16 May 2010

The Keeping of the House, 1950s Style


The 50s housewife was busy, to say the least. According to what I’ve read, she cleans certain things on a weekly basis that I haven’t cleaned once since moving into our condo in 2006. Kidding, mom. (Not kidding, everyone else.)

I’ve compiled the advice, and here’s the daily housekeeping schedule I’ll attempt to follow for the 50s Housewife Experiment:

  1. Throw back the covers
  2. Open up the blinds and windows
  3. Freshen up
  4. Make and serve breakfast
  5. Clean up breakfast
  6. Complete a 10-minute exercise regime
  7. Shower, do hair and make-up, get dressed
  8. Gather a basket for tidying. As the rooms of the home are tackled, pick up items that aren’t where they belong and place them in a basket. Redistribute them where they should be as you enter a new room
  9. Straighten up the living and dining room, including picking up potential clutter, light dusting, fluffing / straightening pillows, and watering plants or flowers
  10. Make the beds
  11. Tidy the bedroom, including light dusting
  12. Hang up any clothes that may be about or ensure dirty ones are in the hamper
  13. Do a light tidy of the bathroom including removing and replacing used towels, refilling toilet paper and soap (if needed) and cleaning the sink and basin area including soap dishes
  14. Review the menu for the current day and the next and compare it to what’s currently available in the home. Make note of anything that needs to be prepared ahead of time or marketing (shopping) that needs to get done
  15. Begin long-advance preparations for dinner (such as making dessert)
  16. Wipe down kitchen work surfaces and inside the fridge
  17. Dispose of garbage
  18. Rinse dish cloths and hang to dry
  19. Sweep or mop the kitchen floor
  20. Handle errands that might take you out of the home (such as marketing, volunteering, going to the post office, getting an item fixed, etc), bookkeeping, correspondence, or indulge in a hobby
  21. If returning from the grocery store, wash vegetables, wrap them and put them away. Place rest of groceries or purchases in their proper place
  22. Have a quick lunch <- Yoinks?
  23. Start advance food conditioning like crisping vegetables or thawing frozen foods
  24. Handle weekly chore for the day (more on that below!)
  25. Set the table for dinner
  26. Arrange the living room for evening enjoyment (such as “the Mister’s” newspaper, book, and cigarettes)
  27. Do a quick sweep of the floors and ensure entrance ways are clear
  28. Prepare a special dish for dinner
  29. Freshen up before the husband returns from work. Consider changing into something more festive if the day dress is plain
  30. Set out a tray with equipment for making cocktails, should “the Mister” want to serve drinks before dinner
  31. Greet husband “gayly”
  32. Serve dinner
  33. Clear table and wash dishes
  34. Pour boiling water down the sink to ensure pipes are flushed
  35. If necessary, pack the husband’s lunch for the next day. Set aside a lunch tray in the refrigerator for yourself if having leftovers
  36. Set table for breakfast
  37. Ensure breakfast foods are available and do any make-ahead preparations for it
  38. Shoot yourself in the head Enjoy an evening of relaxation
If that isn’t enough, each day there is a once-a-week chore to tackle, which is basically a deep clean of a particular room. It’s not your typical “wipe the tub” cleaning. Nope. It’s stuff like:
  • Use metal polish on bathroom fixtures
  • Clean and disinfect all kitchen appliances
  • Scald and disinfect bread boxes and garbage pails and bins
  • Replace flowers with fresh bouquets
In addition, laundry should be done at least twice a week (including bedding) and floors should be mopped / vacuumed on a similar schedule.

There is also a recommendation in there to try to squeeze a 10 – 30 minute nap in the afternoon (if not because you’re actually tired but to “look more refreshed” for he-who-wants-to-be-greeted-with-prettiness when he gets home).

While there were certainly brand name cleaning products available to her, the 50s housewife used a lot of simple household products as well – such as baking soda, vinegar, lemon, castile soap and borax – not to mention a good deal of elbow grease. She used things like cheese cloth, rags and old newspapers instead of paper towels. This actually all suits me fine as I figure these are all environmentally friendly options – and who knows – they might even work better than the contemporary products.

