questing sides of myself. I wanted a buoyant home life, of course I did, but I also wanted to be free to pursue my ambitions in the world. Too often, this felt impossible to do.”

Much of the book is formed around this central tension and Hayward returns to it often. But she always forms the same conclusion: for her, embracing the work of housekeeping and the domestic arts helps her find joy in the everyday and releases energy that enhances her life. Home Work is an autobiographical exploration of the author’s life while also offering advice on running a home. However, it avoids engaging with critical social issues around gender roles, such as the financial vulnerability faced later in life by many women who make this choice. Yet Hayward makes it clear that she doesn’t advocate for a return to traditional values. Her interest is in larger, more philosophical questions about love and labour, and also mortality. She lingers over a question her mother asks a few months before she dies: “Do you think that I’ve wasted my life?”

In the context of our mortality, home work – that combination of domestic arts (cooking, gardening, craft, renovating), housekeeping and housework that Hayward defines – becomes a more pressing reflection on living. “What I do know, and do have words for, is just how much love and effort it requires to keep up a warm and attractive home, especially with a family at the middle of it,” she writes. “This labour of love keeps me fit and makes me feel, in some elemental way, that my life is bound up with the nature of things. Far from a bar to worldly success, home work now feels like a preliminary for it.”

By dealing with the things she has to do around the home more efficiently, Hayward finds true satisfaction and creativity. 

Puncher & Wattmann, 180pp, $29.95

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 27, 2024 as "Home Work".

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Cover of book: Home Work

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Home Work

By Helen Hayward


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