Monday, November 26, 2007

Dedicated Daughters: no one to teach you the basics of household management?

Dream of being a domestic queen, but in your family, dusting hasn't been a habit for as long as you can remember? Have aspirations to become the family chef, but can't boil an egg? Would love to make your own clothes, but can't fix a loose button?

I've been there and done that. Now, my mother is actually quite good at everything that has to do with cleaning, cooking, gardening and even sewing and crafts – but lacked the time to teach me all those things properly. For as long as I remember, she has worked full time to support our family due to the absence of my father – unfortunately, not an uncommon situation. And so I reached the age of twenty without having a clue about household management. I couldn't cook, let alone bake; my cleaning was pitiful and if you asked me to compose a shopping list, you'd get a good laugh.

In the area of cooking and baking, I was lucky – since I was studying nutrition at that time, we had cooking classes on our study program, and I gladly took advantage of them. We were taught a variety of valuable cooking techniques, as well as baking and canning and – something that I think is very important – experimenting with recipes and tweaking ingredients in order to make healthier food, or to use up what you have on hand rather than what you would need to buy. Experimenting led me to my share of kitchen disasters, true – but also resulted in some great improvements!

The ideal situation, of course, would be to find a patient, skilled and experienced older woman who would be willing to take you under her wing and teach you. I understand this isn't always possible, though. Even if you've never been near a mop or held a needle in your life, it doesn't mean you can't become, eventually, a great homemaker. In fact, I know you can – I got the hang of it, and it's not like I had any special skills. All you need is a little determination, creativity and willingness to take the plunge. There's a variety of online resources where you can find step-by-step instructions for anything you can possibly think of.


In the area of household organization, home-management binders are wonderfully helpful – especially if you, like me, are a terribly unorganized person who needs lots and lots of assistance to get on the right track when it comes to home management. Here's a brief description of the sections in my simple yet very practical home-management binder:

1) Home. This one holds my weekly shopping list, to-do lists, and of course, coupons. I compiled two master to-do lists for myself. One for basic daily chores (wash dishes, make sure laundry is caught up, take out garbage etc...) and one with reminders for shopping/cleaning days. I also compiled a master shopping list, which I can check if I'm confused about the weekly shopping list. This section also contains a few FlyLady tips and inspirational homemaking quotes. That's a section that helps me 'stay tuned' in the more basic things.

2) Long-term projects. Here I keep a list of all my projects that take a longer time to complete, and are less crucial to basic household management. For example: re-organizing the kitchen cabinets, polishing silverware, mending clothes; and also, little packages of seeds I'm going to plant, my crafts list and blog post/other writing projects ideas. This is a section I check out if I'm left with some idle time on my hands; it usually turns out I have numerous planned projects I just forgot about.

3) Food. Here are my menu ideas and new recipes that are waiting to be tried. After I tried them, they will be copied to my recipes notebook - much better than having them sticking out from every corner and then getting lost eventually.

4) Expenses. Here I keep our budget, a list of things we are paying for, grocery bills and other bills, and a summary of each month's expenses which I can later compare and see if we are improving or struggling in certain areas.


Here, again, I will keep saying: do not despair! Don't lose hope! I understand it can be very frustrating to compare yourself with some talented fourteen-year-old girls who sew their own clothes and plan and cook meals for a family of nine; so let's not do that! Rather, let's take baby steps towards our goal, and be realistic. I doubt anyone ever learned all the arts of homemaking on a perfect level, so no need to rip your hair out if your windows aren't always squeaky clean and your fancy cake didn't come out just the way it looked in the cookbook. This will inevitably happen; but yes, it's entirely possible to be a successful and efficient manager of the home even if you start out a tad late, without a proper background or anyone to teach you personally.


Maggie said...


Some other suggestions with regards to learning to cook, I know that here in Canada local grocery stores have cooking demonstrations, and/or classes that people can attend. Most stores will have a schedule of classes for the month as well as contact information. Another option is to contact your local Health Unit and ask if they do things such as cooking demos or even grocery store tours -- these are conducted by Health Promoters who are familiar with nutritional information, how to shop (the outside of the store, steering clear of the inside aisles which are full of processed foods,) can help explain the labelling of foods -- all foods that are sold in Canada *must* include nutritional facts panels, which at times can be confusion to understand!

