Daily Sociology Diary: Keeping the House in Order

Daily Sociology Diary: Keeping the House in Order
Written by admin

Written by Cornelia Mayr

There is no other place like home. But what makes a home? Some of you may say that home is a place that provides a sense of comfort, safety and familiarity; it’s a place where your heart belongs and I can thrive. It is a welcoming sanctuary where you will find the treasure chest of life. But above all, home is where everything should be in order.

When entering a different house from a sociological point of view, we can immediately experience a unique statement about the taste, lifestyle and identity of the inhabitants. At the same time, we see how everything is arranged and kept in its place. Have you ever noticed that tidying up your home can give you a sense of well-being and comfort, but looking around a cluttered home can be overwhelming? The domestic space is thus a good place where we can explore our relationship with things and its relation to the social order.

For anthropologist Mary Douglas (1991, p. 289), home is a “localizable idea” that “begins with the mastery of space.” In this sense, a place like home acquires its meaning through the practice of domesticity; and as such it becomes part of the internal order-building processes. In other words, order remains and everything runs smoothly as long as they are kept in the right place in the house.

Most likely, we can store our things in the places where we use the objects most often. So the logical thing to do is to keep things in the places we think they belong, probably more pragmatic than symbolic. But putting things where they “just belong” are, according to Douglas, well-ordered spatial manifestations of basic rules and values.

Disorder in the home is associated, for example, with what Douglas considers “filth”; when a thing in the wrong place or too many things violates norms, values ​​and interests. Douglas gives several examples, drawing our attention to[…] bathroom equipment in the living room; clothes are lying on the chairs; out-door things in-doors’ (1966, p. 37). Or imagine finding cutlery on the bedside table. Although those things are not dirty in themselves, they can be made “dirty” by placing them where they are out of context.

In this sense, every object belongs to a certain place, and the concept of “dirt” is opposed to this place. Thus, by assigning things to their appropriate zones, we also create a non-place; a place where things don’t belong and become ‘dirty’ or ‘out of place’. Whether our things are placed in place or out of place, there are cultural rules about what objects can be combined and placed with others, and the anxiety, rejection, or revulsion that follows if these rules are violated.

But for the most part, people may not consciously reflect on their subjects unless the subjects are taken out of context; unless we classify them as “dirty”. Just think how quickly everything in your home, in the course of events, can suddenly be deliberately hidden behind closed doors. How quickly do you clean up the clutter that has been hiding on your website when unexpected visitors arrive? How do you consciously hide intimate things from plain sight? Disruption usually prompts action, followed by ad hoc spatial reorganization.

But where did the idea of ​​a proper place for our things come from? Do we organize our homes based on an innate aesthetic sense, or are our notions of order and “dirt” shaped by cultural values, symbolic meanings, and social trends?

Pierre Bourdieu’s work could explain to us how people maintain a sense of domestic order through the display of taste and exclusivity. When we choose places to rest our things, Bourdieu might say, we arrange them according to our likes and dislikes. In doing so, we not only represent parts of our lifestyle. We simultaneously symbolize the boundaries between purity and pollution, private and public, home and outdoors.

Just as we incorporate our material possessions into this complex system of classification and separation, we can also see the role internal divisions play in organizing our homes. Structural factors such as age, income, occupational stability, neighborhood and living conditions, as well as social changes, can make people feel more or less concerned about keeping things in order (more on housing insecurity). Therefore, the sense of order in the home is reflected and recreated by a socially constructed, yet meaningful vision of the home as a place of belonging, security, as well as private and public expression.

With that in mind, is the way we organize our stuff a matter of choice, commitment, or structure? Take a look around and see for yourself. Wherever you keep (dis)order in your belongings, you can witness individually significant, but socially constructed phenomena. Therefore, what gives you a sense of home can be much more than a sense of home and can be a reiteration of social concepts, values ​​and norms. These inherent social rules do not end at our doorstep. At home, we also try to restore order by putting everything in its place.

About the author


Leave a Comment