Thursday, 17 January 2013

On the Importance of Being Organised

In one of my lovely (Swedish) books on householding there is an essay called "Cleaning and Laundry" ("Städning och tvätt"), written by a Mrs Gertrud Norden. It's found in The Housewife's Golden Book (Husmoderns gyllene bok), a series of books containing everything that a woman was deemed to have to know in 1925, from legal rules on inheritence and marriage to cooking and etiquette.

The date, 1925, puts it slightly later than the time frame for this blog, but it reads as fairly conservative. The essay in question instructs the housewife on how to organise her household work in a very precise manner; not only what is to be done, but how and when. It's obviously primarily written for a household where the mother or wife of the family either does all work on her own, or where she does so with the help of a single maid.
A picture of Mrs Norden from the book

Firstly, Mrs Norden recommends setting of a fixed schedule, consisting of both both daily and weekly tasks.
"It is best if one can separate and fit in both the daily and weekly chores so that they are accomplished little by little without upsetting the smooth course of the day. This is unequivocally to be preferred if one can choose. But at many times one has no choice; one simply must deal with them in an irregular manner.


From that should not be deduced that it is pointless to plan a daily schedule and to systematically organise the one's work. On the contrary, just because it might at times be impossible to follow a certain schedule, one should, insofar one can, predict and organise the work by evaluating one's normal day, week or month and try to fit the chores which may be predicted into the time slots usually at your disposal."

So how should one go about organising the work? Mrs Norden recommends using the meals as fixed points and planning around them. You then make a list of the chores that must be performed daily, and another one of the chores that must be accomplished every week or with greater intervalls. Thus, you get a list that looks something like this:

   Daily chores                            Weekly chores
Polish shoes                            Weekly shopping
Daily shopping                       Washing children's clothing and wool
Cleaning bedroom                 Ironing 
   >>        nursery                      Mending
   >>        dining room            Cleaning suits
   >>        drawing room         Baking
   >>        kitchen                     Weekly cleaning of all rooms
Washing up                             Cleaning of the hall and stairs
and so forth                             and so forth

Now you find out how much time you have at your disposal for cleaning and other necessary chores between each meal after deducting the time necessary for cooking and fit in all th tasks you listed above. Ideally, you should avoid cramming all the cleaning into a single day. It only turns the whole house topsy-turvy and you end up exhausted. Instead, you should plan each day so that you manage both the necessary daily chores plus one or two weekly chores.

To illustrate this idea, Mrs Norden presents a very basic example of a house schedule based on those principles:

At  0         Clean dining room, lay the table, make breakfast
>> 8          ----Breakfast---
>> 0          Make an inventory of the pantry & larder, order for the day
>> 0          Daily cleaning of bedroom, nursery and drawing room
>> 0          Weekly chore
>> 0          Cook second meal and lay the table
>> 12.30   ---Second meal---
>> 0         Wash up after both meals. Clean kitchen.
>> 0         Rest and short coffeebreak
>> 0         Lighter weekly chore and unforeseen tasks
>> 0         Cook third meal. Lay the table
>> 5.30    ---Third meal---
>> 0        Wash up and so forth

            Weekly chores

Monday      morning: Wash the children's clothing
                   afternoon: Unforeseen tasks
Tuesday     morning: Weekly cleaning of nursery
                   afternoon: Polish brass etc.
Wednesday morning: Weekly cleaning of bedroom. Iron the children's clothes.
                   afternoon: unforeseen tasks
Thursday   morning: Weekly cleaning of drawing room etc.
                   afternoon: Mend children's clothes
Friday        morning: Weekly cleaning of kitchen and pantry
                   afternoon: Unforeseen tasks
Saturday    morning: extra work according to circumstance
                   afternoon: Baking and cooking for Sunday
A household schedule is, Mrs Norden underlines, a strictly personal matter. It must be adapted to the circumstances under which one lives, such as the size of the family, the ages of the members of the household, what kind of house you live in etc.

Either way, however, she suggests that one always adheres to the following principles:

1) you should get the daily cleaning done as soon as possible,
2) one of the heavier weekly chores should be dealt with every day,
3) the heaviest and most tiring chores should be doen early in the day when your energy is high, and consign "the chores that afford certain relaxation to the latter part of the day,"
4) you should avoid scheduling a specific day for cleaning the house "but instead try to spread it over the days of the week as invisibly as possible without upsetting the natural course of the workday,"
5) it's best if the person working may focus on one thing at a time and not let her time be wasted on a myriad of smaller tasks; "either by division of labour, so that the housewife frees the servant from such that might distract, or, in the cases where one person manages the work on her own, by putting off all the small brief tasks until the most important chores of the day are completed,"
6) you should set clear and precise boundaries between work and rest and respect both.


Husmoderns gyllene bok, Stockholm, 1925  (all the quotes above have been translated into English by me)


  1. I always loved this type of writings.
    Thanks for sharing

  2. So glad you enjoyed it! I love this sort of books too; they really make the past come alive to me.


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