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I used to be constantly overwhelmed by housework.
Even before I had kids (but especially after!), I had trouble knowing what to do first, or how to get everything done without taking all day every day.
After I had kids, I had even more trouble. How was I supposed to take care of small children, keeping them clean and healthy, and keep the house clean?
Then I discovered the 1942 America’s Housekeeping Book (affiliate link). This book had something modern housekeeping books and gurus didn’t: lists that laid out the best way to plan and accomplish housekeeping. Step-by-step, it told me what to do, the best order to do it in, and where I could best take care of my kids between tasks.
Now, I use a 1940s cleaning schedule for all my housekeeping. I laid it all out in this post, so you can try it for your housekeeping, too!
Planning The 1940s Cleaning Schedule
Housekeeping is a job that needs to be carefully planned, especially if you want to have time for things that are NOT housework.
The easiest way to plan your cleaning is to make a schedule that assigns each housekeeping task to a particular day and hour when it can be done most quickly and conveniently. This plan is the basis of the 1940s cleaning schedule.
The point of the schedule is that you should run your house; it shouldn’t run you. It helps hugely with depression and anxiety, simply by removing the nervousness and uncertainty of never knowing when you’ll get things done, and the stress of rushing to do them after they needed-to-have-been-done-already.
How to Make the Schedule
First, write down the jobs that need to be done every day. Think about everything that you need to do every day. Include things like child care and personal care on the list, too.
Next, write down all the jobs that need to be done every week. Things like a laundry plan, thorough cleaning, etc. go here. On this list, I also include a lot of jobs that most people would consider as monthly jobs, under the category of special cleaning. This includes things like silver cleaning, cleaning the closets, etc. All the other housekeeping and maintenance jobs fall into seasonal cleaning, to be done two or four times a year.
The last step is to make a chart and plug in all the work at the hour and day that is most convenient for that job.
I use a skeleton housework schedule when I plan the daily schedule for my kids and I. Since I homeschool and have a number of smaller children, I use a detailed hourly schedule to make sure that everything gets done. Schedules are really important for small children. They provide a valuable structure that allows the child to develop without anxiety over whether his needs will be met.
Checking Up on the Schedule
Follow your schedule for a week or two before you make any changes. Some of the difficulties may come from simply being unfamiliar with keeping to a schedule. If, after a couple of weeks, your day still seems crowded, and it is difficult to complete all the work for the day, there may be a remedy. Sit down and ask yourself a few questions.
- Are you trying to do too much in a day?
- Do you know the best way to do your tasks?
- Are your tools and supplies easy to use and in good condition? (Poor tools will slow you down!)
- Is your house too cluttered or disorganized? (A lack of convenient arrangement also slows you down!)
- Do you take too long to do a specific job?
- Are your standards of housekeeping too high?
Once you’ve answered these questions, adjust your schedule and try it for another week. Keep tweaking and trying until you have a personalized schedule that works for you and your family.
1940s Cleaning Routines
The 1940s cleaning schedule had a specific order of work for each cleaning routine. Each room, then, had an order of work that included daily care, weekly care, and special seasonal jobs. In addition, there was an order of work for the daily cleaning routine, a weekly cleaning plan, and an order of work for special seasonal jobs.
These routines are laid out without times attached. That allows you to plug them into the best times for your personal schedule. The lists of jobs to be done in each room will prove a helpful guide for your own work.
Don’t sacrifice recreation or relationships on the altar of housework, and don’t set yourself a standard that is beyond your strength.
The quickest and easiest way to do a job well is the most efficient way. Organize your time and make every moment count while you work. Then relax and enjoy life in the leisure hours you have rightfully earned.
The amount of daily cleaning will always vary from family to family. Some of the things that will affect how much work you need to do are pollution, the number of rooms to clean, the size of the family and age of the children, and whether there is a baby in the house. No matter how much or how little there is to be done, a system will speed it along!
Some of the tools that will help you do your daily cleaning systematically are a large tray or basket to collect small things that have wandered into the wrong room, a wastebasket to collect trash as you go along, and a cleaning basket that holds everything you need, even for odd or unexpected jobs.
Order of Work for Daily Cleaning Routine
- Open windows in bedrooms, top and bottom, on arising, for the free circulation of air (except in completely air-conditioned houses).
Throw back the bed covers, including the top sheet, on all the beds.
- Clear away dishes and misplaced articles from the dining room, after breakfast (steps 1-4 in Dining Room outline).
- Rinse and stack dishes, pots, and pans in the kitchen.
