Mad Women: Vintage Housekeeping Hints from the Atomic Age

April 3rd, 2012

Before there was Martha, before Gwyneth, there was Heloise.

Yesterday’s post about spring cleaning reminded me of this bit of “found” humor, vintage housekeeping hints, published to my first blog several years ago. I thought it was ripe for a repost. The annotations are mine, but the quoted material is unaltered.  And absolutely priceless. I wonder what the D-I-Y and homemaking blogs of today will read like tomorrow? 


vintage housekeeping hints from Heloise

The contemporary Heloise, the beautiful silver-haired lady most of us recognize from the syndicated column “Hints from Heloise,” is actually the daughter of the original Heloise, who began publishing housekeeping hints in 1959. I am sure she was thoroughly delightful. The times must have been insane, as evidenced by the following gems taken from her 1961 booklet,

Heloise’s Housekeeping Hints


with Love, Affection and Understanding!

 On General Housekeeping:

If you have a phobia or allergy…naturally sweep under your bed everyday.”

A phobia of what? Monsters under the bed? Or it’s a general phobia and you need to hide there?

“Keep in mind…the second wife ALWAYS has a maid!”

Note to self: ALWAYS be the second wife.

“Remember the paper sack, girls, it’s used for so many things.”

Like screaming into.

“May I remind you once again: that house will be there long after you are dead and buried. Funny, how houses outlive us!”

Ha-ha! Ha. Excuse me while I go sweep under my bed in an act of obsessive-compulsive self-soothing. And then crawl under it.

“Dig into Closets:”

“Wait until you are mad! This is the best time to clean. You will say to yoursef, ‘I have kept this dress for two years thinking that I would remake it, but I am mad today so why not throw it out?'”

Stuff your anger (in paper sacks) to save for cleaning day.

Once dug out of closets

“you will have this thought in your mind: ‘Now I am ready in case I get sick or have a party, I will be prepared so that strange people in my kitchen won’t talk about me.'”

Sweep for phobias; dust for paranoia.

On Laundry:

“DID YOU KNOW that table cloths can be bought now in pure dacron?”

But in case you are stuck with natural fibers, Heloise offers this innovative, labor-saving alternative to ironing: hanging the laundry on a line, then blasting the wrinkles out with the garden hose and letting it drip dry.

Here is her hint for what then to do with the hosed, dry laundry:

“Put a sheet on the floor in front of the TV! This is Saturday night and the entire family will be there. Leave the clothes there…Psychologically, all the clothes that they have used during the week will be in front of their noses. Whether they are aware of it or not…they will absorb it. They are proud of that stack of clean clothes.”

If not, next Saturday night, put all the dirty clothes in front of the TV. And the dishes, too. Psychologically, this is bound to have an impact.

If not,

“A child’s little wagon is a wonderful aid if you have no one to help you.”

By “aid,” I assume she means “critical warning sign.”

“Mending Made Easy:”

“Now is the time, if you have a daughter, to teach her how to sew her own buttons on! She will love it. Why! Because daddy is there to see her show off.”

Best to have her stand in front of the TV, on the middle of the sheet piled with the laundry and the dishes.

“How to Have a Whiter Wash:”

“…add your bleach and you detergent to your hot water. If you have Pine Sol in the house, add some of that…Lysol is just as good.”

Lighter fluid, anti-freeze…anything that has a skull and cross bones on the bottle. Just toss it all in.

I appreciated this comforting aside:

“And don’t feel bad about not ironing underwear. It is an accepted fact today that not one man in a hundred whose wife has children wears ironed underwear.”

Heloise suggests that if you must, you can remove wrinkles from your husbands boxers with the garden hose set to a light sprinkle. For futher time saving, I suggest you do this while he is wearing them.

And don’t overlook that versatile household gadget, the toilet plunger! Use it to “wash mens socks and all sorts of hand washing in the kitchen sink!”

