Learning Home Management from Ma Ingalls

Learning Home Management

Do you ever read through books that you loved as a child and find yourself marveling at entirely different characters? It’s not an infrequent occurence for me. Sophia has been reading through the Little House on the Prairie books recently, which is both making me sweetly nostalgic about my own childhood memories of reading those books, and thoughtful about the things I might have learned about home management from Caroline Ingalls.

Very early on in the series, we get a sense of how organized Caroline was about her home management. We learn it in a little ditty she teaches her girls:

Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday, Bake on Saturday, Rest on Sunday.

Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Homes Have Changed

A lot has changed since the days when women like Caroline Ingalls ran the home.  Many of those changes were excellent, necessary changes.  But as we’ve gained freedom and choices, we’ve lost a sense of the work that is required to run a home—particularly a home that you are living in each day with your family.

Homemaking requires ambition, perseverence, time-management, and people skills. It is very physical, sometimes exhausting, active labor. We know it’s work as we’re doing it: why else would we sometimes feel so exhausted, harried, and downright burned out? Here’s the thing: in spite of our knowledge that it is a job, we sometimes neglect to treat it like a job. Sometimes we buy into the idea that it’s not ‘real’ work.

We don’t have a workers union or a boss dictating the parameters of our responsibilities, and sometimes we lose sight of the value of defining our role.  Being the entire business wrapped up in one messy-bun-wearing package means we get to wear all the hats. That means YOU are in charge.  You choose your goals, decide what falls in normal working hours, what your off-duty requirements are.  There are things we’ll have to do outside of our ‘work’ hours, but we don’t have to be defeatist about the endless cycle of housekeeping and mothering, we just need smart strategies to manage the workload and give ourselves time to recharge.

Changing Up Our Home Management

How much more cheerful would our home environments be if we were treating the hours between 9 and 6 like a legitimate job?  We may not get to walk out the door and switch the lights off at 6 PM, but I still think this is a key element to enjoying homemaking and not being totally overwhelmed by it all the time.

Housekeeping is very repetitive work. You can clean for six hours, turn around for 5 minutes, and not even be able to tell cleaning was done. If you don’t find some way to draw a line in the sand, you’ll never stop cleaning. There will ALWAYS be cleaning to do. A large part of our job as homemakers is to find the balance between keeping our homes and keeping our happy.

When we orchestrate our days towards being able to relax and enjoy our time with our husbands, we can be more effective, efficient, and energetic through the day. Conversely, when we treat our days like they have no end until we fall into bed sometime late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, we naturally lag, often lack purpose, and can find ourselves at the end of the day feeling like we can’t just sit down and relax because of all the things.

The truth is that we don’t have to do all the things every day. We can take a page out of Ma Ingalls’ book and schedule out our work through the week.

Wash on Monday

Caroline Ingalls didn’t try to do everything in one day.  Each day had its specific larger task, and while there were certain things that surely had to be done every day, there was a method and rhythm to her housekeeping.

In so many ways, our lives are easier than Caroline Ingalls’, we just need to manage our time.  Our ‘wash on Monday’ probably looks like throwing a few loads of laundry through the washer and dryer, folding and putting it all away.  We’re not hauling water from a creek or a well, scrubbing the few dresses, petticoats, shirts, and trousers we own on a metal washboard, rinsing, and hanging them out to dry. It’s not all that time consuming, we just remember to switch the laundry over.

Make it work for you!

Remember: you’re the boss here. If something isn’t working, it’s up to you to fix it. Nobody is going to walk into your house and say, “You know what? This situation isn’t working for you: you clearly need to change this, this, and this.” Even our husbands, God bless them, won’t know how to help unless we can first analyze the situation ourselves and express what needs to change.

Here’s what I do know. Homemaking is not impossible. In most cases, it is perfectly reasonable to expect to be able to keep house, cook meals, and care for young children all at the same time. It’s possible, it can be enjoyable, and overall it’s a really good life!

Real Life Practice

For myself, my ‘daily work goal’ is to have the house tidied up, kitchen clean, and dinner ready when Josh gets off work. Whatever projects I’ve been into during the day, whatever else I have going on, I want to be wrapping it up or putting pins in it to finish another day by the time 4PM rolls around.  I spend the hour between 4 and 5 finishing up my to-do list and doing as much cleaning as I can while cooking dinner.  After dinner there’s a little cleanup to do, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

There is such a huge contrast in my attitude on nights when I keep it together and stick to my work plan/hours, and nights when things slip.  Things will slip occasionally.  Life happens.  Just like your husband has bad days at work, you’ll have bad days at work.  The baby will want to nurse all day long, the 3 year old will make a mess of everything she touches, and you’ll be scrambling to even START dinner at the end of your day.

Take courage.  Remember, it’s a bad day, not a bad life, and keep striving for diligence and that pesky golden dream you have of how you want your home to run.