The Housewife in Me


I picked up a vintage British book right before our wedding called “101 Things For The Housewife To Do.” I’m not a housewife in the traditional sense because I have a paying job (and zero talent or interest), but according to this book, I’m really not a wartime housewife from 1949.

I bought the book because the blurb made me laugh so loud, a mirthless grinch reading Ayn Rand actually shushed me in the bookstore. (Dear Grinch: Please stick to your unromantic dinners for one, kthx.)

The back said:

“If you can learn to lift your ribs right out of your waist, and to let them expand outwards…you will soon develop that “upward buoyant poise” which is the secret of grace and which would bring less drudgery and more joy to the daily dusting, bedmaking, picture straightening, and all the dozens of things which go towards making your home beautiful.”

From this, I made some judgment calls about the British housewives of 1949:

-Rib removal = no big deal. These bitches were hardcore. Go ahead and blood-eagle yourself in the name of grace and dusting.

-Housewives have considered housework a drag since the beginning of Time, or at least the 1940’s.

-“Upward buoyant poise” seems like an unnecessarily high bar for cleaning out toilets.

-Bedmaking? (That’s not really a judgment, I just don’t know what it entails since I have a duvet.)

-Apparently pictures went askew at an alarming rate back then.

In 1949, this book was basically the internet for women. Instead of online advice from Martha or the FlyLady, they sat down, lit what I assume was a hundred candles, and educated themselves on wifing a household.

Husband: You know they had electricity back in the 1940’s, right?

Me: Shut up.

I wanted to pick out a few things in the book to test my skills as a housewife, but that proved to be a challenge. Most of the chapters consisted of things I don’t need to do (thanks, modernity!) like

Carpet Sweeping

Cleaning Gloves

Upholstered Boxes

Making Wastepaper Baskets

Fixing Loose Knife Handles

Dealing with the Moth Pest

Darning Table Linens and Towels

Building Dolls’ Houses

Exterminating Mice

(It occurs to me now that I’ve never used the word “darning” before in my life.)

In addition to that, there were things we would never actually need, such as

Seating with Sea-Grass

Hat Wardrobe

Looms For Weaving

Furnishing the Day Nursery

Window Gardening

Toys From Match-Boxes

How to Make Pouffes

Then there was the stuff I didn’t understand, like the sizzling chapter on “Pelmet Styles.” Is this a legitimate thing? Because it sounds like a stylish helmet made from some kind of infected forest rat.

“The pelmet is an English term synonymous with the American and French term Lambrequin.” Glad we cleared that up. Yeah, we have a lifetime of lambrequins up in here. Lambrequins for days.

Husband: A lambrequin is a valance.

Me: Shut up.

In the end, it came down to choosing something that made any sense to me. Since my body is currently going through what can only be described as an “angry Grimace phase,” I read through the chapter on Physical Culture with interest. Maybe their decades-old concept of exercise would help me realize my brain car’s full potential.

“Exercise is necessary to health; muscles not used atrophy; blood not actively circulated becomes sluggish and leads to incomplete functioning of the vital organs; a heart that ceases to beat spells death.”

A heart that ceases to beat spells death? Good lord. Reveal the man behind the curtain much? I wonder if any candlelit housewives gasped at that line, clutching their pearls and homemade pouffes.

There were nine suggested exercises to do with accompanying illustrations; I decided to attempt three of them, because laziness. They recommended light, well-ventilated clothing, so I donned my barely-used yoga clothes (also known as “pajamas”), and lots of fresh air. It took my atrophied muscles a minute to open the window, but then I was ready to work out with the determined gusto of Victoria Beckham’s grandma.

Exercise 1 required Irish Jig music. I looked on Songza for something appropriate – or just annoying and upbeat – but landed on a YouTube video filled with bearded gingers instead.

Exercise 1 instructions:

Position: Stand with feet together, hands at sides.

Exercise: (a) From shoulders clap all the way down the body to ankles. (b) Reverse and clap upwards. Repeat clapping down the sides. Keep knees straight.

So…give myself a standing ovation? Sounded easy enough. I turned that ginger music up and applauded myself for like five whole minutes, which must have looked ridiculous to the construction crew watching me through the living room window.

Note to self: Do old lady wartime exercises with the blinds down next time.

Exercise 2 instructions:

Purpose: Warmth and breath control.

Position: Same as before.

Exercise: (a) Hop, lifting right knee to chest. (b) Same with left. Work (a) and (b) alternately and quickly eight times.

Music: Irish Jig.

Jesus, more jig? I found a Rousing Irish Jig playlist on Songza that would apparently help with hopping, and prepared to get warm. I hopped around the living room until my downstairs neighbor got mad and pounded on the ceiling, so, mission accomplished.

Exercise 3 instructions:

Purpose: Warmth and breath control.

Position: Same as before.

Exercise: Same as in Exercise 2, but work to the back, kicking the pelvis with heels.

Music: Same.

I was getting tired of the leprechaun music, so I switched to Ne-Yo’s ‘Champagne Life’ and went to find some heels. All I had were kitten heels more appropriate for a board meeting, but I put them on anyway; they did not pair well with pajamas. Let’s just say this exercise in exercising failed miserably.

Husband: I think they meant your actual human heels. How is kicking one’s self with pointy shoes athletic?

Me: Shut up.

The last chapter of the book is called “Methods of Stopping Bleeding,” but I skipped it because that’s what the internet is for. Let’s leave the sexier stuff to our imaginations.

I applaud the British housewives of the second world war. I mean, they built their own dollhouses and made their own garbage cans. By comparison, I’m a useless pile of skin who can’t even kick her own pelvis on a downbeat. I didn’t even write the last four paragraphs of this blog post – I dictated them to my phone while lying in bed, watching Castle on my 50-inch flat screen TV. Clearly I stand on the shoulders of giant housewives.

My advice for housewives today would be a Post-It note list covered in potato chip grease and inappropriate doodles:

  1. Check the internet.
  2. Call your mom.
  3. Give up and go to the pub.

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