Basic domestic skills everyone should know

Mary Norris, home economist. Image courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives.

One of my emerging callings appears to be reclaiming domesticity. Earlier this year I posted to my personal Facebook page that I thought it was time to bring back classes like home economics to education. I took this in eighth grade. I remember that we cooked and sewed things, but that was about it. Still, it was a great way to introduce skills which could come in handy later in life, and it was not a gender-specific class. Nowadays I have no idea if my old middle school has a home ec class. Or even if they still have shop classes. I think we have lost something big by doing away with these classes and focusing solely on academia. Not everyone will go or wants to go to college. It should not be looked down upon if this is the case. Plus, we all need to have some basic skills in taking care of stuff in our lives and not have to depend solely on outside help.

I got inspired in this direction last winter when I read Radical Homemakers. Stories of people who had reclaimed home life, had a high level of self-sufficiency along with community involvement… something within me craves these things. I do believe strongly in being independent as much as possible. But at the same time I also believe strongly in interdependence. No one person can take care of ALL their needs alone. Even if they can, sometimes they need assistance. This is how community is built: people working together. People needing other people. It’s a long term goal, not just for myself but for a lot of our communities. It’s much too easy to get shut in to our own little houses and our own little lives and forget about others out there.

So how do we change these things? I freely admit I am not the best person at communicating with my neighbors, and that is something I need to work on. While I practice that, I also am working on skills I feel are essential to making a home run better.

Why would you bother learning these things?

It seems like a lot of the traditional food people I encounter online have embraced the model of one spouse at home and one who goes out to work, so maybe this post is preaching to the choir. But maybe some of you don’t follow this model. You may live alone, or in a partnership where you both work. Maybe you’re tired of having to hire out to take care of a lot of your domestic business and want to save some money as well as learning how to take care of your home by yourselves.

This post is for you. Consider it a checklist for things you can possibly do on your own, and things you can learn to do on your own. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it’s likely you can find instructions for just about anything here which you don’t know how to do on your own. Or you could also ask someone in your neighborhood for help…

This is a list of some of the things I think are essential to know about taking care of a house. Some are little, some not so little. Some are things I am still working on learning, so don’t take this as a list of stuff I know how to do.

Oh, for those of you who have been here for a while, why yes I AM fond of making lists.

How to balance a checkbook (because you can’t always count on the balance in your online banking to be accurate)
How to create a budget

Cooking and Food
How to cook a basic meal from scratch
Making up a meal plan
How to re-purpose leftovers
Buying items in a more economical fashion (a good thing to know if you buy grass-fed and pastured meat, which can run more than your average supermarket cut)

How to clean your house without caustic cleaners (Water, baking soda, vinegar, bleach, and ammonia in your arsenal and you can tackle almost any stain. I’m also partial to Bon Ami)
How to properly do laundry

Home maintenance
The basics of using tools like a hammer and screwdriver
How to use a plunger

Clothing maintenance
How to sew a hem and mend a tear
How to properly iron

Car maintenance
How to add fluids and which ones are OK to add on your own
How to change a tire

And the most important one of all: Know when you can potentially do something yourself, and when to source outside help.

What’s on your essential list? Are there any domestic skills you’d like to tackle?

Come join the conversation on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

I’m sharing this post at Traditional Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Fresh Bites Friday, and Monday Mania.

28 responses to “Basic domestic skills everyone should know

  1. Oh, heavens, that’s a Sunbeam Mixmaster on the counter. My grandmother had one. They’ve mostly gone the way of the dodo in these days of KitchenAids. And I think it’s a heat diffuser on the back burner.

    I would add: how to maintain the vacuum cleaner. Between changing bags, replacing belts, and getting hair and threads off the beater bar, a lot of people think theirs is broken when it isn’t.

  2. Agreed, @Rikibeth…

    A short summary of my awesomeness (and facetiousness, apparently) – I rebuilt my own VW Beetle from the ground up in high school. Being high school, everyone called me a lesbian (…because I know how to turn a wrench?). I still enjoy wrenching – will get another project car when we have more garage space. In the meantime, I use vinegar + hydrogen peroxide (in different bottles, one sprayed after the other) to clean (instead of 409), I save my bacon grease, render lard, Crossfit, eat grass fed meat and can’t wait till we have room for a chest freezer, garden organically (compost and lots of time weeding) and spin yarn and knit as hobbies. 😉

    Maybe when I’m older I’ll get a homestead. For now, I love living in the city!

