Saturday, March 23, 2013

What I learned about housekeeping from watching Downton Abbey

I'm always late to the game. So, while everyone else was watching Downton Abbey when it first came out on Masterpiece Theatre, I didn't start watching it until recently.  I will admit it took me awhile to get into the first episode.  I kept trying to watch it on our Amazon Prime account and falling asleep midway through.  
I have this annoying habit of falling asleep while watching movies (or TV shows, or basically anything after 9:00 PM...except for Dr. Who.  Not even I can fall asleep during Dr. Who.)

But, everyone kept raving about I persevered and persevered (oh the struggle) and finally one day while sick in bed, I watched several episodes in a row and discovered that I liked it.  I really, really liked it.

I've been doing some blog-reading on housekeeping lately (mostly on Like Mother, Like Daughter about how to have a reasonably clean home).  I'd actually settle for a somewhat clean home.  I have low expectations.  Anyway, the idea of housekeeping and cleaning has been on my mind, and I've actually been on a bit of cleaning streak today (try not to fall over and faint with shock, Mom).

Anyway, for anyone who might be unfamiliar with the show, Downton Abbey is basically a soap opera that takes place in England spanning the time from 1912-1921.  Actual historical events (the sinking of the Titanic, WWI and the Spanish Flu) play a significant role in the plot.

While watching last night, it occurred to me that the servants in Downton Abbey do less work than I do.   Oh, don't get me wrong..they work hard.  But they each have their own job and that is it.  There are the maids and the butler and the footmen and the cook and the kitchen maid and the chauffeur and the valet and they each do their own job.  The maids aren't expected to cook and the footmen aren't expected to also chauffeur.  If I recall correctly, there was even some scandal about maids having to serve in the dining room, which apparently was unheard of, but the household was short-staffed due to the war. 

While nowadays, everyone is basically expected to do/be all those things.  And, not only to do them all, but to do them well.   We're expected to cook and clean and chauffeur and child raise  (no doubt the daughters in Downton Abbey would have had nannies and tutors when they were young) and garden and even teach (for those who homeschool).  Granted, our home is much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much, much smaller and we have the advantage of modern conveniences they didn't have back then (like washing machines and electric stoves).

But, I still find it interesting, that not only is the modern parent expected to do all those things, but to do them well.  Not only do we have to cook, but we have to grow our own organic vegetables, cook everything from scratch using organic, free-range, cruelty-free ingredients and avoid anything processed or convenient or easy.   Not only are we supposed to bake our own bread, but we're supposed to grind our own grains and then soak them as well.   Not only are we expected to clean, but we're expected to keep our house, company-ready at all times.   And for those families that can add teaching/tutoring on top of that.

Now that any of those things are bad, or that we shouldn't be doing all those things.  Just pointing out that in times ONE or TWO people were expected to both do and excel at ALL those things.   Even going further back in time and looking to a poor family, we see that most people didn't have all these multiple hats to wear.  Ma Ingalls certainly worked doubt about that.   And, way harder than we do nowadays...but she didn't have to wear all the different hats we do. She wasn't spending time driving Laura and Mary around to piano lessons and practices.  She didn't spend time scrubbing toilets..since they didn't even have toilets..just an outhouse.  While doing laundry was much, much harder back then, there was also much, much less of it, because they didn't have nearly as many clothes.   Cleaning a one-room log cabin was likely much simpler than cleaning a multi-room, larger home with A TON more stuff in it.

So, maybe it's time to cut ourselves some slack, if we can't do everything..  if we can't have a perfectly clean home and cook perfectly tasty, healthy meals, and grow our own organic food, while perfectly driving kids to a billion different activities and teaching them ourselves (or just helping with homework)...not to mention those parents who have significant commitments outside the home or at home (work or school or volunteering or ministry)..which is another added pressure and demand.  People in times past didn't do EVERYTHING, so how can we?

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  1. I resisted Downton until a few weeks ago. And the first two episodes seemed really hard to follow. But now we're into season 2 and I'm totally addicted! Good point on how hard we work verses the "help". :)

  2. I happened to notice Downton on your list of labels when I clicked over here today (and since I'm currently obsessed with all things Downton, I had to check it out!) I have been thinking the same thing recently - the division of labor made things much easier because although they might have been doing more (quantity) work, it was all the same type of work, and that certainly would make it easier! (Or at least not as stressful!) I guess we can't claim too much monotony, huh?


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