# cleaning tips # cooking tips

15 Life-Changing Homemaking Tips I Learned from the Little House on the Prairie Books

Welcome back to my homemaking series here on The Daily Connoisseur. This time, I have a fun diversion for us. Many of you know that I recently finished reading the entire Little House book series to my children. It took us around 10 months to complete this read-aloud as we read one chapter a night (2 nights off a week). If you have children, I strongly encourage you to read this series to them. They will be fascinated with the real-life stories and adventures that Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder faced back in the pioneer days.

While reading to my daughters, I took notes of all of the rich homemaking inspiration I could take from the books. I gathered my notes over the past months and finally have them to present to you today. So here we go... 15 life-changing homemaking tips I learned from The Little House on the Prairie series.

Please note that Farmer Boy (book 2) will have its own video as that book had so much information in it... For now, let's just focus on Laura and her family...

The following list below details only some of the references I discuss in the video. For a complete discussion of all references, please watch today's video.

15 Life-Changing Homemaking Tips I Learned from the Little House on the Prairie Books

🍂 Tip 1: Routine framed their day Daily life was not particularly exciting, but routines framed the day in an enjoyable way:

In the mornings after the chores and the housework was done, Laura and Mary studied their books. In the afternoons Ma heard their lessons. Then they might play or sew their seams, till time to meet the herd and bring Spot and her calf home. Then came chores again and supper and the supper dishes and bedtime. - On the Banks of Plum Creek p. 270

🍂 Tip 2: Housework was done first Housework was always at the top of the to-do list and even took place before the children had school.
“So, after the housework was done, Laura and Carrie and Mary studied their lessons and then settled down to sew while Ma read to them.” - The Long Winter p. 97

🍂 Tip 3: Cleanliness and good grooming were priorities It can be hard to keep children looking clean and well-groomed. Back in Laura's day, presentation of the home and presentation of self was very important.
“Ma cooked and cleaned and mended and helped Mary and Laura with their lessons. They did the dishes, made their bed, and swept the floors, kept their hands and faces clean and neatly braided their hair." - On the Banks of Plum Creek p. 296

🍂 Tip 4: They wore aprons to preserve their clothing
"Set the table, Laura," Ma said quietly, tying on her apron. Mrs. Boast put on an apron too, and they were all busy, poking up the fire, setting the kettle to boil for tea, making biscuits, frying potatoes, while Mr. Boast talked to the visitors who stood in the way, thawing themselves by the stove." - By the Shores of Silver Lake p. 216

🍂 Tip 5: They adjusted their routine for special occasions
"Breakfast was so merry in the warmth and stillness and light that the clock was striking half past eight before they finished, and Ma said, "Run along, girls. This one time I'll do your housework." - The Long Winter p. 133

"Pa came and ate the same supper of potatoes and bread with dried-apple sauce and tea and left the dishes unwashed and went to bed at once to save kerosene and coal." - The Long Winter p. 147

As you can see in both of these instances, the housework duties were either done by someone else due to special circumstances, or put off until the next day... but this was quite rare.

🍂 Tip 6: Work came before pleasure
"Work comes before pleasure," Ma always said (The Long Winter p. 173) This follows a rather long description of the house chores that they had to do, including activities such as washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, blackening the stove, and boiling the clothes.

🍂 Tip 7: They dealt with monotony with perseverance
In The Long Winter, many chapters dealt with the monotony that came along with eating the same food day in and day out. Hot boiled potatoes, a slice of bread and salt (p. 186) was the fare every single day. This would be incredibly troubling and they dealt with this harsh reality with a positive attitude and perseverance, looking toward spring.

🍂 Tip 8: They appreciated the small things
"How happy Laura was to fill the lamp, polish the chimney, and trim the wick." - The Long Winter p. 327
When you endure hardship, suddenly the small things seem very important and significant and are not taken for granted. I'm sure many of us can relate to that through this pandemic crisis.

🍂 Tip 9: They made looking presentable always a priority
"Clean and starched and dressed-up, in the morning of a weekday, they sat in a row on a bench in the waiting room while Ma bought the tickets." - By the Shores of Silver Lake p. 16

This was back when traveling was a cause for dressing well and good-grooming.

🍂 Tip 10: They took pride in their work
"After Laura and Mary had washed and wiped the dishes, swept the floor, made their bed, and dusted, they settled down with their books. But the house was so cosy and pretty that Laura kept looking up at it." - On the Banks of Plum Creek p. 301
Laura was proud of the work she did and took the time to admire it.

🍂 Tip 11: They acknowledged that good homemaking makes the house a haven

"It was so wonderful to be there, safe at home, sheltered from the winds and the cold. Laura thought that this must be a little like Heaven, where the weary are at rest. She could not imagine that Heaven was better than being where she was, slowly growing warm and comfortable, sipping the hot, sweet, ginger tea, seeing Ma, and Grace, and Pa and Carrie, and Mary all enjoying their own cups of it and hearing the storm that could not touch them here." - The Long Winter p. 94 - 95

🍂 Tip 12: Homemaking was enjoyable and they had a good attitude toward it

"All that day was such a happy time. Laura did her washing and sprinkled and ironed the clean, fresh clothes." - These Happy Golden Years p. 39

For Laura, washing and ironing was a "happy time". Attitude is everything when it comes to housework.