I’d also like to note - and will bold this so that a certain someone sees it - that all the guides indicate that a husband shouldn’t expect to be waited on hand and foot. He is fully capable of putting away his coat when he arrives home, fetching and putting away the objects he uses and properly hanging and / or putting his clothes away after undressing. Extras like helping with the dishes after dinner are also "courteous contributions."

Image Source: The Bride's Reference Book


Amanda,  7:23 am, May 18, 2010  

That list looks insane!!!!

Unga Punga 4:01 pm, May 18, 2010  

My chin hit the ground when I got to #22 - eat lunch. 1-21 were just morning activities. Aha! I'm so, so far behind.

Jen 3:27 pm, May 19, 2010  

You and me both, Punga. I totally have not been able to match her speed. Not only do I have to skip that nap she seems to squeeze into her day, I haven't left the bloody house yet! In two days! For reals. Ha.

Anonymous,  5:11 am, November 26, 2010  

Can you post what you had to do on a weekly basis? The deep cleaning stuff?

Moody Woman,  10:16 pm, January 26, 2011  

Wow! This is a little too close to what my normal day looks like! We have a large home with 5 college age guy boarders and 4 kids of our own. But yes I do agree with the gun to the head at the end of the day.

K. Suzanne 8:58 pm, April 16, 2011  

Another interesting aspect of the 50s housewife culture: Those "diet pills" that were actually amphetamines. No wonder they could get so much done!

Amber 7:01 pm, May 11, 2011  

Good lord. I have difficulty cleaning, so I thought "Hey! I'll take some tips from a 50's housewife". Then I read them. I don't mind my house being messy that much.

Candy,  12:50 am, June 15, 2011  

That sounds like some of my more productive days - you know, the ones where you START with a beer, rather than end with one.

Mary 11:43 am, September 29, 2011  

Yikes! I also thought, hey, this sounds interesting! Indeed, it was interesting, but just reading the list wore me out! lol. I'll stick to my manageable Flylady lists! lol

Anonymous,  10:54 pm, November 29, 2011  

You don't really believe that the 50's were anything like this, do you? I raised five children, worked part-time as a nurse, traveled with the family, fixed wholesome meals (no Campbell's soup recipes), and yes, I kept the house clean. My husband helped in every way from changing diapers to cooking to taking the kids on outings. The magazines, McCall's and the like, were not all about housekeeping. There were short stories by well-known authors that you won't find in any magazine today and news items about people other than the Justin Bieber sort. And there's nothing wrong with a household routine, even a bit of dusting. It keeps the germs at bay.

Anonymous,  3:18 pm, June 07, 2012  

i think everyone should keep this cleaning regimine. it works just fine for me, and i have a 9 month old sone to look after and to mess up everything i clean. lol. but yes the diet pills with amphetamines help get stuff done and stay skinny. although i get shakey if i dont eat properly. so i munch on small cheese sticks and crackers through out the day.

Fay Sophie 4:24 am, July 06, 2012  

Have just stumbled upon your blog. what a brilliant idea.
I am a real life stay at home mum/ homemaker in the year 2012
How times have changed :)
will be reading with interest.

Anonymous,  4:47 am, July 26, 2012  

Decided to try this the other day,I got to number twelve. I was sweaty and exhausted by then,kicked of the heels and pantyhose,flipped on the tv,and gave up. Kudos to you!
-16 year old obsessed with the 50's

Anonymous,  1:37 am, July 29, 2012  

You said this was a compilation, right? What are the sources for this list? I too am interested in knowing what was the typical deep-cleaning chore schedule for a housewife in the 1950s. I'm sorta doing a 50s housewife thing right now; I find this very interesting. I read an article a few days ago that said housewives from the 50s were six inches thinner than women today. I bet this schedule had something to do with it. :)

Joanne 1:09 pm, December 27, 2014  

A woman would have had to get up at 5 a.m. and go to bed at midnight or later to get all this done. The "morning" routine alone would take about six hours.

iownfrodo 7:13 pm, January 11, 2015  

To be honest, my day is a lot like this. The morning time before lunch is more about tidying than scrubbing. Most of these are five-10 minute jobs. Swish and swipe the bathroom, 2 minutes. Put on some eggs and bacon while the coffee is doing its thing. It sounds like a lot, but it's really a lot of tiny jobs. The only things I don't do on here is putting on makeup before breakfast and the 10 minute exercise. I need to add that. I do walk the dog, though, before breakfast because if you don't you'll pay. LOL. My grandmothers both did this routine through the day, very different women, they didn't slave or rush, it was more like home caring than drudgery. I don't know how to describe the difference in mindset, but it was more about enjoying your home and living in it instead of using it as a pit stop to sleep and change clothes, like most of us live now.

