Book review: Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

Organic Housekeeping: In Which the Non-Toxic Avenger Shows You How to Improve Your Health and That of Your Family, While You Save Time, Money, and, Perhaps, Your Sanity by Ellen Sandbeck [Kindle Edition]

I know that I said I would review this book around 4 months ago.
Here’s the thing.
I bought it on Kindle, and I tried to read it. Really, I did. But I never got all the way through it.

When I heard about this book, I heard that it was a book that would explain to the reader how certain parts of the house don’t really need to be as clean as others for specific biological reasons. Like, you can only get to a certain state of clean and beyond that, you’re just dumping chemicals on your home for no reason. And it’s true, there was a paragraph in the book somewhere about that. The author is actually a biologist and not some kind of cleaning expert. I guess what I expected was the biology of the home and then an explanation of how, chemically, vinegar and baking soda could get things as clean as Clorox and all the other non-green chemical products. I expected scientific reasoning.

What this book actually is: a step-by-step, minute dissection of how the author feels is the best way to clean your home, which does contain a lot of vinegar and baking soda, but is largely personal opinion and also requires that you are the one building your home so that you can design it in a way that it doesn’t need to be cleaned as often.

I was disappointed to realize that many of the cleaning tips were also just personal opinion and not the result of some kind of biological/chemical research. For example, the author proposes that cotton rags are really the only reasonable option for washing dishes in the kitchen. She dismisses the sponge completely, even though she admits that sponges can be disinfected by microwaving for one minute, because she claims that disinfecting a sponge takes an unrealistic amount of time and effort so that no one will do it. What? I just pop mine into the microwave before I go to bed each night and microwave for one minute. I don’t even wait for it to finish! I just go to bed and when I need the sponge in the morning to wash up after breakfast I take it out of the microwave. How completely unrealistic is that? And I disagree with a cotton cloth being sufficient to clean dishes. Cotton cloths do not have any scrubbing ability. I make eggs for my son every morning using a stainless steel spatula. That thing gets serious egg on it and it has to be scrubbed very hard with the rough side of my Scotch sponge, even after soaking in water for several hours. How would I ever get that off with a cotton cloth? I wouldn’t. I know because I’ve tried. There is literally no way. This is just one example of how she presents her cleaning methodology as the “best” way but it’s actually just her opinion, and from my viewpoint it isn’t very well reasoned in many cases.

About 1/4 of the book addresses clutter, how to get rid of things, and what to do if you are a hoarder. Which I am sure is helpful if you have a clutter problem or are a hoarder, but I don’t and I’m not. We don’t have clutter because we live in rental houses with no closets and no storage space. We do have a garage full of 12-inch records, but that is an entirely different story which you would need to speak to my husband about. The point being: if I was a hoarder I would buy a different book. I thought this one was about housekeeping.

She also suggests you keep a giant notebook that lists, in alphabetical order, all the items in your home and where to find them. Does this woman not remember what it is like to have 2 children under the age of 2?!!
a) who the heck has that kind of time, and
b) who is going to explain to my toddler that he needs to put that crayon back in the drawer labeled “crayons” because that is what the book says?! Is Ms. Sandbeck going to come to my home and trail around after him, putting things away after he throws them down?

It was in the many chapters about organization that my attention was lost and it really never came back.

The rest of the book is mostly very detailed descriptions of how to clean things that I admit I would never clean regularly. Like the backyard grill, the inside of the oven (except when I spill something in it, obviously – but I don’t go around cleaning that thing for fun), the inside and outside of my refrigerator. It goes into great detail about things like your gutters. As someone who rents, I don’t do that kind of maintenance on my home so I don’t care.

There were also seemingly random chapters on choosing organic food and personal care (body and hair care) products? What? Did anyone edit this manuscript before publication?

Overall, I was disappointed in this book. Perhaps my expectations were too high. The review I initially read that recommended this book said the author’s outlook was life-changing for the reviewer. I didn’t learn much from it that I didn’t already know, except that some people have way too much time on their hands to clean things, and that cleaning is really a matter of personal preference.