How To Keep House Like A Mennonite (even though you’re not!)

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Hello, my friend, it’s so wonderful to have you here. What in the world does that even mean to keep house like a Mennonite? Have you ever noticed the trend to idealize all of the Plain folk – that is, the Mennonites, Amish and all associated with them? Admit it, you’ve probably done it (at least a little).

Am I right?

I’m Marie, main contributor here at Just Plain Living, and author of the back-to-basics cookbook (inspired to a large degree, by my Mennonite friends) A Cabin Full of Food. I’m so happy you’re here. What I want to talk to you about, though, just for a moment, are these interesting ideas – and misconceptions – many of us have about Mennonite life.

You know how it goes.

If a recipe says Amish, it will be incredible.

All Mennonites have perfectly clean and tidy homes.

Plain men are hardworking, muscular and handsome.

Women are sweet and gentle-tempered and never, ever argue with their husbands or yell at their children.

That works well until you actually get to know a group of Mennonites and you find out that none of the stereotypes hold true for all of them.

Oh, there certainly are incredible cooks, immaculate homemakers, hardworking and muscular men and sweet-tempered women, but … not all of them. (And most of them aren’t all of that at the same time)

Although we’re not Mennonite, many of my friends are Old Order and Conservative Mennonite. They are some of the most amazing people. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I’m happy to pass that along to you.

The truth is that, like any other group of people, there are some Plain folk who are fabulous homemakers like my friend Elizabeth and then there are ones that are more like … well, like me. To keep house like a Mennonite, though, you don’t have to be like Elizabeth.

Elizabeth, who has eight children, has a spotless home. I would feel safe eating off her floor – in the bathroom.

She’s sweet and loving and hospitable, welcoming strangers into her home for meals at a moment’s notice. Her sister, Mary, with a severely disabled adult daughter, also has an immaculate home. However, not all Mennonite women have that skill set. Some are great seamstresses or amazing cooks or incredible gardeners and farmers … but barely adequate homemakers.

I’m one of those “barely adequate homemakers”. I’m happy to be home with my children, and I find plenty to do every day, but cleaning just ain’t my thang!

The irony is that I know quite well what to do and how to clean the house, but I’m scatterbrained. Were I a child today, I expect I’d be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. I’m good at gardening, (getting good at) raising animals, cooking great meals and raising awesome children … not so good at the housework.

There are a few things I know, though, and as much as my mother tried, I learned most of these from Mennonite homemakers. Luckily for you (and me), none of them require that you start living simple like the Amish. As appealing as it can be from a distance, the plain life isn’t for everyone.

Are you ready? Let’s learn few things from my wonderful friends so that we can all keep house like a Mennonite. Kitchen clean up, smiles, children and …. dogs.

Yes, dogs. Keep reading!

The meal’s not complete until the kitchen is neat

There are two things I really hate.

One is doing dishes in the evening, and the other is waking up to dirty dishes in the morning.

There are two things I hate - doing dishes at night, and waking up to dirty dishes.Click To Tweet

Since one has to win, I remind myself, while I’m cleaning up the kitchen, how much nicer it is to have a clean kitchen in the morning.

And it really is.

The problem is, though, when I get the kitchen all cleaned up, and all the dishes are done, I usually have an overwhelming urge to bake something.

But I can promise you one thing – if you keep yourself aware that the meal really is NOT complete until the kitchen is neat, life will get much easier in many ways. This means that you get all the dishes washed, and the counter and table totally cleared off and cleaned.

Definitely it means that you do not leave dishes in the sink.

I know, I know, I know. You’re tired, and there are just a few dishes, and you’ll get them to them later. But dirty dishes in the sink are really gross and honestly quite depressing. Worse, they seem to breed in the sink. One glass turns into five and those two spoons you used in your coffee becomes half the cutlery drawer.

Clean up your kitchen after each meal. It might not be enjoyable, but it’ll feel great when you’re done. If you want to keep house like a Mennonite, you definitely need to keep your sink clean between meals.

Some time tends to be never

The best thing *ever* is a closet where you can hide stuff – so long as you go in and clean it out and put it where it belongs!

