Saturday, 30 November 2013



The writer of these ancient musings once upon a time wrote an article on housekeeping, a subject of which he knew little or nothing, and, like many others of his sex, he put his foot in it. He learnedly discussed the question of annual housecleaning, which he supposed, would meet with the approval of the women; but, strange to say, such an unknowable thing is the human mind, he did not come across a single woman who agreed with him that the annual housecleaning is entirely unnecessary drudgery. He listened to the comments of a score of women concerning the article. Some were hotly antagonistic; others treated it and the writer with sarcasm and contempt. Some showed signs of mild amusement, while others treated the whole thing with hilarious ridicule; and so, although the Muser promised to propose a remedy, he was so squelched that he has put it off from month to month. Now, after many housecleaning seasons have come and gone and the good housekeepers have had time to make up their minds on the question, let us offer a few suggestions as a real remedy for the ills of housekeeping. Not that this venerable Muser expects to see the remedy applied expects to see the remedy applied – least of all, in the household of which he pretends to be the head, but isn’t.


Let us begin by declaring that the average housewife is a slave. This may be a fanciful thought that comes into their dear little heads after housecleaning on a hot summer day. The women suffragettes tell us that their sex are born slaves, and most housewives will cheerfully admit it. Why are they slaves? How can they emancipate themselves? Those are the questions that this humble Muser, who supposed in his ignorance and innocence that the women wanted emancipation, wanted to discuss. He advocated, for one thing, the abolition of housecleaning. He was told by twenty or thirty women who were whiling away the hours of a bright September afternoon at the pleasant game of bridge to guess again, because housecleaning cannot be abolished. That settles it. The Muser does not agree with them, but is willing to compromise by pretending to. Now, then, if that prince of humbugs cannot be abolished, but must continue to be observed with religious zeal, what other things can be advocated? The Muser has a spindle on which hangs the texts which he sometimes uses when preparing a column or so of stuff for the Saturday Spectator. In looking through these texts the other day, he found notes such these: “The folly of darning stockings.” “Don’t have carpets.” “Burn up half the furniture.” “Live in a tent or a cottage.” These notes, after a neglect of many months, and while suffering from an attack of shingles, and by discussing them to pass away the weary hours of lying in bed, he hopes to revolutionize the present system of living. If he fails, he will have had the pleasure of expressing his mind – and that is the chief function of most writers and public speakers. Of course, he will not revolutionize anything, for the women themselves, who are most concerned, prefer things as they are. They do not want to be reformed.


To begin with, the average households are too large, and we have too much in them. We demand too much machinery. The average Hamilton woman spends the summer in her cosy little cottage down on Burlington Beach, and while she does her light housekeeping and listens to the sad sea waves, she says, “I wish I could live in a house like this all the time. Would it not be nice not to have a larger house to live than I have here?” Her sentiments are the sentiments of every woman who has a summer cottage down on the Beach. Now, if they are sincere – and they are for the moment – why all the expense and fuss and work and worry of living in and maintaining a large house? That idea forms the basis of the remedy which the Muser has to propose. If housecleaning is a necessary evil, then lessen the evil by having less house to clean. That’s the remedy in a nutshell. There are houses in Hamilton of from eight to twelve rooms, and large rooms at that, occupied by small families – often by three or four; while there are some very small houses, occupied by foreigners, that are inhabited by twelve to fifteen persons.


Under the present system of living, there is a tremendous waste of time, fuel, food and energy. Just think of it! In every home in this town enough fuel is burned to warm a dozen families, if properly applied. There is enough coal or natural gas burned in each range to cook the meals of three or four families, and this happens everyday, in every home, every year and all the time. No matter how much the manager of the gas works may warn people to be saving of the gas because of the shortness of supply, the waste continues, and the customers curse the gas company for the enlarged monthly bills, and swear that they never used that many thousand feet. The plain remedy for this is co-operation. All of this has been freely discussed in these musings. Co-operative housekeeping – that is the remedy for everyday housework and servant girl question. Meals cooked and served in one place to a dozen families. One steam-heating plant in each residence block. A man and a woman employed in each block to sweep and dust each house once a week. These and countless other co-operative schemes are not only possible, but very practical and sensible.

“Did you ever read Robert Ellis Thompson’s idea of co-operative living? Or Bellamy’s Looking Backward? There you have the whole thing figured down to a system.