🍂 Tip 13: They never measured when they cooked
When Reverend Stuart asks Ma to write down one of her recipes, her response is: "Goodness!," said Ma. "I never measure, but I guess I can make a stab at it." - By the Shores of Silver Lake p. 221

They were so comfortable with their cooking and made their signature dishes so regularly, they never measured what went in... it was all by intuition.

🍂 Tip 14: They monetized their homemaking when they could
In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Ma opens the house to boarders with the intention of earning money to help pay for the homestead. This produced a lot of work for all of them, but they were thrilled with the extra money they made.

🍂 Tip 15: A bad homemaker's attitude is enough to ruin the atmosphere
"Mrs. Brewster let the housework go. She did not sweep out the snow that Mr. Brewster tracked in; it melted and made puddles with the ashes around the stove. She did not make their bed nor even spread it up. Twice a day she cooked potatoes and salt pork and put them on the table. The rest of the time she sat brooding. She did not even comb her hair, and it seemed to Laura that Johnny squalled with temper that whole week". - These Happy Golden Years p. 46

When Laura was a guest in Mrs. Brewster's home, she experienced first-hand that a bad homemaker's attitude can sour the experience for everyone in the house. Everyone walked on pins and needles around Mrs. Brewster, who had a very negative temperament.

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cherls15 writes, "Hello, I am a single mum and I work part time. When I am at work, I give it my all and when I at home, I give it even more. It's just me and my son and sometimes it feels very sad for me as I wanted to cook great meals for my husband and 3 kids. However, it turned out to be just me and my son. I give him all of me and our home life. I also love great food and baking and ensuring we have a clean,neat and organized home. Even though you have a husband and four kids which I wanted but don't have, watching your videos brings me some relief and lifts my loneliness and longing. I feel prouder of myself when seeing you as you confirm to me that also staying at home and not working lots and lots of hours, it is the right thing for my son. Thank you. Lol I am not as elegant as you...! But I have that elegance within me too. Thank you again."

Cherls15, you are doing a wonderful job and your son is blessed to have you as his mama. Don't be hard on yourself and keep up the amazing work. You inspire me!

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Polly said...

This was an interesting video to listen to while I did my morning work! I loved these books as a child and it was so fascinating to re-read them to my children. (As a child I adored Pa, but as an adult I am very glad I didn't marry him!! A few times I just felt such empathy for Ma...but their family was so sweet and solid, even with the hardships and mistakes.) I enjoy juxtaposition of Laura's childhood with Almanzo's, too.

Chores before school is how we do things here as well! It just makes so much sense to me! And I had to laugh at the "never measure" tip because that is how I cook/bake the vast majority of the time. I keep a typed "cheat sheet" of most most common baking recipes on the inside of the cabinet just above where I do my food prep, and if I need to refer to it, I will, but most of them are seared into memory and I can make them blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back. It is a great help to my homemaking!

I don't fully agree with the monetization, though. My impression was that Ma did that when it came to her, simply because she didn't want to rudely refuse the men, but she realized she couldn't lose money on hospitality, and it was fair to charge a bit for her work. So she saw a way to not just break even, but put a little bit aside. The enormous relief she felt when she *didn't* have to do host the travelers indicated to me that earning money from hosting travelers was something she probably hoped to never, ever do again! I can understand that, too. There's something so sacred and personal about home!

When I was in my 30s I was learning the ropes as a housekeeper (having been trained for academia, not homemaking), and reading vintage fiction was extraordinarily helpful to me. It created my vision. Grace Livingston Hill novels in particular (Homing, The Honor Girl, and so many others) were windows into another era and they taught me so much more than I could have possibly learned anywhere else other than at the feet of an experienced homemaker. The Little House books have so many lovely lessons! We are reading Little Women now (my 13 year old son already read it and said it's his all-time favorite book!), and I'm gaining so much wisdom from it as an adult that I never even saw as a child!

Mystery Reader said...

You may wish to explore the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder more thoroughly. Caroline Fraser wrote a detailed Award winning biography, Prairie Fires, that explores Laura’s life from childhood to old age. The Little House series is lovely but it is classified as fiction for children. Laura’s real life was far more complex and interesting. Her childhood wasn’t as romantic as portrayed in her children’s books.

ednagrace said...

Hi Jennifer!

I love this post! I read the Little House books to my daughter when she was little, we enjoyed them so much. I actually have a homemaking take-away from one of the books as well. I don't recall, but it might have been from Little House In The Big Woods (?), when Laura talked about getting up in the morning, turning down the beds to let them air out, having breakfast, and then going back to make them afterward. It inspired me to do the same, and I have been doing it ever since (many years have gone by, my daughter is now 24!).

