Wednesday, February 23, 2011

23 February 1957 “Housecleaning Blues”

This 1937 Betty Boop Cartoon is rather sweet. It also does a nice job of showing the sort of ideal of the middle class home of the 1937’s. The way the camera sweeps through it almost feels rather real.

One can see you scandalous Betty’s tight fitting skirt must have been at the time,when you consider it was only 20 years earlier women were still in corsets.

In many ways Grampy (whom you will see when you watch this little short) sort of represents the increase of the production of ‘home making machines’. 30shomemaker The homemaker of 1937 had a much easier time of it than her 1907 counterpart. Though she may, being middle class, have been more likely to have a maid than her 57 compatriot, the Depression in America certainly aided the eventual end of household staff. As well did the continued automation of the chores of Homemaking.

Now, have a look.

Obviously none of us will admit today, “Oh, housecleaning is a breeze, no problem what so ever”. But, it is quite true that machines have helped us immensely. Add to that the modern feeling of guilt of the stigma of a ‘messy house’ seems almost not to exist. At one point, particularly in the 1950’s, one would not wish to be seen in an untidy home. Today, it seems, with both members of a couple and easily 10 times the amount of cheap and easily acquired and gifted toys for children, mess and clutter is the norm. And with that there are more of us with the clutter and less stigma attached.

For me, however,  the joy of no clutter and a clean home is worth the daily effort. There are many days I have no visitors and the house is mainly mine and I still want and try to make it clean for me. I also have no children, so that makes a HUGE difference. When I think of all the little things that must accumulate today for children. There are just SO MANY CHEAP toys and cutesy things that people just pick up or gift. Now, in 1930 you would have had limited amount of toys. If you were middle class your child would most likely have a few dolls, some blocks, some metal cars, a dollhouse and some hand me down toys. If you were poor, most likely your child had hand me down toys and whatever mother could make for you with scraps in the rag bag. This probably made housecleaning a bit easier, but then there were no dishwashers etc. However add to that fewer dishes as they were expensive.

One didn’t hop down to Ikea or Target and buy an entire set of dishes for a pittance like today.

SO, it really seems to me that by having more things less expensive: rather than having a similar life of ease of cleaning with the same amount of things we may have had in the 1930’s but with better machines to clean them. What happens is BECAUSE we have machines to clean them, why not have TONS of dishes? Washing machine easy to use and clothes are cheap:a tidy closet of enough items for a weeks wear without repeats and a few special dresses? NO: we have MORE clothes, piled high some not worn and more washing to do.

SO, I think in many ways one could make an argument for how much the machine has aided in lessening the time we use to clean. NOW of course the machine is better to have than hand washing, only sweeping and so on. BUT, here is the lesson. If we acted as if clothing was more expensive and that toys were a limited and dear item for our child, we COULD have less, enjoy it more, find it easier to care for and clean them up and live in less chaos and more organized cleanliness. This is sort of the reality that has set into me over the past few years.

It lead me to think that if hubby and I were to have a child, it would be hard for me with the toys. Many well meaning people would happily give things, as they are cheap and easy to get. But, I would probably hurt feelings, because I would want a rather limited amount for my child. I think too much is just a way to teach them to live in clutter and to have far too  many choices. There is also not as much imagination when every conceivable situation can just be played out in a plastic play edition of everything they see on TV. Another thing I would most likely not let my child even know existed until he was a bit older. This, of course, would probably be seen as child abuse. But, we have no working TV in our home, so that would just be the way it is.

By 1957 the homemaker now has an increased lure away from cleaning: the TV. By this time more daytime shows are showing up. In TV’s beginning time most shows were an evening event shared by the family. But, now we have ‘soap operas’ (so named as they were aimed at the homemaker and their sponsors were often cleaners and soaps). We also have the arrival of daytime game shows, such as the Price is Right. Here is a commercial break from that show this year 1957.

See how easy the cleaning can be when  you BUY this product?

