What can Mrs Beeton teach us about housesitting?
An ambitious legacy
Written in 1861, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management has long been seen as a stalwart of advice for the occupation of housekeeping. Despite beginning to write the book when she was only 21, having no real experience, and borrowing (read copying) extensive material from other female writers at the time, Isabella Beeton’s book remains in popular print today. She was one of the first to offer an extensive, highly detailed recipes. She went beyond simple step by step instructions on cooking, expanding onto advice for the home itself; addressing the ‘servant problem’, modern etiquette, and home care. Although much of her writing clearly must be taken with, excuse the pun, a pinch of salt, we at HouseSitMatch wanted to find out if any of this infamous young lady’s tips stood the test of time. More importantly, whether they could be applied to what seems to be a more modern concept of housesitting.
Whilst her food recipes balance the predominantly good (including tispy cake, honey cake, snow cake, basically any type of cake) with the bad (think eel and calve’s foot broth), some of her more practical household tips are worth bearing in mind. Moreover, although Mrs Beeton’s advice is certainly heavily gendered and is always addressed to the housewife, in 2016 it should be more than applicable to everyone.
TOP TIPS –
As a homeowner, it is a lovely gesture to prepare a welcoming meal for your housesitters on their arrival. A meal typical of where you live, with local ingredients is a good place to start.
As a housesitter, it is an equally nice gesture to prepare a meal for the homeowners on their return from their holiday. Even better if you have the time to spend with them over the meal sharing news of their trip and your time in their home with their pets
3 Top Tips for Housesitters and Homeowners
- Early rising and household work: Mrs Beeton emphasises cleanliness and neatness which is unsurprising for a prim and proper middle-class Victorian lady. However, her primary motivation for getting up early and doing as many domestic duties as possible is a little surprising. Her argument is that effective management frees up time to be spent enjoying yourself with friends and family, rather than continuing with arduous domestic activities. As advice, this is easy to apply to the case of housesitting: you’ll have as much of the day as possible to explore, work, and relax.
- Organisation: ‘Whether the establishment be large or small, the functions of the housewife resemble those of the general of an army or the manager of a great business concern.’ This is certainly an important maxim for both the homeowner and the housesitter prior to and during the housesit. Typically, the homeowner will leave a list of things which are useful to know during the housesit. This tends to include information on petcare, plants, and emergency contact numbers, so it’s handy to check that everything is clearly described and detailed.
- Approaching a new neighbourhood: After moving into a new area, Mrs Beeton advises using a very Victorian method of calling cards. She instructs that the proper etiquette is to wait for the residents of longer standing to call. However, perhaps this isn’t the most efficient advice. If the neighbours don’t know that the homeowner is away, or simply aren’t as invested in who is living in the neighbourhood as their Victorian ancestors, you might be waiting forever! We would instead suggest that, particularly in a long term housesit, if convenient, you pop round to the neighbours and introduce yourself informally. It’s useful to have a first port of call in case of any emergencies or problems. Also remember, a lady paying a visit may remove her boa or neckerchief; but never her shawl nor bonnet!
TOP TIPS –
As a homeowner, it is good to be organised and explain to the sitters what you need ahead of the start date of the housesit. Write notes, use our EASY SIT GUIDELINES. Introducing your housesitters to the neighbours is also an excellent idea, it means they are familiar with each other and there is hopefully someone for the sitters to reach out to should they have a local question.
As a housesitter, it is essential to remember you are in someone else’s home, and keeping that home clean and tidy with an extra special effort to clean up before they arrive home after their trip is a really good approach to respecting the housesit property. It is a good idea to exchange hellos and talk to the neighbours while you are housesitting. Happy neighbours make for a happy neighbourhood.
What about pets?
“Leave your favourite dog at home …!”
One of the key issues which Mrs Beeton skirts around is pets. One almost feels that the almost inevitable mess which animals can make would have earned a damning review from a woman of such apparent primness and tidiness. Indeed, the only reference to house pets is Isabella’s warning to leave the favourite dog at home when visiting new people. Probably for the best, it looks like we’ll have to look to modern writers and vets for any advice concerning pets and housesitting!
TOP TIPS –
As a homeowner, we too would mirror Mrs Beeton’s advice and recommend that you leave your favourite pet at home in the care of one of our trustworthy housesitters.
As a housesitter, remember you are looking after the home and family pets of your homeowners, this is an assignment of trust and you have an important responsibility.
So how helpful is Mrs Beeton in the modern day?
Although much of Beeton’s advice might seem obvious and a little outdated, it was necessary. In a rapidly growing, industrialising Britain, Isabella Beeton’s book served as an essential guidebook for the new generation of young housewives who increasingly lacked practical household knowledge or practice of how to cook for and look after their new husbands. Her authoritative voice continues to reassure, even today. It is clear that several key aspects of her advice, including organisation, are adaptable to the modern housesitter.
Much like the new housewife, the housesitter has a lot to learn! What better place to start than with Mrs Beeton?
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