Friday, April 26, 2013


Maintaining a well-kept home does not have to be an all-or-nothing chore.

I’ve become enamored with a new word I read on (one of) my inspiration blog(s), How to Be Chic. The author, Fiona, often refers to a part of her daily activities as “pottering” about the house. Apparently, this is an antiquated term meaning to busy oneself with casual housework, or just tidying up the home. This term is very similar to one I heard often growing up, from my mother and grandmother. The German putzen means to clean. I would sometimes hear Mom or Grandma mention how they were just “putzing” around—spending time at home, cleaning up here and there.

I like these words because they indicate a kind of casual attitude toward routine home maintenance. In fact, one online dictionary defines potter (verb) as, “to busy oneself in a desultory though agreeable manner.” Pottering and putzing seem to eliminate the frantic connotations associated with home cleaning. For working professionals who don’t have the luxury of a maid or the time of a full-time hausfrau, home cleaning and maintenance has turned into an all-or-nothing chore. Typically, there is one or several days every month devoted to extensive home cleaning, usually over the course of a precious weekend. During this time, homes are torn apart and sorted through top to bottom. After a day spent making the house sparkle, daily messes then begin to re-accumulate and another marathon cleaning session is scheduled.

European homes generally tend to be a bit smaller than the McMansions of America, which makes it possible to maintain a clean and comfortable home without the same amount of drudgery. I believe that the chic home is one that is comfortable, welcoming, and—like one's personal style—should not require a tremendous amount of effort. I would much rather take care of and enjoy what little I have, than spend time and money agonizing over anything more than what I need. Rather than putting ourselves through the routine torture of a marathon weekend clean, why not steadily work on home tasks, little by little, a la the pottering way?

Pottering/putzing allows the luxury of enjoying your home and tidying up in a leisurely manner. A home cleaning website and support group,, tells its fans, "You can do anything in 15 minutes!" A few minutes cleaning here and there, over the course of days or weeks, can add up to a significant amount of work that is put into combating the home's daily messes. Following this bit of advice could mean less weekend leisure time spent cleaning, and more time spent enjoying oneself. Wouldn't it be nicer to spend a Saturday at a museum or the park, rather than doing laundry?

Although I'm extremely busy with my teaching schedule as the spring semester approaches its end, I’m still trying to maintain my home in a relaxed but consistent manner. Sadly, my weekends are now being spent grading research papers rather than sightseeing, but at least my home has remained relatively livable in the interim. I'm looking forward to having some time off during the summer when I can spend even more time pottering and making my home as uncluttered and European-chic as possible. (I'm sure there will be a summer series about that coming up on Classy Local—stay tuned!)

How do you manage your home maintenance? Do you go all-or-nothing, or little-by-little?

The above photo was taken by me of a tiny European house (one of the village's first) in Rehau, Germany in 2010.

1 comment:

  1. That's funny how local usage twists the original meaning of the word. Growing up in our house, I always thought putzing had more to do with dilly dallying than casual cleaning. I like the real definition better. Now, there's nothing wrong with a little putzing!

    Thanks for sharing!