Put away food.
- Put the living room in order (steps 1-4 in the Living Room outline).
- Give all rooms their regular daily cleaning, in the following order:
- Living Room
- Second Living Room (sun porch, den library, etc.)
- Dining Room
- Bedrooms (Baby’s Room, Nursery, etc.)
- Upstairs Hall, if any (use the Living Room outline)
- Stairs, if any (use the Living Room outline)
- Downstairs Hall (use the Living Room outline)
- Kitchen (Before cleaning the kitchen, put away all cleaning equipment except what you need for the kitchen, and carry out any necessary food preparation for lunch or dinner. I always make bread dough, dessert, and salad right now, and prep the main dishes for dinner. Then I make lunch.)
In several vintage and housekeeping books, the authors urged women to give up the old plan of, “Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday,” and adopt a different weekly plan. The alternate plans rarely took hold — mostly because washing and ironing were so difficult, housewives did them when they had the most energy, after their Sunday’s rest.
In this 1940s cleaning schedule, laundry stays on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesdays are used for special cleaning tasks, like silver polishing.
Thursdays are used to give the bedrooms and bathrooms their weekly cleaning, and Friday, the same for the living and dining rooms.
The best day to give the kitchen its weekly cleaning is the day before you do the bulk of your weekly marketing. Then, you can clean your refrigerator before you refill it.
Saturday is Baking Day so that you can prepare any special food for the weekend. If you plan well, you can prep most or all of Sunday’s brunch, dinner, and supper in advance on Saturday. Then you really get to have a day of rest on Sunday!
Personally, I prefer to do my seasonal housecleaning twice a year. I get immense inner satisfaction from doing a twice-yearly inside-out, top-to-bottom cleaning. Some housewives prefer to tackle the seasonal cleaning jobs on their special cleaning tasks day, usually a Wednesday.
When you do seasonal cleaning, a plan is necessary which includes your work, as well as work you assign to others. Make out a schedule that stretches the cleaning over 1 to 2 weeks, and write down just what is to be done each day.
Either you should plan to take each room, cleaning it and everything in it, and then restoring it to order, or you should plan to do similar jobs at the same time in two or three rooms in one session. Whichever plan you choose, it’s kind to leave a couple of rooms at any given time undisturbed for the rest of the family to relax in.
Order of Work for Special Seasonal Jobs
- Closets and Bureau Drawers
- Review contents; sort into separate piles:
- Articles to be cleaned or renovated
- Articles to be returned to active use
- Article to be stored away for the season.
- Clean closets and drawers; restore order.
- Pack away articles not to be used during the season.
- Review contents; sort into separate piles:
- Home Furnishings (blankets, draperies, rugs, slipcovers, furniture, etc.)
- Inspect all furnishings and collect articles needing cleaning, repair or renovation.
- Send out articles requiring professional care.
- Attend to laundering or renovation that can be done at home.
- Remove all trash
- Clean ceiling, walls, and floor
- Refinish walls if necessary.
- Game Room (if any): Use Living Room outline
- Attend to any necessary cleaning and reorganization.
- Dispose of trash
- General Seasonal Housecleaning: Use special seasonal jobs outline to work through each room
- Storm Windows, Screens, and Awnings
- Spring: Take down storm windows and storm doors; wash and store. Brush screens and put up.
- Summer: Brush awnings and put up.
- Fall: Take down awnings; brush, and store. Take down screens; wash, and store.
- Wash storm windows and put up. Put up storm doors.
Using a 1940s Cleaning Schedule
Obviously, this plan is ideal. I like ideals because they give me something to strive for. My house is more likely to be presentable and feels more livable when I approach this ideal.
However, there are some things, like taking care of small children and spending time with my husband, that take precedence over keep the house clean. After all, if you can’t drop the silver cleaning and go for a picnic on a beautiful May day, you’re probably cleaning too much.
What About Decluttering?
You may notice that, unlike more modern cleaning schedules, there is no decluttering scheduled. During the 1940s, decluttering was NOT a thing. Really, decluttering was “one and done” when you inherited too much stuff. If you want a 1940s home, declutter once (use the Konmari method), store necessary supplies (prepping in the 1930s and 1940s was quite the thing), and don’t buy anything unless it has a purpose and is good quality (no Target therapy).
The Konmari method fits very well with a traditional home because of its philosophy of keeping only what makes you happy and fits into your vision of your future. The 1940s were a time of intersection between Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern, and both styles called for wide sweeps of uncluttered surfaces and carefully curated, well-designed household objects.