'Wash on Monday" - A Little History of Homekeeping

Jan 27, 2020 at 01:06 pm by adminjen

By Laura Stockett Roberts

It seems like we are at our peak of organizing and home keeping as we enter 2020. The acme, the pinnacle, the culmination of knowledge from experts in the field; Martha Stewart, The FlyLady and Marie Kondo, just to name a few, are all here to offer advice and methods to help make our homes work more efficiently. However, they are hardly the first. Women have been organizing and home keeping from the beginning of recorded time. But starting several centuries back, in England, universal homekeeping regimes were adopted. These home keeping schedules were shared mother-to-daughter and sister-to-sister until they were widely accepted. Nursery rhymes even incorporated them. 

Ivory Soap added a Mother Goose rhyme about washing on Monday to one of their ads (below). In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Winter Days in the Big Woods, the author notes the following schedule for homemakers:

  • Wash on Monday
  • Iron on Tuesday
  • Mend on Wednesday
  • Churn on Thursday
  • Clean on Friday
  • Bake on Saturday
  • Rest on Sunday

However, in Antiques from The Country Kitchen by Frances Thompson, a slightly different schedule is put forth:

  • Wash on Monday
  • Iron on Tuesday
  • Bake on Wednesday
  • Brew on Thursday (later marketing/shopping)
  • Churn on Friday (later housekeeping)
  • Mend on Saturday
  • Church on Sunday

It’s worth noting that “brewing” was not so that early American homemakers could get tipsy. These were not early "desperate housewives!" It was necessary because settlers were told not to trust the water and so they would brew and drink apple cider instead. Thompson notes that once the water controversy was cleared up, “Thursday was designated as marketing day.” Another transition happened when farmers began providing dairy products and it became unnecessary to have a segregated day for churning. “This relieved the city dwellers of churning and making cheeses on Friday, and they began using this day for housecleaning.”

As a lover of history, I’m fascinated by these rituals in which our early sisters partook. I already knew about "wash on Monday" because in Louisiana, where I have roots, a cooked-all-day-long dish called Red Beans and Rice is served on Mondays in local restaurants. I'd always heard that it was because wash day was Monday and the women didn't have time to cook that day. The Cajun Coast, a convention and visitors' bureau web site for south Louisiana, offers more: "In the 19th century, Monday typically was laundry day. Without a washing machine, the lady of the house tended to every article of clothing by hand. That didn’t leave much time for cooking, so dinner had to be something that required little attention. Enter the red kidney bean, brought to South Louisiana by those fleeing Haiti’s slave rebellion.  After soaking the night before, the beans were set on the stove with the 'trinity,' the quintessential Cajun cooking base of onions, bell peppers and celery. It also was traditional to throw in the Sunday dinner’s ham bone for flavor. That’s now often replaced with sausage to complete a comfort food familiar to all South Louisiana dinner tables."

But what does that matter to us today and how does it apply to this column? Well, I was inspired by this schedule and will be writing along in a similar fashion. I will be sharing all the ins and outs of being a southern domestic goddess, as it were. Keeping a home but with fabulous style and always elegant and refined whenever possible. Hospitality is the trademark of the any southern hostess, but no great hostess and homemaker is without her trade secrets on how to make things ship shape.  We will talk about linens, tabletops, entertaining in general, baking, cooking and recipes, purchases and shopping, and of course housekeeping tips and tools.

What better way to kick off the new year and also this column than with my favorite start to the decade must have – the HOMEKEEPING ON Friday ANNUAL HOME MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST!

New year. New resolutions. New outlook. It makes you motivated, doesn't it? You want to tidy and organize and tackle all of those home projects you've neglected. 

You need to call the gutter cleaning guy, right? When did you do it last? And what about the windows... when was the last time they were glazed? Was it in 2014 or 2015? It's all running together. Enter the Annual Home Maintenance Checklist. You might already have one of these. If so, read on anyway and let me know if I missed anything.

This is the one I created based on our needs. I started it because I had this tendency to let the display silver tarnish up. I'd forget when I did it last and I'd let it turn black before I'd address it. After I created it, I used a Word document that I printed out and laminated. I would keep in the laundry room. It was easy to glance at and see what was coming up that month.

However, I recently switched over to an Excel document because occasionally I shake things up. I realized it might make more sense to do one project or another at a different time of year... and I can do that best if it's kept digitally. Last year, I printed it out and re-laminated it twice and it was then that I decided to go solely electronic. Now, I just check it off of my iPad at the beginning of every month. It's also easy for me to keep more long term notes for things that aren't even annual.

Your list will be different from mine. Some of you live on acreage that has fences that require upkeep. Some of you have swimming pools. Not everyone has a CentralVac system. Not everyone has copper pots to polish. Just think about your home and your routines. Consider the things that you want to do and what you need to maintain.

You don't have to go digital, but I would strongly consider it. If you simply write it on a white board or calendar in your mudroom, it won't have the sense of permanence. You'll have to recreate it every year. Digital allows you to add and subtract easily, and Excel in particular makes it easy since the data in those cells is quickly manipulated. If you put in a pool at home, then you can add necessary line items for it. If you give away all your sterling to your grandchildren, you can strike its polishing off of your list.

It will take you some time thinking about it to create a list. I find myself still adding to mine but do please go ahead and use mine as inspiration. It's a mixture of true maintenance items, like having the HVAC serviced, and more of what I consider "home keeping" projects, like purging the freezer and fluffing my flower arranging closet. It's not that hard to do, but I know it needs regular annual attention and without a prompt, I'll never remember when I did it last...and frankly, I'll probably never get to it all! There is something so gratifying about checking every one of those boxes off each month.

You will know what works for you and you'll know how to live with your list. For me, with the silver for instance, I know that I will polish it at least twice a year because it's on my checklist that way... but that doesn't mean I can't polish it more often than that if necessary. That's not written anywhere on my list, but I know it. You'll get into routines with your checklist as well once you get it going.

So start your list, loves! Walk around your house and consider every system, great or small, that touches your life and requires annual/semi-annual/monthly attention and start writing them down to jump start your checklist. You might already have one of your own... then look mine over and see if you are inspired to add anything you had overlooked.

2020 will be a great year!

- Laura

POSTSCRIPT - I've already thought of one more to add... purge the medicine cabinet! How had I never thought of that before now? I went to Walgreens and replaced some Neosporin and as soon as I looked at one expired bottle it hit me that I needed to add that to my checklist. This is why it's good to use an electronic version. I can always add. I think I'll try to work this project in during August or September - before cold and flu season. Cheers!

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