The Little House series is truly a treasure. Did you know there's The Little House Cookbook as well? It's by Barbara Walker, and is really fun. So many sweet recipes and stories, I think you and your daughters would enjoy it.

Thank you for such an enjoyable post; it's nice to be in the company of others inspired by these great books!

Sharon said...

The Little House on the Prairie books were a huge part of my childhood, and I have them all in hard cover. I never enjoyed the TV series, however, because I felt that it was a highly romanticized depiction of the Ingalls family life - it didn't really communicate much of the "grit". My grandparents homesteaded in North Dakota (my father was born on the homestead in 1917), and Grandpa often told us stories of the the grasshopper plagues and blizzards that lasted for days: schoolteachers (women) burning all of the furniture in the schoolhouse and their living quarters before freezing to death, and other true and frightening events. My parents were children of the Great Depression, experiencing hunger and homelessness in rural America. With that additional background, I've never thought that the Little House books were "fiction" .... but a loving tribute to a family soldiering through life together, trying to make the best of some very tough circumstances. Having never experienced such deprivation or hardship myself, I have great respect and admiration for the Ingalls' tenacity and resilience.

Unknown said...

Hello Jen, I hope it's ok to call you Jen. I'm 65 years old and have just recently started watching your YouTube channel. I love it! I enjoyed today's video. I've never read the Little House On The Prairie books but have watched the series on television in the past and still would watch the reruns now and then. I'm interested in reading the books. As a child I would wake up early to help my mother with the housekeeping duties before going to school. I've always imagined myself living in the Pioneer era. I love the style of dress and housekeeping chores even though it was more demanding back then.

I emailed you a few weeks ago. I wanted to know which of your books should I read first. Hoping to hear from you soon.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Hi ladies, I loved reading your thoughtful and in-depth comments today. Thank you for watching the video and sharing your perspective.

Unknown, I thought I replied to your email. I apologize! The best book to start first is LESSONS FROM MADAME CHIC, followed by AT HOME, and then POLISH YOUR POISE.

Thank you for your contribution to this blog! Have a wonderful day.



jennede said...

Lots of good lessons there, but perhaps Mrs Brewster had depression/ a mental illness. In modern times we recognise that can be the case, in those days she was deemed lazy.

DD said...

My mother was very much a "work before fun" person and so was I when I reached adulthood. One BIG problem with the idea of no play until the work is done: the work is never done, and very little fun was ever had. When I retired I thought I should be able to do whatever I wanted. Instead, at first I was working ALL the time because ... gotta get that work done before you can play! Trouble is as soon as you dust, the dust starts settling again, there are always dirty clothes, dirty dishes, dirty floors, etc., being created. Now I use a system much like Flylady and others -- rotate through the rooms/chores, each day doing what I can get done in a set amount of time. When the time is up, I stop working and start having fun. Is there more work to be done? Of course there is, but I'll get it next time. I do a little every day (well, almost every day) and I would feel comfortable welcoming guests almost any day. My "work" is based on routines, chore lists, and doing enough to maintain. I'm having a lot more fun now.

lisa said...

Hi Jennifer! I'm so glad you posted about these books. I loved your thoughts! I just finished listening to them on audiobook with my two youngest. We have listened several times to this series on audible, and Cherry Jones does an absolutely fantastic job narrating. I cannot recommend it enough!

Polly said...

What a good point! I have to temper my desire to work first as well—because you’re right, the work is never done! Reasonable routines and expectations help with this. If TODAY’S work is done—that’s enough! “Play” is so important, too.

Jo said...

Hi Jennifer, I LOVE this post and am happily looking forward to the one on "Farmer Boy". Several years ago I compiled a list of all my favorite quotes of Ma and Pa from the series. (Oh, there's a post idea for you!)

RE: the comment from 'Mystery Reader' - no offense to that person, but I do believe we are all aware of the fact that this series was written as children's fiction. That being said, the world needs happiness and light now more than ever, not digging up whatever negativity we can find - real or imagined. Remember, Jennifer read these books TO HER CHILDREN. I've read most of the adult books about Caroline and Laura, but I'll always come back to the original series. It still outshines the rest for me!

P.S. Jennifer, please let us know about your washing machine. I am so curious because every once in a while, I get little dirt particles coming out on my clean clothes, exactly the way you described in a previous video. Thanks!

Pam said...

I loved this article I grew up watching "Little House" on TV and it always brings back wonderful memories. I would highly recommend the Anne of Green Gables series for you and your daughters. I grew up with what could be could be called a "mild obsession" with the series as a young girl living in a the prairies (Northern Alberta) the idea of idyllic sea side villages still warms my heart and still hope to make the cross country trek to the "Island". My daughter (age 11) has recently discovered the stories and I fond my self again re-reading the series, still laughing and crying along with that lovely Anne girl.

“Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables