I Kept Up With a 1950’s Cleaning Schedule for a Week—and I’m Exhausted

published Jun 10, 2019
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To me, there is no place more welcoming than my grandparents’ homes. Is it the fresh smell? The tidiness? The sparkling surfaces? Ever the hosts, their homes were always clean, comforting, and guest-ready.

Do my grandparents hold some secret key to keeping a home clean and cozy, that has been lost on my generation? To find out, I decided to try a week-long cleaning experiment, to see if I could unlock Grandma’s secret to a clean home and how it would fit into my modern lifestyle.

Building a 1950’s Cleaning Schedule

I used two Good Housekeeping books from the era, one that comprised of various articles published throughout the 1950s, “Good Housekeeping: The Best of the 1950s” and one that listed more specifically what to clean and how to clean it, “The Good Housekeeping Housekeeping Book” which was published in 1947. I also interviewed my grandmother (Grandma Marie) and my grandmother-in-law (Grandma Lou), who were both new mothers in the 1950s.

The Good Housekeeping Housekeeping Book provided the following weekly schedule:

  • Monday: Grocery and Kitchen
  • Tuesday: Laundry
  • Wednesday: Bedrooms and Bathrooms
  • Thursday: Linens and Living Room
  • Friday: Groceries, Defrost Fridge, Dining Rooms & Halls
  • Weekend: Free Day/Family Day

The publication also outlines daily tasks that one should complete each and every day, which include:

  • Kitchen: Put away food, clean coffee grounds, wash dishes & sink, sweep, empty wastebasket.
  • Bedrooms: Hang up night clothes, make beds, straighten & dust, dust/vacuum blinds.
  • Living Room: Discard faded flowers & old magazines, dust furniture & plump pillows, stack magazines & return anything out of place, remove surface litter.
  • Dining Room and Halls: Same as living room, sweep after each meal

Before this experiment, our cleaning mentality at home had a lax “clean as you go” vibe. Aside from daily meal clean up, most chores are divided between my husband and I to complete on the weekends. Deep cleaning tasks were done monthly or seasonally.

My goal was to try the Good Housekeeping routine for one week, single handedly completing the daily tasks and each days’ themed chores, all while continuing to be present as a wife and mom to my family. I planned to somehow fit this schedule into my full-time job as a writer in the home industry. I decided to grade myself for each day’s work, just for added assurance that I was sticking to the protocol.

My Initial Thoughts

Monday morning started and I’m already behind.

After a particularly chaotic Sunday, I woke up to a sinkful of dishes. A 1950’s homemaker would never have gone to bed with that kind of mess looming in the background. To be fair, the cleaning experiment didn’t start on Sunday, but it would have made things a lot simpler to begin this journey without a game of catch-up.

Here we are Monday morning and I’m already feeling the consequences of my lackadaisical attitude toward housekeeping. This week will be interesting.

Credit: William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Getty Images


Task: Groceries & Kitchen

After tackling yesterday’s dishes, I’m ready to start on the real task for today — “marketing” (AKA grocery shopping) and cleaning the kitchen. Monday’s chores are all about restoring the house from any untidiness that can occur on the weekends. Today is the day to prep foods for the coming few days, and clean the kitchen to make it easy to prepare meals in a comfortable and sanitary environment.

The shopping, meal planning, and veggie prep came naturally. I usually take this task upon myself over the weekend and plan for two weeks since we buy in bulk. Doing this on a smaller scale was actually a nice change. After scrubbing away at the sinks, countertops, and stove, I looked out at my handiwork and felt pretty good. Overall, the marketing and food prep kitchen cleaning took about 4 hours.

I completed the daily checklist for the living room, kitchen and hallways. Since it was a beautiful spring day, I decided to turn down the covers in our rooms and open the windows — a task my grandmother still does on sunny days. In the end, I forgot to make my bed.


Daily Tasks: C
No bed-making! Was I raised in a barn?

Kitchen: B+
Fingerprints on the fridge handle!

Credit: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images


Task: Laundry

Tuesday was a rollercoaster. Today is laundry day, and the book states that the average home should have about two loads of laundry to finish today. (This does not count linens; those are saved for later in the week.) I don’t know if we just have too many clothes, but I can assure you that two loads of laundry would not allow me to wash everything.

