5 Household Helpers My Grandma Didn’t Have

Ivy says:

I’ve been reminded several times over the past weeks that I have an “unusually old” grandmother. She’s 91 which is pretty old, alright. She was born in 1917, which means the changes she has seen in her lifetime are amazing. She was born into a household with no electricity or indoor plumbing. By the time she was married in 1940, things had changed mightily. Their new “modern” age, however, was nothing compared to what we have now. What lessons can we learn from these changes? Let’s take a look.

Her own car

Grandma was married in 1940, but she didn’t learn to drive until 1943. So if she needed something from the store in the middle of the day when my grandfather was at work, she had to get on her MULE and go into town. Needless to say, this was more trouble than it was really worth, so she had to plan very carefully and make sure anything she might need from the store was bought when her husband took her to town on Saturdays.
Lesson learned?
Plan carefully. My grandmother taught me the most important step of baking is to make sure you have everything you need before you start.

Central heat and air

Every time we watch A Christmas Story, my dad laughs at the part where the dad is downstairs cursing at the furnace. Dad tells me about things called “clinkers” which is apparently leftover junk from the coal they used to heat their house. Heating a house back in those days took work. Needless to say, they didn’t keep their home at the toasty warm temperatures we generally keep our homes at today.
Lesson learned?
Do you really need to keep your house as warm as it is? Can you put on a sweater and set the temperature a few degrees lower? Save even more money by using a programmable thermostat to keep the house cooler while you aren’t home or as you sleep.


My grandma didn’t get a dishwasher until my uncle was old enough to stand at the sink. Seriously, though, she never did have an automatic dishwasher. I suppose to someone who had to use a pan of water heated on the stove as a child, just having a modern sink was pretty fabulous. She always had to make sure her dishes didn’t pile up or else she was in for a long time of washing, drying, and putting away.
Lesson learned?
Don’t let your dishes pile up. Just because you can knock all your dishes out with a load or two from the dishwasher doesn’t mean you need to let your dishes pile up. Clean as you go and you’ll have an easier time cleaning up.


Just this morning, I peeked into my mom’s refrigerator and saw leftover bacon. I’m always amazed at people who can have things like leftover bacon, since the locusts at my house can wipe out a package of bacon in 11 seconds flat. I popped the bacon in the microwave and in just a few seconds, I was enjoying tasty, tasty bacon. In my grandma’s day, there was no such thing as a microwave for fast and tasty leftover bacon. She’d have to wait while the oven heated and wait again while her food cooked. 
Lesson learned?
How much snacking do we do because we are spoiled with unlimited access to fast snacks? If we had to go through all the trouble my grandma did to have a tasty snack, we’d probably skip that tasty snack. Make a rule: The microwave is only for non-snack items.

Washing Machines (as we know them)
My grandma had in her basement one of those old fashioned wringer washing machines (just like the one in our header). I was always fascinated with it when I was a kid. She told me to be grateful for the washing machines we have today. This might be the single most time saving invention for housewives. Laundry used to be an entire day of hard, hard labor. And then you’d get to spend the next day ironing. Fun for all.
Lesson learned?
Be grateful that we have such a time saving device. I know a lot of people hate doing laundry, but how much more awful would it be if we didn’t have the machines we have today to save us time and labor?

Of course, I could go on all day with things my grandma didn’t have that we do- the internet, cell phones, etc, etc, etc. It makes me very glad to live in the times we do.

Tell me, home-eccers, what’s one modern invention you could not possibly live without?


  1. Jennifer on December 23, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Oh, and also those mesh bags that allow me to wash all of my “hand washables” in the machine. I don’t believe in hand washing. Honestly, not enough time; but I’ll be the first to admit how lazy I really am when it comes to household chores. I work enough at work. I don’t like to make work for myself for the short span of time I’m in my home.

    I’m enjoying reading everyone’s comments though. It’s certainly opened my eyes to how good we have it these days.

