Did Spring Cleaning Die Out with the 1950’s Housewife?

 
In this day and age, spring cleaning seems a bit antiquated. Is deep cleaning even possible when superfluous toys cover the floor? When home is a place to stash used sippy cups and soiled clothes before heading off to the next commitment? Who has time to scrub all those corners I’ve been cutting all year?

When asked to describe a typical day in one sentence, these Rocket City Moms said it all:

Constant motion.
-Sharon, mom to Isaac (8), Ian (5), Andrew (3), and Avery (1)

Dodging cars and trains being thrown around the room while convincing my son that he will not be eating cake for lunch.
-Alison, Jacob (3) and Hannah (6 mo)

No, you can’t be called Princess Sophia all day today.
–Julie, girls 3 and 10 mos

Chaos and fatigue with some occasional fun.
–Brenda, mother of Lily (5), Avery (3) and Abel (1 mo)

We all survived!
-Kelly, mom to Hayes (3) and Isabelle (10 mos)


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Interview With a Housewife

I decided to seek tips from the most regimented cleaner I know, my grandmother. Rather than romanticize or demonize the era, here’s her bare-bones story.

My grandmother is a real-life 1950’s housewife. Even in her 80’s, her wood-paneled house is always swept, dried, and put away. She wears a sturdy cotton housedress most days of the week, and never uses the clothes dryer when there’s sunshine available to do the job. (She prefers the smell of line-dried linens.) Our chat revealed more than just the secrets behind her cleaning success. She tells of a time before smartphones and jam-packed schedules.

clothesline

No-Frills Spring Cleaning

When asked what spring cleaning looked like in the 1950’s, my grandmother simply said, “A bucket and a cloth. Back then, we’d sweep with a broom, mop with a mop, and dust with a rag.” [Hmm…. This was sounding more like common sense, and less like the complicated checklists I’d expected.] Spring tasks included washing walls with a soapy rag, waxing the block tile floors, and sunning mattresses on a truck bed.

Daily Life and Backyard Gardens

Intrigued by the simplicity of her words, I asked about a regular day. Each day began with laundering cloth diapers, then hanging them out to dry in time for their next use. Disposable diapers were a rarity, more of a convenience offered to mothers traveling airlines than a household commodity.


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Meals were prepped, and children were bathed and fed. After work, my grandfather spent hours tending their garden. At harvest, everyone pitched in to preserve, can, and freeze the fresh fruits and veggies.

Meal Planning

The turmoil over what to eat for dinner was virtually nonexistent. Staples were beans, potatoes, and cornbread, featuring fried potatoes one night, boiled another, and creamed (mashed) another. The garden produce made up the rest of the meal. “You just didn’t have that many options. You used what you had,” she explained. Her budget for a week’s worth of groceries was a remarkable $10. She recalls saving meat for the weekend, for the traditional Sunday lunch.

cast iron skillet

Little Debbie’s and Fast Food

What about eating out and pre-packaged snacks? Her children knew nothing of that. A burger was a rare treat. She made home-baked treats because it was cheaper than stopping by the ice cream place. “I remember plenty days telling the kids, ‘We’re going home and having hot biscuits and syrup’ – I made my own out of sugar, water, and vanilla flavoring. Made the biscuits from scratch, too. Those children ate that like a good meal.”

Living Minimalist

Houses were smaller then. Toys were fewer. [Ah – keen insight into the modern-day cleaning dilemma.] The entire family shared one car, one bathroom (one bathroom!), one phone, and one TV. That TV had one channel. You either watched what was on it, or you didn’t watch at all.

For entertainment, the kids played outside under a big shade tree, inventing games. The youngest remembers digging with a toy dump truck under that shade tree. My grandmother explains, “I was once told that if you give a child something to dig with and let them dig as far as they want, that’s good therapy.”


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rooster toy

Maybe our grandmothers knew the secrets to keeping calm all along. I know I’m contemplating trashing my endless to-do lists in favor of some old-fashioned simplicity.

So go retro, and bring the best parts of the ‘50’s into your day. Slow down and enjoy the good stuff. My grandmother’s right. You really can smell the difference in sheets dried in the sun.

What’s your idea of spring cleaning? Comment below.

*Special thanks to my distinguished grandmother, Donise Richter.

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