Except the problem is that, when you stick something away and plan to deal with it “some time later”, that often turns into “never”. It really is best to deal with things right away.

I have a number of boxes of things that I’m going to sort through “some time”. Problem is, I’m not sure where I put the boxes. And I’m pretty sure you’ve done the same thing. “I know I put that away somewhere …”

Someone once said to have nothing in your house that you do not either know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. But that means getting rid of everything that you are tempted to stuff away in a box to deal with “someday”.

It’s time to put it in our calendars, set a time and sort through those boxes to find the beautiful and useful, and get rid of the rest.

A biennial bonfire also works.

Just saying.

Enjoying this? I know it’s long, but you don’t want to miss the rest!

Teach them young

While I know I’m probably never going to be one of those spotless homemakers, I seem to be raising one.

Our little girl, all of two and a half years old, walks around saying, “Mess house! Mess woom! Cwean mess house!”

She has her own cleaning set from Melissa and Doug and she uses it. If I sweep the floor, she runs up to me, holding her little whisk and dustpan, saying “I do it!” She loves cleaning up.

Best thirty dollars I ever spent. If you have small children, and you don’t have brooms and dustpans and other cleaning and organizing tools for them, why not?

In all seriousness, though, my Mennonite friends have taught me that little children can do far more around the house than we usually give them credit for. Perhaps this is more readily apparent to mothers with six, eight or even twelve children to care for, but we are not doing our children any favours when we spend eighteen (or more) exhausting years picking up after them.

Teaching the children to clean, pick up toys and organize their own possessions takes a lot of weight off the adults in the house.

Far more important, it trains our children to someday manage their own households.

One thing I’ve promised myself is that my children will not leave home without knowing how to manage a household. My 7 year old boy can sweep a floor, pick up the dirt and dispose of it properly. My 9 year old boy can cook a simple meal with supervision. My toddler can hold a dustpan – “Me help!”

Teach them young.

Get a dog

When I moved out on my own, it took forever for me to realize that food could fall on the floor and actually remain there until I picked it up.

We always had dogs.

The coolest thing about dogs, especially big dogs like our beautiful black lab and our pit bull, is that they’ll eat pretty much anything, and they don’t mind if it’s on the floor, either.

When we were children, “Let the dog have it” was the destination for all plate scrapings and unwanted bits of food. A dog can make it appear as though you have actually mopped the floor.

Now, I’ll add a caveat – if you’re eating a highly processed “Standard American Diet” (appropriately shortened to SAD), please don’t feed it to your dog. He deserves better than that.

Food that is good for us is good for dogs, too.

Although the opposite is not true unless you enjoy raw eggs, goat poop and partially decomposed meat.

Yummy, no?

Are you still with me? This really was never meant to be such a looooong post, but I think you’re enjoying yourself and learning a tip or two. Are you ready for the last few tips for how to keep house like a Mennonite homemaker does?

Don’t stop now! The best is yet to come.


Seriously, humour makes a lot of work easier.

My very dearest Old Order Mennonite friend, a mother of seven, grandmother of one, and a busy farmer who makes no apologies for her messy house, keeps her song book on the window in front of the sink, and sings her favourite hymns while she does dishes. I love her dearly, but I must admit that she has the voice of a screech owl and can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

You should hear us singing together. It brings tears to the eyes of anyone listening.

Seriously, though, have you ever seen people who grudgingly do all their work, brows furrowed and lips pinched?

By the time they’re fifty, that’s a permanent expression.

I don’t mind being known by my wrinkles, as long as it’s the laugh lines around my eyes and the smile creases by my mouth.

Smile, laugh, sing even if you’re horrible at it, and count your blessings.


Have A Schedule

I have seen this in action and I know it works.

My Old Order Mennonite friends, for example, have chore time at 7, morning and night. They all do it, all at the same time.

They also plant their crops at the same time, harvest their hay at the same time, and go to church on Sundays. At the exact same time. If you’re on the roads at the time, you see long rows of horses pulling black buggies, all pulling out of their driveways at the same time. They all eat breakfast at 8 (after chores), lunch at 12 and dinner at 6 (before chores).

That might be the secret to success – having all of your friends and relatives agree on the schedule and all stick to it.

