Way back in the 1950s, women couldn’t turn to YouTube for tips on beauty, cleaning the house, or marriage. Of course, this also gave them more time to actually practice the advice that they found in books and on the radio. Often, their skill at homemaking came from the enduring, daily practice they had at getting things done. But they also received some advice that seems down-right modern now. Some of it, we are rediscovering (on YouTube and Instagram!) and some of it we never forgot. Here are 8 of the best things you can do to level up your housewifery.
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All the Things Your Grandma Knew To Do
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Take a cue from your grandma’s playbook and elevate your housewife game with timeless wisdom that stands the test of time.
1. Always Put Self-Care First
Believe it or not, every vintage book of wifely advice tells the housewife that she should make time for beauty, exercises, and rest. Beauty books recommend planning 15-30 minutes in the morning to dress and “pretty up.” 15 minutes of exercise every day, a 15-minute rest and “freshening up” before dinner, and at least 15 minutes at bedtime for a bath and skin care.
Now, for me, this isn’t quite enough quiet time. I add 15-30 minutes in the morning when I read the Bible, journal a verse or two and pray. I am an introvert, and I need at least a half hour before my kids get up to sit in peace and quiet.
2. Always Wear An Apron
I’m not talking about the cute hostess aprons that you can buy in the store, now either! I am talking about big, vintage, “covering aprons” the kind with sleeves, that went from your neck to your ankles. These are the best kind of cleaning apron. You won’t get bleach, or lye, or polish on your clothes. You can add big pockets to carry important things. And if you make them out of white cotton or denim, you can bleach them and keep them white and pretty.
3. Bring Back The Housedress
So you wanna wear yoga pants . . . just kidding! Actually the tendency to wear sloppy clothes at home has been around for a LOOOONG time. Emily Post had a chapter about avoiding the “gray flannel wrapper habit” in her first etiquette book, way back in the 1890s. But every housekeeping book advises the housewife to get dressed in something pretty before starting her work. And I can vouch for the fact that a pretty dress and a matching headscarf to cover your curls can do wonders for your mood when you have to make breakfast for a lot of rather fussy children!
4. A Well-Run Kitchen Is The Heart Of A Happy Home
A well-fed man is a happy man. And if you are a cooking for a family, then you know that keeping the troops fed is NOT small potatoes. In fact, if you cook three meals a day, you probably spend at least 3 hours every day making food and cleaning up afterward. I cook three meals and two snacks, plus a weekly baking day, and I m the dishwasher. For nine people. Believe me, I spend a lot of time looking for shortcuts and systems. On an average day, I spend 4 hours in the kitchen. My kitchen has to run well, or I would spend all day in it!
So, what are the two keys to a well-run kitchen? The first is definite , dependable mealtimes. Breakfast at eight, lunch ant noon, dinner at 6, milk and cookies at 3 in the afternoon, juice and vitamins at 9 or 10 in the morning. I also have littles and I feed them in the kitchen before the rest of the family eats at the table. (The littles sit at the table with us, but since they have eaten, I can concentrate on eating with everyone else.) The second key is a clean, pretty, well-organized kitchen. You cannot minimize your time if your kitchen is dirty or cluttered or disorganized. This is a HUGE topic, though, and worthy of its own post.
5. Set a Pretty Table
One thing that every vintage hope chest and trousseau list has in common is a list of table linens. And of course, everyone knows “The Second [Domestic] Spice: A snow white cloth on a neatly arranged table.” (I mean you knew that, didn’t you? Of course you did.) In fact, there are whole books devoted to table setting and serving meals. (My favorite: Meal Planning and Table Service for the American Home Without Servants, by Beth Bailey McLean. Isn’t it nice that there is a whole book to tell us how to manage meals without servants?) Joking aside, though, a nice table is an excellent way to establish that people should RESPECT the amount of time you are spending in your well-run kitchen. And the kids should wash their hands and faces, and comb their hair, and put on clean shirts, too.
6. Put On A Happy Face
Get ready, Betty Friedan, for the cringe of “The Third [Domestic] Spice: The housewife’s sweet and friendly expression, that like the sun, will dispel the small clouds of discontent and irritation that sometimes threaten the domestic sky.” Yes, ladies, the happiness of your home is all on you. UUUGGHHH. But actually, marriage experts from Dr. Laura to Laura Doyle have said the same thing. Men are simple creatures, and easy-to-please. To ensure a happy home, a housewife just needs to act like she enjoys providing the three things a man needs.
This is also why self-care is so important. The ability to act and feel happy comes out of your “emotional bank account,” and if your resources are depleted, you cannot do them effectively. You need to have those reserves filled up, and the fastest way to do that is to make yourself feel loved (rather than waiting for someone else to make you feel loved). That is why housewives, especially housewives who are trying to be their best wife, need to invest in self-care.
7. Schedules Work
Schedules keep you sane, help you stay balanced, and prevent overwhelm. Inevitably, when I say this, someone will reply, “I don’t need a schedule. I am SPONTANEOUS!” Actually, everyone needs a schedule.
A schedule is essentially a budget for your time. It sets up healthy boundaries. Even babies benefit from a schedule. They quickly learn what to expect, and then they can feel secure and devote their time to development. A schedule is especially helpful if you feel that you don’t have time for everything that you want to do. By budgeting your time and giving every minute a job, you will actually find that you have more time to do what you love.
8. Debt Is Not Your Friend
Credit cards suck. And yes, I know that there are a million and one excuses for why you need one. But. You. Don’t. You just don’t! Credit cards let you spend money you don’t have, indiscriminately. That puts you in debt. Debt is servitude. And the only person you should be serving is your husband. (True story!) If you just don’t know how to manage without credit cards, then I recommend Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (because figuring out what makes you happy is important for reducing indiscriminate spending) and You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham (because the Four Rules are the best way to manage your money and your time).
Getting It All Together
Of course, none of this will do you any good if you don’t try it. (Also one of the things your grandma knew!) So here’s your bonus tip to up your housewife game: Do the next thing. Don’t spend mindless hours scrolling Instagram or bingeing Netflix. Do something. budget your time to meet your priorities. Be proactive. All the advice in the world will not get you off your seat. You are responsible. Choose your response.