  2. Jennifer on December 23, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    The dishwasher is a virtual MUST! I had always had one until I was stationed in Germany in 2000 and lived off the military base, sharing a domicile with a Germany family (living in their upstairs apartment). There was only a tiny sink for doing the dishes, AND on top of that, no dishwasher.

  3. Jennifer on December 23, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    I think I’d find it difficult to do without that Swiffer brand substitution for the mop. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I absolutely hate to take the time to fill up the mop bucket and then wait for the floor to dry. The Swiffer is the lazy way I get myself to do this chore I most abhor. A bottle of cleaning solution snaps on to the side of it. Then, you just spray and go to town on that linoleum! It works well, at least for small spaces.

  4. Mama on December 16, 2008 at 4:41 am

    Indoor plumbing! After Hurricane Ike, we went quite a while without power. We bought a camp stove and cooked out in the driveway. We all had a ball. Except . . . we are on a well, with an electric pump. So . . . no electricity meant no running water either. Fortunately, we had saved up jugs of water just for this possibility, and we were able to rig up hand washing stations at the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and we had jugs of water to pour in the toilet tank so we could flush. But since the septic pump is also electric, we had to be careful how much water went into the tank.

    We heated water on the camp stove, and washed dishes in plastic dishpans outside. We washed some clothes in our small “power washer” (sold at Lehman’s – you add clothes, hot water, soap – then you shut the lid and turn the crank to tumble the clothes).

    Yes, the weather was hot – REALLY hot. And we had to have the windows closed most nights because we discovered the hard way that the mosquito truck would go down the street in the middle of the night. However, I was so thankful to be able to still use the toilet and wash my hands.

    We had oil lamps (though they just made it hotter – it was easier to just go to bed once it got dark), and my children thought it was great. They had the best time, and were actually a little disappointed when the power finally came back on. BLESS those tireless linemen who worked day and night until everyone had power restored! And it was WONDERFUL to finally be able to take a full shower instead of a sponge bath with a wet cloth (though it was lovely and cool in the middle of a hot day).

    So, while all the modern conveniences are great, it is possible to be entirely happy without them. We had prepared, and instead of spending money on a generator we used it on the campstove and canned goods. Because we were blessed to have our main house intact, we enjoyed the time together and had a wonderful adventure.

    But let’s not give up our indoor toilets!

  5. Wannabe Housewife on December 11, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Hot water! We moved into a 100 year old house last year and until we had the house totally rewired this summer, the hot water heater didn’t work. For hot water I had to boil huge pots on the stove. Baths took hours to get the water heated although my arm strength greatly improved from moving the heavy pots. My mom said she can remember being really little before they had hot water and my grandmother had to heat her own water. Ugh! Poor grandma!

  6. Diaper Cake Becca on November 16, 2008 at 11:48 am

    I, too, think this is a great post!!

    I spent a year living with my two girls in a cabin in the Southern Virginia back-woods. There I learned to live without a dishwasher….garbage disposal…..trash pickup…….carpet……bathtub…cable TV.

    The thing I missed the most during those months was probably the dishwasher because I hate doing dishes and I had very little counter space in that cabin and dirty dishes just seemed to pile up! I also really missed having a bathtub and being able to just soak in a tub of warm water.

    I am back in civilized Arizona now…living in the burbs in my pretty house (made of ticky tacky). I now miss certain things about that cabin….like the quiet, the coziness and the rustic nature of it all. But I have my dishwasher and a garden-sized tub that I get to soak in all I want (although I don’t use it nearly as much as I thought I would!).

  7. Nicole on November 15, 2008 at 11:25 am

    this is a great post and I’m sorry I got here late. My husband and I had very little the first five years of our marriage, and while the last year has seen some more income, things are still relatively tight.

    So, it’s funny to read your grandmother’s list and see that I’ve had to do without some of those things myself, or at least haven’t had them in the ways other housewives had.

    For instance, we did not have a car our first five years of marriage. ou first year we lived in a big city and were able to take public trans, which was great (although still pretty tricky to bringhome your groceries on the bus). After that, however, my hubby got a job in a very rural location. So for the next four years of my life, shopping was whatever I coud haul in my granny cart across town, or begging a ride occassionally for larger order shopping. A year after having our own wheels, I am still so thankful i can go to the store when i need to.

