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How to have a Regency Spring Clean -

How to have a Regency Spring Clean


19th century house maid

It's starting to feel like the world is waking up again. Though we have a little while yet until it truly feels like Spring, it's around this time of year I start to feel compelled to tidy up the nest before warmer days and longer nights truly arrive. I was inspired to look into how housekeeping worked in Jane Austen's time. In Jane Austen's novels, most of our protagonists, even the struggling Bennet family, have housekeeping help.

In the Regency period, any family that wanted to be seen as respectable would have employed some kind of help at home - probably at least a maid. Someone like Mr Darcy, with an estate as grand as Pemberley, would have had a great number of servants performing a great number of different roles, from cooking in the kitchen to cleaning out the stables. Unfortunately, today, most of us have to do all of our own cleaning, though thankfully none of us have to take on massive estates singlehanded. We also have lots of gadgets like vacuum cleaners and washing machines to help us along. However, I was wondering if we could use some of the organisational skills of a Regency housekeeper to help us have a good thorough Spring clean today. 

Being an early bird

THEN: Maids in the Regency would have had to rise early to ensure that the house was ready for the ladies and gentlemen of the house to have a smooth start to the day. This would have involved having the fires lit, with warm water prepared for the residents to ready themselves for the day. The cleaning of communal areas would also be done early, with a great deal of dusting and sweeping needing done to keep the place looking tip-top. I was interested to find out that one popular floor sweeping technique was to use damp used tea leaves to mop up dust on the floors, as it could be easily swept up without the dust just blowing up into the air and settling back onto the floor. 

NOW: Getting up early will give you plenty of time to get started on your clean and give you ample opportunity to tick everything off your list. Luckily, you are both maid and the Lord or Lady of your manor, so you don't have to prep the house for anyone but yourself (unless, of course, you have dependents). Take this time to ensure you have everything you need to do your clean - sponges, gloves, tea leaves (I'm kidding, but make sure you have any chemicals and products you need). Even the maid got to rest and have her breakfast, so make sure to fuel up for the rest of your day. 

Getting the job done properly

Rattan Carpet Beater

THEN: Before vacuum cleaning, it was much harder to stop dust and dirt building up in your carpets. This meant that every so often, the carpets had to be lifted for cleaning. Cleaning carpets was quite the full body work out. They would be hung over a sturdy tree branch or line and then whacked mercilessly until large plumes of dust shook free. 

NOW: Luckily, we no longer have to lift the whole carpet to clean it; however, it might be wise to occasionally do the same with any rugs you have around the house. Use something sturdy and wide like a frying pan or cricket branch to whack any stubborn dirt out of them. Otherwise, you might want to think about the slightly tougher jobs that don't need done as often. When was the last time you de-iced your freezer, or deep cleaned the oven? Now is a good chance to tick off a few of those big jobs for peace of mind. 

Make Do and Mend

THEN: We take cheap, replaceable basics for granted these days, but in the Regency period clothing was expensive, and needed to last, even for the more monied classes. It was a maid's job to mend and darn tears in clothing to ensure they could be worn and reworn. To spruce up clothes, new ribbons and trimmings might also be added to better suit new clothing. 

NOW: Tragically, most young people these days are no longer taught how to properly repair clothing, often just chucking things out as they tear or wear holes in them. When you are having your Spring closet clean out, consider whether or not a well-loved article of clothing is really for the bin! Could you stitch up a loose seam, or hem some raggedy jeans? There are plenty of tutorials to get you started available for free online. It doesn't really matter if you botch it the first couple of times, either, since you were initially planning on throwing it out! This video shows you how you might go about darning a sock thats worn out: 

Take Inventory

THEN: Larger Regency households with a more numerous staff would have employed a Housekeeper to manage the rest of the staff. This was likely an older unmarried woman looking for a respectable, stable job. The Housekeeper would ensure all of the cleaning jobs were properly delegated, that the cooking got done, and that everything ran smoothly. Vitally, she also made sure that the household had all the supplies they needed to keep things ticking over nicely, including food for the kitchens. 

NOW: I don't know about you, but I don't tend to think about my supplies of various different things until I run out of them. Imagine how much stress you could save by making sure you have a good supply of the basics to keep you going. It doesn't have to be anything fancy - an extra tube of toothpaste, some fresh electric toothbrush heads, a big bag of dried pasta. Just making sure you're not constantly having to run little errands could make the fruits of your Spring clean even more plentiful.

What do you think? Do you think that you could draw inspiration from Regency housekeeping?

Ellen White is editor of the Jane Austen Centre blog. She would love to hear from you! Check out our Submission Guidelines and get in touch.

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