Noogs and I have have finished our read-aloud of Little House in the Big Woods. Of the many things that struck me while reading it, one was the sheer efficiency of Ma and the pioneer housekeepers. Under primitive conditions Ma instilled manners and a respect for authority in her children, tended the garden, fed the livestock, kept her house clean, washed her laundry by hand, sewed their clothes (again, by hand), and coped with the loneliness of the solitary life of a pioneer woman. I was left to meditate on my own shortcomings as a housekeeper (brought on mostly by my own poor management of time and lack of absolute necessity) and I pondered whether or not I should succumb to a thoroughly 21st century inferiority complex.
On further consideration, I decided against the complex. (I don't manage my time well enough to waste it on being depressed.) How, I wondered, did Ma get everything done without going insane? Well, let's start with the housecleaning. Our house is small to moderate by modern standards -- 1800 sq. ft. We've accumulated stuff over the years, and the process has been accelerated by having children who receive toys for their birthdays and Christmas. Well, the little house was just that -- one bedroom, one living room, a pantry, a storage attic. That's not a lot of space to clean. The advent of modern plastics has allowed for a glut of basically useless toys -- I mean, Little People are cute and occupy the kids for a while, but do they really serve any purpose?
So, if my house were reduced to about the size of my living room and dining room and all the useless knick-knacks and toys and stuff were removed, I'd have a lot less cleaning to do. We'd have to reduce our book stash, of course.
Now, for laundry -- I spend most of my time either doing it or avoiding it. Little socks, underwear, all the t-shirts and leggings and dresses and sweaters -- and that's just the girls' clothes. Let's take it back to the 1870s: two or three day-to-day dresses for the girls, plus one for dressing up. Same for me. A few shirts and trousers for Darwin, along with a few vests. A couple pairs of drawers for everyone. I may have to wash it by hand, but the volume has decreased drastically. Plus, the girls and I wear aprons and pinafores so we don't wear out our clothes any faster than necessary, and this cuts down on stains as well. We may only take a bath once a week (though sometimes that's not much different than life with small children now :)) but we would be used to that.
These differences don't trump everything, of course. But how much more time would I have to spend on gardening, sewing, cheese-making, hat-making, and baking if I weren't distracted by technology? No wasting time on the computer, no distracting telephone calls, no t.v. at nights. I could have washed all my dishes by hand in the time it's taken me to write this so far. On the other hand, the girls have just fallen asleep in front of the t.v. (while watching a DVD of the moon landing, no less!) so I'm going to use this precious quiet time to -- knit.