50swomanwashingclothes So, here in 1957, I am much more likely to wash my clothes much as we do in the 21st century while my 30’s counterpart would still be using this.30slaundry2 And while many rural women by 1957 would be more likely to have a washing machine, in the 1930’s she was most likely still washing much like her mother did in the 1900’s.oldlaundry2

I would most certainly have a dishwasher at this stage in 1957 where my 30’s counterpart would not really have that option. I am also having the ability to get more dishes affordably. temporama The very vintage dishes (Temporama) we now use as everyday dishes were in fact such a cheap dish. They were offered as a lure to come to a particular grocery store and each week they would offer a different piece so you could collect up the whole set. While not Ikea cheap, they certainly offered a chance for a homemaker to obtain a set of extra dishes at an affordable price.

So, I think the jury is still out on rather or not more and easier means better or less stressful. I know I am thankful for my dishwasher, washer/dryer, vacuum (my 1956 Kirby), and my electric sewing machine (My 1960 Singer Rocketeer).Yet, because of my project, I have been reducing my ‘stuff’ and it makes it easier to clean. Every year, this year especially, I am on the continual mission to remove all the unwanted and unneeded ‘stuff’ that often accumulates in a modern homemakers life. More is definitely not always better.

Do you feel that your modern conveniences are an aid to your life? How would your life and your family’s change if cheap clothes/toys/house wares didn’t exist and one had to save up for what we had? Do you think your cleaning would be easier or harder?

I will close with the daily cleaning checklist offered up in my America’s Housekeeping Book from 1947. The additional checklists I can include in another post if you are interested.



  1. My mother kept a beautiful, clean home when I was growing up, and she actually enjoyed cleaning because she felt so good afterwards. I have to admit that I am a terrible cleaner and don't mind leaving things out of place. I'm bad! My husband was in the army and can get a room spic and span in no time.

  2. please do link the rest of the lists! I really enjoy having a daily checklist and am convinced we do NOT take enough pride in our clean homes as our grandmothers and mothers used to.

    Mrs P

  3. Like you, I enjoy less clutter and a fairly simple system of cleaning. I've seen many cleaning gadgets on the market and avoided them since they too, with their need for storage somewhere, would add to clutter.
    Oddly enough, in our current time, a messy house can be a badge of honor People are too busy to clean, meaning they are doing many more important tasks than keeping their home clean and orderly.
    We don't have tv at our house, just videos and DVD and I refuse to allow electronic games in our home. My son gets some computer time. He likes the Pink Panther on Hulu. We read a lot in our family (very 50s) and play board games.
    Your posts keep reminding me to continue to make good choices!

  4. Yes, please post the other checklists! Every time you do a post like this it is encouraging to me to continue on in the effort for a clean and orderly home. Thank you!

  5. i love that Betty Boop cartoon! "I can't ride with you today Grampy, I've too much house cleaning to do, come in anyways" .haha

  6. Just found your blog and I LOVE it! Thanks for sharing! I would love to find a housekeeping manual like you are using, but until I do, please post mosre lists! =)

  7. If I didn't work full time outside the home I would be more open to older, more time-consuming ways of doing things. But sice I do, I couldn't live without my washer and drier! We don't have a dishwasher so that's not a big deal, but then, it's just the two of us. If we had kids I might change my tune quickly.

  8. I love this subject 50sgal and I feel the same way as you... "For me, however, the joy of no clutter and a clean home is worth the daily effort." Thanks for the stimulation. Linda

  9. I love your blog and please do post the list. I find daily lists help me keep on track.

  10. I agree with you.

    We do not have a dishwasher or a microwave. Many people think we are quite odd for not. I like my house less cluttered, but my husband is a little bit of a pack rat. Although, his tendencies are towards his sturdy toys and other things from his youth.

    I am on a mission, be it a slow one, to do as you say and have fewer cheaper, random clothes and household items. I recently replaced my dishes with a set from the 60s. We're refinishing the great kitchen set that I mentioned a while back that is from the 60s (I believe) and will donate our set that is not in the best condition.

  11. The clutter that comes with having children goes beyond the amount of toys. Take shoes/boots for example. If it were just hubby and I we'd each have 2 pairs od boots by the back door. One heavy duty snow boot and one nicer boot or pair of shoes. But with 3kids we have 3 times that amount. My family is very good about taking off their footwear upon coming into the house, which does wonders for keeping the house clean in the snowy Midwest. But we must wait for the shoes or boots to dry before they're put away. This leads to quite a pile up. And since we have an 80year old home there's no nice large mud room to line them all up neatly. (I have to say I think mud rooms are now used as a modern excuse to dump stuff. I've only seen neatly arranged ones in catalogs.)