The remedy, or antidote, or substitute for housecleaning is the momentous subject that interests us just now, partly because a dear mother of a family of bright children nearly broke her neck falling down the back stairs. And these back stairs, you know, are used to hold things that have been started to the attic, but ought to have been burned. And that brings us right to the point. One-half of a woman’s work is caused by the lumber in the house. Why, you ought to see our attic! There is stuff there that has to be handled over once or twice a year. And for what? To gratify a sentiment perhaps. But, really, much of that stuff is useless, and would better be burned. Moths and mice and dust, and probably horrible microbes live there in peace and plenty. That is our attic; and yours is just like it gentle reader. And there is the cellar. There are old bottles enough down there to “put up” all the catsup the Royal Connaught could use in a year. There are blue bottles, green bottles and bottles in herited, bought and received as gifts. Then there is all the other stuff all through the house – old chairs, pictures, carpets, rugs, bric-a-brac, ragged sofa pillows and all sorts of truck. What hours of labor they are the cause of! What back aches! Before company comes, things must be picked up. After company goes, ditto. Once a year, the old carpets used to be taken up and shovelfuls of dirt gathered from beneath. but since the introduction of vacuum electric sweepers, all the carpets are gone over once a week. And so forth to the end of life. Now “wot’s de use” as the kid in the Spectator counting room says. What is the use, dear madam? Why not insure all the has-beens from cellar to garret and then set fire to them, and then from the ashes of your backaches, your maid’s knees and your blackened and bruised fingers, why not build a cottage that will be home-like, with no back stairs or attic, that will be sanitary, sane and sensible? (That alliterative sounds for all the world like Mrs. Thrifty’s market reports in the Spectator.) Banish all that is useless. Chop up and burn up just one-half of the stuff that now cumbers your house. Cast out carpets, draperies and everything that catches dirt. Let the open plumbing idea prevail all through the house. Have no dark closets or corners. Have no poisonous wallpaper. Have light and air and plenty of room. It is depressing to sit in a room all cluttered up with useless furniture. It gets on the nerves. It irritates. It tires one to see it. It tires the dear mother to take care of it. Now you dear women who groan over the spring and fall housecleaning, and yet say it cannot be abolished, take the Muser’s advice and minimize the evil by cleaning out the rubbish.


No woman will take this advice, not even Mrs. Thrifty, and that is the reason it is given. It wouldn’t be safe to give advice that everybody would take, for most of the advice given is wrong. In this case, however, while admitting that circumstances are such that they can not literally be followed, the Muser believes that his ideas are sound on the question of housecleaning, and he furthermore believes that if every housewife had the courage of her convictions, and would stand by them, not only housecleaning, but all housework, would be lessened one-half. To summarize : Have smaller houses, fewer rooms, less lumber, less almost everything. Live this winter more as you lived last summer in tent or cottage. In short, live the simple life. To conclude, this is the accumulated wisdom and advice of one who has passed through sixty-two years of the changing scenes of married life.



For some reason, there is less romance in and more holding back from love making than formerly. Not that youth is les susceptible, but young men have either become more selfish or more anxious concerning ways and means than their fathers were, more solicitous to have an income that will warrant them in marrying and beginning home life, and more doubtful about making a young wife contented with a humble beginning than men used to be. The announcement of marriages in the columns of the daily papers is almost one of the lost arts. A young fellow nowadays does not think it possible to support a wife on as small a salary as $25 or $30 a week. You can remember, my old Hamiltonian, when wages were as low as $9 a week, that every man wanted a home of his own and a dear wife to bid him welcome in the evening when his day’s work was done. It is different now. Girls, on the other hand, have become self-supporting to an extent hitherto undreamed of. You can remember the days when a girl who had to work for a living got as high as $6 or $8 a month. Indeed, it is not many years ago that a girl clerk in a store thought she was on Easy street if she was paid $4 a week. Nowadays competent clerks in Hamilton stores receive not less than three times as much in their pay envelopes, and many of them are paid from $15 to $20 a week. The girl who is fortunate enough to get a higher, or a college, education and fits herself for a professional career in teaching, medicine or newspaper work, has become more independent and is more particular about accepting a married life unless she can live in the same independent style of her spinsterhood days. Great is the delight a woman has in earning money, in finding that her talents are of value, and her services worth an honorable sum, almost equal to the amount a man can earn. Thousands of girls earn their bread and assist their families. Sometimes these girls know that they cannot easily be spared from home, for on their weekly pay envelopes depends the support of father or mother, or of the younger children. Life has on too manifest a complexity in many places. Artificial wants are multiplied. A man might make a very comfortable home for a girl who would live simply within his means, but he cannot afford much hired help or much entertaining. Feeling this acutely he often does very scant justice to the sensible girl who would accept him and cheerfully accommodate herself to his day of small things.

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