Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been writing about Victorian homemaking and doing my best to put nineteenth-century homemaking advice into practice in my own home. It’s been a little over three months since I started this experiment, and in that time, I’ve learned a few things that have changed the way I think about my home and the work I do in it. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned:
1. What you believe about work matters.
Nineteenth-century homemakers had time to sit and read in the afternoons. They had time to visit friends, sew, keep a garden, and be involved in their communities.
They also washed all their clothes by hand, cleaned their homes thoroughly every week, and made three meals a day from scratch.
I believe the reason these women were able to get so much done while still having so much time for other things was because of the way they approached work. Proficient homemakers in this era worked quickly, efficiently, and cheerfully. Instead of dragging their feet about household chores, they embraced these tasks as part of their responsibilities and threw themselves into their work energetically. Because they viewed work as good, something to be undertaken cheerfully and willingly, they were able to work enthusiastically enough in the first hours of the day to get the work done by mid-afternoon.
The reality is that we have to work hard to get the results we want, in our homes, our careers, and the rest of our lives. Even though I value having a home that feels clean and safe and orderly, I don’t always feel like putting in the work that will get me to that outcome. And let’s be honest: homemaking is work, hard work. All the routines and systems and strategies in the world will fail to give me the home I want if I’m not willing to work toward that end.
It turns out that the most helpful takeaway from this experiment has not been a weekly routine or a to-do list hack, like I might have expected, but an attitude shift. I’m slowly changing the way I think about work and the way I approach the work I do around my home. That shift in perspective is making a bigger difference than any other strategy I’ve tried.
2. Homemaking is a gradual process, not a one-and-done project.
I expected to come away from this experiment with a cleaning routine, a meal-planning strategy, and some helpful life hacks to make homemaking a breeze. I thought that I could spend a couple of months studying Victorian homemaking books, learn everything I needed to know, and come out the other end as a homemaking expert.
I was wrong.
It takes lots of practice to learn how to manage meals, cleaning, and keeping a home organized, not to mention the social and relational responsibilities that come along with family and community life. It takes trial and error to figure out what routines and strategies work for our unique homes and circumstances. And it takes time to shift our attitudes toward work and homemaking and responsibility in general.
Catherine Beecher recommends working on only 3 or 4 small habits at a time and mastering those before adding anything else (The American Woman’s Home, p. 231). That means creating the home I want and developing the skills to manage that home well is going to take a lot longer than I expected. I’ve had to learn to accept that.
3. You have to start small.
When I tried to write about homemaking here and on Instagram, I got stuck almost immediately. The problem was that I was trying to write about homemaking topics faster than I could learn how to implement them. I was planning an elaborate editorial calendar with posts on morning rhythms, cleaning routines, and time management principles when I was still struggling to get my dishes done every evening.
I needed to start smaller and move slower. And I needed to practice each skill longer before moving on to the next topic.
“the first half-day’s housekeeping will bring you face to face with more that you don’t know than you ever dreamed of. You can as well expect to become a painter by reading the hosts of books written on art, and studying galleries of pictures, without handling a brush, as to learn anything about housekeeping without going into the drudgery with your own hands.”—Anna Maria’s House-keeping, by S.D. Power (1884)
Reading homemaking books won’t make me a successful homemaker. Writing out a cleaning routine or a meal plan on paper doesn’t mean I know how to actually make those plans happen in my real-life home. I can know all the tips and strategies, but the only way to make them a reality in my life is to practice one piece of the puzzle at a time until it all starts to come together.
I’m not done exploring Victorian homemaking. There are still so many topics I’m eager to research, test in my home, and write about here. But I need to make sure I’m taking the time to really live out each principle rather than rushing through them to meet an arbitrary writing deadline. The theory of homemaking is interesting, inspiring even—but theory without practical application lacks purpose.
I thought I’d spend a season learning about homemaking and then move on. Instead, I’ve realized the learning is just beginning.
What have you learned about homemaking in the last season, year, or decade? I’d love to hear your insights in the comments!