From 1950s ‘Domestic Goddess’ To Modern Day Maverick: How Cleaning Routines Have Changed Over Time
- Author Alex Belsey
- Published February 9, 2021
- Word count 2,509
Taking care of the space we call home is human nature. There is evidence as early as Neanderthal times that we were decorating our caves with ornaments, and painting on walls to share stories and entertain loved ones.
Nowadays, we are more likely to be fending off unwanted phone calls than a predator in the wild, but our drives when it comes to our home remain the same.
We may be more sophisticated with the resources at our disposal, but there is one thing we’re lacking more than ever before.
Our busy lives have evolved in such a way that they have shaped how we clean and take care of our home. Many of us are juggling commitments like a family, full-time job, part-time business, social life, and community activities — all in the same week!
Previous decades were exceptionally houseproud, and now is no different. But currently we are emphasising speed and convenience, all the while having the option to call in an experienced professional.
In this article, we’re taking a light-hearted trip through time.
You’ll see how the glamorous homemakers of the 1950s often hid a dark secret; how the swinging sixties, seventies, and ambitious 80s all experienced fluctuations both inside the home and out; and how the 90s, 2000s, and post-2010 society became ‘time poor’.
Time poorness is a term that refers to the feeling of being constantly busy with no time to do what we want — even if we have income at our disposal. It has led to a society-wide shift seeking the fastest and most convenient ways to get things done.
There is perhaps no better way to explore fun historical facts than looking closest to home — i.e. within the home itself! Our cleaning routines may be a normal daily occurrence for us, but they are also a wider comment on changing society…
THE DOMESTIC GODDESS: 1950s Household Bliss
The Context: The war is over. Two wars, in fact. And it’s the dawn of a new era of domestic bliss. Women had been working to support the war effort on the Homefront, but with men having arrived home from combat, there was pressure to return to traditional roles.
The feminine silhouette became defined by hourglass dresses, painted red lips, and perfectly coiffed hair. Men were sharply dressed in suits, and worked dutifully in new corporate jobs to provide all the lifestyle accoutrements they were bombarded with by advertisers.
New cleaning products were designed for the houseproud, for whom ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ was of paramount importance. Publications like The Good Wife’s Guide made it clear that a woman had to put on a happy face, whether she truly wanted to or not.
But this relentless pressure to achieve perfection had dark consequences. Many housewives (and their husbands) became depressed, anxious, and unfulfilled.
The Cleaning: A housewife’s cleaning routine was extensive. She would often rise early and finish late. Perfectly crisp white laundry had to be achieved by hand. Carpets and flooring had to be immaculate on a daily basis — even with young children running around.
Dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and other ‘mod cons’ were not always accessible to the everyday woman, but this was no excuse in the 1950s. Dusting, sweeping, and returning the house to perfect condition by the time hubby was home was a daily obligation.
Housewives had to work their way down a cleaning list that many would be exhausted just from reading! And don’t forget — there had to be a smile on their faces at all times too.
Things had to change…
THE TIMES THEY ARE A’ CHANGING: 1960s, 70s, And 80s Upheaval
The Context: Welcome to the swinging 60s! The Beatles were blasting out of every radio, the Civil Rights Movement changed lives, the war in Vietnam raged on, and we put a man on the moon. It’s no wonder that this iconic decade is regarded as one of disruption!
People were making waves at home, abroad… and beyond! In terms of housekeeping, this was the case too. The 1950s cleaning routine had exhausted many, and new alternatives were sought.
But the mindset of a previous time was still very influential. Studies indicate that women in the 1960s still spent a staggering 44 hours a week cleaning and maintaining their homes! That’s more than the average full-time working week today.
The Cleaning: The cleaning routine of the 1960s had simplified, however. Many housewives opted to simply get rid of the items that required additional cleaning — such as rugs, shelf liners, and unnecessary covers.
This led to a more functional, minimalistic appearance in the home in terms of furniture, allowing for more expression through patterns and colour.