Thankfully, laundry requires significantly less manual labor than it used to. I was able to complete my daily chores while the laundry was going. Throwing the clothes in the washing machine may have been easy, but air drying any delicate clothing still took as much time today as it would have then. Overall, everything was going well!

I was nearly finished with my husband’s work shirts — carefully laying them out to hang up — when I decided it was time to open the windows and turn on the ceiling fans to get some fresh air circulating. This was a mistake since it had sat unused all winter. Dustmagedon. Fluffy flakes scattered down from the fan blades like snow. It was horrifying… and dust was visibly clinging to my drying delicates and my husband’s work shirts. Back to square one.


Daily Tasks: A
Everything was tidy and the beds were made

Laundry: D-
Everything needed to be rewashed on later days

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Task: Bedrooms & Bathrooms

Overall, modern life’s chores are easier to perform than their fifties counterpart. This is not the case with bedrooms and bathrooms. Today’s homes have a larger square footage, and even modest apartments have multiple bathrooms now. I’m thankful for the extra space, but that means double the scrubbing.

After finishing my bedroom, my kid’s bedroom, and the guest bathroom, I ran out of energy (and time) to finish the master bath. (Scrubbing baseboards takes a lot out of you!) I had to start my workday; my shoulders ached, and I was slowly falling more behind. Did I mention I had laundry going? I did need to rewash everything, after all. Laundry was going all week. The laundry never ended.


Daily Tasks: A-
Am I getting the hang of this? Oh no, wait, there are more dirty clothes that need washing.

Bedrooms & Bath: B-
I know I missed a bathroom, but everything that I DID do was sparkling. I’ll do the other tomorrow.

Credit: Harold M. Lambert/Lambert/Getty Images


Task: Linens & Living Room

Today is — you guessed it — more laundry! I was finally caught up on all our clothes only to be done in time to wash all the bedding and towels. Another case of multiple loads. Ever the multitasker, the 1950’s homemaker was advised to thoroughly clean the living room while the sheets laundered. I woke up two hours early to start on the bathroom, make my family breakfast, and start the linen laundry. I felt bone tired, and the day had barely started.

By the end of the morning, I had a surprising amount done. The breakfast dishes were put away and the kitchen was tidy, the bathrooms both were sparkling, and the living area was vacuumed and mopped. At one point, my husband ambled by to complement my work — which he did by smirking and saying that it was too bad this was just a week-long experiment. I sweetly replied that next Monday could start an experiment about a week as a beautiful young widow. (Don’t worry, I need him around — I’m not doing the dishes next week.)

After I wrapped up my usual day at work, I couldn’t bear the thought of doing anything, let alone vacuuming my upholstered furniture. I dusted all the light fixtures, wiped down the windows and window sills, and straightened any loose items. I, thankfully, didn’t have anything that needed polishing, but I did use a screen wipe on all our electronics. (Clearly, the modern equivalent, right?)


Daily Tasks: A
I figured it out! You just have to straighten things CONSTANTLY. Leave no item untouched. Fidget and fret unceasingly because when it’s only your job, no one else cares or understands.

Linens & Living Room: A-
Look, I did it, but I hated it. And I’m tired… SO TIRED. Also, I didn’t vacuum all of the furniture, but it’s okay.

Credit: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images


Task: Groceries, Defrost Fridge, Dining Rooms & Halls

I woke up on Friday morning feeling terrible. I felt like I’d run a marathon… or at least a 5k. My arms and shoulders ached intensely, and my head was pounding. I almost didn’t go to work. I felt mildly pathetic, but realistically, I was trying to squeeze a full-time homemaking schedule into a day with a full-time job. Something had to give. And at the end of the week, it was my sanity and stress-level.

Thankfully for me, modern refrigerators don’t need weekly defrosting, making my workload a little lighter. I attempted a cheerful attitude as I continued on with the chores, but by this point, I was tallying how many times I’d tidied the same item.

That evening we had friends come in from out of town and planned to meet them for dinner at a nearby winery. If they were local, I would have canceled; I was so exhausted by dinnertime that I felt dizzy. Constantly being the only one in the house tidying up is taxing. I can’t imagine the mental exhaustion of hosting guests in your home regularly after completing this schedule.