Peer pressure works!

It might be difficult, considering different time zones and the fact that my friends and family don’t all have animals, but I’m sure we can figure something out, right?

So when I’m feeding the chickens at 7 am here on the east coast, you can join me in spirit over on the west coast, right? Hey, wake up, we’re doing chores. (We’ve moved to a little village – now you can get up with me at 6 with the children. Chickens at least wait until the sun rises!)

Seriously, though, schedules help, if you can find a way (like peer pressure) to stick to them.

Childrenlivestock and housework all appreciate regular and reliable attention.


Get help

I joked recently to my father that “If I haven’t learned to keep house by forty-two, I’m probably a lost cause.” He pointed out that I have lots of other skills and abilities, which was awfully nice of him.

But the fact is, I can improve, and I’ll bet you can, too.

Among the Amish and Mennonites, there are always sisters, cousins, aunts and mothers to help out and teach. In addition, even those that absolutely hate homemaking have likely been taught the skills since they were old enough to hold a whisk broom.

My friends start teaching their two year olds how to keep a home – a practice which I have adopted, in the attitude of “I don’t know much, but I know more than you!”

So there you have it – even though you’ll never be a Mennonite homemaker, you have some wonderful tips and ideas (and healthy dose of humour) to help you Keep House Like a Mennonite. Don’t forget to subscribe so that you can access the Housework Catch Up Plan!

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Please feel free to share anything on this site, in full or in part, with the following requirements: 1) all links MUST be left intact except by written permission 2) the excerpt or reprint MUST link back to the referring page, 3) the following author bio MUST be included: Marie has homesteaded in the city, in an off-grid cabin in the deep woods, and now in a 130-year old house in a village near her hometown. She is the author of A Cabin Full of Food, available on Amazon and loves to interact with her community on Facebook.

Annette Whipple - a couple of years ago

None of us can be good at everything. 🙂 Great article!

Dawnita Fogleman - a couple of years ago

ROFLOL ohhhhh how I needed this today. Thank you Marie! I'm a screech owl bucket singer too, but carry a hymnal with me wherever I go. Funny thing is, when music is turned up loud & I'm alone, I think I sound pretty good. My children (especially the ones with angel voices) tend to disagree with me. I agree with all these points! I was very freed though by the poem about letting the dust sleep, "cause I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep"… I'm going to enjoy them while they're here, do the best I can to keep things sanitary-ish… There will be plenty of time to clean when they're gone. (Besides, they'll take most of this junk with them Right?!)

Jamie - a couple of years ago

I just knocked over an open box of cheerios this morning all over the kitchen floor. It's moments like those that I love our dog! I joke with people that that's the only reason we have one. Seriously, though, I am terrible at keeping up with housework. Our room and bathroom take the brunt of it, because when folks come over, I can just lock the door! I know it bugs my hubby, so I really need to get on that. Great post!

Jenn - a couple of years ago

Great article, enjoyed reading it!

Just Plain Marie - a couple of years ago

Yea, it's my bedroom. Hubby calls it the storage locker. 🙁

Lindsay Burden - a couple of years ago

Loved this! Great read! My dog definitely cleans the floor better than I do! ha!

Anonymous - a couple of years ago

sigh…..oh gosh…. I wish I had the "natural" knack to do these things well, but I do not…at my age, and for some time now, I simply try to "improve" on something little…I try not to worry (and usually do not) about the "big picture". One thing at a time…

Suzy - a couple of years ago

sorry Marie, that last post was me, Suzy… I just clicked the wrong thing..

Victoria Mininger - a couple of years ago

I loved this post Marie – Coming from a non-conservative Mennonite background I had to chuckle and nod my head at so much of what you shared. I do better at the house keeping then I do the baking part – but I have learned how to bake up a yummy batch of bread. To bad we can't just eat bread all day 🙂 ~Victoria

Just Plain Marie - a couple of years ago

Oooh, bread all day …. are you really sure you can't? 🙂

Just Plain Marie - a couple of years ago

🙂 We're sharing all of our bad secrets!

