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It is a perplexing task for young housekeepers to divide properly the weekly work of the household. Even when I start to write on the subject, many difficulties present themselves, as no two houses are conducted on exactly the same plan.
What would be the right thing for one home would be entirely impracticable in another. The woman who does her own work, or keeps but one servant, must, of course, plan her work quite differently from the woman who keeps two or more servants.
Then, too, the place and mode of living will influence the arrangement of household work. For example, in the country the style of living is much simpler than in the city; the hours are more regular, there are fewer stairs to go over, less dirt and dust accumulate, and, in short, practically all the work is done on two floors.
This makes the duties of mistress and maid lighter than in the city house. The pure air, quiet surroundings, and long, uninterrupted hours make it possible for a woman to accomplish a great deal of housework in a day, and yet have leisure for reading, sewing, and quiet thinking.
But, on the other hand, the city housekeeper has her advantages, such as the house fitted with all modern conveniences; stores and markets close at hand; and, if extra or heavy work is to be done, easy means of getting men and women to do it.
The changing scenes in the city take woman out of herself and the narrowing cares of home life, and keep her interested and in touch with the world, thus making her duties less irksome than they might be in a regular and monotonous life.
Yet, no matter where one resides, there are certain daily duties that must be attended to if people would live decently and in order. I will try to map out programmes of these duties, so that the inexperienced housekeeper will be able to outline her daily work by them.
It is not to be expected that these programmes will be followed exactly; they are simply suggestions which each housekeeper may adapt to the exigencies of her own household.
As there are many routine duties that must be performed every day, I will treat of them here. Special work will have a day assigned to it.
It is almost appalling to look at the list of daily duties of the household, when one remembers that it frequently happens that there is but one pair of hands to do all the work; yet there are thousands of women who are well and happy in passing their lives that way, knowing that they contribute to the health and comfort of their families.
If there be system in doing the work, the burden will be materially lightened. Each member of the family has his or her duties. Habits of order and punctuality should be cultivated. Being late at meals and leaving things out of place will increase the burdens of the housekeeper in a marked degree.
What to do in the Morning.
First, make the kitchen fire; take up and sift the ashes. After brushing all the dust from the range, wash off the surface with a cloth and soap and water; then polish it with stove blacking.
Rinse out the teakettle, and after the water has been running from the cold-water pipes for about five minutes, fill the kettle and place it on the fire. Sweep and dust the kitchen. Put the breakfast dishes on to heat.
Air the dining-room and set the table; then prepare and serve the breakfast. Clear the breakfast table, assorting the dishes and freeing them from scraps of food. Soak in cold water any dishes that are soiled with mush, milk, or eggs; put the silver in a pitcher of warm water.
Go up stairs and open the chamber windows, if they were not opened the first thing in the morning. Take the clothes from the beds, one piece at a time, and spread over chairs or a low screen, so that the air shall pass through them freely. Beat the pillows and bolsters, and place them in a current of air. Turn the mattresses so that they shall be aired on all sides. Leave the rooms to air for an hour, or longer if possible.
Return to the kitchen and wash the dishes; then put them away at once. Wash the dish-towels in plenty of soap and water, and rinse thoroughly; when possible, dry them out of doors. Air, brush, and dust the dining-room; then draw the shades. Make the beds, empty the slops, and wash and wipe the bedroom toilet china. Put the rooms in order and dust them. Next wash the basins and the bath-tub, if necessary, and dust the bath-room.
Dust the halls and sitting-room, and any other rooms that may require it. Collect the lamps and trim them. Prepare the dinner or luncheon. If you live in the city, the vestibule and sidewalk must be swept, and perhaps washed.
The earlier this work is done, the better, as there will be less annoyance from frequent passers early in the morning. If the home be in the country, the front and back steps and the piazzas should be swept at the hour most convenient for the housekeeper. In freezing weather do not, of course, attempt to wash the piazza, steps, or sidewalk, as the result would be an icy surface, dangerous to limb and life.
Special Work for Special Days.
On Monday, as soon as the water is warm, put the clothes to soak in strong suds. After the breakfast dishes have been washed, begin to wash the clothes.