    Having more stuff, be it clothes or pencils, allows us as a society to be a bit lazy. I know I'm guilty of this myself. The laundry room is always piling up yet everyone has something to wear. Can't find a pencil to do your homework? Look in the "homework supply bin". While this is convenient I'm concerned my children aren't learning to keep track of their belongings.

    I'm not this way with dishes. No cheap IKEA sets for me. Hubby and I have had the same set since we got married 15 years ago. I've had to replace a few pieces over the years but I have friends who have "lost" so many pieces over the years they've bought 2 sets in the same time period. We have service for 16 but the plates and bowls double as leftover storage. If I'm not on top of the dishes I'd better catch up fast.


  12. For myself, it is about finding the balance between cleaning and spending time with my children. I had alot of toys growing up, but as the old saying goes everything has a place and everything in it`s place.

    I look upon the ``clutter`` of toys as a mere stage which will soon be at an end. My oldest will soon be 10 and no longer plays with trucks and such, but my youngest who just turned six still does. It would not make sense to deprive my youngest of the enjoyment of these toys.

    Most are kept in the bedrooms, out of sight although I do allow the lego village in my living room, as my youngest tends to lose stuff easily.

    There is a saying about letting the dust bunnies lie, because I am rocking my baby and baby`s don`t last forever, and it`s so true.

    My house is less cluttered now than it was 10 years ago, the baby things are long gone, but focusing on my children was the best investment and now I have time to clean better because they are independent now.

    My mom grew up with a mother who spent her whole time cleaning, she never read to her or played with her (sign of the times), my mom spent less time on housework andplayed with her kids, as I have done myself.

    My house is clean, but I vacuum and dust once a week, mop the floors everyother, the bathrooms are cleaned everyday, and at times I let my youngest leave his cars out in the living room and some in the kitchen for him to play with the next day.

    The dirt will always be there for me to clean, my children will not. It is all about balance and finding what works right with you. I want my children to remember a mom that will shoot a puck on them in the garage upon request not spending her entire time picking up toys that will disappear soon enough.

  13. Once again forgot to put my name sorry in the above post.

    Mom in Canada

  14. We don't have a microwave (love having the extra counter space) and went over a year without a dishwasher. I can't say I really enjoyed doing dishes by hand (I do love other homecaring tasks, just not dishes!). But we were in the process of saving up an emergency fund of 3 - 6 months of expenses, and didn't want to divert the cash towards replacing the dishwasher right away. Once we completed our emergency fund and saved up for a replacement dishwasher (love my Bosch!), I noticed we didn't use as many plates and cups as we did before. So all the dish washing by hand had a positive effect!

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  15. Betsy,
    We had washers and driers in the 50's.

  16. Yes, I know there were washers and dryers in the 1950's. I have been studying and living that time period for 2 years now.
    Also, one of my main points was not to use less of the machine, but perhaps WITH the machines we HAVE if we had less STUFF their utility would be increased. Therefore giving us more time to both keep a clean house AND have free time for family and fun.

  17. i adore betty boop!! great cartoon!
    i agree about the stuff. with my kids, the more toys they have, the harder to keep rooms tidy. we are very active about donating toys that are no longer loved. (while still graciously accepting loving gifts of family members:)).
    i do like the modern conveniences, but we try to be wise about those as well. all the latest gadgetry is just so much marketing, and very little actual value!!
    thanks for the fun post.

  18. I do think in general the younger generations (of which I am a part) are less concerned with keeping their homes neat and tidy all the time. I think this is for a number of the reasons discussed, but also because people tend to entertain in their homes less these days. I want to share a quick story with you all. Last year my husband and I went to a small informal gathering at the home of some friends. They live in a very small apartment which is quite cluttered owing mainly to the fact that they have recently moved cities and previously had a much larger home. I remember thinking that while cluttered it was also messy and a quick glance into the bedrooms revealed clothes strewn everywhere and unmade beds.