Anonymous - a couple of years ago

I'm actually pretty good at keeping house even with 3 little kids, until I get sick. But it often seems like I never have time for anything else. Most of the skills I've learned though, I've learned since moving out. My mom was not a great housekeeper and had two dogs for spill clean up as well. We, have 2 toddlers that like to eat things off the floor, but it's not the same. I found that keeping possessions to a manageable amount goes a long way to keeping the house clean. That and putting things back after you use them!~Caelonna

Kara - a couple of years ago

I'm terrible at keeping house, I don't even have kids so there goes that excuse lol. Getting up for 7am barn chores? No problem. Housework? Uh…not so much. Dishes are also pretty much the bane of my existence, I've found that if I clean as I cook it works out much better for me, so I'm trying to get into that habit.

Jill - a couple of years ago

I agree that schedules are the key to keeping a clean, organized house! Loved the "dog" cleaning up tip- it's so true!! Ours used to park her nose right under the high chair, never even made it to the floor! I enjoyed your post, thanks!!

April Schroader - a couple of years ago

When we were part of a Mennonite community, I remember everyone's house being really clean, but maybe that is only because they cleaned before we visited:-) Really, I am super grateful for them – I learned so much in the couple of years we were with them. My mother never taught me to cook, clean, etc… and they came alongside me and taught me what I needed to lay the foundation.

Just Plain Marie - a couple of years ago

Oh, it's easy to get the idea that they're all spotless. Most people will never see anything else.L tells me that there's ONE time that her house is spotless – from Saturday night until Sunday morning, every other week. If I call on a Saturday afternoon and the daughter that answers says, "Well, we're having house church tomorrow." (Which just means it's their congregation's turn to host lunches after church) then I know to say "I'll call back Monday" unless it's really important. They're busy scrubbing everything.But she says – it's dirty again by Sunday afternoon when everyone leaves. :DI assure you, I absolutely love my Mennonite friends. Last fall, when we were trying to get ready for the winter, my friend L and her husband traveled by train 1000 miles to spend four days with us. She and I did a deep cleaning of my house while the men finished building the barn. Friends like that are a blessing. :DI'm actually hoping and praying that L lets her third daughter come and visit me when she's old enough to work out for the summer. She is my favourite of L's girls (although it's probably not nice to have favourites, she's just so much like me at that age) and I'd love to have her here working with me for a few months.

Kathleen Aherne - a couple of years ago

What a delightful style of writing and conveying your thoughts. Thank you for bringing that to Fridays Blog Booster Party we are wanting good quality posts. We are also trying to develop good habits that help other bloggers get ahead with traffic and page views. I hope you have more that you can share with us next Friday.Kathleen

jody cowan - a couple of years ago

Having a schedule really would help And I hate to get up in the morning to a sink full of dishes, too. This is a great post! Glad I found you on Fridays Blog Booster.

Jenny - a couple of years ago

How fun to read!

Just Plain Marie - a couple of years ago

I thought it was great. I added you to my Party list with a note that the rules were strict but that this was a good thing. 🙂

Abi Craig - a couple of years ago

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Marie. I appreciate the honesty, realism and practicality of your outlook. Love the catchy "meal's not complete until the kitchen is neat" phrase and smiling sure does make everything better. Visiting form Raia's Recipes.

Carolyn McBride - a couple of years ago

(commenting again since the first one poofed off into cyber-space)I always enjoy your posts, Marie, and this one made me chuckle. I know I'm not a great baker, but I'm working on it, much to my family's delight. I'm not a great homemaker come to think of it, and the bathroom and bedrooms aren't showroom quality. But we eat home-cooked more than takeout and we're never bored at the dinner table. But the house is filled with love and respect and the kids (I hope) will remember this when they move, more than how clean the floors were. You've blogged about this in the past, and it's always resonated with me.Thanks for another great post!

Holly Oshesky - a couple of years ago

Fantastic article!! It is greatly encouraging.

Aiming4Simple - a couple of years ago

Loved reading this!

Julia @ Swirls and Spice - a couple of years ago

Loved reading this!

Susan F. - a couple of years ago

All of your tips make a lot of sense. "I'll deal with this later" is my downfall when it comes to paper clutter – those “some time” chores weigh on my conscious and make me less time efficient! I couldn't imagine my floors without my dog – and would love to have the help of your two year old. Great post!