While one boilerful is being scalded and a second batch of clothes has been prepared for the boiler, put out the line. Now put the scalded clothes in the rinsing water. Take nearly all the hot suds from the boiler, and replace with clean cold water, putting the second batch of clothes to scald in this.
Rinse the first lot and put on the lines to dry; continue the work until everything except the flannels and colored articles have been washed. While the coarse towels are being scalded, wash and hang out the flannels; next wash the colored things.
When all the clothes have been hung out, empty the boiler and wash and wipe it until perfectly dry; also clean the laundry. Now take a luncheon. Do the chamber-work, and then prepare the family luncheon or dinner. The brushing up and dusting must be omitted to-day.
After the noonday meal, wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Bathe, and change your clothes; and after resting, take the clothes from the lines and sprinkle and fold them. Flannels must be taken in while they are still slightly damp. Iron the flannels, and after that prepare the evening meal.
In the short winter days it will be best to wash the flannels and colored clothes before the white articles, as the more rapidly a woollen or colored fabric dries the better it will look.
On Tuesday, directly after the breakfast dishes have been washed and the dining-room put in order, begin ironing, starting with the plain pieces, such as sheets and pillow-cases. As soon as the irons work smoothly, iron the starched clothes. In about two or three hours the fire must be replenished.
When this is done, and while it is burning up, do the chamber work. If all the ironing cannot be done in the forenoon, finish it, if you can, in the afternoon. The meals for washing and ironing days should be as simple as possible.
Where one Servant is Kept.
If there be one servant in the house, the mistress can make these two days less burdensome, if she herself will wash the breakfast dishes, put the dining-room in order, and make the beds.
If there be children in the family, they can be taught to do the lighter work. In suggesting that the chamber work be left until the fire is renewed, it is supposed that hard coal is used.
If wood or soft coal be used, the fire will have to be replenished frequently; and since these substances burn much more readily, the time for chamber work will be limited unless the draughts be closed.
Wednesday is often taken by housekeepers for a sort of off day; but if, as is the case in many Eastern towns, Thursday be the servant’s day out, it will be better to sweep on Wednesday, and have the lighter work done on Thursday.
Once in two weeks should be often enough for a thorough cleaning of most of the rooms in a well regulated house. A room properly cleaned will be in a better sanitary condition at the end of two weeks than one that is only half cleaned every week.
If the floors be of natural wood, or be stained or painted, the dust and lint must be wiped off with a dry cloth every few days, but if the floors be carpeted the thorough sweeping once in two weeks should be sufficient, except in a sitting-room or dining-room. I will give the method of cleaning a room properly. These directions, slightly modified, apply to all rooms.
Cleaning a Room by System.
Remove the draperies, and dust and remove all small articles. Dust all the furniture, removing the lighter articles and covering the heavy pieces; dust and cover the pictures. Brush the walls and ceilings, being careful to remove all dust from the tops of the doors and windows.
Brush all dust from the window frames, ledges, and blinds. If there be rugs on a bare floor, roll them up and put them out of doors to be beaten and aired; then sweep the floor with a soft brush. After all the dusting and washing of windows has been finished, rub the floor with a soft, dry cloth.
If it be a stained or painted floor, wipe it a second time with a cloth slightly dampened with kerosene; or if it be polished, do the polishing at this time.
If the room be carpeted, sweep it with a clean broom; if the carpet be very dusty, sprinkle over it, before sweeping, corn meal or sawdust, slightly dampened; or, if it be more convenient, take dry salt. Let the dust settle, then sweep the carpet a second time.
Now dust the room, wash the windows, and remove the covers from the furniture and pictures. After this has been done, put two gallons of tepid water in a pail with four tablespoonfuls of household ammonia. Wring a cloth out of this and wipe the carpet, rubbing hard to remove any dust.
Beat the rugs by spreading them face down on clean grass or a smooth board and beating with a switch or rattan beater. If it be impossible to lay them flat, hang them on a line and beat them. Place them on the floors, and put the furniture, ornaments, and draperies in place.