There was also a new, frank dialogue around the pressures of cleaning, popularised by Peg Brack-en’s irreverent The I Hate to Housekeep Book in 1962. Women were seeking greater freedom…
The Context: What’s that I hear? The brave battle cry demanding equality for women? It must be the 70s! First-wave feminists took to the streets. Scarface was on the screens of our cinemas, David Bowie rocked an array of iconic looks… but the house still needed to be cleaned.
With all the excitement and change in the air, housework was becoming a bore and even a symbol of oppression.
The Cleaning: As homemakers sought greater freedom and more time for themselves, they turned to professionals. Studies indicate that cleaning businesses and services began to flourish in this decade.
Housekeeping staff had traditionally been reserved for the wealthy elite, but were now far more accessible. With many women choosing to work, or simply desiring more time with family and friends, hiring a professional became a great solution.
Many women still undertook a lot of cleaning — including with products and gadgets that were now more commonplace than previous decades. There was also more personalisation of cleaning products such as dishwashers that available in colours like ‘Avocado Green’ or ‘Harvest Gold’
Homemaking magazines like Good Housekeeping still had a circulation of millions. But in this decade, more than ever before, those entrusted with the housework began seeking more choice, time, and support…
The Context: Struggling to fit your mobile phone in your hand, let alone your pocket? That’s because the year is 1980!
This decade saw the turmoil of the Miners’ Strike, the pulsating beats of synthpop, big hair, big shoulder pads, and of course, big mobile phones. But there were also big changes at home.
The consumerism of the 1980s meant that homeowners were more inclined than ever before to buy household gadgets that would speed up the process. Perhaps this was the change that got more men involved too…
The Cleaning: More modern appliances were used to help in the home, including dishwashers, floor polishers, vacuum cleaners, and more.
Now that both partners in a household couple were likely to be in the workplace, the division of housework became somewhat more balanced. The same studies also showed that while the housework imbalance started to even out around the 1980s, it has remained at about this level ever since.
Ease, speed, and the best new gadgets for cleaning were all favoured in the 80s. But with both partners now in the workplace, achieving balance was becoming key…
‘HAVING IT ALL’: The 90s & 2000s
The Context: Titanic was the blockbuster of choice, supermodels stalked the catwalk, Britpop and The Spice Girls blared from CD Walkmans, and the housework had to be balanced with all the fun.
In the 1990s, it became much more acceptable to demand teamwork in the housework and cleaning.
There was still evidence that women were doing the lions’ share and coming home to the ‘second shift’ — housework and childcare even after a day job — but a slow change continued and things were improving.
1990s mothers employed cleaners, childminders, and other professionals to help around the house.
The Cleaning: In line with the increasing demand for speed and convenience, the 1990s produced some iconic cleaning products that are still used today.
Aerosol air freshener, the Magic Eraser, hand sanitiser, and disinfectant wipes that can make clean-ing take mere minutes all have their origins in the 90s. People had started to achieve some of the balance, modernity, and convenience they craved…
The Context: It’s the Millennium! This decade (‘the noughties’) saw the opening of the Millennium dome, the breakout success of Ricky Gervais’ The Office, the election of the first-ever Black president of the United States, and the formation of the video platform sensation, YouTube.
It was a varied, fast-paced, and exciting time. This era also saw the rise of the desire to ‘have it all’ — a career, a family, a social life, hobbies, and disposable income. The strain to achieve this put many under enormous pressure, and the first casualty was often the housework.
Some more equality had been achieved in the housework, however, and even the decor and clean-ing style reflected that perfection was passé. Shabby chic was in. Open floor plans were also all the rage, reflecting the desire for relaxed entertaining and a balanced home life.
Anyone cooking in the kitchen was no longer isolated slaving over a hot stove, for example. They were a part of the fun going on in the lounge too. Cleaning routines and the home design itself both reflected the wish to achieve balance.
The Cleaning: Cleaning in the noughties became high-tech. A beautiful home was still something that many aspired to, but with a career and family to manage it couldn’t take too much time and effort.
Dyson products became something of a status symbol, with technology that attempted to make vac-uuming the house look like a stylish choice rather than a chore! Roombas made their debut in this decade too, roaming the home vacuuming while their owners put their feet up, or else furthered their careers.
