Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Keeping House Book Study: Chapter Five

(vintage kitchen by janet hill)

This is chapter 5 of the Keeping House Book Study, on Clothing a Household.   Like me, you probably are busy with your own household and not really focusing on book studies.   I almost decided to skip this week.   But I'm going to go ahead and get this out.   There will be no book study for next week due to Christmas.    I will pick up January 2nd unless it is just too crazy, in which case the next post will be January 9. 

In this chapter, Margaret Peterson compares the past with the present in this chapter on what it takes to clothe a household.    I'm going to follow that pattern and then comment on what I personally do in each category.  Please share any ideas or clothing hacks or insights you want to talk about, as well as the parts of the chapter that struck you most. Or just say Hi.  My standards are so very low for topicality during this holiday season.  

Providing Clothin

In the old days, this meant taking up your needle and thread, or knitting needles perhaps, and building a wardrobe for your household.  Some households perhaps even spun and wove cloth starting from the original wool.    If the mistress of the household and her daughters didn't do this, perhaps their servants did.  Even when richer households went to a tailor or dressmaker, they didn't buy readymade clothing.  It was custom-made for them.  

Nowadays, generally woman buy rather than make clothing.  If they do sew or knit or crochet, they generally do it in a more creative than utilitarian spirit.    Clothing is inexpensive, ready-made, and ubiquitous in stores.  That means there are stores devoted completely to clothing and more where you can buy clothing along with other things.

My household == I have gradually become more conscious that most discount clothing is outsourced to countries where cheap labor is plentiful.  Sometimes I feel like we are like the early days of the Industrial Revolution where women and children slaved for starvation wages.    Plus, I don't much like cheap clothes and don't like spending the money on more expensive stuff.  Consequently, I almost always shop at thrift stores.... except for socks and underwear.

Our Drawers and Closets

In the old days, poor people might only have 2 or 3 outfits.  They made their clothes last through several incarnations..... they repaired, retrimmed or reworked their worn clothes, perhaps trimming them down for their children, or eventually tearing them up for rags.   I believe rich people often had far, far more even than we do nowadays, and it was often impractical clothing, fine flimsy silks that couldn't be passed on to the needy after wearing.

Nowadays, clothing is so abundant that we can easily end up with more than we ever wear.    Lots of people want to wear what's in style which means buying all new clothing (often marked up in price) and the right store name or brand name.

In my household -- Homeschooling seems to help somewhat with this, and so does being somewhat nerdy, because one tends not to care so much what one wears, as long as it's comfortable and decent.   I am not sure what people do if they or their kids really care about labels and that kind of thing.  I suppose I would have the kids spend their own money for status upgrades.  My daughter finds nice things in thrift stores and my sons generally develop some type of clothing convention -- my oldest son wears khakis and collared shirts and my other boys wear either casual/athletic or sometimes nicer pants and collared shirts or sweaters. 


In the old days, laundry was backbreaking and labor intensive.   There was a reason why we "washed on Mondays" -- because we were well rested after the Sunday Sabbath.   Again, poorer folk did their own laundry or took in others' laundry; rich folk had it done by others.

Nowadays, everyone has a washer and dryer.   This hasn't made laundry exactly more manageable, but it is definitely easier to do.  And we do way more of it.     We wash our clothes after one or two wearings.

In my household, I sort of resist this imperative of continuous laundering, but it is difficult because boys really are hard on their clothes and adults and older teens usually don't want to put on already-worn clothes because hyper-cleanliness is sort of engrained in our culture.


In the old days, poor people valued every precious scrap of fabric, as I mentioned above, so they would repurpose again and again until the last rag was worn threadbare.

Nowadays, our clothing is so consumable.  We often aren't very aware of where it came from or where it goes after we tire of it and toss it in the trash or give it away.

In my household, I've tried to re-purpose torn clothes, but polyester doesn't work well for rags (just saying) and you never see kids wearing patched or repaired clothing any more.  Socks wear fast and they don't darn easily.    The fabric usually isn't the kind you can really use for quilts and the like.  

I've done different things through the years to deal with this --  I sometimes use old socks as dusters, for example.  And because we live in the mountains, and I have boys, I keep worn clothes for play clothes even after they are unacceptable for public wear.    I also convert trousers with holes in the knees into shorts.   And I keep the better casual clothes only for going out into company.

