Mrs Beeton's Top Tips for the Modern Housewife

by - Friday, January 16, 2009

Back in 1861, Isabella Beeeton wrote The Book of Household Management which quickly became a staple text for housewives of the time. It may surprise you to learn that Mrs. Beeton was in her early twenties, a journalist not long married when she embarked on the creation of this epic text in response to her own question: why had no-one written a manual for wives to explain how to conduct the household after marriage?

Even today, much of Mrs. Beeton's advice holds true. Underlying the principles of modern housewivery are several of her sayings and kitchen maxims - though their meaning may be interpreted slightly differently for the 21st century woman.

Here are the best of Mrs. Beeton's tips, with their interpretations for the modern housewife and mother:

There is no work like early work

If you begin housework early in the day, you can finish sooner and enjoy an evening of relaxation (either with your loved ones, your favorite book or movie and wine with your friends).

Starting work as soon as you wake up is particularly useful for today's working parents: rather than have a mountain of housework to accomplish when you walk in tired and hungry from your day's employment, you could instead arrive home to a home already clean and organized with very little to do before dinner is made and eaten.

It's not only good housewifery, it's good for the soul to have personal time free from the toils of keeping house!

A good manager looks ahead

Don't let the wording of this maxim confuse you! As a housewife or mother, you are the manager of your household in the same manner as a landlady manages a hotel.

By looking ahead, you can ensure you are organized and well-prepared for any eventuality. From maintaining a diary or calendar of events to laying out your clothes in preparation for the next day, forward-planning can save you time, energy and even money.

Clear as you go. Muddle makes more muddle.

This is a lesson I wish I could have learned from my mother many years ago. Despite having seen how effectively she cleaned up after herself every day of my childhood, the actual reason why eluded me until quite recently when the proverbial light-bulb lit up above my head!

If you leave all your cleaning-up to be done in one session, you will be faced with a mountain of cleaning which can make you feel even less inclined to complete! Instead, cleaning up as you go means you achieve this in small, bite-sized chunks. Your home will appear cleaner, even while you are cooking or have your mind on other tasks.

Not to wash plates and dishes soon after makes more work

Simply put, if food on plates and cookware is left to dry and harden it will take more time and effort to clean them.

Try to at least rinse the food off plates soon after dining to make it easier for yourself later.

Dirty saucepans filled with hot water begin to clean themselves

This one leads on from the previous tip and is one of the best advices for cleaning the kitchen I have encountered. My friend recommends leaving these saucepans on the still warm hob (or on a low heat of sauce is already baked on) filled with very hot water and a drop of washing up liquid. By the time you have cleared the table and washed the other dishes, your saucepans will require only light cleaning as the cooked on sauce will literally slide off.

Spare neither borax nor hot water in washing up greasy articles

Hot water is essential: not only will this help in the cleaning process, the heat helps dishes to dry themselves, forsaking the need for drying by hand (which when you think about it, is unhygienic, due to germs passing from your tea-towels back to the plates and saucepans).

Borax - while considered old fashioned - is an excellent cleaning solution which is much more environmentally friendly than most washing-up detergents. I discovered this after reading Anthea Turner's book where she recommends it highly, though there was no mention of where it may be purchased!

If you are looking to buy borax, try your local Wilkinsons or Boots store (you'll likely find it near the cleaning products, sensitive washing-up liquid, etc.) though it's not available to purchase from either online store. Alternatively you can buy in bulk from

But of course, if you are blessed with a dishwasher there is no need to wash by hand ;)

A place for everything, and everything in it's place.

While this maxim may seem like common sense, applying this to every aspect of your home can work wonders and ensures your house virtually cleans itself!

Now personally, I am not a naturally tidy person (and the other members of my family are even worse!), but I have discovered this maxim to be the most important and helpful saying to ensure a tidy house for the following reasons:
  • If something does not have a definite "place" in your home, it is clutter and should be disposed of/recycled/given away
  • If something is lying around, it is not in it's place and should be put away.
  • Every time you get something out, put it back as soon as you have finished using it (this applies to all members of your household too!)
While these things cannot automatically make your home clean, it will make it tidy, and homes which are tidy are a breeze to clean!

Final thoughts

Although Mrs Beeton's maxims are almost 150 years old, their principles still echo true in the hearts and minds of today's modern housekeeping experts. Being something of a book-lover, I gorge books such as Anthea Turner's Perfect Housewife and Claire Coulson's House Rules and have found to my delight that when we read between the lines of these pages, Mrs Beetons original maxims still hold true.

If you would like to read the original Household Management text, you can find this online at or on Google's Book search; download this as an eBook from Project Gutenberg or spoil yourself with a hard copy from Amazon.

I hope you have found Mrs Beeton's lessons as useful as I do. Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below.

Image credits: Mrs Beeton book cover by Joan Thewlis, Calendar by Patrick Haney, Washing the dishes by K0P, Kitchen Counter by Evelynishere. All via Flickr Creative Commons.

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