Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homemaking 101: Home Economics

While I shared the economies I employed  furnishing my home in our last post, the truth is that home economics is far, far more detailed than simply furnishing the home.  People live in the home and must be fed and clothed and cared for.  Furnishings and appliances must be bought and maintained.  Food must be prepared and preserved.  The economics of home reaches far.  It extends to our vehicles, gardens, yards.  How well we manage our income and use it to increase the quality of life in the home is truly the economy of the home.

The Bible is a great instruction manual in many ways and I find it especially so in Proverbs where mention is often made of good stewardship of the things we own.  Just this morning I read a passage from Proverbs 27:23-27:
Take care to know the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds.  For wealth doesn't last forever, neither does a crown through all generations.  When the hay has been mown, and the new grass appears, and the mountain greens have been gathered; the lambs will provide your clothing, the goats will sell for enough to buy a field, and there will be enough goat's milk to {buy} food for you and your household and maintenance for your servant-girls.

Certainly this passage is meant for the farmer/shepherd but it applies to the home as well, for if we take good care of what we have, we might well increase it's value, save money and reap the benefits of ownership.

A few years ago I began to avidly read appliance manuals for different items in my home.  What an eye opener!  Even though the label on the dishwasher told me one thing, the manual made it quite plain that someone had not been paying attention when that label was printed!  The drying agent needed to be replaced about once a month, not once a year as the label directed. 

I learned to clean my washing machine, discovered another appliance had multiple uses besides the only one I thought it had, and more about all my appliances than I thought possible.  So find the manuals for your appliances and read them.  You'll be surprised how many little problems you can solve on your own with the troubleshooting guides, how to properly clean them and just good general tips that will save you money.

Learning basic skills can increase the economy of the home.  Gardening will extend your fresh food supply. If you don't have the room to garden (and even the smallest plot may indeed produce a bit of food), foraging might be something you'd want to look into.  Growing up there were large gardens owned by most of the family and nearly all had fruit trees as well.  That did not however keep my family from foraging.  Grandmama often foraged for greens in the spring months and she enjoyed a Poke Salad made from a common weed, as well as Dandelion greens, sorrel and a few others.  Granny foraged for wild blueberries, plums, blackberries, scuppernongs, muscadines...Canning and freezing the surplus whether from a garden or an in season special from the grocery can give you savings all year round.    Baking goodies for your family will help the grocery budget and if you care to really work at it might become an occasional earning outlet as well. 

Learning to sew a basic straight seam and hand mending can be very helpful for maintaining soft furnishings and clothes. Learning to sew more extensively can not only beautify your home, but help you to make your own wardrobe and perhaps bring in a little extra income. Basic upholstery skills can transform yard sale and thrift store furniture into beautiful unique finds for your home. 

Caring for the sick in your family is home economy, too.  Recognizing when to call a doctor and when to doctor at home is a huge budget help.  Learn to use over the counter medicines properly or choose to learn all about herbal and holistic methods of dealing with illness.  Either will be beneficial to the family.  Basic first aid skills can save a huge ER bill for a minor injury.  When I worked at the hospital the basic cost of items was marked up 200%.  That meant that a patient paid as much for a single band aid as he could have spent buying a box of 100 at the drugstore and applying it himself!   It also meant a common cold could cost as much as $400 for the ER visit and a dose of cough medicine that might have been bought over the counter for a mere $6.

Often the woman of the house is the main economist in the home.  She should know how to effectively run and maintain most of the items within it, especially if she is a full time homemaker.  Laundry, food preparation, storage and preservation, maintaining appliances, cleaning upholstery and carpets, gardening, basic nursing, basic cleaning...Well it's a lot of work!  However, a wise economist plays on the strengths of the family at large to keep things going.  We used to joke about how each child in our household fulfilled a need.  Doug was a whiz at repairing electronic items.  Alan is the best shade tree mechanic we know.  Susan had a real knack for knowing how and when to nurse an ailing pet.  Kay was our go to person for pinch hitting when the head chef ailed (that would have been me, lol), and she was most definitely the head Tech geek in our household. The truth is that simply by paying attention to the strengths of each family member we were able to benefit the whole family and the economy of the household remained intact.  I was a whiz at pinching pennies, but Chance had the head for stretching the dollars, so we played on each other's strengths to make sure our money went as far as possible. 

The wonderful thing about home economy is that every one living in the home has the opportunity to learn by example.  Chance taught Doug to do basic locksmith work, Kay learned to cook by standing at my side in the kitchen and how to do maintenance on her car from sticking close to Alan's side when he changed oil and such.  I've learned more about how to maintain cash flow from Chance than I learned in the 35 years before I met him.

In my early homemaking days most of my knowledge was gleaned from books borrowed from the library but these days with internet we have opportunity to literally have knowledge at our fingertips.  I am continually amazed and blessed by the internet and the information I can find.  "How to:" instructions abound, as do photo tutorials, YouTube demonstrations etc.  There are product reviews, recipes, money saving tips, repair manuals and so much more available to help the home owner and the Homemaker to become more proficient.  I can't name the number of times in the past year Chance has used the internet to discover the underlying mechanical problem with one of our vehicles, bought parts, and then replaced it himself simply because he'd watched the video showing how to do it. 

One of the better economies is recognizing when expert help is needed. I've known many who failed to be good stewards because they insisted on doing jobs themselves that were too far out of their realm of knowledge. Oh my! By all means, know your limitations. It's all fine and well to continue to grow your knowledge but for goodness sake, don't try to do jobs that are far beyond your skill. You may find that the final cost for a repair is doubled or even tripled.  And sometimes we can learn a thing or two just by standing near as these experts make a repair.  When Alan broke the door off the new dryer, I didn't have a clue how to fix it.  Watching the repairman was well worth the $65 it cost to have him fix it, because the next time the door was broken, I repaired it myself!

Home Economics...It's all about learning to run our homes as efficiently and well as possible while creating the cozy comforts of home.


lislyn66 said...

All of this is so true. It's been awhile since I've checked in, busy summer, kids birthdays, but I'm so happy I did. God bless.

BelleDiabolique said...

Herbal and holistic medicine has been a fascination of mine since I was little. When we had upset stomachs, Gramma would go out and dig up yellowroot for us to chew. The daily dose of cod liver oil was mandatory, and Gramma never failed to take her daily tablespoon of raisins soaked in dark rum.

I've made tinctures, teas, poultices, washes, rubs and draughts. If I were at Hogwarts, I don't think even Professor Snape could dissuade me from tenaciously pursuing Potions. It's cooking on another level, and I love it almost as much. LOL I crammed many a dose of homemade cough syrup down B's throat when he lived with me before. He didn't necessarily like the taste, but had to admit that the stuff worked.

So many of our modern medicines are derived from concentrated plant extracts already. Some that we've relied on trustingly for years, like Aspirin, Digoxin, Penicillin and Ergonovine are derived from plants. Aspirin can be found in the inner bark of White Willow, Digoxin from Foxglove Digitalis, Penicillin from bread mold, and Ergonovine from a mold called Ergot that grows on wheat.

When wise women were hunted for witches, and doctors took over midwifery and nursing the sick, much of the information that women used to pass to each other generation to generation was forgotten. But we can really do a lot at home if we're cautious and intelligent about it.