Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Daily Grind

Getting back to normal after the summer holidays has left me pondering the daily grind ... the washing, cooking, shopping and cleaning that keep a household running. Once a week I come home from the supermarket with what looks like enough to feed an army and wrestle food into every last inch of our not-big-enough fridge. A few days later the fridge is bare. Our poor, sad, something wrong with its programming washing machine, labours constantly - at up to four hours a load, it really does seem constant - and produces a weekly ironing mountain. And no, I am not one of those people who irons everything, only those items that would look obviously crumpled if left unironed get into the pile. My pathetic attempts at cleaning (I hate cleaning!) just about scratch the surface. (And Dorothy, the only reason my cooker looks so clean in the post below is because it is quite new. And having bought it, I hate it. It's too small and my favourite baking trays won't fit. Grrr!!!!)

I digress. My pondering has been about how my daily grind compares to a housewife's workload in my parents' and grandparents' day. After a conversation with my mother, these are our combined thoughts.

Laundry: Compared to Mum's days with a young family (1960s), not a great deal of difference. If anything I have more laundry to plough through as we seem to have more clothes. I wonder if this is a result of relative affluence, or simply because we buy cheap, lower quality clothes that show marks more and need washing more often. I haven't replaced my dead tumble drier, so we are quits on that one - Mum didn't get a tumble drier until the 1970s. She used to send sheets and table linen to a laundry, which collected them dirty and delivered them pristine. Not an option these days. As it is, I wash daily (or more). She didn't. Back in grandma's / great-grandma's time, washing meant hand washing and a weekly "wash-day". Again there was less stuff to wash - certainly no daily changes of clothes then - and it was physically much harder work. However, if I added together the time spent on washing, hanging, folding and ironing laundry over a week, I think it would easily fill a whole wash day. Not that my washing machine could handle it.

Shopping: Probably most changes here, we thought. In a typical week, I have an organic fruit and vegetable box delivered, milk left on the doorstep by the milkman, do a large supermarket shop, and pick up a few oddments from the convenience store or the supermarket. I have at times done my supermarket shopping online, which is obviously very different and both time and labour saving. Now Cherub is a little older and the girls are in school I am back to doing it myself. In the 60s my Mum didn't have a freezer, which meant it was necessary to buy bread more frequently than I do. The supermarket was relatively small, and used for non-perishables. Bread meant reasonably frequent trips to the bakers, meat was delivered by the butcher, and milk by the milkman (no change there), and fruit and vegetables were largely bought at the market. My Dad's cousin ran a village grocery, and "Uncle Bob" used to deliver an order weekly. That meant her supermarket purchases were more of a top-up than a main weekly shop. Overall, we felt the time commitment was similar, though her shopping involved two or three shorter trips compared to my typical one large and one short. I do, however, have the option to spend a little more and choose the online shopping shortcut.

In the 1930s supermarkets were non-existent. Bread came from the baker, meat from the butcher, fruit and veg from the greengrocers, and pretty much everything else from the grocers. Food shopping was done daily rather than weekly. Even though the daily quantities were not great, it could be quite time consuming as there was no self-service. There could be quite a long wait to be served if there were several customers ahead of you. Plus, obviously, the walk too and from the shops added to the time and effort involved. In the War it was worse - Mum remembered having to walk a four mile round trip to a farm to collect milk after school each day.

Cooking: Again, the main difference is the level of choice we have. I could, if I chose (and if my finances allowed), buy a lot of pre-prepared food and ready meals which would significantly cut both the amount of cooking and clearing-up time. I could also use the freezer to cook ahead, but mostly I don't. As it is, I cook largely the same way as my Mum did. I don't have a great deal in the way of labour saving devices that she didn't. The microwave would be the main one, but I am not a big microwave user - it mainly gets used for reheating. Overall I probably have the edge in terms of spending less time in the kitchen because I do use more convenience foods than she did. Back to her childhood, and then were a few differences - no electric kettle, toaster, mixer and so on. I forgot to ask, but I imagine also no fridge. But still, there isn't much difference in the effort involved in cooking a shepherd's pie or a roast chicken then and now.

Cleaning: Much the same between the 1960s and today, we felt, with no revolutionary new time-saving devices. The vacuum cleaner was a biggy - my grandmother didn't have one in the 30s. Also in the 30s floors were scrubbed on hands and knees, which I only do if mine reaches the stage of looking atrocious. Otherwise it gets a quick swish. My cleaning efforts are sadly handicapped by the level of mess created by our 21st century clutter. We definitely have more stuff around and in the way than my Mum did in the 60s (and she is most certainly not a minimalist!).

So there you have it ... my ponderings on the daily grind, then and now. Overall, we felt there probably was not a great deal of difference in the time and effort required in the 60s and now. Even the tasks that can be sub-contracted have not changed that much - I can do online shopping or buy convenience foods, my Mum could phone through an order to the local grocer for delivery and send out laundry. Having someone come in to clean has always been an option for those who could afford it. In the 30s, the effort involved in tasks was greather, but the amount of stuff involved very much smaller. Whether this evened out I don't know. I would guess not, and that both Mum and I have had things easier.


Catherine said...

Great post! It was very interesting, and very well-thought-out. One thing you forgot to mention is that your supermarket has childcare! At least it did when I visited you a few years back. I'm envious of the milk delivery. I don't think the states have seen that in a couple of decades! Though it might still happen in small towns and rural areas and I just don't know about it. :-)

Sandra said...

This was such a great post, just yesterday I had talked about the Simple Things in life and the differences between now and then :)

I had to laugh when you said you bring home enough food to feed an army and a few days later it's bare....I feel the exact same way LOL

Karen E. said...

Great post, Kathryn!