Clean one or more rooms in this manner on Wednesday morning. Prepare the noonday meal, and after this has been served, and the dining-room and kitchen put in order, rest until it is time to attend to the evening meal.
The Last Half of the Week.
On Thursday, after the regular work is done, the morning should be devoted to various odd tasks, such as cleaning the refrigerator, and inspecting and cleaning the cellar. See that no decaying vegetation, damp paper, etc., is there. Wash the cellar stairs. Next clean the kitchen and prepare something for the evening meal; then serve the noonday meal.
The remainder of the weekly sweeping should be done on Friday morning. Every two weeks the silver should be cleaned in the afternoon. Many housekeepers clean silver every week, but if it be properly washed and wiped each day this will be unnecessary.
As there must be some extra cooking done on Saturday for Sunday, plan for that on Friday, making all the arrangements possible, so that this work may be done early Saturday morning, while the fire is at its best. All the materials for cooking should be in the house on Friday afternoon or early Saturday morning.
If fruits are to be prepared for the next day’s baking, get them ready some time on Friday. Saturday is usually a busy day. Extra cooking and cleaning must be done, that the work on Sunday may be light. Many housekeepers change the beds on Saturday, rather than on Sunday. If this be the practice, when the rooms are put to air, remove the soiled linen and spread out the fresh, that it may be well aired.
If possible, rise early enough to clean the steps, piazza, and sidewalk before breakfast. As soon as the regular morning work is done, attend to the extra cooking. When this is finished, clean the kitchen and its closets, the china closets, and the back hall.
A Day of Rest.
Plan to have as little work as possible to do on Sunday, but do not fall into the error of wearing yourself out on Saturday and making all the family uncomfortable on Sunday, simply because you would not break the Sabbath.
The woman who manages to keep her family comfortable and happy on this day, even if it be necessary to do a little extra work to attain that end, will have a better moral and spiritual influence than she who makes all the members dread the day as being one of the most uncomfortable in the whole week at home.
In most families on this day the breakfast is late and the dinner served about two o’clock, the supper being light and informal. While there are many housekeepers who still cling to the old custom of having cold dinners, the majority have a hot one, as it often happens that this is the only meal throughout the week at which the whole family is sure to meet.
If but one servant be kept, she ought not to be required to perform any duties after the dinner dishes have been washed and put away.
The remainder of the day and evening should belong to her. If there be no servant, the housekeeper surely is entitled to what little rest she can get after dinner, and the other members of the family should find it a pleasure to prepare whatever light refreshments may be required in the evening. Remember that there are heavy duties for Monday morning, and do not leave a lot of dishes in disorder to add to these burdens.
Two or More Servants in a Family.
The round of duties for the week having been thus outlined, I wish to make a few suggestions to the woman who keeps two or more servants.
The duties must be so divided that each shall bear her proper proportion of the work. In the case where there are several servants, there is greater ceremony in the mode of living. Suppose there be two servants, and the family be fairly large.
The second girl must do all the upstairs work, take care of the parlors, halls, dining-room, china closet, etc. It will be her duty to care for the silver, glass, and fine china.
Every evening, after the dining-room work is finished, she will go to the chambers, empty all slops, refill the water pitchers, turn back the bed clothes, and lay the night garments on the bed. She will draw the shades and see that there is a stock of matches, towels, etc. In the morning she will attend to the dining-room, put the breakfast dishes on to heat, dust the lower halls and parlors, and sweep the steps and sidewalk.
The cook will care for all the lower part of the house, her own room, the cellar, and the back steps and stoop. The washing and ironing must be divided between them. It is usual to have the cook do the plain washing and ironing, while the second girl takes the starched clothes. If, however, the second girl be required to do plain sewing, the cook does the heavier part of the washing.
In the matter of the duties of a servant each housekeeper must make her own laws, but the more servants there are, the more clearly must each one’s responsibility be defined, and the mistress will save herself an immense amount of annoyance if she will take pains to divide the work of the household with good judgment and with justice, not allowing any dictation in the matter.
She should not be hasty in reaching a conclusion, but should be firm in her decisions.