Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Woman at Home: The Basic Five Homekeeping Tasks

The Basic Five:  A Homemaker's Duties

Home is never stagnant.  Children are born, grow up and leave home, and  some return to the nest after years away.  We, the parents, age.  Our duties and interests and focus changes depending on the various stages of life we might be living in at the moment.  As our parents age, we may find ourselves moving them into our home as their care becomes our responsibility or we may find ourselves caring for grandchildren. 
The number of duties a homemaker can attend to daily really depends upon her circumstances.  A new homemaker, without a working knowledge of a household, is going to accomplish less than a seasoned homemaker.  A homemaker with infants and toddlers underfoot is not going to do the same amount of housekeeping, nor keep house as well, as a homemaker with teens who can share in the responsibilities. A homemaker who has a cottage industry is going to have other responsibilities to attend to daily in addition to the home duties. But every homemaker's goal should be to do the best job she can while in her current season. 

There are basics duties to which every homemaker should attend. She should provide meals for her family and a clean, reasonably neat, and orderly environment in which to live.  How much time is devoted to the accomplishment of these goals will depend upon the circumstances of the household. 

In my home, I spend about 30 hours a week on housework, meals and home specific tasks outside the home,(shopping, running errands,and such). Our home remains neat most days and I generally prefer seasonal deep cleaning sessions.  I devote about 25 hours a week to my writing.  This time line roughly follows about the number of hours per week that my husband works. 

I personally feel very strongly that my time in my home should be productive and that I work roughly the same number of hours that my husband does at his work.  Remember, I've said time and again that this is a vocation not a vacation.  Still, at this stage in my life, I have plenty of room for leisure activities and personal pursuits.  That one of my hobbies has become a second vocation has been a happy coincidence.  When I had a toddler in my home, it took me about 60 hours a week to accomplish the basic household tasks.  Deep cleaning wasn't even thought of at that time.  When I cared for my father each day, during his last months, I often managed only about 5 hours a week for writing and 15 hours of housework in my own home weekly. 
I'd like to next address the duties I feel are mandatory for my home to run smoothly and look halfway decent.  It suits my family and your views may certainly vary, but these are fairly basic tasks that promote the clean, neat, orderly environment that will suit most families.

Meals:  I love to cook.  I mean it, I really love to cook and I find that this task for me, is one that seldom seems odious. I love planning meals and spend time perusing cookbooks for fun. I know not everyone feels this way.  But whether you love to cook or hate to cook, your family likes to eat!  That is a given fact. 
I think that routine is like the oil that is used to keep a machine running smoothly.  Regular mealtimes and a regular place to eat them will do more for drawing a family together than any counseling session. 
If you loathe cooking and feel stumped when it comes to menus then try making up a set of menus and never varying from them.  Suppose you have a roast beef dinner on Sunday and shepherd's pie on Monday, hamburgers on Tuesday and spaghetti on Wednesday, Fish sticks and fries on Thursday and pizza on Friday and you reserve Saturday for a night of take out? 

Make breakfast and lunch menus as well.  You can most certainly give less variety for those two meals in the interest of saving thinking, time and budget.  A friend of mine grew up eating oatmeal every single day for her breakfast.  It was cheap, easy and required no thinking on the part of her very busy mom who was providing an early morning meal for 12 day in and day out.

I have a group of menu ideas for breakfast that rotates over about two weeks.  I seldom introduce a new item in this meal and I make only one change seasonally: substituting hot cereals for cold in the winter months. Lunches tend to be largely based on leftovers during the school year and are actually only planned meals for a few weeks during the summer or over long holidays. 

There are a few women who find it helps to have a month of dinner menus that they rotate on a seasonal basis for a little more routine.  My family has long been accustomed to a few old favorites mixed in with a lot of new recipes and a more or less seasonal approach to cooking.

Once a month cooking is another option for someone who doesn't care to have to think about meals. 
If you absolutely loathe cooking and prefer to pick up things from the freezer section at the grocery or from the deli, then do so.  While I think every homemaker should be careful and work with her budget to provide the best value how a meal is prepared (or by whom) doesn't matter.  You aren't less of a woman nor homemaker if your cooking isn't a strong point.

Setting aside a place in your home to eat on a regular basis is of vital importance to your family's emotional health, far more than what meals you put upon the table.  For years, when I was raising the first portion of my family, we ate in front of the television day in and day out and rarely spoke except to say "Be quiet, I can't hear the t.v."  It wasn't until I was raising my second stage family that I had a proper dining area.  No television allowed.  Soft background music and conversation are the accompaniment to our meals and much preferred, too, to the old days.

