3 Jun 2010

Results from the 50s Housewife Experiment

Over the course of two weeks, yours truly attempted to live the life of a 1950's housewife - through recipes and meal planning, a housekeeping schedule, a dedication to being frugal, and by maintaining specific beauty standards.

So, what did that all achieve? How did participating in this project impact our bodies, our finances, our home, our relationship, and our overall mood?

About the Body

Weight Change:

  • Jen's Weight: Up 2 lbs.
  • Patrick's Weight: Up 0.5 lbs.
Ugh. Of course. One thing I didn't explain about this experiment is that the pictures you saw were of Patrick's meals. I gave myself a "feminine" serving size of about 2/3 to 3/4 of what you saw Patrick ate. I had secretly hoped that with the smaller portions and all the on-my-feetness involved in the daily chores that I might actually lose weight. Dare to dream, Jen. Dare to dream. While I'm never happy to gain weight, it could have been worse. In fact, it was worse. At one point during the experiment, I couldn't help myself and stepped on the ol' self esteem machine. It indicated I was up 5.5 pounds. FML. I have to come clean and admit that toward the end, on days that Patrick was served a bacon and eggs-style breakfast, I would often have one or none of those options and just have toast and / or cereal with fruit. Once I did that, I noticed my weight came down a bit.

Patrick's weight change is pretty nominal - it's the difference between having the Frank n' Bean Bake in your belly and not. That said, he said he felt clothes were a little snugger around the waist by the end of the experiment and he is now actually eager to eat cooking that didn't have butter, flour, sugar and /or hot dog in it. A true miracle.

Blood Pressure Change:
  • Jen: Systolic went down about 8 points. Diastolic stayed the same.
  • Patrick: Both Patrick's Systolic and Diastolic pressure went UP about 5 points each. I won't go into the deets, but he really, really didn't need it to go up.
This one both surprises me and concerns me. I thought it would be the other way around, if anything. I especially believed Patrick's blood pressure would mellow out as he was arriving each day to a clean home, a hot meal and generally a more relaxing atmosphere of reading (there was less TV on in the house), unwinding by talking about his day, and a generally more pleasant wife (and I swear, I only raged out on that last day!). Patrick is sort of known to lose his temper, but I noticed he didn't really do that during the experiment, so I had hoped it meant he was more relaxed and the blood pressure would come down. Maybe it was a bad idea to do this while the Habs were in the Stanley Cup playoffs? Or maybe it was the hard liquor, the salt and the grease? In any case, the Modern Housewife Experiment can't come soon enough - the healthy food is coming at him ASAP.

Other Body Notes:
  • Jen: My feet hurt a fair bit at first - seeing as they were taking on the load normally shouldered by my ass - but after about the fourth day I seemed to have adjusted and didn't have that issue any longer. Toward the end I could really feel my lower back getting stiff, though - in fact, it still feels a bit tight. My biggest body observation, besides the ever-protruding gut, was that I noticed I started getting acne, especially around my chin and mouth. I'm sure it was a combination of the food, smearing Pond's Cold Grease Cream on my face, the increased use of make-up and the fact that I found I wasn't drinking as much water as normal (when you're sitting at the computer, it's easy to have a few glasses - but when you're go-go-go, you sometimes forget to stop and hydrate). It's not horrible acne or anything but I'm eager to reacquaint myself with Proactiv.
  • Patrick: He had some allergy symptoms part-way through, but we're not totally sure to what. He also had (unrelated to the 50s Housewife Experiment) somewhat injured his wrist and ankle while playing soccer. Good thing he barely had to lift a finger at home!
I wish we could have tested other things like our cholesterol and hormone levels before and after, but Shoppers Drug Mart sadly doesn’t have an in-store device that the public can conveniently pee or bleed in to get insta-results. (Is that a bad new idea, or what? Ugh, I gross myself out sometimes.)

About The Finances and Shopping

Keeping things frugal wasn't a particular challenge for me as I'm the gate-keeper of our family finances anyway and tend to be rather thrifty. But there were some definite strides made!