Sink? Why not right in the toilet bowl? Let the flush box do the rinsing!

Exhausted yet? Well,

“Have another cup of coffee, little laundress, and let’s get something done.”

Because everything until now was just a warm-up. I have to wonder just what the atomic age housewife’s engine was running on, especially when Heloise observes,

“Have you ever noticed how rested you feel after dinner when the dishes are done? This is the time to do some of your hard, time consuming chores.”

Such as…

“Paint Your Kitchen:”

“This is best done when your husband is home. Why? If he won’t help you at least he can see how hard you have worked!”

Passive-aggressive tactics are marvelous for producing anger to stuff for future closet cleaning sessions.

“Cleaning the Bathroom:”

“…but to save money and energy and get the best shine possible use an old washcloth slightly saturated with kerosene…the kerosene odor leaves in a few minutes.”

Best not to do this while smoking.

“Alcohol is cheap, it removes soap film and leaves no water spots. But best of all, it is usually kept in the bathroom cabinet.”

The laundry hamper is also a good place to hide it.

“THE HOUSES will be here long after we wives are dead. Why kill yourself over them? I can think of lots better ways to die!”

Interesting, because Heloise was a fan of two household chemicals in particular:

“Rubbing alcohol is the most wonderful thing invented since tranquilizers.”

Which would explain this crafty pattern for

Heloise Sack Blouse:

“For cleaning house, make a Heloise Sack Blouse from an old bath towel. Fold towel in half, sew up sides, leave opening for arms, make opening for neck. Don’t forget the pockets! Grand for housework. Needs no ironing. Cool in summer, doesn’t show water spots, etc. Towels make good shorts, too.”

Now, put on your bath towel outfit, pile all the hosed laundry onto a sheet on the living room floor, pour kerosene, rubbing alcohol, bleach, and lysol into the washing machine. Add your pure dacron tablecloths, and run.


1960s housework

Woman beating rug, from the Netherlands National Archives.

7 Responses to “Mad Women: Vintage Housekeeping Hints from the Atomic Age”

  1. Leigh says:

    Oh, this made me laugh out loud at my desk! Can you imagine even having to DECIDE whether or not to iron your husband’s underwear? Can you imagine a husband who would EXPECT it?! *shudder*

  2. Tamara says:

    Great post Kyran! What happens to that pile in front of the TV, when the dog comes in to lie on top of everything?? Then your back to the damn garden hose – but wait, no – maybe warrants a quick trip to the closet for some anger mangement, or should I be sweeping under the bed? WHO’S THE HARRIED HOUSEWIFE NOW HELOISE ????? 🙂

  3. Cid says:

    Can’t stop laughing at work. I’m going to go straight home to make a towel shirt and shorts to greet my hubby in tonight. Wasn’t that the other thing that housewives were always encouraged to do – greet the man of the house in a fresh outfit, a smile and martini?

  4. Paint when the husband is home? Oh, hellz no. He’ll disagree with the color. I’ve found it best to pain when he’s away, but to not finish it. Then promise an exchange of carnal pleasure for his doing the details. He’ll be too tired to actually cash in, of course!

  5. Diane says:

    You are hilarious! I can’t stop laughing. The sack blouse is just too much!

  6. Corrie says:

    “The laundry hamper is also a good place to hide it.” I am at my desk crying right now. I hope my boss doesn’t show back up. I was having a funky day and I needed a good laugh. Thanks. Now I am sending it on to my sister…the Allen girls aren’t known for their housekeeping skills. 🙂

  7. Marie says:

    The book my mom had while I was growing up was the I-Hate-To-Clean-House-Book, but this is much crazier. Hysterical! I’m sitting here giggling in disbelief. Really drives home that that era had a lot of unreasonable (ridiculous!) expectations of women. Although when I once expressed my distain for the ironing era, my mother wisely nodded – “yeah, but back then, we didn’t have polyester blends.” Now I regularly give thanks for no-iron poly blends and cotton knits.

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