Notes for a Queer Homemaker: Polishing Silver and Panoptical Perches

Hello and happy new year (if you’re Jewish)! If you aren’t Jewish, just think of it as the “back to school” new year. That works too. This year is a shmita year! A year of release. And this year, we’re releasing things that have held us back, things like heteronormative ideas about homemaking and domesticity. And what do we get instead? Peace in our homes, a feeling of calm and comfort that comes when you sit on the couch knowing the sink is clean. We get to feel like we are responsible for making our homes places of refuge for ourselves and our communities.

I think caring deeply about domestic life is a queer endeavor. Domesticity is world-making! It is the act of deciding what and how you want your home, as its own world, to feel and creating rituals, moments, pauses, spaces where you tend to that world you’re trying to create. I do not think domesticity is working a full-time job and scrubbing your hands raw, washing the dishes, or polishing silver (although polishing silver is really fun and we should talk about it). I don’t think domesticity is archaic or tied to gender.

We all have a role in creating the world we want to live in, and I am a proponent of practice. What better way to use our homes than as a lab where we practice creating the spaces that make us feel our best? And yes, some of our role in this work is cleaning something gross, or learning how to keep things tidy, but don’t think of this as work meant to keep you busy or keep you relegated to the private sphere. Learning how to keep your space clean and tidy is an important skill, and one that I believe we can each do. I want to offer you domestic skills in a way that makes you feel empowered to complete them, not guilty for ignoring them.

So where do we start? With a little introduction to how you might want to approach your domestic life and a bonus on housemate etiquette.

There’s a deeply dangerous criminological theory called the broken windows theory which suggests that policing smaller crimes prevents larger ones from being committed and creates an atmosphere of order. Now I’m not one to suggest that you police yourself or your housemates. Please, do not; that is not good housemate etiquette. But I am suggesting, just a bit, that you have a panoptical view about any spaces in your home you feel responsible to clean. Take a step back and look at your home as if you’re directly above it, able to see it all; begin to think about what spaces might need your attention.

What areas tend to get the dirtiest the quickest? For me, those are the couch/coffee table area where I work, the kitchen which I use constantly, and the corners of my rooms. Identifying what areas initiate mess and unease in your home will help you know where to look to begin a cleaning project.

How do those areas get dirty? Are they dirty, messy, or just untidy? The couch/coffee table gets messy; a few cups are often left over, papers that could be in the trash get left about. The kitchen gets dirty; water splashes on the floor, the stove gets used, dishes have to be washed, trash gets full, etc. etc. etc. The corners of my room are just untidy. I use these spots to put things down instead of putting them away. I find differentiating between dirty (a space that needs to be cleaned or sanitized), messy (untidy spaces with a few things that belong in the trash/laundry/sink (think, your desk after a four-cup day of coffee)), and untidy (a space with things outside of their rightful places) helpful. Not every space is dirty. Maybe you just need to take your shirts off of the shirt chair and put them in drawers. Maybe you just need to close your drawers!

Next, think about when you can pay attention to these spots? I like to clean up the couch area at the start of the day, the kitchen at the very end of the day, and pick up my room around lunch, or right when I get home if I’m working from the office. Build tidying up around the day you already have. I clean up the living room in the morning because I probably left a bunch of stuff there the night before that I now need for work, and now, I have a clean room for the start of the day! If you putz around every morning for an hour before getting ready for your day maybe that becomes your tidying time. Maybe you only bring three things to their right spaces, but you start to build the habit.

Touching on housemate etiquette: the best way to ensure there aren’t passive aggressive arguments about cleanliness is to do your part to keep the home clean. Really do your part. If you see something disrupting the energy of a space you are cooperatively making a home in, fix it. Sure, it would’ve taken your housemate 30 seconds to wash their cup, but it’ll take you 30 seconds to wash it when you wash your cup! And now there are more clean cups for everyone to use and a cleaner kitchen! Look at the world you are building!

I love the domestic arts in all their forms. I care deeply about how to fold hospital corners and which spoons to use when setting the table for a semi-formal dinner party. But you do not have to care about these things in order to have a more domestic life. You’ve got to just pay attention. What nags you about your living situation and what can you do to make it better? Usually the answer has nothing to do with spending money or getting something new, it’s just about directing energy toward your space in an intentional way. And who knows, one day you too might have a google drive folder dedicated to cleaning schedules! Even if you never do, think of the new world you’ll begin to create within the walls of your home.

Next month, we’ll talk about cleaning supplies. What do you already have, what do you need, what can you make, how to keep your pets safe. What other queer domestic goodness do you wanna know about?

Notes for a Queer Homemaker is a new column that will publish on the fourth Friday of every month!

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Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 330 articles for us.


  1. So happy to see a new column from you, Ari!! I love this topic and have been digging into domestic things and nesting a lot during the everything of the last year. Really looking forward to reading these. =)

  2. I don’t write comments much, but I really wanted to say thank you for writing this. I’m a trans woman who is pretty feminine and who also likes domestic housekeeping, and this article really helped me feel better about myself.

    This week has been rough, and I’ve been doubting myself a lot lately, but after reading this, I really felt affirmed and reassured that it’s alright that I like cooking and cleaning. Thanks again, I’m really looking forward to reading more from this column.

  3. ARI!!!! a one-of article/essay of yours about reclaiming domesticity years ago changed my life! And now we get a WHOLE COLUMNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN?!?!?!?!?! is this just for me?? I know it’s not but that’s how special it feels!!! Wow I am SO EXCITED. and we are moving into a small studio, i am a scatterbrain and ‘the messy one’ in most pairings to small groups, but i am also the person who makes the bunting and really needs my colors just right and i make very cute pillow cases out of my old kurties so I am gonna be making extra sparkles with this series.

  4. Oh I love this! Especially the part about designated tidying times. I tend to tidy my work desk at the end of each work day – put everything back in its proper place, so it’s organized for the next day. The kitchen counter/bar gets cleaned at night after dinner when I do the dishes. And my bedside table usually gets tidied either right before bed or first thing in the morning. Now that I’ve noticed these patterns I can make them more intentional.

    Already looking forward to the next column because I really am trying to use fewer/greener/cheaper cleaning products!

  5. Yes!!! As someone who became *very* domestic over the pandemic because she moved into her own apartment and had nothing to do but decorate and get cozy, I am so excited for this column!

    P.S. I’m right with you, I find polishing furniture or silverware very soothing.

  6. SO excited for this column! Domestic tasks make me feel peaceful and collected.

    I live with someone who worries about the effects of cleaning products on the pet, so I’m super stoked for next month’s column to see if we can find a happy solution.

  7. As someone who does not yet find domestics tasks soothing (although I do love that sitting on the sofa knowing the kitchen is clean feeling), this is the first article on cleaning that has left me feeling peaceful. Impressive!

  8. Ari!! So good to see you back on here! This is such a useful piece, I really like the ‘tidying times’ suggestion and distinguishing between dirty/messy/untidy. Looking forward to this series!

  9. I am so excited for this! I really enjoy tidying but have lost the knack for fitting it into the day/around and with someone else now I’m living with my partner and I can’t wait to get good ideas! Also this nesting instinct is something I feel very much in general. Glad to have you back!

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