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.
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 just 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! Definitely 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 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.)
I have attempted sewing many a time but am absolutely 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 amount 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.
Are you soap making curious?
- Learn whether soap making is worth your time (the answer is different for everyone!)
- 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.
- Or try this easy homemade lotion recipe if the idea of working with lye scares you!
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 on a regular basis. 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.