Food & Groceries

Our fridge always felt full during the experiment, we hosted friends, and I was constantly cooking - and yet grocery spending (and I'm including booze in the number) was down roughly 20%. It actually would have been more of a difference had it not been for the fact that I insisted on buying Harmony Organic milk and cream (in the glass bottle - so retro!) as well as organic eggs and butter. These all cost more than the regular type, but whatever; knowing that the animals involved in these products are being treated more humanely matters to me, regardless of what decade I'm in / pretending to be in. Most meat and vegetables were bought at the farmer's market - which kept some things low cost and some things not so much (gah, the halibut!). The canned products were incredibly cheap as was the organ meat - I could see how a family struggling to get by would rely on these things.

We didn't eat anything that I didn't personally prepare during this time, so there was no dining out or take-out (post-midnight on the last day didn't count! Riiiight?).

Normally, Patrick might buy about two lunches out a week (even if it was just grabbing those pre-made sandwiches from a grocery store) and get few coffees out while at work and on the weekend. We'd normally also order in something for dinner at least once a week and probably go out for dinner together maybe once every two weeks. In two "normal" weeks, the bill for our not-made-by-us food probably worked out to about $100 - $200. Compare this to the $0 housewife project. Crazy!

Entertainment & Going Out

We did spend some money on our bowling date (which, did I mention, I had a $5 coupon for?! Yay, frugal me!) - between the lane, shoe rentals and the beer (heh) at Bowlerama, we spent a total of $65. Had we gone with friends, our own cost would have gone down quite a bit as they charge by the lane (which can fit six) and not by the person and the bulk of the cost would have been split.

The last disastrous day of the 50s Housewife Experiment also saw us spending some money out when we got silly-drunk, had beer and took two cabs. As that was "off brand" of the project, it feels weird to count it, but I will. I believe we spent about $70 that night. Blargh.

We also hosted people in our home rather than going out for the usual coffee / drink / dinner. This was a big change from our norm - we, like, never have people over. I was thinking back on the number of people we had in at our house in the two weeks before the experiment, and the only person who did come by was Siobhan. During the project, we hosted eight people (and two dogs) - and were sure to feed them and / or quench their thirsts. The cost of that was already accounted for in the grocery / food costs.

If it had been a normal two weeks, I would have gone out with a friends for drinks about twice in total (which would have included appetizers, of course!) and Patrick would have gone out after work or on the weekend at least four times in total (which almost never includes appetizers, just beer). Between us, we normally would have spent about $250. During the 50s Housewife Experiment, Patrick brought some beer over to his friend's place for their BBQ / poker night but only spent about $15.

Random Household Stuff

In "regular life", now and again I'll go on a bit of an online spending spree and our concierge - who receives our packages - will make little jokes with Patrick - who is often the one picking up the packages - about the influx of boxes with my name on it ("I see Jennifer has been busy! Hope you've got a good job, Patrick."). Har. Har. Har.

But besides those little, minor, tiny, barely-ever-ever happen moments ... ahem ... we really don't buy that much stuff besides the basics. So, how did living as a housewife impact us? During the course of the experiment's two weeks, I only spent money on four things (two were just for me) that weren't your typical household / food items:
  • Ramekins (a pair to be used for desserts, on sale) - $6.50
  • Batiste Dry Shampoo - $9
  • Nail polish (at the place I used a gift certificate to get my mani / pedi, so I could do touch-ups in the same colour) - $9
  • An overdue fine at the library - $1.80
No magazines. No "hmm ... this looks neat!" purchases. No "Ooh, just got an e-mail about a sale" buys. Not even gum! So, $26.30 in two weeks (and that includes the ramekins that we'll both use for years)? Not bad at all! Plus, the 50s housewife frugality gave way to other sorts of savings, which I'll chat more in the "Lessons Learned" section!

It's tough to say what we spend on "little stuff" normally as it fluctuates - but it's conservative to say we'd spend at least triple that normally in the same time frame.

SO ... If I had to make my best approximation, I'd say that by living by the stricter 50s lifestyle (especially when it came to eating in, hosting in), we saved a minimum of $340 in two weeks. Yowza. And here I thought we were already doing pretty good with the family budget!