If you are uncomfortable with that idea, there is always the local soup kitchens or church soup dinners -- they are always looking for volunteers to come in with their peelers to handle the potatoes, carrots, apples, etc. You might run into the 'too many cooks will spoil the broth' scenario, but you will undoubtedly walk away with the knowledge of how to correctly peel certain veggies and fruits. And as you say, it's a start!

For crafty arts, i.e. sewing, knitting etc... many craft stores have lessons you can sign up for. A friend of mine did a 6 week course at a local fabric store and made a pair of pjs. She got instruction on how to pick out fabrics, to cut, follow a pattern, use a sewing machine, etc... And walked away with a great pair of pjs for the winter. Additionally it got her out of the house on a winter's night and a chance to socialize.

Some churches also have quilting clubs -- my church has a quilting circle once a week for a couple of hours and our Priest sits in with the ladies for part of it for what he calls 'Bear Pit Sessions' The ladies can ask any church related, liturgy related question and he'll answer them. They were so popular that he's incorporated that in with the children's time at the beginning of Sunday service. We've learned about the history of the chalice, the types of robes he wears and why, the different types of crosses, all sorts of great things!

And of course the local community colleges have a treasure trove of courses you can take in the evenings, including things like survival courses -- learning to read a map, basic first aid, purifying water etc... And they don't have to be overly expensive either.

Phew! I think that's it.

Susie said...

I am one of those women who never had anyone take me under their wing to teach me the basics of running a household. Some may scoff at this statement, but: I have learned most of what I know about home-making from bloggers, online articles, magazines, books and tv. I learned about cleaning and organizing from my time in the military.

Growing up, both of my parents worked, and nobody (myself included) took it upon themselves to clean the house, let alone make a budget or have a list to grocery shop. In all honesty, it wasn't until after my first was born that I even became interested in anything domestic (with the exception of cooking...that has been a love of mine for quite a few years now). In school, Home Economics wasn't offered, but Industrial Arts (aka Wood Shop) was a requirement for everyone(which makes no sence at all).

I would like to make a book suggestion to any young one who is interested in home-making but doesn't know where to start: Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson is a fantastic read. I checked it about at the library, but I think I might buy a copy because there is a lot of good information in this book.

Thank you for this post!

Tracy said...

Young women:

Please don't be afraid to ask an older/ more experienced woman to show you how to cook,clean, manage, etc. I think that many older women in today's society hold bak because they think that the younger women of today aren't interested, but given the opportunity, would love to share their wisdom!

Anonymous said...

I think a great way to learn to cook is to try cooking with your girlfriends. There are so many talented young women-- so if you don't have an older mentor, get a younger one. One of my sisters-in-law is (slowly) teaching me to crochet. And, one of my girlfriends and I always test new recipes together. It makes for a great, fun evening and we both learn something.

Karen said...

Oh my Anna, I couldn't fit all that in one binder! I have a seperate coupon holder (a neat little zippered one with individual labeled pockets I got for 5 bucks at the grocery store) which is pretty much crammed full! I def reccomend it though as it has everything categorized like frozen, refrigerated, canned, etc. I also have a seperate file folder for recipes, and several shopping lists, to do lists, schedules and cleaning charts posted all over the fridge!

Anna S said...

Karen, I believe that when, God-willing, I become a wife and Mom, my binder will expand too :)

Brenda said...

Well you just gave me an idea for my next "Keeping It Real" post!!!!

Ashley said...

I find the last part of this post so encouraging. The "do not despair" part!

I enjoy going to the Growing Christian Tomatoes website - it is the most excellent child training/teaching advice I've ever come across. However, there is a deep, thought provoking part about "fixing yourself first".

As a mom, this is such a challenge. No one ever taught me growing up that sulking is a form of pride, for example. My attitude was left to become what it would, and now I often feel like that really are many 14yo that know more about being a mom than I do. :(

BUT it's so true what you said in this post. And although I'm not struggling in the homemaking aspects of wifehood this really spoke me what I am at on being a mommy.

Does that make a bit of sense?

You blog is always so encouraging. :)

p.s. I have a link on my blog, right hand side to the Tomatoes website. It is so full of practical ways to be consistant with your kids and practice what you teach them. I'd bookmark it for the future. But that's just my two cents!! :)

Terry said...

Great tips for the beginning homemaker her, and a few that veterans like myself could take advantage of as well.

Amanda said...

Regarding Home Management Binders, has a whole series on creating one of your own. (The links are on the left column of her page.) I don't agree with everything she says, but her "HMB University" is fabulous for those who don't know where to start.

