Economizing Time, Money and Strength in Housekeeping

This is the third article in May of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on May 18, 1907, and is an interesting discussion on how to economize time in housework.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the Boston Sunday Post.

Economizing Time, Money and Strength in Housekeeping

“SYSTEM is not a talent!”

I penned the words a quarter of a century ago. Today I turn back to them and the talk built upon them with a heart saddened as by a personal grief. I can begin this paper with nothing better suited to the case of four-fifths of the housewives who are my present audience. Listen! and judge for yourself if this be not true:

“The notable housewife who would be ashamed to admit that she does not look narrowly after paper and twine, bits of cold meat and scraps of butter—who does not calculate wisely concerning coal, candle-ends and crusts—confesses, without a blush, that she takes no thought of the gold-dust, known among us as minutes and seconds, that are sifting through her fingers. By and by she is as truly impoverished as if she had thrown away the treasure by the nugget. Then comes the lament, if not the repentance, unto life. She is ‘run to death with work,’ but to save her life she doesn’t see how it is to be helped. She never could economize time. She has no genius for arranging her business to advantage.”


I went on to say what I have repeated with vigorous emphasis—energy having gathered vehemence under the pressure of twenty-five years of added experience—“System—by which. I mean a sagacious and economical apportionment of the duty to the hour and the minute; an avoidance of needless waste of working hours; a courageous putting forth of the hand to the plow, instead of talking over the labors to be performed while the cool morning moments are flying—SYSTEM, then, is not a talent!”

I recall as if it were yesterday the circumstances under which the sentences were written. A neighbor—as city blocks settle neighborliness—had brought her fancy work over and sat herself down in my easiest chair to “spend the morning.”

“I know you don’t visit in the forenoon, and don’t want company then, but I thought I would run in and talk a few matters over. And it won’t hurt you to get out of the rut now and then. You are in danger of becoming a mere human machine.”


I made no reply beyond a civil smile. It is the one and only way of meeting unintentional impertinence possible to a gentlewoman—and the most approved method of answering a fool according to her folly.

For two hours I hearkened to details of housewifely and domestic difficulties—a dolorous recital that returned oft and again to the impossibility of crowding all that is expected of a wife and mother who is also a housekeeper into the day, or week, or month appointed unto woman for work.

“Man’s work is from sun to sun;
Woman’s work is never done.”

she quoted, in rising to take her tardy leave. “My husband says it is bad management on my part, and tires me out by talking of ‘business principles introduced into the household.’ You know as well as I do that such talk is bosh! Maybe you systematic people, who do everything by rule and measure, may be able to accomplish something in that line. I haven’t a bit of system in my make-up. I wasn’t built that way!” With which morsel of slang she went her way to “be at home when the children come from school for luncheon.”


In the fragment of my precious forenoon that remained after she had nibbled at it for two hours, I wrote what I have selected as the starting point of our confabulation today.

I believe, and hold for certain, that it is practicable to run a household upon business principles. That so few women recognize and act upon this as a cardinal truth is one reason why our work is “never done.” My opinion is that a man wrote the couplet, and that there is sarcasm at the bottom of it.

To begin with, take account of your duties and the time you will have to give to each. That “something must be crowded out” is as certain in your daily tale of labors as it is in your husband’s business. The unexpected is likely to fall into his lot as into yours. He leaves a margin for it, and so must you. For example, you know that three meals are to be prepared and served tomorrow. Before you close your eyes tonight arrange in your mind what shall compose these meals; what materials are in the larder that may be used for this purpose; what you must buy to supplement the supply on hand, and what you can afford for the outlay. You had company yesterday, and, manage as you will, an extra mouth does make a variation in the food bills. Beckon what your guests cost you and make up the difference by contriving a simpler menu for the next meal. I do not counsed meanness in showing one way in which the bills may be “evened” at tile week’s end. The canny housemother rather enjoys the task of keeping up her reputation as a good provider by dainty devices, best known to Frenchwomen, but which we are learning to practice. Yesterday’s roast is capable of metamorphoses the less ingenious caterer does not dream of. A spoonful of gravy; a cupful of cooked vegetable; half a dozen eggs and a handful of lettuce; the heel of dry cheese; a cluster of bread crusts, are so many possibilities in the eye of the aforesaid canny manager. In two or three households that I wot of, the day on which “the mother” is called to the kitchen to concoct a “toss-up” luncheon or dinner is hailed with acclamation by the children, while the father’s smile directed to the head of the table and his hearty “It is easy to see whose hand has been busy here” repay with compound interest for all the heat, the planning and the toil.

Housewifery is a profession—a craft; a lifelong contract—not a series of haphazard makeshifts. Into it should go serious thought and sustained energies. Just now two great nations are stirred by what in early English were termed “wondrous commovements,” touching the right of women to vote for rulers and to make laws. In more direct phrase, as is well formulated by an Englishwoman:

“What is, in fact, proposed is that women, while continuing to do all their own work, shall take an increased share in that of men.’’

I have no intention of entering into the main question at issue here and now. I allude to it that I may impress more deeply upon our housemother’s conscience the duty of ordering her present duties so wisely as to prove her ability to take her part in men’s work in such fashion as may make the world better.


Have I, in seeming, strayed from the subject in hand? It is in seeming alone. If we would dignify our profession—than which there is none more necessary to the welfare of humanity—we must, study the proportions of our several duties, assigning to each its lawful place. Every department of household work must have its place, and be kept in it. The housemother’s schedule of employments should be as orderly as the college girl’s daily appointment of recitations. To every day its especial line of labor; to every hour a specific task, or rest and recreation.

For some the obligation involves a long apprenticeship. The iron is blunt. Then lay to it more strength. System is not a natural gift, but an acquisition.

Family Meals for a Week
Housemothers’ Exchange

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