Anonymous,  8:45 pm, January 25, 2015  

Other than dishes, laundry & making dinner, which I do almost every day,(and making the bed, which I do NEVER), I do a day like this about 2-3 days a week. Clear as much of the clutter as our tiny apartment will allow. Sweep, vacuum, mop if necessary (I love swiffer!) Wipe counters, sinks & mirrors. Dust with antibacterial wipes. Straighten couch covers & change the cases on the throw pillows. Wash throw blankets. And I have a 5 month old, special needs infant with a seizure disorder on a strict medication & meal schedule at home. I'malso an avid papercrafter (cards & scrapbooking) which I try to find time for a few days a week too. It seems like a lot, but if you just do it, its not so bad. I wouldn't bother to do it every day, personally, but a few days a week is actually really doable (I get up between 7:30 & 8 most days & am usually done well before my husband gets home at 7).

Anonymous,  1:23 am, July 09, 2015  

Just beginning to read your experiment. Thank you for researching all this! I'm interested in digging deeper about life in the 50s beyond fashion. I dream of vintage household bliss, which sounds oddly connected to a minimalist lifestyle I also aspire to. It seems like minimising TV and internet time, decluttering, planning and implementing routines will make life systematic and will only need (hopefully light) maintenance. Thanks again! Have a good week :)

Hannah Smith 10:22 am, November 29, 2015  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauren Bootfall 6:39 am, February 08, 2016  

This is a good post and it is interesting seeing the amount of work which was needed to be finished. At least now we have companies like Maid Complete House Cleaning to get some of the jobs done.

Anonymous,  9:22 pm, March 07, 2016  

Loved it.. But what if your husband works nights with a baby lol

Anonymous,  5:04 pm, May 18, 2016  

This is probably the most "it actually makes sense" kind of post I've seen on on this subject. Best part... I didn't have to go digging through some weird web design to find it. Awesome! PLEASE keep posting new material! http://ceomaids.com

Anonymous,  5:07 pm, May 18, 2016  

This is probably the most "it actually makes sense" kind of post I've seen on on this subject. Best part... I didn't have to go digging through some weird web design to find it. Awesome! PLEASE keep posting new material! http://ceomaids.com

Arman Maalik 2:01 am, July 15, 2016  

Is this still relevant for today? Or have things changed? What I'm curious about is how this will carry out, like what will the trend be for this type of stuff?

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Mia Johnson 6:23 am, August 04, 2016  

Well, that was a pretty fascinating read, not going to lie. I really hope you continue to write. Probably one of the more informative pieces I've read on this subject. Thanks!
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Arjun Rishi 8:01 am, December 20, 2016  

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Stephanie Thompson 3:45 pm, April 17, 2017  

I actually do most of this already. But I need to keep up better so it's not so overwhelming.

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Sharid57 7:39 am, August 09, 2017  

It looks like the last several "comments" are those "one size fits all" blogs comments designed to get into a list of real blog comments in order to sneak in their spam posts, for which they likely get some kind of compensation. Pity - I hate to see this, because it turns your hard work and other's legitimate comments into fodder for a "Spam Farm!" Consider perhaps a little bit of "Blog Tidying" by removing them, and closing the comments? It's been plenty of time, and it's not unusual to see posts closed to further comments after a year or two.
Otherwise, I am enjoying reading the posts and the legitimate comments, and imagining being able to actually do them again! But, being totally disabled now removes that from my list of "possibilities" for all time. It's a shame really, as I used to manage a very busy home and work life without problems. Ah well.

Anonymous,  12:32 pm, August 25, 2017  

Yep, that's exactly what they were...

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