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.
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.
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.
Children, livestock and housework all appreciate regular and reliable attention.
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.