How to Create a Victorian Evening Routine

If I want to have the leisure time an accomplished nineteenth-century housekeeper had, I need to figure out how to work the way she worked.

The homemaking literature I’ve been reading is full of specific, “day-in-the-life” descriptions of housekeepers with impeccable homes and wide-open schedules. The difficulty is knowing where to begin—which part of the narrative to incorporate into my own life first.

I could start with the way the Victorian housekeeper worked—with the briskness and energetic attitude she brought to her work. But no matter how enthusiastically I throw myself into the work of homemaking, if I don’t know where to begin and where to end, I’ll end up burned out midway through the second week.

I could start with the weekly routine, the dividing up of all the household tasks across the days of the week so that what was once abstract and overwhelming is brought into order and predictability. But a weekly housekeeping plan doesn’t work without first creating space in the day to attend to the tasks in the plan. 

I could start with the early rising that every homemaking book and article seems to accept as a nonnegotiable part of the successful homemaker’s day. But even on the days I get up early, I spend so much of my time chasing the urgent tasks that I wind up accomplishing far less than what I set out to do.

I spend a lot of energy lowering my expectations, which is healthy and valuable and all that—but sometimes, I wonder: could I save all that emotional energy if I could just figure out how to do the things that need doing rather than resigning myself to always being two steps behind?

There’s no way to know but to try. And a good place to start would be figuring out what slows me down and eliminating those obstacles before they even come up.

“To-morrow you begin then to do your best, and to better it. My dear child, to-morrow always begins the night before, and you can’t get the good of your day without planning for it.”

Anna-Maria’s House-keeping, by S.D. Power (1884)

One of the best ways to get the day’s work done efficiently is to get off to a good start first thing in the morning—and the best way to start the morning well is to start the night before.

In Anna-Maria’s House-keeping, S.D. Power devotes the better part of two chapters to describing a homemaker’s evening routine. The abbreviated version of her advice is to consider everything that slows you down in the morning—from mixing the pancake batter to trimming your nails—and take care of all of it the night before. Here are 5 specific things Power suggests you do every evening to get your morning off to the best possible start:

1. Get breakfast ready ahead of time.

Mix the pancake batter. Set the skillet on the stove. Wash the potatoes and set them in cool water overnight, ready to be cooked first thing. If you’re serving breakfast to a family or a group of people, you can even set the dining room table and lay a clean cloth over it so it’s ready to go in the morning. The goal is to have breakfast ready 15 minutes from the moment you arrive in the kitchen. 

S.D. Power describes a full breakfast—steak, potatoes, griddle cakes, oatmeal, and biscuits. If a nineteenth-century homemaker with a wood-burning stove could get all that on the table in 15 minutes, I’m pretty sure I can get my simple egg and toast in the same amount of time.

2. Tidy your space.

Setting the breakfast table ahead of time might feel silly to you, especially if you live alone or don’t usually “set” the table for breakfast.

But do you know what else feels silly? Not being able to eat breakfast or do whatever else is first on your day’s schedule because the space you need to use is full of yesterday’s mess.

We’re talking about peaceful homes here, and one thing that will almost definitely NOT feel peaceful is waking up to a sink overflowing with dirty dishes or a dining room table so swamped with yesterday’s projects you have nowhere to sit today. Pick at least one area of your home, the one that causes you the most distress when you wake up to find it messy or the one that you’ll need to spend the most time in tomorrow morning, and set it right this evening.

You can do a lot of straightening up in ten or fifteen minutes. Your tomorrow-morning self will thank you.

3. Take care of your personal hygiene and appearance.

You know those little things that you end up squeezing into the last minute as you’re rushing out the door in the morning? 

Do them all the night before.

I shower at night for this very reason: I want to be able to take as long as I need without feeling the pressure of having to start my workday. Even if you shower in the mornings and don’t intend to change that, think of what other elements of your morning hygiene ritual tend to slow you down. Can you blow-dry your hair the night before instead of in the morning? How about trimming your nails? Picking your clothes for the next day? It’s stressful to be in the middle of getting dressed when you realize the shirt you planned to wear hasn’t been ironed; taking care of all these things the evening before makes your morning more efficient AND less hectic.

4. Make sure the doors and windows are locked.

At first, this might not seem to fit with the theme of making your mornings more efficient. But you know what really makes a morning feel hectic? Dealing with the aftermath of a burglary.

(I’m only slightly joking here.)

Maybe the chances of a break-in are slim in your neighborhood. In the condo building where I live, it would be next to impossible for a thief to actually make it to my front door. But stranger things have happened, and regardless of how safe you feel in your home, it’s not a bad idea to get into the habit of checking the locks before you go to bed.

5. Go to bed early.

If you do the first three components of this evening routine right after dinner, you’ll likely be ready for bed quite early in the evening.

You don’t have to go to bed right away, of course. I usually have plenty of time after I finish these tasks to watch a show or read a book or just spend time with my husband.

But if you really want to get your morning off to a good start—if you want to work quickly and well, to get your necessary work completed early enough in the day that you have some free time left over—you need to get enough sleep. Your home won’t feel restful if you’re not—well—resting.

What do you like to do in the evening to set up your morning for success? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Danielle Marie Banerjee said:

    I love this! Nothing like planning the night before. My ritual is to soak grains or beans that we may be eating the night before to shorten the cooking time. I like the idea of setting the table the night before. I will try that out. I also agreed with checking the locks on the door. Such a great reminder. I remember finding my door unlocked multiple times due to getting busy and felt so grateful that I checked before bed or I would not of seen that the lock was open.
    Thank you for this . I really enjoy reading and look forward to reading more.

    March 20, 2021
    • Amy said:

      I love your suggestion to soak grains or beans the night before! That definitely makes a difference in cooking time the following day. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      March 22, 2021

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