In the early days of that second stage family we ate breakfast and dinner together every day.  Now it's usually just dinner that we all eat together.  Let me encourage you, as the seasoned homemaker I am, to incorporate a dinner table into your home if you don't have one.   If the living room coffee table is your only table, then by all means use it as a dinner table.  But do turn off the television and make every effort to make routine meals, eaten as a family, not as a viewing audience, the norm.

I admit it.  I love keeping my home neat and orderly but it took many years to learn a basic routine that works for me in all but the very worst of circumstances.  There are all kinds of systems from the Sidetracked Home Executives method to Flylady and more.  My goal is a neat, clean, reasonably orderly environment.  These are the tasks I find it best to do daily and these tasks sometimes suffice to provide the desired result:

Laundry: I do a load of laundry nearly every day.  Just one load, and on rare occasions I might do two.  I used to save laundry day for one day a week.  That was too big a task to accomplish in one day's time and got very tedious.  Then I tried doing laundry in separate loads but only when I had a full load of  whites, or towels, or jeans.  That too proved tedious.

With help from my husband I found that the majority of our clothing could be washed on a daily basis in a bundled load (mixing white, dark, lights) without damage to any article.

We also eliminated some of our loads.  I do towels once a week now and we use only one towel each all week long.  If you have a large family,  hang the damp towels on the line (or run through the dryer) after use.  Remember that this is essentially clean laundry, used to dry a clean body.  Now that our family is a smaller one I often combine towels and bed sheets in a single load.  This works well for our small family.
One thing to keep in mind is that the single load every day method means only one load is dried and only one load must be folded and put away on a daily basis.  It proved an incredible time saver for me when I was a working mom and I saw no reason to change it when I became a stay at home mom.

Making beds: Even a 5 year old can make their own bed.  Not as expertly as you might, but it can be made all the same.  It's amazing how much neater a bedroom looks if the bed is made.  I used to put off making my bed everyday, until I decided to time myself.  Starting with a bare mattress, it took me exactly four minutes to make my bed.  I figure it can't take any longer than that to pull up the sheets and spread any morning.

Dishes:  A sink piled with dirty dishes is enough to send any woman round the bend.  And believe me, if scientists could harness the same energy that creates dirty clothes and dirty dishes, the world would never have an energy crisis. 

This task was generally a chore that the older children performed in our home.  When we were down to just three, I finally had a dishwasher in my kitchen.  I use that 'servant' as Laine refers to her appliances, to it's fullest.

It takes less than fifteen minutes to clean up the dishes after a meal is over if you wash pots and pans and bowls as you are cooking (or rinse and load if you have the blessing of a dishwasher).  Before you start preparing a meal, fill your sink with warm soapy water.  Wash and rinse as you go and at meal's end you'll be left with only the plates and glassware.
Let me share that my friend and mentor, Mrs. Harris, often serves Sunday dinner to no less than 20 and often as many as 35.  Her daughters and I share the responsibility of doing the dishes after a meal, each of us taking on a portion of the labor.  It's never taken more than 30 minutes to do all those dishes, including pots and pans, with one washing and rinsing and another drying. While the washing and drying are going on Mrs. Harris puts away all the leftover foods and another takes a damp cloth and wipes down chairs and tables in the many dining areas her home affords, as well as the kitchen counters and appliances.

I like to let the dishes I wash by hand air dry, but I take time to empty the dish drainer as soon as the dishes are dry.  Putting dishes away makes the kitchen look neater right away.

Floors: We sweep or vacuum our 1100 sq ft. home everyday.  It takes less than 15 minutes to do.  Often when I'm vacuuming I don't bother to sweep.  I just run the vacuum over the tiled floors as well as over the carpet.  I'm making good use of another of my 'servants' when I do that.

If you spot clean floors, you do not need to mop them nearly so often.  Typically I mop my kitchen and baths once every two weeks.  In the meantime, I look them over at the end of each day, when I'm ready to put my dishcloth in the dirty laundry.  That damp cloth has removed many a drip or smudge before going to the laundry.

These are just a few of the many tasks in a home but doing these basic five will make a huge difference in the comfort your home provides to your family.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those basic 5 are on my list everyday along with straightening the entire house and taking out the trash. I find if I straighten everything before bed (about a 15 minute job), my morning goes so much smoother. Also, with a newborn and dirty diapers taking out the trash daily is a MUST for me!

I love reading your posts. I was a friend to you on Xanga & just couldn't let my daily reading of your posts go. You have a wealth of information to share and I absolutely appreciate it!