“At Moving Time”

This is the third article in May of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on May 16, 1909, and is an article on how to properly pack and move to a new or summer home.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

“At Moving Time”

“YOU have a disagreeable duty to do at 12 o’clock. Do not blacken 9 and 10 and 11, and all in between, with the color of 12. Do the work of each and reap the reward in peace. * * * The best preparation is the present well seen to—the last duty done.”

Thus said George Macdonald, the apostle of the present; whom common place people heard gladly.

I borrow the bit of practical, “commonsensible” wisdom as the starting point of our chat upon the crucial period of springtime to the housemother who must migrate to other quarters just when the birds have come back for the summer and are chirping—it may be merrily, perchance peevishly—over nest-building. Blessed among women is she to whom the vernal breezes bring no sinking of heart in the anticipation of the ordeal the old adage declares to be equal in destructiveness to three fires. Those who own the homes in which they live, or who are settled for a term of years in leased lodgings made so pleasant by long residence that one forgets they are not one’s very own possession, may enjoy the opening of the bud and blossom season. Their less fortunate neighbor, who has known ever since Christmas that April or May will be written “exodus” in her calendar, is the parishioner in George Macdonald’s world-wide parish to whom I address motherly counsel.

Every Corner and Crevice.

You may be about to exchange a rented flat for what my wee granddaughter describes as “a real, whole house of your own.” Or improved financial status may justify you in transferring family and furniture to more commodious quarters that those you now occupy. Nevertheless, the idea of the process is an abiding shadow. You think of it as your first awakening in the spring morning that comes so much sooner daily as to curtail the few hours of sleep that is haunted by foreboding and forecasting the ways and means of work that must be done and worries that may not be avoided.

Turn back to sainted George’s simple counsel and write is upon the tablet of your heart. Then begin in good time to “tackle” singly the inevitable disagreeables. Get ahead of the task instead of letting it drive you. Begin operations at the top of the house, if you have an attic. If not, commence with the closets and corners and cuddies that stand for the garret of better-lodged folk. Get together all the unmistakable rubbish.

No Time for Sentiment.

Despite your best efforts and yearly clearances of whatever may be catalogued as “trash,” you will be surprised and shamed at the result of exploration into the aforesaid corners. Letters that you ought to have torn across and consigned to the waste basket as soon as they were read; Christmas, visiting and postcards, there was even less excuse for keeping; backless books and back numbers of magazines you should have passed on to me, or to some other circulating medium, months ago, tattered music, and the miscellaneous mass of trifles that once seemed too good to throw away and which you confess loathingly were always too worthless to keep over night, prominent among them being broken china you meant to have mended, and children’s toys you “just couldn’t bear to” toss into the scavenger’s cart, the while you recognized the absurdity of putting them away—I need not prolong the list. We “have all of us been there!” Leave the obvious lesson they teach for another day’s consideration and make short work in righteousness of the uncomely debris. While you are about it, think of nothing else.

Of course there may be worse to come but do not blacken the present tribulation with the color of tomorrow. And don’t sentimentalize over the rubbish. The “loan exhibitions” of today night be less crowded with hoards nobody cares to look at except the lenders thereof, if our foremothers had been less romantic in their attachments to fractured china and dried flowers, samplers and rice-paper pictures worn in the back of the watches of Strephon and Corydon. Let us have an eye to possible embarrassments on the part of our great-granddaughters and sternly resist similar temptations. Cremation is (or ought to be) “the destined end and way” of perishables that have no intrinsic value.

Decently and In Order.

Having cleared decks for the real business of moving, fall to work upon china and glass, reserving just enough to enable you to carry on the daily living that must go forward in the few days intervening before the actual flitting. For many years it was my wont to put this delicate bit of work into the hands of the “profession” in our transits from town to country and vice versa. After watching the methods of the men who were sent from china shops for the purpose, and keeping a close account of breakage, I came to the conclusion that I could handle my fragile properties as well as they do, and if glass and porcelain were to be wracked, preferred to do it myself. For the past decade nobody, save a careful handmaiden working under and with me and I myself, has packed crockery, china and cut glass. And I record, more thankfully than boastfully, that thus far not one piece has come to grief during this period.

First, we have six, eight or ten barrels, bought for a small sum from the grocer. Next, we lay in a large quantity of newspapers, having begun to save them for weeks beforehand. For very fine and thin ware we have tissue paper for the inner wrapper, inclosing it with the newspaper, rubbed soft between the hands. Plenty of paper is used upon each article. All that belongs to each set of china or glass is put into one barrel, which is then carefully marked. If more than one barrel is required for the set, the second barrel is marked in the like manner. This saves time and confusion in unpacking and resettling the content. A thick layer of excelsior is put into the bottom of the barrel and lines the sides. The same goes between the layers of paper-enveloped pieces. If one bit of “fragile” touches another, breakage is inevitable. Cushion all thickly and pack closely. Fit a cover on the barrel, that the content may not work loose in the transit.

We pack our linens, blankets, etc., next in order. Old packing trunks are used here when we can spare them. If not, we buy drygoods boxes for linens and for books. These last are laid close together in the cases. Several thickness of papers line the vases, and each bound book is wrapped with paper to avoid abrasion.

Books are uncanny things to pack. One might fancy that they disdain intimate association with others of their kind. The sharp edges of the bindings have a trick of punching the backs of one’s handsome volumes, and the sides rub crossly into those of their neighbors, bruising and scratching them unless the strata are separated by a double fold of paper. Here, again, put each family of books together and mark the box with a list of contents. Sheets and pillow cases, napkins and tablecloths, blankets and coverlets hunt in couples, and need stouter cases than china. Books are even heavier. If they are to be transported to another town or to the country, the cases should be banded with iron or wooden hoops.

Do not try to crate furniture with your own hands. Leave that to the handy man of the family, or, failing such a one, send for a regular workman in that line. Old cloths, carpets and rugs may be utilized in this work to protect fine furniture from rubbing and from dust.

Throughout the task “keep a quiet mind.” And do one thing at a time. Hold the thoughts steadily to the idea that you are moving out. Moving in is one of the discoloring “to-comes” against which our preacher warns you. Let each hour and day take care of itself, and the weeks of readjustment and toil will look after themselves in the order appointed.

One frequent cause of discomfort and subsequent illness attendant upon moving-time is the too common practice of living from hand-to-mouth for days together. No regular meals are cooked or served. The delicatessen shops and bakeries supply food that mother and maids are too busy to get ready. Set your face like a benignant flint against this violence of health laws. Now, if ever, you and your helpers need nourishing, quiet meals, eaten at stated times and as leisurely as if the abhorrent business of removal were not—literally as figuratively—on the carpet. Talk of other matters while at table. If, at the bitterest end of the ordeal, you cannot contrive a table, use a packing case in lieu thereof. See that a real tablecloth is reserved to give a semblance of decency and order to the ceremony of a family meal. Picnics are well enough in their way, but at this crisis, body and mind should have support and the domestic routine be maintained.

“In the suds,” is an expression handed down from a day when the housemother bent her own back and plunged her arms up to her elbows in Monday’s washtub. It has come to mean much more to us, namely, a state of slatternly disorganization and discomfort incompatible with self-respect and orderliness of mind and action.

Keep out of the suds in moving time.

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange