There was a time when Home Economics was taught in nearly every high school and nearly every girl took this class to prepare for her assumed future as a homemaker. Thankfully we’ve moved past the time when it was assumed that women (and ONLY women) were destined only to tend the home but some important and useful skills have been lost. Here are five things you should have learned in home economics that will help you now.
- BASIC SEWING
It’s a fact that most clothing used to be sewn and mended at home, generally by the women of the household. The advent of sewing machines and garment factories eventually made it possible for even families of modest means to start purchasing some clothing. Once clothing manufacturing moved overseas to exploit ultra-cheap labor, there was no reason or incentive for anyone to sew their own clothing, other than enjoyment or personal preference.
While sewing entire garments from scratch may be outside the scope of modern life for most people, basic sewing skills are still very useful. By knowing a little plain hand-sewing, you can take care of minor repairs and create simple items.
Here are a few things you’ll be able to do just by learning how to thread a needle and make a few stitches:
- sew buttons back on
- mend small rips or tears
- patch holes
- simple alterations like hemming trousers or tapering shirts to improve their fit
If you learn how to use a sewing machine, it’s relatively easy to sew things like throw pillows, simple window treatments and basic clothing items. All of those things can be sewn by hand, too, but it will take a lot more time!
2. PLAIN COOKING
It’s incredibly useful to know how to prepare food. Even a handful of simple recipes and techniques can make a huge difference in your ability to feed yourself at home. Personally, I think learning a few kitchen techniques is more useful than memorizing recipes, but both have an important role to play in helping you feel comfortable in the kitchen.
You might not enjoy it or it might feel challenging but basic cooking skills are attainable for most people. Here’s a few that I think are useful and versatile:
- How to cook pantry staples like rice and pasta.
- How to use vegetables – including how or when to peel them, the best way to cut them up for the application at hand and how to store them to maximize freshness and flavor
- How to cook simple, single cuts of meat – knowing how to cook a piece of chicken or a pork chop is useful on it’s own but also introduces skills you’ll need to cook larger or more complicated meats
- How to make a basic white sauce and a basic brown sauce. While there are tons of dishes one can create without ever needing to make a sauce, learning how to make these two fundamental sauces opens up a huge range of recipes. Making sauces at home is also substantially cheaper than using pre-packed options from the store.
- How to make a standard tomato sauce. Learning how to turn a can of tomatoes into sauce for spaghetti, pizza, lasagna or a multitude of other dishes is so useful. Even the simplest homemade tomato sauce will taste better, too.
- How to make stock or broth. If you cook nearly anything, you’ll have scraps of meat or vegetables and possibly bones. Using those to make broth or stock reduces kitchen waste, adds flavor to other foods and lowers your grocery bill.
These skills will expand the number of dishes you can make at home and they’ll give you building blocks for learning other techniques. This is NOT an exhaustive list but it’s a decent starting place if you’re interesting in learning how to cook at home.
3. HOW TO DO LAUNDRY AND USE AN IRON
Laundry is both incredibly basic and something with very specific rules. It’s also an area in which it is possible to get along without even realizing what you don’t know. After all, it’s completely possible to throw all your clothes into the washer, turn it on and then chuck it all in the dryer. You’ll almost certainly end up with a load of cleaner clothes. But learning how to correctly combine garment and fabric types in the wash as well as which temperature settings will lead to cleaner, brighter clothes that last long.
Although I hate ironing, it’s really useful to know how to press a shirt or pants properly. Having nice, crisp clothing looks and feels great but more importantly, knowing how to iron things on the right setting and in the right way will prolong the life of your clothes. I freely admit that I try to buy clothing and table linens that require little to no ironing but I’m glad I know how to press things when it’s unavoidable.
4. BASIC BAKING
Baking is a completely different skill set from cooking, even though both involve food preparation. Mastering even a few baking recipes means you’ll be able to bake tons of staple foods at home. Although baking requires precision, it is often less mercurial than cooking. Here’s a couple of suggestions for getting started:
- QUICK BREADS. You might be picturing bread baking as a long, arduous process with tons of steps. Some bread baking is definitely more of an undertaking but there are lots of recipes that require very little kneading or rising. Simply combine ingredients and bake. Once you see how easy, cheap and delicious baking bread at home is, you’ll be converted. I started with this Beer Bread Recipe years ago and I highly recommend it. From mixing to slicing, you can have a loaf of bread in an hour. This Basic Yeast Bread Recipe is also a great introduction to bread baking.
- COOKIES. The great thing about learning to bake cookies is that cookies are delicious. Ok, but seriously, I put them on the list because it’s a lot easier to tell if a cookie is completely baked than something like a cake. Baking cookies is a great way to start understanding the fundamentals of kitchen chemistry and the actual baking process.
Honestly, I’ve been baking chocolate chip cookies for 30 years and I’ve still never found a recipe I like better than the one on the Tollhouse chocolate chip package.
- 2/14 all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- Combine flour, baking soda and salt, then set aside. Use a mixer to cream the butter and brown sugar together, then the white sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, beating to combine. Slowly add the flour mix, using the lowest setting on the mixer. Drop batter onto a cookie sheet by the spoonful, then bake for 8-10 minutes. It’s really important not to overbake cookies, so pull them out of the oven when the center still looks a little pale and spongy. They’ll finish baking on the counter.
- Biscuits. These are technically also a quick bread, but tend to occupy a different role in the contemporary meal. A batch of biscuits is one of the quickest bread items to throw together, though, and take it from me, biscuits are excellent at every meal. If a basic bread recipe feels overwhelming, try a batch of biscuits first. Like cookies, it can also be easier to tell when biscuits are finished baking than a bull loaf of bread.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. But it’s someplace to start. Baking, like cooking, can be as simple or as complex as you wish to make it.
5. HOUSEHOLD CLEANING AND BASIC MAINTENANCE CHORES
This is the most vague category on here, but it’s also one of the most important. Whether you live in an apartment or house, it’s important to know how to properly clean things like stoves, sinks, and toilets. That’s not just for the sake of nicety – improper or inadequate cleaning techniques can damage appliances or plumbing. Not understanding how to clean and sanitize kitchen or bathroom surfaces can lead to illnesses.
Its important to understand how your furnace or air conditioning system works and if/when you need to change filters or perform routine cleaning. Ditto the washer and dryer. Not cleaning the lint trap and duct can destroy the dryer or cause a fire.
If you’re a renter, talk to your landlord or property manager and find out which tasks you are responsible for and which are taken care of as part of your lease. Generally, the tenant is responsible for in-unit things like furnace filters but it’s best to check in and find out. If you’ve been renting the same unit for a long time, there may be bigger maintenance chores that are overdue, since many annual or seasonal tasks get done in between renters.
When it comes to maintenance chores, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure – it’s far more difficult and expensive to repair plumbing than to prevent damage, for example.
This is not a comprehensive list – there are many valuable skills that used to be routinely taught in school, including important things like personal finance, first aid, basic outdoor skills and more. These five skills are all still very useful and learning or improving any of them is likely to save you money, prevent future disasters and help you feel more confident and capable.
If you were lucky enough to take a Home Ec class, did it cover some of these? Are there other Home Skills you wish you knew? Let me know in the comments!
As a special bonus, when you join you’ll receive Splendor on a Shoestring, my guide to finding silver, china, linens and other home items on a budget.