Modern conveniences and busy schedules have made modern housekeeping faster and less hands-on. But what important, old-fashioned homemaking skills have we lost? Here are some ideas to inspire you, and tips to get you started.
Table of contents
1. 🍎 Gardening
Decades ago, all homes had vegetable gardens, even city homes. Fresh produce was expensive to buy, homes were on larger lots, and growing your vegetables just made sense.
Today food is less expensive to buy, and we have less time and space. Gardening is currently enjoying a resurgence, but many people are likely to try it and give it up or see it as a hobby.
But for the old-fashioned homemaker, keeping a home garden was a given. That doesn’t mean that everyone was living off the land! Absolutely not. But vegetable gardens were expected as a way to supplement the family’s diet and help save a little money.
It is debatable whether gardening still saves money. But as food prices increase, it seems more and more valuable, and it’s a skill that you have to build over time. Why not start small and learn what you can? Don’t forget about cutting flowers as well, which are the perfect way to give your house charm and coziness in the spring and summer.
If you have any amount of outdoor space at all, gardening is a worthy activity. Everyone can have a few herbs in pots at least.
Related: how to have an old fashioned summer
More on gardening:
- Planning a practical vegetable garden
- The best easy cutting garden flowers
- Extending the harvest into fall
- An old-fashioned gardening book you will love
2. 🥫 Preserving Seasonal Food
Hand in hand with gardening is preserving the harvest. Canning, dehydrating, and other ways to preserve food help homemakers avoid waste and live seasonally.
Even if you don’t garden, you can preserve food. (Remember Blueberries for Sal and the mother going foraging for wild blueberries to can?) You can frequent farmer’s markers, ask friends for produce, and even preserve grocery store items. This can actually be very cost effective when you buy good sale prices on foods you really eat.
Even though canning is one of the most important traditional homemaking skills, make sure you are using modern resources for canning recipes and techniques. A lot has changed over the years in terms of best practices for canning, and many old-fashioned recipes are no longer considered safe, unfortunately.
Interested in food preservation for beginners?
- The Ball Book of Home Preserving is the gold standard for safe canning recipes.
- If canning scares you, try something simple like oven-dried strawberries or dehydrated basil.
- I have easy canning recipes on my site, but I also use the Ball book a lot.
3. 🍞 Baking Bread
Baking bread is one of the best ways to revive a vintage homemaking skill, because anyone can do it. Homemade bread is so much better than store-bought and it definitely saves money.
Even though it takes quite a bit of time to bake bread, most of it is hands-off time and it can easily be fit into the rhythm of your day. Bread baking is something that has become much easier with modern inventions like bread machines and instant yeast. But it is good to know how to do it without any of these things too. Once you get used to yeast breads, branch out into sourdough and kneading by hand. They are timeless skills that help you reduce your dependence on store-bought supplies and become a more frugal homemaker.
Baking bread is my favorite vintage skill, and I have a lot of information on it here!
- I have many, many bread recipes that are tried and true.
- I’ve set up an email series for brand-new sourdough bakers who need to make a starter and get some help with the process. You can sign up here.
4. 🍽 Cooking from scratch
Old fashioned homemakers did not have the luxury of any mixes or pre-made meals. Everything was made from scratch out of necessity. But keep in mind that most meals were very simple (like beans and cornbread for dinner simple).
When you transition to cooking everything from scratch, it’s best to get there slowly. First: stop buying things that are expensive, like fully prepared meals. Then give up boxed mixes and instant side dishes. Then work up to making even more things yourself, like mayonnaise and spice mixes (if you want to!).
Now just because cooking from scratch is an old fashioned skill doesn’t mean you can’t use modern conveniences. If you have a deep freezer, slow cooker, or pressure cooker, take advantage of them!
Tips on how to cook from scratch:
- Cooking is as simple as following a recipe. Don’t overcomplicate it. I have many simple, family friendly dinner recipes here.
- If you want a book devoted to cooking techniques, I like this book devoted to learning cooking.
- Now don’t go from eating frozen meals to all-scratch food right away! Read about cooking more at home easily.
5. 📒 Planning ahead
Running a household has a lot of moving parts. And often, we get so caught up in the details of day to work, like picking up toys and making dinner, that we forget bigger picture items.
Old-fashioned homemakers did not plan elaborate events or vacations, but their day-to-day life followed a routine, as did their weeks. The housekeeper was also in charge of the grocery list and meal planning. A century ago, if a family had a lot of money, this might be the only task of the homemaker, and everything else was done by servants! Think of the term “managing” the home. That’s what this is. Thinking about what is needed, ahead of time, and being ready.
Don’t forget to plan downtime for yourself and your family as well.
Want to create an old-fashioned homemaking routine?