My own clothes are easier..  As long as I keep them in decent shape I can usually pass them back to the thrift store.  I usually buy simple tops and jeans and skirts that don't really follow the fashion so that they aren't obsolete by the time I hand them back in.    My problem is buying too much.  I really like sorting through thrift stores and finding new things.  I've gotten better about letting go of things I find I am not wearing. 

These last two parts are more about the natural rhythm of seasons, ages, and dealing with the daily flow of clothing, which probably hasn't changed quite so much as other things from past to present, because it's sort of inevitable that we will deal with these rhythms to some extent. 

Seasons and Ages

We all have our strategies for dealing with seasons and age changes.   I  rotate clothes in and out by seasons.   When we were having babies, we kept outgrown clothes for the next child.  Nowadays only two of my kids are still growing and they are quite close to the same size so I don't really have put-away clothes since the outgrown ones go right from Aidan to Paddy.

It's easy to keep way too many clothes between kids, though.  I used to keep almost everything, but finally realized that I only needed to keep a basic wardrobe in storage for the next kid.   The most important thing to keep is dressy clothes since they are more expensive to replace.  I have a couple of boxes devoted to boys' dress clothes, all white shirts and navy pants, for almost every size.   But now of course I can discard the ones that Paddy has outgrown since he is the youngest.

Putting Things Away

Mrs Peterson talks about the rhythm of sorting laundry before cleaning, folding or ironing laundry as it comes out, bringing out clothes by season or age, and putting things away after use or cleaning.    I have to admit that where I dislike most household maintenance jobs, I do really relish the rhythm of laundry and seasonal taking out and bringing in of clothes.

I used to get overwhelmed with it but I weeded out a lot of extras and what was left was way more manageable.  I think I like laundry because it feels and smells good, whereas most household maintenance involves slimy, disgusting, or harsh smelling things.   I love hanging up laundry to dry and bringing it in to fold it, but I only do this during the warmer months.   Once our dryer was broken for two years because we couldn't afford to replace or repair it, and I hardly missed it.   I hung the clothes up in the loft above the wood stove and they came down warm and dry and smelling so clean.

I am not very good at folding and don't spend a long time on mathematical precision, but I enjoy it.  I often get lost in thought while I'm doing it.  I wish everything in our Keeping House litany was as simple and gratifying for me.    I suppose it's true of any litany or oft-repeated prayer, that there will be some phrases that are particularly satisfying to say either because they just sound good or because they have some personal significance. 

Please share any random thoughts that occur to you.  Do you have any useful or creative strategies for dealing with our consumable, trendy,  too abundant clothing modern challenges with clothing? 


  1. For me, laundry is also one of my "favorite" household tasks. It just isn't as onerous, and perhaps that's because it isn't as grimy as many chores.

    My biggest problem with having too many clothes is that I don't like the clothes that I should have for my "job" of being at home (jeans, Tshirts). I like, and therefore tend to buy (at thrift stores and new) business casual clothing and even dresses, which honestly I don't have many causes to wear.

  2. Bailey, I often feel somewhat guilty that I basically live in jeans and knit shirts and sweaters.

    I think there might be some value in dressing in somewhat pretty things even when cleaning and doing things around the household. I wonder if it could be done? My daughter used to follow those carnivals "A Week in Feminine Dress" where girls and women would photo pretty outfits that they were able to use for all sorts of household and outdoors activities.

  3. We certainly lead more relaxed lives than our parents and grandparents. I like getting value for my money, so I tend to buy very few convenience foods from the supermarket and make a lot of things from scratch, which I think also has enormous health benefits. I do, however, have a problem with buying clothes. I love new things, but I like the more classical fashion and if I do go with a trend I will be very conservative with my approach. My wardrobe is very very small, so whenever I move clothes out to make way for the current season I usually always collect several bags full and donate them to the opportunity shop.
    I really enjoy sewing and knitting and will make clothes for myself.

  4. I finally wrote something! Better late than never!

  5. I love this kind of book and study! And I have to say that I liked the artwork so well, that I looked up the artist yesterday and had a good long look at her portfolio. And then I sent it to my daughter, who is working on an art degree at the moment.

    Thank you for the commentary and the artwork both!

  6. I am very late to the laundry party, but I actually *did* something instead of just writing and thinking. :)



I would love to hear your thoughts on this!