Cleanliness, Thrift and Routine


For several years I have collected books that relate to traditional aspects of domesticity, therefore these editions became my initial point of reference. The books cover the periods from approximately the 1930s-60s, so are written for a different time, with the natural assumption that keeping house was the sole responsibility of the female of the household. The main theme of all the books across the 30 year spectrum appears to be thrift – recipes, shopping, cleaning hints, laundry, mending and how to budget the household finances efficiently.

“A housewife, to be really successful, must not only be a good cook, and house-keeper, but a good shopper so that she gets the best value for her housekeeping allowance’ The Modern Housewife’s Book

 KEEPING HOUSE: There appears to be an extraordinary amount of importance placed on ‘keeping a house spick and span and free from dust’ with several of the books offering suggested house-work routines which refer to the ‘fortnightly turn-out’ where tasks are rotated, through to entire chapters on spring cleaning and the military precision required to juggle housework with other duties such as cooking and looking after children.
HOUSE KEEPING: The same amount of order and precision is given to managing the household budget as to the cleaning routine, with all the books assuming that the housewife will keep weekly accounts of her expenditure, pointing out that “this not pointless drudgery, but the necessary routine of a well-managed household…” The Book of Hints and Wrinkles

There are suggestions of how to break down the household income and plenty of advice on budgeting, with hints on cheap shopping, menu planning and cutting down on household bills (avoiding unnecessary phone call and turning off the lights!).

As stated at the beginning of this post, these books refer to a different era, and it is easy to make light of the pedantic nature of the writings, however if you strip away the out-moded references, what is left are themes that we can still relate to; different pressures undoubtedly mean that we still, to various extents, rely on routine to manage our daily lives (which includes shopping, cleaning and cooking). Similarly there is probably more pressure to maintain our homes – DIY make-over programmes of the 1990s, the plethora of home magazines and social media platforms such as Pintrest encourage us to update our interiors on a far more regular basis than say my grandparents (who had the same furniture for their entire marriage).

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2 comments

  1. Your books are a great starting point P. The style and content of the writing is really interesting – definitely linked to a specific point in time but loads of great tips for today too! I’m drawn to the word ‘thrift’ – not used often these days – could be good to explore this further? Also ‘the fortnightly turnout’. Mum mentioned to me about different jobs on different days – seemingly routines were important. Could be interesting to list our own housekeeping jobs undertaken within a fortnight?

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  2. Yes I also liked the idea of ‘thrift’ – it’s very much in the spirit of ‘make do and mend’. I spoke to my Mum about my grandmother in relation to housekeeping, this is what she said: “Poppa would hand her some money every week – her house keeping, she had a long metal tin, with rounded corners which had partitions in it – each week she would divide the money into the sections for food, electric etc and perhaps one section for extras. Presumably she would be in charge of paying all the bills.
    She always kept the tin in the top drawer of her dressing table. (maybe she thought this was safer?). She continued to put money away like this all her life.They always paid for everything, and never bought things on HP”.

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