Friday, November 03, 2006


The Home Keeping System, Then and Now

My father was born when his mother was 42 and I was born when he was 36, so we have long generations in our family.

My father's grandmother truly was a Victorian woman. She was of German heritage and kept house according to the old system of having certain tasks scheduled for every day of the week. (except Sunday). For example, my great-grandmother baked on one day and did laundry on another. To hear my father tell it, her system ran like flawless clockwork

My father remembers his grandmother's household as being both pleasant and efficient. Her daughter, my father's mother, was an equally capable home keeper.

And, then, there's me... Let's just say that, somehow, the family gene for order and system by-passed me. It's takes some effort on my part to come up with workable routines that fit the changing needs of our family and to stick to those routines. Sizing up priorities and sorting out the more important matters from the trivial isn't my strongest gift, either.

I've found that, for me, it's one thing to know a lot of individual domestic skills -- such as cooking, sewing, cleaning, childcare, etc. To understand how to pull these skills all together to create a smoothly running household is another matter, all together.

I assumed that all of our foremothers just naturally had a handle on scheduling household tasks. I assumed that they all learned this at their mother's knee and just stepped into their role as wife and manager of a home already knowing exactly what to do and when.

Those of you who have been reading this blog know that I've been looking through a book, Housekeeping for Two, by Alice James, which was written about 1911. Apparently, she found it wise to instruct her readers -- who were beginning housekeepers -- in the principles of home management and system. Evidently, some of our foremothers struggled with this issue, just as we do.

I imagine that if Mrs. James' readers took the time to read and study her book, they learned from her advice. Since she was writing to beginning home makers, I also assume that they continued to learn through experience.

It's exciting to think that we are following in our foremothers' footsteps when we learn concepts of home making and apply them to our lives. Isn't that a wonderful thing about being a keeper
at home? No matter at what point we find ourselves -- from struggling beginner to home manager extraordinaire -- we always have room to grow. Perhaps, if more people saw manaing a home as a calling that yields personal development, they would hold it in higher esteem.

I've included some thoughts on home management from Alice James for us to ponder:

"The Chinese maxim, 'For him who does verything in its proper time, one day is worth three', is well worth remembering.

"System is absolutely indispensable to the housekeeper who would lighten labour and conduct her domestic affairs with the least hardship and friction, and who, also, would have time for other things. It can be said to all beginners that system is of so much important, no house can be carried on rightly without it; even a poor system might be better than none at all.

"But to have system need not mean a slavish devotion to arbitrary unyielding rules, urged without discrtion or regard to circumstances. Such a a form of house government, strictly enforced, becomes despotic and is ruinous to family happiness; and moreover, a despotic housekeepr finds herself perpetually harassed and perplexed by the merest trifles, which would be unnoticed under a less rigid rule.

"On the other hand, a well chosen system means independence for the mistress in her management of the domestic affairs. If it should be so elastic as to accommodate itself to unforseen interruptions, without danger of disunion, that would be much in its favour."

System with balance and flexibility...it's a good thing :)

Enjoy!
Elizabeth

3 comments:

Susanne said...

Very nice article. I find that especially in today's world that a system to helps to lessen the stress but adding that dash of flexiblity into it helps to make it go smoother. I like that Chinese proverb!

Sandra said...

A good post Elizabeth. An organized system, with flexibility, really does help your life balanced.

I'm enjoying all your posts, as usual. :o)

Elizabeth said...

Hi Suzanne and Sandra,

Thanks for your encouraging comments.

I'm continually working on that balance between order and flexiblity. But,it really does make life go smoother!

Elizabeth