Mike P - a couple of years ago

Keeping the home spick and span isn't my forte, as long as there is space to place my coffee mug I am happy, I have a sizeable floordrobe in the bedroom and the dogs have the task of cleaning the pots, pans and dishes (I do wash them afterwards, honest!)Of course, I have the added benefit of not getting (many) visitors, maybe three or four a year ( Ithink I should wash more often 😛 ) and from time to time I will have a mad cleanup session (great for finding odd socks that the dogs have stashed away) This week is going to be pandemonium however, I HAVE to sort, clean and pack away as I am about to move to another farm, better suited to my wants, needs and desires, and, seeing as the previous owner lived there till she was 94 I'm thinking there will be places for everything….. I just hope I can keep up to what were her exacting standards….. but then I am a single guy so I think it's going to be a challenge 🙂

Kimberly Lewis - a couple of years ago

Great post. Pinned and tweeted. Please join us on Monday at 7 pm and party with us! It is so super fun to see what you have been working on! Lou Lou Girls

Holly @ While I&#039 - a couple of years ago

What a great post! Thank you for sharing at Waiting on…Wednesday!Holly

Anonymous - a couple of years ago

oh dear maybe I am not the only one !?! I used to be able to keep several balls comfortably in the air but something happened. everything seems to be a distraction and getting started on one project gets dropped by walking to another part of the room and seeing something that needs doing and so on and so on. can ADD have its onset later in life ????????????????

Anonymous - a couple of years ago

We are made from the same cookie cutter! Boy, do we miss our dog. Great post.

Sharon - a couple of years ago

Being good at raising children is a LOT more important than being good at cleaning house! Good for you, Marie!!

Just Plain Marie - a couple of years ago

Now THAT I will proudly say I'm good at. I have wonderful, polite, helpful and hardworking children. (Well, 95% of the time!)

Just Plain Marie - a couple of years ago

When I started baking, my husband would get excited. "You BAKED?" I'm doing more now. 🙂 I am sure you have a home full of love and respect and happiness. 😀

Just Plain Marie - a couple of years ago

She's the cutest thing with her little whisk broom. Pity the big brother who tries to use it!

Kathy Shea Mormino - a couple of years ago

What a very interesting article. Perhaps more people should share what their traditions are and appreciate each others ways. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!Cheers,Kathy Shea MorminoThe Chicken Chick

Raia - last year

Ha. I'm exactly the same way with the dishes! Now if only I could get my 2-year old to love cleaning that would be great. 😉 Thanks for sharing this at Savoring Saturdays! It's been pinned to our group board. 🙂 Hope to see you back at this weekend's party!

Eileen - last year

I really enjoyed reading this, Marie. I can so relate! I love your attitude–not one of giving up, but accepting where you are at, with tips and hope for improving! I very much admire my friends and family members who are better housekeepers, too. 🙂

Just Plain Marie - 11 months ago

I love that poem, Dawnita! 🙂 And my mother tells me that the children don't take the junk with them, they ask you to "hang onto it, Mom, until I get settled in a permanent house."

Housekeeping Tips from the Plain Folk | Homesteader Depot - a few months ago

[…] won’t be a home. Here are some tips from one of my favorite homesteading/plain living blog, Just Plain Marie, on how to keep your house like a Mennonite. She explains that even while stereotypes about how the […]

Erin Fesperman - a few months ago

Hi Marie!

I just found your site on Pinterest, (I was going through and pinning to try to help my fellow bloggers) and I am so happy that I did!

The information on this page alone is excellent and I can’t wait to dig deeper into your site to learn more.

We just moved to a hewn log cabin to try to get away from living the city life (we are country at heart, the city grew up around us) so I can already tell that your blog will be so useful!

PS – I’ve subscribed also!

Mennonites and Modest Dress – Just Plain Living - a few months ago

[…] you aren’t already familiar with them, take a moment and read my most popular posts How to Keep House Like a Mennonite and 9 Ways Plain Mennonites Save Money. I know you’ll enjoy […]

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