While searching for a Leave it to Beaver video clip to share this past Monday, I found myself thinking about what it was like to be a 1950s housewife. I realize that what we saw on television was an idealized view – I’m sure that most housewives didn’t always vacuum in high heels and pearls. Still, there had to have been at least some semblance of truth to the portrayals or they wouldn’t have resonated with their audience.
I got to wondering what it would be like to spend a day as a 1950s housewife and figured, what the heck, let’s give it a try.
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I didn’t mention my intentions to David or Chris. In part because I didn’t want to want them to laugh at me and in part because I wanted to gauge their reactions without any prior knowledge of what was going to happen. I started preparing for this little experiment the evening before. I did a little research on the typical day of a 1950s housewife. I then planned my day. I didn’t write out a detailed schedule but did give some thought to what I would do. I should also mention that I made up my own rules. Because I was actually wanting to see how much of the retro housewife’s lifestyle would work for me now, in 2010, I didn’t try to pretend it was really 1950. I used my all my modern conveniences, including my computer. I also didn’t want to carry things to such an extreme that David would think I’d flipped my lid. So, keeping all that in mind, here is how my day went:
The day didn’t start out according to plan. David usually gets in the shower first thing and most of the time I go downstairs to make coffee for him, tea for me and lunches for David and Chris. The night before I had scrubbed the French press and had everything ready to go. However, what I hadn’t counted on was that David had done a bit of manual labor Monday evening at work (he usually spends his days sitting at a desk with a phone to his ear) so he showered just before going to bed. Therefore, when he got up he put on his robe and headed downstairs instead of taking a shower. Oops. There went that plan.
One thing I had decided was that I wasn’t going to greet him for breakfast in a dress, heels and full makeup. That would have really tipped him off that something was up. Instead, I put on the lacy black robe that matches the nightgown I was wearing, brushed my hair and put it in a ponytail, and applied just the tiniest bit of makeup. The goal was to look reasonably attractive but again, not make him wonder what was up.
By the time I got downstairs David had started the coffee and was eating his usual bowl of cereal. I love to cook but not in the morning. I am not and never have been an early breakfast person, something my family has long known and accepted. (I did feed the kids when they were little, though.) I made lunches for David and Chris then took my cup of Earl Grey upstairs. Before David came upstairs I had the bed made, my teeth brushed and had put on a bit of Shalimar perfume. If he noticed anything different, he didn’t mention it. Well, other than to comment that we had the same hairstyle.
David left the house at 7:50 and I spent the next 40 minutes drinking my tea, checking my email and doing a few computer tasks. At 8:30 I decided I’d better get busy. I put on a comfortable cotton dress, something my grandmother would have referred to as a “housedress”. I fed the cats, let out the chickens, folded the clothes from the dryer, moved the load from the washer and started the first load of the day. I then cooked myself one of the eggs I’d brought in from the chickens, got a glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee then headed back upstairs to the computer. While eating my breakfast, I did yesterday’s post here (it was a good day for a guest post) and made a list of what I needed to do for the day.
At 9:45 I got busy on the housework. First, I put on an apron. I finished loading the dishwasher with the breakfast dishes and since it was full, I started it. I put on some music, put a shot glass of water and essential oil on a candle warmer to make the house smell good, got the vacuum out and ready to go and filled the mop bucket with hot water and a bit of Pinesol. I cleaned the downstairs guest bathroom, switched the laundry and folded the load from the dryer, emptied wastebaskets, and tidied up the whole house. I swept the front porch and walkway, cleaned the glass storm door, dusted, vacuumed and mopped the entryway.
I fixed myself some lunch and ate it while watching part of an episode of the Donna Reed Show on YouTube. At this point I realized that if I didn’t rest I’d never make it through the rest of the day so I took a 30 minute nap. From 1:00 to 1:15 I checked a few things online and then got back to work. From 1:15 to 2:00 I dusted downstairs, vacuumed the kitchen, family room, guest room and guest bathroom. I then mopped the kitchen and bathroom.
Next up was a trip to town to run a few errands, including something David had asked me to do. First I showered, did my hair and makeup and put on a skirt and top. I left the house a little after 3:00 p.m. It’s about a 15 minute drive to town and I had four places to go while there. I managed to make it back home by 4:30. David is supposed to get off work at 4:30 but that almost never happens. Last night was no exception. I had time to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, bake part of them and also put potatoes in the oven to bake. David called just before he left work. It’s a 20 minute drive home so I had time to brush my teeth, touch up my makeup, put on more perfume and greet him at the door with his favorite cocktail.
Poor guy didn’t even make it in the door before receiving a phone call from an employee. He was on the phone as he walked in the door. I took his things from him and handed him his brandy sidecar. He spent his first several minutes at home dealing with more work issues on the phone. After he got things settled, he sipped his drink and told me about his day while I finished preparing dinner. These days, the three of us usually eat dinner together in the family room while watching The Daily Show which we record each day. However, I thought it would be nice to eat at the table so earlier in the day, as I unloaded the dishwasher, I had set the table.
At 6:45 we sat down to a dinner of baked potatoes with steamed broccoli and cheese, tossed green salad and garlic toast. I suppose something like meatloaf and mashed potatoes would have been more authentic but we are still eating vegetarian for now. We had a nice, relaxed meal and all of us chatted about our days and current events. Afterwards, David helped me clean up the kitchen and then went out to put up the chickens while I made hot tea and baked some more cookies. We had both been wanting to see the movie “The Blind Side” and he had recorded it the other day. Chris went to the other room to watch the baseball game while David and I watched the movie and enjoyed our tea and cookies. It was such a sweet movie and we both really enjoyed it. The little boy in it acted exactly like our nephew which was quite amusing.
All in all, it was a good day. I got a lot accomplished and felt good about providing David with a clean, peaceful home and good meal to come home to after a long, hectic day at work. Did he notice anything different? I don’t think so. But I take that as a compliment, in a way. Apparently none of what I did yesterday was all that out of the ordinary. I do try to keep an orderly home, prepare decent meals, look attractive and in general, be a good wife. The cocktail and homemade cookies were a little out of the ordinary but apparently not so out of character that they made David wonder what I was up to.
What did I learn from all this?
- Vigorous sweeping and cleaning are good exercise. Maybe that was part of the secret of those trim figures of the typical 50s housewives.
- Having everything ready to make the morning coffee and tea the night before is a good idea.
- I need a new robe. Something pretty but a little warmer than black lace. And some cute slippers, too.
- A regular household cleaning routine is a good idea.
- I like being a stay-at-home housewife.
So, will this experience change anything? Yeah, I think so. While I don’t plan to spend that much time cleaning every day, perhaps two days a week of it would be reasonable. I’m already a decent housekeeper. Every day the bed is made, dishes done, laundry kept up, meals cooked and house tidy. But I do tend to put off actual cleaning on a daily basis in favor of wearing myself out by trying to do it all at once. I think I’ll change that. I also decided that a little less time on the computer might be a good thing, especially in the evenings. But mostly I was reminded of something I think I already knew. I like being a housewife and I’m pretty good at it.
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