    Some months later they and some other friends came to our home for the evening. I do like to keep a neat and clean home and my husband and I both abhor clutter. I also make an extra effort to preset my home well when I have guests. When next I saw my friends the woman told me that after seeing my home that night, her partner had spent the whole of the next day cleaning the house (while she was at work) because he had been embarrassed about how it had looked in comparison with ours.

    So I think people are still concerned about how their homes look to others, but are perhaps not as concerned about putting up with mess and clutter when it is just themselves. The fact that people don't entertain in their homes as much anymore may even be an indication of a perpetual cycle. Don't clean when it's just you, but then don't invite people over because the house isn't clean!

    Aussie K.

  19. I think technology is a double-edged sword. Computers, cell phones, etc., are meant to "make our lives easier", but they also place immense burdens. We are expected to give an immediate response to things; we are expected to be able to do more in less time; we can be located anywhere via cell phone. I love my dishwasher and laundry appliances, but I can take or leave everything else. We have 5 hand-held phones in our house (house phone, not cell)and rarely can I locate even 1 of them when I hear the phone ringing. I have decided I'm going to get a wall-mounted phone! (remember those?) I'm also thinking of confiscating my kids' cell phones while they are at home. If they need to talk to their friends(do kids even know how to "talk" anymore?)they can use the wall-mounted phone.

    Please post those extra lists! I, too, am inspired to do a better job with my housework when I read the vintage schedules, etc.

  20. 50's Girl,
    My comment about washers and driers in the 50's was directed to Betsy, who thought she couldn't live without a washer and drier. I know you are well versed in all things 50's, and I do so enjoy your posts taking me back to my childhood. Thank you for all the time you put in on your research.

  21. Nancy,
    I didn't mean my comment to sound so snide. I am not sure why I wrote that really, except I have been far too busy doing my art stuff and in did sound rather crabby, didn't it?
    I do know you meant that directed at someone else, so sorry that sounded odd.
    I am so happy that you enjoy my posts and am thankful for any and all comments.

  22. I am usually the last one on the block to get a new whatever, usually because we can't afford it, but then when we get it finally, I find I cannot live without it, or think I can't, and would hate to go back to not having it (dishwasher; microwave; computer) I don't like this. I hate to feel dependent on things.

  23. And I agree that if you do that work consistently on whatever level ... Housecleaning blues indeed!

  24. Your home will look fantastic, smell fresh and indeed look a million dollars if you use the professional services of People Power Cleaning services.
    Domestic Cleaning

  25. Yes, you do get a lot of (unwanted or cheap or bad quality) gifts when you have children, but you might say what the child needs/wish for in a polite way. When son was a child (he’ll turn 18 this Summer and I simply don’t understand it), we went through all his things twice a year: during Summer (before his birthday in August) and before Christmas. It was not easy to convince him to get rid of things, until I said we could sell it at flea markets. Then it was OK. He got some of the money to buy e.g. Lego he collected.

    I have been on the same mission as you, since your blog started. I’ve always sorted out, I’m a collector but knows how to sort out or else I drown. But you have inspired me to go further. I have a lot for sale at our Danish version of eBay, and last Friday DH and I went first to the local charity shop with lots of goodies (and I wash and iron everything before handing it to charity so they love my stuff), and then we went home and hooked the trailer onto the car and went to the dumpsite with the useless stuff. Among this consignment was our “old” 28” TV, working perfectly, but DH and son wanted a 50” monster flat screen TV, and no one (I mean no one) wanted a perfectly working FREE TV. It was with bleeding heart I dumped it among all the other old-fashioned TV’s. It is very much against my principles to scrap something that functions perfectly. But that’s life I suppose.

    I love my household machines: my washing machine, dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, and I have a dryer, which is rarely used – I line dry, outside during Summer and in my washing room in the basement during Winter.

    I have to admit that I have lots of clothes, but this is due to the fact that I have a style (fifties) and stick to it, therefore I love ALL my clothes, I use it and am bad at sorting things out. I do consider all my clothes when I change for seasons, and a few things ends at the charity shop, but often I miss it later. ;)


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