On the plus-side, everything is constantly guest-ready. Last-minute visitors? No problem; feel free to tour my home!

Credit: Lambert/Getty Images


Task: Free Day (Suggested use? Relaxing with family, special baking or picnicking)

After a long week of accomplished housework, the book suggested Saturday was a day to take special time with the family. And yet, naturally, the daily cleaning tasks could not be ignored.

We invited our out-of-town friends over for a BBQ for that evening, so it seemed appropriate to use the morning to bake cookies in preparation. Since I didn’t shop the day before, I also stopped by the local Saturday market to find some fresh veggies for our dinner. Unfortunately, I still had laundry to do. My significantly-taller-than-me husband graciously took on the task of dusting all the tall ceiling areas — which the book described as a “man-sized” job.

The house sparkled and felt incredibly welcoming. And it felt like grandma’s house. Which was lovely, because our BBQ invitation became an indoor dinner after it started raining. Every last nook and cranny was dust-free, throw pillows were fluffed and straightened, the floor was clean enough to eat off of, and the house smelled as fresh and airy as a spring afternoon.


Daily Tasks: A+
There were guests arriving, after all!

Free Day: P
I’m grading on a Pass/Fail basis; the cookies were a nice touch.

Credit: Camerique/ClassicStock/Getty Images


Task: Unlisted

Presumably also a day for resting and church potlucks in some communities, Sunday was absent from the schedule. I was thankful. Unsurprisingly, I woke up with another headache — I really hadn’t rested much since our friends were in town for the last two days. After the clean up from having guests, I was ready to sit down guiltlessly for the first time all week. I was saddened to know the house would go back to normal come Monday, but lacked the energy to truly care. My kid and I had a simple picnic lunch in our backyard, and then I essentially collapsed for the rest of the day. I looked so exhausted that my husband went rogue and decided to cook a frozen lasagna. This is probably a failure within the scope of the experiment, but the week was pretty much over by that point anyway, right? But I still did the dishes.


Daily Tasks: —
I don’t know anymore; didn’t I JUST feed the family dinner yesterday?

Credit: Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images

Takeaways After a Week of Cleaning Like It’s the ’50s

I’m not going full fifties housewife anytime soon, but there are some lessons I’d love to keep up.

1. It’s HARD.

This schedule was demanding. As a homemaker in the fifties it would have been exhausting, but as a modern woman with a career, it was impossible. Granted, practice would make one more adept at quickly going down the list of tasks, but for the week I did this schedule, hobbies and gym days fell to the wayside.

2. It’s mentally taxing.

Every time we sat for a meal, I couldn’t relax; I just wanted to get started on the cleanup. While my family enjoyed the cheerful cleanliness, I was the only one left to worry about whether the baseboards were dusted appropriately.

3. I like the room-by-room schedule.

I did like the schedule’s flow of daily room-specific tasks. With modifications, I’d like to follow it long-term. I also learned a critical lesson. Before, I never “straightened” things, I only addressed things that weren’t put away. Taking time each day to straighten items made a huge impact on the overall look and feel of my home. It felt welcoming. Grandma knew its importance.

What My Grandmothers Thought About My Experiment

Notably, after checking-in with both Grandmas during the week, I was surprised to find neither had adhered to a schedule quite this rigorous. In fact, Grandma Lou sheepishly told me her husband did a lot of the housekeeping! He learned to keep things pristine while in the navy, and once he realized that his wife didn’t share the same affinity for a sparkling home, he took a lot of the tasks on himself. I guess regardless of the generation, an expert’s ideal is not always a household reality. Maybe I’m willing to sacrifice perfection for sanity.

A less-than-pristine house is a welcome exchange for help from my partner—and let’s be honest, he could not care less about an antiquated expert-recommendation to vacuum the furniture and blinds weekly. As I transition back to normal life, I’ll take a pass on the constant baseboard dusting, but I’m definitely going to be taking time each night to straighten. Most importantly, my husband will be coming out of household chores retirement. Please call before coming over because the house will never again be this tidy on-demand.