About The Home

Dudes, our place is clllleeean. And organized! I really went to town, doing everything from getting rid of old make-up and prescriptions to putting bags together for Goodwill (with surprise expired meds in a coat pocket for one lucky person! Kidding, kidding), reorganized our filing, found a bunch of things we thought we lost (a pair of sandals, a camera, a hat) and even cleaned to the point that I found something that belonged to the previous homeowner.

For the first few days, the cleaning was heavy-duty - but after about day four or so, it was actually quite manageable. I was even able to keep right up with the schedule that I thought was so psychotic when I started. And yes, I was able to get through all 21 "morning" activities before lunch on several occasions. Yay, hard-working me.

To quote The Office, I really used some of that famous Hispanic cleaning ethic that makes us such a respected people.

How did this compare to the pre-50s days? We cleaned when someone was coming over - and as mentioned above, almost no one ever came over. It wasn't a dump - but it was pretty dusty. And maybe a bit rough around the edges. And maybe a one-time sex club for mice.

About The Marriage

Don't worry - there will be no talk of things that require a Daddy Disclaimer!

During the 50s Housewife Experiment, Patrick and I celebrated six years of being together (our third wedding anniversary is coming up in July). Our relationship was/is a-ok, doing just fine and all that. We both like and love each other. We are lucky.

I won't lie and say that being the sole keeper of the home didn't have a downside on the relationship front. There were moments that I felt more like a mother than a wife and partner ... like when someone was screaming about peas being in a dish, or when I'd walk into the bathroom and see that it had exploded in wet towels, empty toilet paper rolls and shavings, or when I'd be furiously trying to get food together for our group BBQ while a certain someone was blissfully involved in a video game. Those moments certainly felt challenging on my end and I had to really fight back the urge to get my rage on.

However, the project had us take on a few different behaviours, and I have to say that, although small, they eventually made us feel closer and perhaps even strengthened what we had. Unlike the pre-50s days:
  • We woke up together at the same time
  • We ate two meals together, at the table, without TV or phones or laptops about - and during that time, we talked about our days, what was on our minds, and so on
  • We kissed goodbye at the door when he went to work
  • He generally came home straight away from work (except when he had sports) rather than stopping and having a drink with a friend or co-worker (which wasn't an everyday thing for him before, but a couple times a week)
  • I greeted him and we kissed hello when he came in
  • We relaxed a little bit with a drink and then had dinner
  • By the time Patrick came home, there was little housework to do (dinner dishes, mainly), so we got to enjoy a clean, comfortable home each evening
  • We went out together and hosted people together more often than normal
They're such little things, and at first, they were things we had to remind ourselves to do, but now we look forward to them. And without getting all soppy, I'll just say that they matter and I'll happily take on another 2 lbs of flabulous to be reminded of that.

About The Overall Mood

This is an area that's obviously tough to measure (again, Shoppers Drug Mart, why don't you have such a machine in place?).

I do believe we're happier, more relaxed, more connected now than before. Throughout the 50s Housewife Experiment, it felt like we were having several mini adventures together - whether it was diving into weird jiggly food, having our I Love Lucy TV dinner night or going bowling - it was all a little different from the norm - and something I think we quite welcomed.

Personally, I think unplugging from the Internets and TV and doing more things that actually mattered - taking care of our home and my husband, seeing my friends more often, tickling my brain through the "fun writing" that is this blog - made a big difference in my own happiness. And when I'm happy, it tends to rub off on my husband - in part because he has less to worry about when I'm in a good mood, ha (the phrase that describes this phenomenon is "Happy wife, happy life." Learn it, live it, love it, gentlemen.).

Before starting the experiment, I asked Patrick how he'd rate his overall stress level; if 1 was floating on a cloud (like that idyllic couple up there from a bedding ad) and 10 was being the middle guy in The Human Centipede. He gave himself a 6. After the experiment, I asked what he'd rank things at and he gave it a 3. Considering he's dealing with a crunch of stuff at work, I'd say that's a definite improvement! Patrick still has his "guest post" to do on this blog, so I'll leave any other thoughts he has on this to him!