Technology was starting to become an essential part of the easy, convenient, and frictionless clean-ing routine that people had always desired…
MODERN DAY MAVERICK: Post-2010 To Now
The Context: Everything is online! The ‘Internet of Things’ means that the 2010s are characterised by being a truly digital age.
Smartphones are the new normal. Wireless devices, The Cloud, and internet roaming mean that we can stay connected even while outdoors and at social occasions — often much to the annoyance of our companions.
Studies have shown, however, that while the rise of social media may initially have connected us to one another, it is now creating greater isolation and anxiety than ever before.
Other societal shifts have aimed for a positive impact, however. Many industries are pushing for greater diversity and inclusion, and protecting the environment has become a major talking point. Movements like Me Too and others have also made waves.
In line with our digital lifestyles, some of the biggest stars of the decade were made on the internet. Bloggers and social media ‘influencers’ are some of the era’s highest-paid personalities.
The digital influence isn’t just on entertainment, however. It permeates our whole lifestyle at home too.
Smart devices count our steps for our fitness, dating apps take care of our love lives, social media is the new way of ‘catching up’ with a friend — and even our homes themselves are becoming ‘smart’.
Many homes can now be run almost entirely through apps that control heating, lighting, sound systems, and more.
The demand for increased time is enormous. Free time is, in many ways, considered the new wealth.
Advice like ‘Work smarter, not Harder’ and books like The 4 Hour Work Week not only emphases delegation of the workload where possible; they also preach the benefits of the intentional use of time rather than frittering it away.
The desire in the 2010s is still to work hard, but it’s even stronger to work ‘smart’.
The Cleaning: We are arguably a more equal society than ever before. It is now commonplace to divide, delegate and share the cleaning among the whole household — whether that is a mix of flatmates, a married couple, cohabiting partners, a single parent, or any other variation.
Magazines like Good Housekeeping or other homemaking guides may be out of fashion for some, but there is still inspiration to be found online. Many popular YouTube channels, for example, have tips and tricks on how to maintain a clean home.
Even clean-along-with-me videos mean that those engaged in housework can have a ‘buddy’ on their laptop or phone screen while they clean!
It has also been recognised that more people than ever also work from home in remote jobs, mean-ing that their space is also their place of work as well as their sanctuary. Keeping these areas clean and organised, then, becomes more important than ever.
Cleaning now is characterised by being smart and effective. Timers are set, wireless headphones provide convenient background noise, and schedules are quick, accessible, and intended to fit around modern routines.
There is also a greater demand for housework to be taken out of the homeowner’s hands entirely.
Cleaning gadgets are advanced and interactive. Many can even be accessed from a smartphone or tablet device, meaning that the housework can be taken care of before the resident even returns home!
Robot vacuum cleaners can now record and learn from the dimensions of your home and even adapt their suction to suit changes of flooring type. Smart heating, energy saving lightbulbs, and self-cleaning devices can also minimise the time spent on general housekeeping.
Cleaning products themselves have also come to reflect the specific demands of consumer lifestyles rather than a ‘one style fits all’ approach.
The Zero Waste movement, for example, emphasises repeated use and repurposing, as well as us-ing natural or biodegradable materials in the home in an effort to be more environmentally responsible.
Cleaning companies are also making an effort to cater to consumers with allergies or ethical pref-erences, providing vegan and ‘cruelty-free’ options as well as products free from harsh chemicals or allergens.
And as concerns over the environment grew ever more pressing in recent years, far more aware-ness now exists of how being eco-friendly around the home can help to protect the planet as a whole, when enough households maintain certain cleaning routines.
The divide of cleaning and housework has finally achieved more balance too, and it varies more widely from household to household as our roles and relationships diversify.
Many people are also choosing to spend money rather than time on their housework to achieve fan-tastic results too. Households will often hire professional cleaners to achieve the very best results.
This can be especially important for services such as ‘deep cleaning’, specialised jobs like flooring restoration, or even the all-important End of Tenancy Agreement cleaning.
Now, cleaning routines continue to shape — and be shaped by — societal norms.
Through sharing the workload, making use of professional cleaners, and understanding how a clean space helps keep us happy and healthy, the ‘modern-day maverick’ can maintain both a clean home and a happy, satisfying life.
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