- Instead of copying someone else’s schedule, you should create your own. Learn how to analyze your days and create your own vintage housekeeping schedule.
- Meal planning makes life easier, not harder! I have free meal planning printables available to help you.
- I love having planning sheets with times to help me really get a handle on my day. (I have a collection of 12 seasonal planning sheets available in my shop.)
6. 🧶 Sewing
I have attempted sewing many a time but am terrible at it. I’ve managed to make a few pillow covers and curtains, and there’s nothing like admiring your own handiwork (even when it isn’t perfect!).
Sewing does not save you much money, if any, unless you are very clever about reusing fabric and getting deals. But it’s such a satisfying and productive hobby! And if you really think about why clothing and other fabric goods are so inexpensive, it is definitely worth the effort and expense to make nicer quality, longer-lasting things.
To learn more about sewing:
- I personally find it easier to just dive in with a project using old fabric, rather than reading incessantly about it. It doesn’t make much sense unless you’re actually doing it.
- A very simple project, like this great cloth napkin tutorial, is best.
- If you like ordering fabric online, fabric.com has a huge selection.
7. 🕰 History Keeping
Don’t forget about this, as it is one homemaking skill that will outlive you, long after every loaf of bread is eaten! Old-fashioned homemakers were able to simply save photographs, letters, and the family Bible. Every photograph and letter was likely to be special.
But today, our homes are filled with junk papers and with so many things being digital, devoid of special photos and letters. So it’s our job to make memories and record history more consciously. Don’t just keep your pictures trapped on your phone, get them printed and hang them up! Consider an easy journal with a few lines a day so that you have a real memento you can pass down.
Tools for the home historian:
- I use this little journal to write just a line a day for a memento that (I hope) my children will treasure.
- Set aside a time every month or every quarter to print and frame photos. Photo printing website are always offering specials, so shop around
- If you have a large number of photos stored online, make sure your password is in a safe place that someone else could access if something happens to you.
8. 🧼 Soap Making
This is one that people think is really weird! But it is so satisfying and simple that everyone should try it at least once.
Soap making saves you money and also is great way to give handmade gifts that people will really use. You can also make a small amount of money selling soap, or more money if you are willing to make it on a large scale.
want to learn more?
- Learn whether soap making is worth your time (the answer is different for everyone!)
- The basics of soap safety, ingredients, and the process.
- Then check out this super simple, two ingredient soap recipe to get you started.
- And work your way up to the absolute best shower soap recipe.
Vintage vs. modern housekeeping
Of course, things are different today. Many women work outside the home and even stay at home moms have a lot of expectations related to their children’s school and activities.
These old-fashioned homemaking skills are not things that we can expect everyone to know and do regularly. But if you are feeling the need to look inward and pull in your sails a little, try mastering one of the things on this list.
And don’t forget to count your blessings and be content. Perhaps the most valuable skill of all.
25 thoughts on “Old Fashioned Homemaking Skills We Still Need”
We live out in the woods and I’m still adjusting to keeping house without modern conveniences. I do make fresh bread during the winter to help heat the house and as for the history aspect I have a recipe book that I picked up at Michaels and I’ve been adding the recipes we make most often for my kids when they grow up.
It is a very charming list! It makes me happy to see more people returning to doing these things. I would like to add a couple suggestions. In the old days, wasting nothing was very important. Today, we are terribly wasteful! One of the things we waste a lot of is food, because we have forgotten how to store things well. Canning and dehydrating is all well and good, but if you have a garden, you should know how to keep your potatoes, cabbages, squash, carrots, onions, and other items for a long time without canning, freezing, or other means. We don’t even know how to keep the food well that we buy from the store! Take those mushrooms out of the container they come in and put them in a brown bag. Put a paper towel in with your lettuce. Take the potatoes out of their plastic bag and store them in a dark, cool, place. Learn how not to over-buy and how to use up what you have before it spoils. Everyone used to know how to keep food longer and to use up leftovers, peels, they would save fats off of meat, etc. They wouldn’t can everything because they didn’t have the time!
Another old skill that I use a lot myself is that of repairing, mending, refinishing, and re-using (or “upcycling”). In our easy-buy, easy-toss culture we have forgotten these skills, but they are just as useful today and so important for the planet and for our budget. Take shoes, for instance. I’ve learned how to care for my shoes regardless of the type of shoe, and they last twice as long or longer, while still looking and feeling good. Sewing from new fabric, as mentioned, can be expensive these days. On the other hand we can take an old pair of jeans and re-cover our ratty looking oven pads and make them beautiful. Making a braided rug from our old clothes is still practical. We don’t need new fabric to make a quilt top, beeswax wraps, or many other items for the home. My home is furnished mostly with second-hand furniture that I have restored. By caring for our possessions we add value, and that is a forgotten skill.
