Monday, June 14, 2010

Memory Monday: Housekeeping

I learned so much about housekeeping from my mother.

Most of it is useless today.

Mary Warren’s post “Remember the Basic Rules for Clothes Lines?” at Mary’s Musings reminded me of this.

Clotheslines and clothespins … yeah. And the “science of the sprinkler bottle.”

Clothes come in from clothes line. Clothes are sprinkled with water from sprinkler bottle (Classic Coke bottle with special sprinkler adapter in top). Clothes are divided into “starch” and “no starch” piles, carefully rolled or folded up, and put into plastic bags. Bags are placed in freezer until ready to iron.

Clothespins had their own rituals. Ours went into a red plastic bucket that formerly held a large quantity of vanilla ice cream. These were not the old single-piece clothespins but the spring-action ones. Both were perfect for various craft projects. Second and third grade were big craft years, and around that time a whole bunch of our clothes pins disappeared and became residents of Clothespin Town.

The day Mom and I brought home our first dryer was an occasion of tremendous joy for both of us. We no longer had to rig up an ineffective clothesline system inside the house to dry clothes in the dead of winter and ironing was reduced to a minimum.

One thing was missing – the smell of clothes fresh from the clothesline and freshly starched and ironed clothes. Now we have to add those little scented sheet thingies to try to duplicate those fragrances.

Speaking of science, getting stains out of the carpet was an advanced science. First, there was the choice of cleaning solvent. Then – brush or rag? And finally, should the solvent be cold, warm, or hot and what kind of motion was best for what kind of rug?

These days there are no carpets in my house and only a few small rugs. Allergies run rampant in my family, and it’s bad enough that we have cats (yeah, I know, not smart for a family like ours, but I direct you to a previous article – The Language of Cats – which explains how and why we are Crazy Cat People). I’m more into the Science of Mopping these days.

Not all housecleaning is science. Some of it is art. Like stacking and drying dishes. That was one of the first chores I had to do as a child. The dishes had to be stacked in absolutely perfect, logical, artful order (my requirement, not my parents’). (I still do this in the dishwasher. Problem is, my concept of art is not my husband’s concept. When we’re not reversing the direction of the toilet paper on the roller after the other one has put on a new roll, we’re redoing the loading of the dishes in the dishwasher.) Terry-cloth towels were a no-no. It was bad form to leave little knots of cloth on the dishes. Linen towels – thick enough to last through a good-sized batch of dishes without getting sopping wet – were the thing. The real trick was to rinse the dishes in very hot water (the job of the dishwasher (= person washing the dishes, not the machine) – hopeless case when my brother filled that role) and then let them sit for about half an hour (a breeze is nice if possible). Then one towel will suffice.

Some years ago my in-laws bought us The World’s Greatest Dishwasher. It’s my baby. Stacking is still an art, but the rest is up to Modern Science.

Waxing the floor was also an art. I never mastered it. I like wooden floors better, anyway, and linoleum no longer needs to be waxed.

Then there was The Iron Arm. It was necessary to develop an Iron Arm for several regular and occasional chores: vacuuming (vacuums were hopelessly low-powered in those days, so a lot more movement of the wand was required, and they were also extremely heavy and difficult to lug around), fruit cake preparation (see Advent Calendar Day 14: Fruitcake), and window washing. These days I have a modern, lighter, and more effective vacuum; I enjoy eating my mother-in-law’s fruitcakes at Christmastime; and washing the windows – yeah, I’ll get around to that some time….

By my calculations, I had mastered about half the arts and sciences necessary for the degree of Domestic Goddess by the time I was 12 years old. But modern science has eliminated the need for those skills. However, there is one thing that modern science has not done: it has not resulted in the invention of a Fail-Proof Junk and Crud Picker-Upper. And that’s why, science or no science, art or no art, my house is still a mess.


  1. I love this post. I remember the ironing ritual, but it was my grandmother that taught me that. My mom was a dedicated educator that housekeeping was second. She taught me that.
    It is amazing that with at the new it still comes down to priorities.

  2. Oh,, gGreta, for me it was trying to take the frozen stiff clothes off of the line. Bending my grandpa's long johns was particularly challenging.

  3. Great post, Greta! Brought back some memories! We never had a clothesline when I was growing up, only the more modern washer/dryer set-up. My mom did teach me how to iron properly--a skill I rarely use these days--and attempted to teach me how to sew--a futile effort, I'm afraid....!

  4. I still remember ironing sheets and underwear, hankies...and I remember the wonderful smell of the laundry fresh off the line. I also remember being down on my hands and knees putting thick wax on hardwood floors and then using our big maroon colored electric buffer after the wax dried and the new shine on the floors. Bet not everybody did THAT!

  5. hummer - so glad you enjoyed it! The thing I wish I had learned from my own grandmother (or my mother) was how to sew properly. Never did master it.

    Joan - that reminds me of my brother's jeans on the contraptions to keep them from wrinkling - our German Shepherd would grab them off the line and drag them up to the house!

    Betty - Thank you - I sympathize with you on that sewing bit (see note above). I still have to iron something now and then, and when I get the ironing board and iron out, can still enjoy doing it.

    Lisa - Yes, it's the smells that really stick with me. Starch in particular always brings back memories. Wow - and I thought waxing linoleum floors was tough!

  6. Oh, the memories. I still hang my clothes out to dry in the summer. By the time winter's over, I can hardly wait to smell my fresh, sun-dried sheets again! I never learned to wax floors (and I can't imagine why not), but I did learn to sew. It's held me in good stead for many, many years. Great post, Greta.

  7. I had a brownie troop a few years ago, and one day we made clothespin dolls. Out of 12 little girls, only one knew what a clothes pin was! Imagine that? When I took them camping in Vermont we found a dozen uses for those clothespins. They thought I was a genius!