    Great blog! Keep it up!

  3. I didn’t take home ec because I was going to college and the pressure was on to get more “academic” classes in, BUT I wish I had taken home ec and lots of it! I had a career for 13 years after college but now that I am a stay at home mom (and loving it), I’m mostly clueless and am trying to teach myself all this stuff! My dream is to stay home for as long as possible and to do that, I need to learn how to make the most of every dollar. I’m with you, bring back home economics classes!

  4. Michele, don’t worry–my graduation year was ’92 and I took home ec a couple times during my school “career”, and we didn’t learn half so much as we needed to learn. The class wasn’t much more than an interesting diversion from the rest of my day. So you may not have missed much.

    We have a community center near here and there are always classes going on. If I had a wide range of homemaking skills I’d consider teaching classes there. That’s a great way to do it. Yeah, you pay for the classes, but it’s usually somewhere between $15-$45 with or without a materials fee–affordable for most people.

    Oh and to this list I’d add “know how to check your credit reports” under Financial. We have more of a need to understand credit these days than we ever have. Awesome list though!

  5. Thanks everyone for your suggests. Got a reminder through the Facebook page which I wanted to add here. My best friend and I went to the same high school, but I generally took “advanced” classes, including math. Where I did things like geometry, trigonometry and pre-calculus, her math classes included how to balance a checkbook. Back then you could also still take classes in typing (yes typing!) and bookkeeping. Practical things to potentially serve you through life. I still love math, but quadratic equations don’t come into it when I am keeping track of my money.

  6. Sandra Homemaker

    This is one (of the many) reasons we chose to homeschool our children. Many of our lessons incorporate academic concepts into our daily tasks around the house. I believe the most important things every child should learn (after reading and writing) are the everyday life skills including cooking, cleaning, and financial responsibility. You don’t get those in a classroom.

  7. All those skills are great to have. I would not say I learned them in school though, but through my mother or on my own. When I went off to college, I had a room mate who did not know how to clean or do her own laundry. Her mother embraced being a homemaker soo heartily that she did everything for her kids. I now make sure that I teach my kids how to do for themselves. Our school will give kids one semester of home-ec, but that is not long enough to learn the life skills we all need to have.

  8. I’m glad to say that Home Economics (along with her sister, Career and Technical Education) aren’t completely abandoned.

    My own school’s Home Ec department runs strong in Sewing, Cooking, Interior Design, and Child Development. I just wish there was an overall class. Maybe in the years to come? Plus, I know that among the career and technical student organizations here in California, there is one dedicated to Home Ec.

    And, well, I’m not gonna get into detail, because my love my own CTSO will require a blog of it’s own. ^.^;

  9. I’m putting my sixteen year old son through a Life 101 course and this more or less covers my list. Rock!

  10. Hello to everyone! I am new to yourblog and have just “liked” your page on FB.
    This has become one of my callings as well…and I’m 56! My children are grown and married now, but all are living close, so I have my 8 (at last count!) beautiful grandchildren to pass my newly learned skills down to! Two places that I know of that have free ongoing classes for learning new things are Lowe’s and Home Depot. They have a list of their upcoming classes in their stores. Also, A really wonderful blog that got me started thinking about all the skills we have lost in the last few decades, is written by a lovely Australian woman named Rhonda Hetzel. She has been at this for many years and the knowledge she has to share is priceless. I hope you will all check her out when you have time. Her blog address is http://www.down–to– ~Colleen~ in Pennsylvania~

  11. Sorry, I posted the wrong blog address for Rhonda. Here is the correct one:

  12. I took home ec when I was in junior high (note: not middle school =) and high school. I didn’t learn much to be honest.

    In junior high I made a pillow from a sewing kit. In high school, the cooking class taught us how to make cookies but not how to make a meal. I never learned to balance a checkbook or how to make a budget. I have no idea how to iron despite my mother in law showing me a bunch of times. I think I have a brain block!

