17 January 2024

Housework changes us

I used this quote at the beginning of chapter five in The Simple Home, Laundry Love. It's one of my favourites:

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

That is how I feel about the work I do here in my home. I end up with the prize, this is how I win it.

Back in the day, I used to multitask, take shortcuts and do only the work that was necessary for a clean and tidy house. I didn't think about comfort, warmth, wellbeing or safety. It was only when I started to slow down and appreciate the work I was doing that I realised how important it was. Housework changed me from being a busy, tired and overworked mother, wife and writer into what I am today. When I gave up work at 55 and concentrated on building a simpler life, housework was my steady guide. It taught me that I could modify what I did to suit how I work, and to hope for the unexpected and challenging because that was what would keep me productive and interested in my home. When I understood that, the rewards were abundant.

Over the years I moved furniture around to better suit the way we live, I started stockpiling, changed the way I shopped for groceries and although I'd always cooked from scratch, I started baking bread every day too. We got rare breed chickens. I began growing food in the backyard, preserving, volunteering, budgeting, sewing and mending. And I was knitting - I started knitting organic cotton dishcloths, and I still do that now. 🙂

One of the important parts of this new lifestyle for me was my mindset. I promised myself I'd be kind, generous, non-judgemental, respectful and accepting. That made a big difference. Surely those values should be part of any simple life. It doesn’t make much sense without them.

Cutting up old sheets and pillowcases to use as cleaning rags. 

It might seem strange to you now but over the course of your lifetime, you’ll save hundreds of dollars by cutting up old towels, sheets, tea towels and T-shirts to make cleaning rags. I estimated once that using rags instead of store-bought cloths would save at least $1000 over the course of the average housekeeper’s life. Anything made from cotton or linen is suitable, and because they’re old and well used, they’ll be seasoned, absorbent and soft. To clean the rags, just throw them in with the normal wash, or in with the mats if they're really grubby, and when they're dry, store them in your rag bag. When their life is over, throw them into the compost. Click here for Down to Earth rags post.

Speaking of rag bags.

This post is a sample from The Simple Home, my final book. It'll give you a good idea how I work with household linens, sewing, mending, knitting and general craft work.

After many years of using a homemade laundry liquid I've move on to homemade laundry powder. The liquid takes slightly more preparation time and I preferred it because I used it combined with bicarb soda for bathroom cleaning. That paste is like Jif but with only four ingredients so I know I'm not spreading around chemicals that might cause harm. My homemade laundry powder recipe has four ingredients and costs in the region of three dollars to make a very large batch - 10 litres in liquid form. That's much cheaper than the supermarket powder or liquid and you're not bringing all those heavy plastic bottles into your home. You can add any oxy-clean type stain treatment (Vanish or Disan) to the mix if you've got kids or a partner with dirty work clothes. Making your own laundry powder/liquid will take 10 minutes and cost around $3.  

I still make my cleaning paste with the bicarb. I just mix half a cup of laundry powder, add two tablespoons of bicarb and enough water to make a paste. Store it in a sealed container.

When I was decluttering the other day I found my dad's honing steel. It really looks its age and more like a pirate sword than a modern steel. It's still sharpens knives well though. One of my chef sons was shocked by the knife I gave him to carve the ham on Christmas Day. LOL I had been using one of those drag through knife sharpeners but that's in the recycle bin now and I'm a changed woman. Here is a good video I found on how to use a honing steel.

I cook all my meals from scratch but I don't expect anyone else to do that. If you want to start scratch cooking, do it one night a week, make enough for two meals and either freeze the second portion or serve it the following night. Cooking meals with ingredients you have in your home is much healthier and cheaper. You know what's in the meal, it tastes better, and you can make it exactly to your liking or health requirements. Food with ingredients you have never heard of, frozen meals and ultra-processed foods aren't healthy.

Chicken schnitzel and salad.

One thing I know to be true is that when you do simplify your life, be that a lot or a little, life will be easier. Start slow with what you're struggling with at the moment - budget, cooking, cleaning or whatever, choose one thing and work your way through that. Just use the parts that suit you and your life, leave the rest for now. When you feel confident with that, choose something else. 

I helped my family out with some home cooking late last week because they had a lot to do. A simple meal of bone broth and vegetable soup, lasagne and cinnamon tea cake filled them up and gave them a break from cooking. I love it when I can help. 

If you work outside the home for a living, you'll fit your simple tasks around your family and your job, but don’t make the mistake of putting off the decision to move towards a simpler life because you are working. You'll make things easier and cheaper for yourself if you start some of these simple tasks during your stage of working outside the home. You'll learn and practise some of the skills you'll need when you're living a simpler life.  Just as an example on a starting list I'd suggest making your own green cleaners, cooking one or two meals per week from scratch, stockpiling, menu plans and growing a few herbs and green leaves in pots. That will get you started and you can add more tasks when you're ready for them. Remember, there isn't a one size fits all approach to this.

It won't happen overnight and you must remember we all go through stages - that's a chapter in Down to Earth (the book). I can do what I do because I'm 75 years old and I have time but my age also restricts because I don't have the strength I once had and I have a non-malignant brain tumour that makes me dizzy when I bend over or look upwards. But no matter what stage you're at, we will all be restricted by something that will probably disappear one day - the kids grow up, you stop or start working outside the home, you pay off your mortgage etc. Making your own homemade cleaners, menu plans, mindful grocery shopping, budgeting etc will all make your life easier and only take a short amount of time to set up. Once you get used to it you'll wonder why you waited to do it. 😊

I believe there are many ways to live simply. I have lived in Europe, in the Australian bush and in the city, in houses, flats and caravans, and I know with no doubt, I could have lived simply in all those places. Whatever your circumstances are, you can fashion a life that will simplify your daily tasks, help you nurture yourself and your family and lead you to discover that a simple life is like a patchwork quilt - it's pieced together slowly, unpicked sometimes, composed of a mish-mash of colours and textures and is different for everyone, depending on the fabric of your life. But when one stands back from a completed quilt, its complexity becomes apparent. It's no longer pieces of this and that, it builds into a functional piece that gives warmth, beauty and comfort. That's how your simple life will build too.

If you're struggling to simplify, have a look in my right-hand column  and you'll find my archive listed year by year. I think beginners would find the 2007 - 2014 years the most helpful. OR, just under that, all my topics are listed - just click on the topic name to go there.

I had my latest Covid vaccination on Monday. This is a new vaccine that covers variants that appeared over the last year or two. The advice from my pharmacist was to have a booster every six months from now on. That’s the advice for everyone in Australia over the age of 75, everyone else is yearly.

Today's lunch was a pork chop with coleslaw and salad, and a couple of ripe yellow peaches. I’ve been eating a lot of peaches and nectarines since the season began here in December. They're my favourite fruit.  🍑 ❤️ 🍑. This afternoon I've been sewing, watching the test cricket and finishing off this post. I hope your day has been joyful.

Beer, bread and beyond: the ‘mind-blowing’ potential of Australia’s mountain rye and other perennial grains

Purls of wisdom: the wellbeing benefits of knitting and crocheting

The incredible story of Merlin the spaniel shows how little humans know about dogs

How to make candied chocolate orange peel (and an orange old fashioned) – recipe


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