Writing the Book on Keeping House

It's hard enough to get your hands on a piece of good real estate. How to take care of it once you've got it, well, that's another story. In fact, so many people have stories about keeping house--the good, the bad and the ugly--that writer Mindy Lewis collected them in an anthology called DIRT: The Quirks, Passions and Habits of Keeping House.

"People take pleasure and pride in creating home environments-even messy ones," says Lewis. "We express and define our idea of ourselves." The essays in this collection reveal people's [sometimes irrational] attachment to objects, their compulsive cleanliness or hoarding tendencies. "Many of us seesaw back and forth, making stabs at creating order, while resigning ourselves to some degree of chaos," she says.

In her own essay, "Abhorring a Vacuum" (excerpted on the next page), Lewis writes about how "38 years of living in my rent-stabilized apartment becomes a potential health hazard but seems perfectly natural as it accrues." There's nothing like regulated rent to lower one's level of objection to certain housekeeping situations (I'm a rent-stabilized tenant, too, and I live here with lead paint, black mold and cheap rent).