    I have never had a dishwasher and probably won’t for a good long while. What’s more, I have yet to live in an apartment with a double sink. I am greatful for all that god has given me, and as someone who works for an international missions org., I am honestly so thankful just to have clean, hot water coming out of my pipe. That being said, single-sink dish washing is not always fun.

    We have never had central air but we have always had a window AC for the summer for the bedroom and, this year with our income increase, we bought two, one for each end of the apartment. I honestly don’t know how those poor people lived before AC. And as for heat, as we are the upstairs of a split house, the downstairs tenants control the thermostat, so there are definitely nights whenw e just put on a sweater and another blanket.

    As for clothes washers, oh man I can’t imagine life without them. i had to take a taxi to the junky laundromat here in town for a good two years, before we moved into an apartment building with a machine in the basemement. I just couldn’t do it without them.

    And how about lighting? And refrigeration and freezing? I would lose my mind without those things I think.

    Great post! Thanks!

  8. Anna on November 13, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    For those of you who don’t have a Grandmother to share this kind of stuff this book, More Work For Mother, is very interesting. Here’s a link to it on amazon.


    I loved how this book explains how we got to where we are today, what we’ve gained by industrialization and what we’ve lost. It’s a very interesting read and I was able to find it at my library.

    Another good book is Made From Scratch, Reclaiming the American Hearth. Link: http://www.amazon.com/Made-Scratch-Reclaiming-Pleasures-American/dp/0684869594/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226602875&sr=1-1

    Both are excellent reads if you’re interested in the history of Women and our role in home keeping.

  9. Tracy on November 13, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    I am 43 and I grew up in a very rural area. My parents were considered well off as we had indoor plumbing and such. Alot of my class mates didnt. A few didnt even have electricity! This thread reminds me of a song by Bucky Covington called A Diffrent World. Everyone should listen to it and remeber what things were like when we were young. Its country, Im not a fan of country but I do love that song.

  10. Kathleen on November 13, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    You’ve got me on the dishwashing thing- I KNOW it would be better to wash as I go, but I still have a sink-load at the end of the day. I can tell you right now that I will NEVER take my dishwasher for granted… when I get one…

    I’m good with laundry, though- don’t even mind doing it. After a few weeks at the cottage with no washing machine, scrubbing dirty baby clothes in the sink, I’m prepared to agree that this is one of the best inventions we have at home- maybe anywhere!

    My great-grandmother, who just passed away a few years ago, was born in 1901. She had some amazing stories, too!

  11. Kris on November 13, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    This was a great post and really gets a person to thinking about how blessed we are! I’m pretty “earthy” so I think I could do without a lot of things in the house. I could cook over an open fire, haul water and heat it, and I suppose I could learn to wash clothes by hand. I don’t think I could live without my car. I live 8 miles from town and am scared to death of horses. I guess I could ride my bike. 🙂

  12. Angie B on November 13, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I remember my grandparents did not have indoor plumbing. As a child, we would have to go to the outhouse (2 seater), never understood that one either. We had to take baths standing in a tub in the kithchen. I was a teenager before my grandfather built on a bathroom, and he was a carpenter!!

    That was my grandmothers pride and joy.

  13. Anna on November 13, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Ivy- Thanks for sharing your Grandmother with us. She’s a beautiful woman and a wonderful person to share her life with you.

  14. Trixie on November 13, 2008 at 9:00 am

    ooops, I didn’t say that quite right. I meant the wringer washer — I was always afraid of getting my arm caught in between the wringers.


  15. Trixie on November 13, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Hi Ivy!

    I really enjoyed reading about your grandma. Thanks for sharing. It’s amazing how little we need to truly be happy.

    Oddly enough I can relate to most everything except riding a mule to town. I grew up halfway in the 1800’s and halfway in the 1900’s on our farm. The fear of getting my arm squeezed in there made me extra careful. Other than that, I loved laundry day.

