I clearly remember rolling my eyes when a friend told me she was taking Home Economics as an elective during our freshman year of high school. Home Ec was lame. Home Ec was for girls with no ambition. Home Ec was, like, sooo old school. I was way too cool for Home Ec.
Oh, how I wish I could take a Home Economics course now, especially one that emphasized the economics part. At 30 years old, I’m still woefully inefficient and unskilled when it comes to many household tasks. I can cook up some pretty tasty dishes, but I’m lousy at planning my meals to take advantage of low cost ingredients that can be used in several recipes throughout the week. I don’t know how to fix a simple rip in the seam of a garment. I don’t know how to get stains out of fabric. I don’t know how to make basic repairs to, well, anything.
I’ve often read that we now live in an era in which it is cheaper to replace something than to repair it, but I’m not convinced. I think that’s just what we tell ourselves to feel better about our complete lack of skills. I’ve also heard some people claim that it is cheaper to eat out (at least for an individual or a couple) than it is to cook at home. I know that can’t be true. But I can understand wanting to believe it. If you’ve never been taught how to plan a weekly menu and deal with leftovers, eating out will seem much easier and maybe even less wasteful.
The notion of Home Ec seems outdated to many of us, but in actuality, it is just as important as ever. This is true for both girls and boys, women and men. Many of us will live on our own for many years before we “settle down” and start a family. During this time of independence, we must feed ourselves and manage our own households, even if our households are small apartments for one. In this sense, we are all homemakers.
Unfortunately, we are poorly equipped to run our homes with economy. The first problem we have is our mindset. When was the last time you thought of your home as an organization that must be managed to run as efficiently and cost effectively as possible? I know I had never really thought of it that way, at least not until I stumbled upon a fabulous little book called “The American Frugal Housewife.” This book was written by Lydia Maria Child and it was first published in 1832. It is now in the public domain and can be downloaded for free at Project Gutenberg.
There is something endearing about a book that is nearly 200 years old that instructs you to “keep a coarse broom for cellar stairs, wood-shed, yard, &c. No good housekeeper allows her carpet broom to be used for such things.” (The horror!) Much of the advice offered throughout the book is not applicable to today’s lifestyles (“Examine preserves, to see that they are not contracting mould; and your pickles, to see that they are not growing soft and tasteless”), but the brief introduction at the beginning of the book is highly relevant to thinking of a household as an entity that requires thoughtful management practices.
There is classic advice in the introduction about living below your means and never counting on money that you haven’t yet earned. The importance of saving is emphasized, along with the importance of not being wasteful. The introduction sets the theme of the book that practicing economy in your household will lead to a happy and peaceful life. Surely that is just as true today as it was in 1832.
So how does one set about creating a peaceful life of economy in his or her own home? One turns to the internet! If Mrs. Child was alive today, I’m sure she’d have one heck of a blog about all things domestic. Fortunately, there are many other bloggers and resources available to help non-domestic goddesses like me:
- Home Ec 101: The fitting tagline for this site is “real skills for real people with real lives.” The site provides instructions and tips for basic household repairs, stain removal, cooking, and cleaning. The information is presented in a fun and simple way.
- Better Homes & Gardens: The online version of the magazine favorite has plenty of information on everything from remodeling to gardening to crafts. Most articles are written with cost consciousness in mind.
- Consumer Reports: Access to the site’s content requires a paid subscription, but it is well worth it if you are planning on making any major purchases. An annual subscription is $26, or you can subscribe for one month for just $5.95. You pay to join because you won’t see any advertising on CR’s website. All of their ratings and buying recommendations are completely independent and are based on their first-hand research and testing.
- FlyLady.net: This site can be quite overwhelming, and it seems to be geared toward the die-hard domestic types. But if you’re willing to do a little digging, you can find some useful information about cleaning and controlling chaos in your home.
- Real Simple: The online version of the popular magazine has succinct, useful articles on a range of topics. My favorite section is “New Uses for Old Things” under the Home & Organizing tab.
Does anyone else know of handy Home Ec websites they like? Has anyone ever heard of actual Home Ec classes for grownups? Or am I the only one who wants to party like it’s 1832?
It is worth mentioning that the author of “The American Frugal Housewife,” Lydia Maria Child, was a remarkable woman. She was a passionate abolitionist, Indian’s rights activist, and women’s rights activist. Many of her other writings supported these causes. She was a strong-willed and opinionated lady, which is what makes “The American Frugal Housewife” so entertaining to read all these years later. Child also wrote the poem “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day”, better known today as “Over the River and Through the Wood.”