Amanda said...

And one more thing:

has a free download this week for "forms," and it's basically all the forms for a Home Management Binder. You do have to join/sign up, but they have a new free download weekly.

Green Eyes said...

I think my comment got lost in cyberspace... right?

To be brief, I second the recommendation of Home Comforts, and would also direct anyone who wants to teach themselves to cook (as I did!) to A tremendous amount of recipes which can be browsed by main ingredient, simplicity, etc. Also, most of the ingredients link back to a page on that ingredient. Example: the "onion" page discusses types of onions, seasonality, best ways to prepare them, and foods they go best with. Very useful resource!

Mrs. Brigham said...

Tracy's advice is wonderful advice. I have been blessed to not only learn & be taught by my own female family members, but also by older ladies who have been neighbors over the past few years. I have personally found that many older ladies are not only willing to take a younger women under their wing, but *love* having the opportunity to share & pass on their wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and lessons learned to eager young ears.

Liedeke said...

Dear ladies,

Doesn't it strike you as funny that people who disagree so completely about the fundamentals actually have the same questions (and answers) in day tot day life? I love that.

I'm not a Christian. I haven't found God, let alone Jesus - and I'm not looking for them. I'm probably a feminist, although I think I would define that concept just a tad different than many of you seem to do. I work outside our home, as well as inside, just like my husband. Please do not take this as an offense, I'm just pointing out some pretty basic differences. Next up: the common ground.

My home making skills are, well, not as refined as I'd like. I recently discovered FlyLady, which was the first step toward an orderly home since I moved out of my parents' house twelve years earlier. We all have our favourite 'chores' (mine are to do with food and/or nice smelling things) and I just left everything else to its own devices. My sewing machine is gathering dust - I dare not use it while the kids are around and by the time they're in bed my fingers have usually lost most of their dexterity. Thank goodness junk food hasn't made it into our lives, but 'day care days' often find us eating out of the freezer (not literally, LOL). Still, I had already learned how not to nag and now I'm taking babysteps - which include a household binder of sorts.

Funny, isn't it?

Anyway, thank you all for your tips and encouragement.


Buffy said...

I think that it is all too often the case that the mother (or sometimes the father) feels too busy doing chores, and maybe working as well, to show their children what to do and have them help around the house. It just seems easier to get on with it. This means that lots of children grow up untrained and lacking in confidence about cooking and other household chores.

Cristina (a.k.a. "Stramenda") said...

Hi Anna

I created to teach young girls and women who like myself used to have no clue on household management, how to do it. The info on the site is sometimes funny because the cleaning advice etc is sometimes unconventional (i.e. if you've never cleaned a toilet, you'd want to start somewhere, and I've got a "no ick" way of doing it LOL). Sorry for the plug Anna, but this is my favourite topic! Housework used to be a major area of depression for me, and I just didn't know how other women did it (and no one seemed to want to tell me). I just felt inadequate.

I am pleased to announce my house is always clean and organised now, even though I'm 37 weeks pregnant ! - a MAJOR change for me - if I can do it, anyone can !

Love and hugs

Julie's Jewels said...

Hi Anna....I'm sorry I haven't been by in a while. Things have gotten pretty hectic on me lately. I've done good to put posts up on my own site.

I can tell you that I didn't have much of a problem of not knowing how to do things when I got married. I had to take care of my brother and sister after school all my teenage years due to my mom and dad both having full-time jobs. I cooked, cleaned, took care of the kids....and after taking Home Economics class I even learned to sew.

Anonymous said...

I feel compelled, Anna, to add something here, although I have already commented on this subject at The Walled Garden. Your final remarks about taking "baby steps" should most definitely be taken to heart. Please, ladies, don't spend a lot of time comparing yourself with other homemakers who seem to have it all together. Learn from them, yes, observe their movements, their methods. Just remember to be kind to yourself, & know that there will always be room for improvement. And, when it comes time to teach someone else what you know, you will then have the empathy necessary to be a good teacher. I find I am better able to walk my daughters through the areas I have conquered (I already know 10 ways how NOT to do Task X), than something that might have come easier for me.

Finally, it's a good & noble path you're on, well worth the effort you are making! Blessings, as you learn & grow!


Bethanie said...

I'm proof that you can become at least a fair homemaker without any previous childhood training. My mother thought, still does, that homemaking is a lost art. She told my home ec. teacher so. No wonder I got a C.
I credit the lovly blogging women.