    Wolf does the checkbook and we both resist the idea of a budget though we know it’s a good one. He’s teaching himself how to fix a motorcycle (you can follow the journey on twitter @wolf_tribal) he got for free. Like I said in my post at No Unsacred Place, I taught myself how to can and knit because those I asked didn’t know how to.

    Cooking is Wolf’s domain. I really don’t like to do so and it’s obvious in the meals I choose to cook. The daily maintenance of cooking is what gets me. I just find the whole process to be tedious. That said, I do a lot of bulk cooking: soups, stews, sauces, and the like.

  13. The school I went to didn’t do Home Ec in high school (apparently, they did it in 6th grade, and the boys took it too.), but we did have a required Economics class in our senior year that you had to pass to graduate.
    I admit, I knew how to balance a checkbook long before that class (thanks mom!), but they did at least cover it.

    And ironing is highly overrated.
    Unless you’ve got a job where you have to be seriously formal at all times (ugh. why?!), why waste your time on it? I refuse to own clothing that I can’t just hang in the bathroom while I’m showering if they get too wrinkly.
    I also don’t press seams when I’m sewing. Well, I do, but not with an iron. My thumbnail works just as well, and doesn’t involve electricity or another gizmo.

  14. This is an awesome post. We have lost these basic fundamentals from our grandparents. I remember my grandma teaching me how to sew, bake, and cook. My mom . . . not so much. It seems we lose this in each generation. I want to bring it back in mine! I think I am going to post about my grandma. I miss her and wish she were with us today. I didn’t appreciate her enough when she was alive.

  15. Well, not everyone follows the traditional path of staying home with the kids everyday while the other spouse slaves away at some 40 hour or more work week to support the spouse that doesn’t work.

    Okay, theres nothing wrong with learning Home Economics, but really you can learn a lot of those skills on your own or with another adult. School should probably be reserved for academics.

    • Kelli, I’m finally coming back to this. I work full time myself, and depending on what happens in the next few years, may keep going with that until retirement. I still think this is pretty important for people to know, and I’d love to show it’s possible to do these things even when working.

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  19. Reblogged this on My Foray Into Food Storage and commented:
    I found this great post written by a fellow blogger. It lists important basic skills all should have. Do you?

    Which of these is next on your “to learn” list?

  20. I teach Home Ec, so it still exists. However, it is few and far between these days. At the high school level, the skills are split into specific classes like culinary arts (cooking) and fashion design (sewing), etc. States are cutting these classes in public education more frequently, and I definitely don’t understand why. Here’s to my job lasting a long time!

  21. I am proud to say that I do (or can do) all of these things. I guess I’m a dinosaur, but I still find it hard to believe that many people don’t have these skills.

  22. When I was in high school in the ’60s, I wanted to take Home Ec. My dad said, “Home ec is for girls without mothers, and you have a mother.” Trouble was, my mother didn’t know all of those things…although she did teach me to sew and make jam and bake, she wasn’t much of a cook. She could hunt and skin a deer, however, and bring home clams from the beach. My son took “Senior Living Skills” his senior year, and they learned basic econ, how to prepare meals…they even planned a mock wedding (as the only boy in the class, he was the groom!). So the classes are still out there for students who choose them. And the rest of us need to learn on our own, or with help from our friends and community. – Fawn

  23. We had mandatory home ec and shop for boys AND girls. Home ec was for four years, grades 5-8. Shop was three years, grades 7-8. I learned so much and use it all today. I loved shop! I also remember when we learned how to write checks and balance a checkbook in math class, not sure what grade that was. Luckily my boys are already learning culinary and shop skills at home.

  24. Loved reading this! Thank you for sharing!

  25. Champagne & Vinyl

    Reblogged this on champagne & vinyl and commented:
    What a great read. Home Economics provides valuable and practical skills that go a long way in daily living. Life long skills! The more you know the better you are.

  26. This is a really great list! I’m single and work full time and I’m always surprised when friends ask how I have time or how I can be bothered to make all my meals. I think it’s really important to have the skills to look after yourself no matter what your stage in life! I recently posted about how I manage cooking for one!

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