Thank you so much for writing this article and encouraging others!
I know how to do many of the “old-fashioned” skills. However I think that too many today have this idea that 100 years ago everyone did all of them. That would have been the 1920’s when my parents were born, both in cities, and neither family grew most of their food. They had a fruit tree or two, grew some tomatoes and cucumbers, but that was about it. Neither family made their own soap. That skill is from way further back in time. Store bought soap was so much nicer that women stopped making their own, which was time consuming, smelly, and produced a soap that wasn’t very nice. Sure it was probably cheaper, on a farm, where you butchered animals and had wood ash, but in the cities why bother.
My favorite skills are cooking from scratch, including bread baking, and sewing. Those three have saved me the most money and been the most satisfying over my 33 year marriage raising five children. I’m glad that more people are learning these skills. There is great satisfaction in creating!
I enjoyed reading this! A few years ago, I had a homemaking schedule much like this one. Life happened and I got away from it. This was a pleasant reminder that I want to get back to using something like this. I loved knowing basically what I was doing each day. Since then, my boys have grown up. We have adopted a girl who is now 17, about a year and a half ago, and we homeschool her too. I need to get back to doing this as I want her to know these things as well. Thank you for this!
I found so many interesting things in this post. I have been eager to turn my brown thumb into green and enjoyed the tips you provided here. I love the idea of bringing back these skills that are being lost. Thank you for inspiring me!
thank YOU tara! good luck on your new journey 🙂
Sewing clothes is definitely not a money saver any more. When I started my first job, I was able to run up five simple outfits for what in today’s money would be about $15 each. With the cost of fabric, patterns and sewing accessories like zippers and buttons that would easily be $35 now. Being able to mend and alter clothes, on the other hand, can save a tiny fortune.
good point about mending. I do think that it you get much higher quality clothes when you sew them though (well I don’t because I’m terrible at it, but you probably do!) 🙂
Enjoyed reading your information . Do you remember the name of a woman author who wrote about basic homemakng skills? She wrote about preserving, candel making,
Essential oils, etc. she was very creative.
First name might have been Prudence.
hmm I don’t know. I do have a very old and wonderful book by a woman named Janet chapman called “how to live on nothing and have plenty”. you might enjoy that one 🙂
Thank you, Katie! This is really helpful, and I will take full advantage of all the links you added. Though I am 45 and working full time, I am doing everything on your list apart from soap making – which I really want to try some time!
that’s so great to hear Bianca! you must love to be busy 🙂 (I do too)
Thank you for simply breaking it down for me.
This is such a great list. Thank you!
glad you enjoyed it Michelle!
I’m 65 and have done all of these things except making soap, but I can weave and knit. I wasn’t taught these things growing up but learned them on my own. Now that we are in the middle of a pandemic I am truly grateful that I took the time to learn these skills. I live in the suburbs but you can still practice many of these things.
yes that’s wonderful! and I agree there is a lot of focus on homesteading, living off the land, etc. but almost all of this can be done wherever you live!
This is a great post on vintage homemaking skills. I love the entry about making food from scratch. Many people don’t know that you can make your own mayonnaise or spice blends. Definitely a money saver. Not to mention, think how much healthier the U.S. would be if we practiced these things. Thanks for sharing.
Maybe because I’m 78, I have done all these things. One of my daughters’ called me a few years ago and congratulated me on how “green” I was being when she was young. I made our yogurt, ground our wheat and made bread, grew our sprouts and even used TVP (texturized vegetable protein) in place of some meat. Froze or dried extra garden produce, etc. Told her it wasn’t being “green”, it was frugal!! We had 7 kids.
Yes isn’t it interesting how it’s coming back in style but for different reasons!
Love this post Katie!! ???? I love romanticizing the past and it’s so fun to try and revive some of those lost skills. I am thankful for modern conveniences! But I really do enjoy the challenge of living a little less modern ???? I can’t wait to try more of the things on this list. I’d love to spend time on one at a time and get really good at it instead of dipping my toes and moving on. Anyways!! Such a great post and so many awesome resources. Thank you!
Great list Katie! It’s true, convenience foods and the luxury of grocery stores sure has made it easy to neglect these skillls!
This is such a wonderful list. I am quite lacking in most of these skills but would love to learn more about cooking and baking for sure.
I love this list and your blog. I was raised by working parents in the 90s and I don’t have a lot of these homemaking skills. I’ve been home with my sons for three years now and finally feel like I’m approaching this list. The first three years at home were lived in survival mode and now I’m cooking, working out, and organizing. We live in the country-side of suburbia, where we have sidewalks but I can see a barn and a cow from the backyard.
I’m going to try some of this list. Thank you for your encouragement and inspiration.
That’s such a great point about life with very little people being all about survival mode! Thank you so much the comment. ??