SO ... those were "the results" - what are our non-numbers-based conclusions of the 50s Housewife Experiment? What did we learn? What will we want to keep in our lives? What will help shape the Modern Housewife Experiment? That's all coming up next!

Image Sources: Tide advertisement, circa 1952; The Esquire Cook Book; General Electric advertisement, circa 1955; The Bride's Reference Book; Martex Towels advertisement, circa 1946.


Anonymous,  2:31 pm, June 03, 2010  

An amazingly unique and entertaining experiment!

Anonymous,  3:19 pm, June 03, 2010  

I love, love, love this experiment. Thank you for sharing it!

dinah34 5:39 pm, June 03, 2010  

what are you going to try next? the '70s housewife?

i need more!

Unknown 10:43 pm, June 03, 2010  

Great job, the two of you. I hope you do manage to keep the things that were good. The 50's were crazy years that were a product of a strange brew of events (end of the war, baby boom, women starting to work outside the home, consumerism, McCarthyism, Sputnic, beatnicks, rise of mass media, arrival of TV, civil rights etc.,). It seems strange that all that produced the Donna Reed/June Cleaver version of the housewife for you to copy. I say again, Great Job!

Jen 10:53 pm, June 03, 2010  

Wow! Sounds like this whole experiment was worth it in the positive outweighing the negative. I am particularly intrigued by the positive effect on your marriage (I understand the stressful mother, not partner feeling though)... maybe those old-fashioned folks were onto something.

Foxy Renard 9:00 am, June 04, 2010  

Man, I love this.

First off, I spend way too much on groceries and small crap things. Your grocery tips are what led me to FINALLY getting to the farmer's market which is now in my weekly to-do list. Yesssss.

Secondly! I totally buy the happier marriage thing. When we started eating dinner together every night, I noticed a massive shift in how I thought about us as a unit as opposed to two people sitting on the sofa eating. Oh yeah, and when we got the nanny, I felt super-compelled to keep the house looking great daily - and, like you, I feel like this extra attention to the homefront made a difference in our day-to-day lives. (Also, you know my thoughts on the importance of prettying up. Hah.) I completely buy into your little things argument. And I lovelovelove *love* (wait, that's hard to read, but you know what I mean, hah).

Anyway, I too would happily take two pounds for these kind of dreamy happiness results. Dreamy!

Susan J Barker 10:07 am, June 04, 2010  

I really did enjoy your experiment so thank you so much for doing it! If you are considering the 70's experiment -- ask me, I did live it! Mind you, it was so much work, I hardly remember it cause it was eat sleep work, work eat sleep...

Jen 4:00 pm, June 04, 2010  

Hi all!

Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting!

Dinah & Susan: Ah, the 70s Housewife Experiment! Can you imagine? I'm visualizing microwave cookery, fondue parties and a lot of polyester blends. At least the soundtrack would have been fun!

Joe: Thank you! It was definitely a fascinating decade, to say the least. My take on it was, of course, rather superficial - but I think the idea of the perfect housewife of the time likely wasn't quite so realistic either!

Jen: They were definitely on to something, I think!

Foxy: Yes to the farmer's market and not buying so much crap and sitting at the table like adults and dolling up a bit! Yes to all of it! Ha.

brooke @ claremont road 1:43 pm, November 02, 2010  

I was doing a Google image search for a 50s housewife and found your blog... this post is spectacular! And it made me laugh out loud (particularly this line: "My feet hurt a fair bit at first - seeing as they were taking on the load normally shouldered by my ass." HA!) I am looking forward to reading more of your archives :)

Jana 11:32 pm, June 27, 2011  

I loved it. Thank you!

Unknown 6:33 am, August 07, 2013  

HI from your newest follower on GFC and pinterest! I am doing a blog post about me quitting my job to be Lucy, and I came across your post/experiment. It was awesome! I love it. Cant wait to read more of your archives :)

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I listen to Old Time Radio and there was a HILARIOUS ad for "Carnation Milk" and thought of your experiment. They suggested you use it in place of milk, for things like your coffee, feeding the baby or even just drinking it. Holy sugary overdosing!

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