    Take Care,


  16. Lisa- Domestic Accident on November 12, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    I love this post. The lack of a washing machine was why women wore aprons, right? I forget they are so functional.

    My 88 year old grandmother never got a microwave. She thinks no one needs something fancy like that. A waste of money.

    I could not live without my automatic coffeemaker. Waking up to hot coffee has prevented loads of husband abuse. And I really, really love my Dyson.

  17. Brianah on November 12, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    I have to agree. I have recently been examining how often we wash our clothes. I have started doing it just for the sake of helping my nice things last longer (as they are very expensive to replace), but mom again makes an excellent point!

    I also need to be better about using my apron when I cook 🙁

  18. mom, again on November 12, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    The OTHER lesson to be learned from your Grandma’s washing machine is: do you really need to change your clothes? My Grandma was (sniff) just a couple years younger than yours, and in her childhood, she owned 2 dresses at a time: Sunday and Rest of the Week. She owned 3 aprons: Sunday (with lace!), school, and kitchen. These kept her dresses clean, but nevertheless, she was chastised for letting either the Sunday or School apron get dirty!. She had clean underclothes everyday. And clean stockings. And as many as 5 sets of hair ribbons at one point. That’s cause her daddy owned a factory, they were well off. Many little girls had fewer clothes than this. Many little girls these days wear more clothes than that in one weekend. If clothes washing was harder, their moms (US!) would never allow such extravagance!

  19. Mom of three on November 12, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    City Water (preferably warmed). I grew up on with Well water, which I loved the taste of, but often in summer we didn’t have much and at times none. In the winter if the lights went off, so did the pump in the well house (1/4 a mile away in the dark woods) so we didn’t have water then either. It took hours to run a full tub of water. We rarely bathed in more than an inch of water in the summer (for the entire family). Now when I sit in a tub of hot water to my chin, I think about how lucky I am.
    Though I do prefer the taste. 🙂

  20. Keter on November 12, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Having been poor for a lot of years, I’ve learned all the do-without tricks, so I can “live without” just about everything. There’s a lot that needs to be discussed about how to take care of our families if one day we don’t have access to our modern conveniences, and I’m hoping this is a baby-step in that direction.

    I’m pretty well prepared for self-sustainability, but something that will be nearly impossible to replace is all of the chemicals we have become so dependent upon. Imagine trying to clean without various soaps…believe me, homemade lye soap is NOT a good option – assuming you can even get lye.

    BTW, I may be one of the few under 50 who has actually used a wringer washer. We had a modern washer when I was growing up, but it was frequently out of order. When it was broken, we hand washed. When we needed to do sheets and other heavy stuff, out came the wringer washer, and if something was stained, out came the tub and scrub board. The manual way worked really well, but laundry was a two-person job.

  21. Brianah on November 12, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    I could do without a lot of things (or so I say now), but I really don’t think I could do without hot water (the way we know it now) or a dryer. I use my dryer instead of ironing b/c I am always so pressed for time in the morning and it is so much faster. And I really enjoy a warm bath at the end of a long day.

  22. Shanna on November 12, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    For me… I grew up kinda like your grandma except the driving part and some decades later. Going back to basics and a simpler time sounds quite appealing in the fast pace life we live today.

    Having said that… I guess, I can’t live without indoor plumbing – not doing that again!

    You’ve given me a lot to think about…

  23. Meredith on November 12, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    I think this is one of your best posts ever!

  24. Amanda on November 12, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Lights. I know I’m getting awfully basic here, but I think I could manage without most of the other things listed. But the only time I get to myself to sew or read or knit is after 8:00 p.m. If I didn’t have electricity, I’d be going to bed much earlier. I love that I can flick a switch and “let there be light.”

    Hot and cold running water are pretty high on my list, too. Oh, and indoor plumbing. I just recently found out that my mom’s parents didn’t have indoor plumbing until after she graduated from HS. I have a new appreciation for my bathtub.

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