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the tortoise approach to homemaking

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“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. Time will pass anyway.” Earl Nightingale.

1-DSC09887 When I was a teenager, I would sometimes stay with my great-aunt, who is now in her 90’s. She doesn’t volunteer at the Salvos these days, but she still attends her weekly yoga class.

On these visits, my great-aunt would get out the old albums and reminisce about days gone by. She told me once that her dream before she got married was to have a house with a pink bathroom.

Before marriage, it used to be common to build up a glory box or hope chest with linens and other household items required when starting out. And a young lady’s trousseau would not have be complete without a Royal Albert tea set.

Each week, my great-aunt told me, she would put aside part of here tobacco-factory wage to buy a cup here, and a saucer there; a creamer, a sugar bowl, a cake plate…until she had her own set.

This story has influenced my own home building. Not only did I have a glory box myself (no Royal Albert for me, though), but each week I am putting aside a little money for a new set of pots and pans. The ‘last a life-time’ sort of pots and pans. At the rate I’m saving, it may just about take a lifetime to replace the cheap ones I currently own. I am, however, almost ready to purchase my first pot! (Any recommendations on brand would be welcome!)

Another of my aunt’s stories that has shaped my own frugal habits is how they paid to insulate their house. Each payday, with ritual-like regularity, my great-uncle would buy a single batt of insulation and climb into the ceiling to lay it. Over the months they gradually insulated their small inner suburban home, one batt at a time.

What my aunt and uncle did was not out of the ordinary. There were no ‘buy-now, pay-later’ schemes or credit cards when they were first married. Or for much of their wedded life, in fact.

Nowadays, saving up for something isn’t so common. We’re in such a rush to have it all as soon as possible, that we burn ourselves out on the way. We are in a race all right, a race to keep up with what we think are other people’s expectations. But by running hard to get ahead, we’re hardly keeping up with the repayments and obligatory interest.

Years after she got married, when the outhouse was put in the house, my great-aunt got her pink bathroom. Private moments are a bedazzlement of hot pink: a fluffy hot pink toilet-lid cover, hot pink bathmats, pink feature tiles, a pink shower curtain and towels to match. Even the toilet-roll dolly, those little dolls whose voluptuous crocheted gown hides the spare roll, sports a hot pink dress.

It is truly awful.

Nevertheless, her dream bathroom came true. In the absence of easy credit, a little time and a little consistent effort is what it took to make that dream a reality.

You can choose to be a hare or a tortoise. The tortoise is slow and steady, but the journey is a lot more enjoyable and satisfying.

Do you save up for things around the house? Did you / do you have a glory box or are you making one for your daughter?

[For those who are interested: the picture is is of a vest I’m currently knitting for the little lady. For Ravelry users, you can find the pattern here. The quilt beneath the knitting, incidentally, I made for my ‘glory box’.]

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21 Comments

  1. 35 years ago my parents brought me a set of Raco saucepans, which still take pride of place in my kitchen, they have stood the test of time – even surviving the kids playtimes. I brought the same set for my daughter more than 10yrs ago, with the same results. I love the story of your great-aunt, it’s a shame more people don’t live this way, debt would not cripple so many if they did

  2. Some lovely stories there – I loved the batt of insulation per pay day!

    I moved out of home (properly, I moved out for uni, but back for 3 years to save to buy a place) about 15 months ago. I didn’t really create a glory box for a few reasons – one, I can’t stand clutter – my mantra is ‘use it or lose it’. I did have a chest with stuff from when I last lived out of home (some curtains, a mohair throw), but largely I saved my $$ to buy when I moved out. Two, I didn’t want my tastes to change from purchase date to use date. Third, my parents house is SO damp, that most things risked ruin before the move date (truly I tell you, I know 10 ways to conquer mould now I htink!). But, I certainly flirted with the idea of having a glory box. And nothing I did buy (sofa, crockery, sheets, appliances) was on credit – sure I may have used a credit card, but I have not ever paid a cent in interest. So all in all, I think it worked out ok.

    1. Hi SarahN.

      Thanks for sharing how you did things. It’s very wise not storing things when you’ve got damp!! Imagine paying good money on towels for instance, only to pull them out and find them mouldy!
      Your story shows there’s no single “right” way to do things.

  3. I had Bistro and they lasted well, until dh boiled a saucepan dry and the bottom of my littlest saucepan delaminated. As our family got bigger I bought Scanpan. So far I have had to get a replacement pan but it was a pretty easy thing to do and they have a lifetime warranty. We just bought a Soffreti saute pan and it isn’t as good as the Scanpan for getting up to very hot. Good for scrambling eggs but not so good for steak.

    My suggestion also – definitely think ahead of what size may suit you down the track. It isn’t much point buying a set of saucepans with a lifetime guarantee and then finding them too small for the way your family grows.

    Good luck with the slow save.

    Best wishes
    Jen in NSW
    (PS My old Bistro set is still here, packed away for the boys to use as they leave home and before they buy their own bits and bobs. It was a good set when I first moved out of home.)

  4. I never had a glory box. What mum did was put away the items she replaced for us children to have when we moved out of home. So I had mismatched cutlery, saucepans, crockery (the type that you have to collect stamps for from the supermarket), sheet sets etc. Not sure it saved me money, as I had to pay to ship it from Qld to Tassie and then deal with the all the other stuff I did not want.

    It was only after 14 years I finally replaced the cutlery set with a matching one and another 5 years after that I replace the saucepan set (Raco, check out Harris Scarfe for their sets).

    Will I do the same for my girls?? Probably not. The chances are they will have to move away to study or work. I would much rather help them out financially at the time.

    Times are different, the main reason for the glory box box was that women did not , could not work once married. . Once married were generally given a housekeeping allowance. They had a genuine need to have a supply of good linen to get them through their married life, not a romantic nicety.

    These days, most women would just say stuff it, I am working and I want a new set of towels.

    1. That’s a good point about why women used to have glory boxes. My grandparents, in fact, married in secret and continued to live as they had just so my grandmother could keep working (at the same tobacco factory!). Another worker found out and dobbed them in, so my grandmother had to stop working.

  5. I love the concept of a glory box for young girls (and boys!). I think it teaches patience and that each item you own has value and shouldn’t be treated as disposable – two very useful lessons when it comes to personal finance. When it comes to my house the more I make, fix/build myself or spend months saving up for, the more it feels like a home. It’s too easy to just buy everything.

    1. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t think about this for boys! :D
      It is so satisfying when you DIY rather than just buy everything.

  6. I love the story about the insulation – it just shows how much things have changed, and kind of makes me sad – I can’t imagine anyone doing that nowadays.

    When I moved out of home I had a weird assortment of good kitchen stuff that I’d picked up for birthday and Christmas presents, including a sandwich toaster that I still use (thanks grandma!). Also the room I moved into was so small I couldn’t even take my double bed and had to borrow an old single one from my parents!

    I’m at the stage in my life where I value good quality homewares, but still being a student I can’t really afford them. I have bought a food processor (and love it dearly) but everything else is on hold until I get a real job, rather than buying it on credit. It will not kill me to sleep on ten-year-old Kmart sheets for another year or two :)

  7. I’ve been through a couple of sets of pots and pans and finally I pulled out a cast iron skillet that had been my mom’s. LOVE IT! Now I have 3 of different sizes and I bought a cast iron dutch oven. I do use a couple of sauce pans that are heavier metal. I went the round of no stick pots and truly the cast iron is no stick. I won’t use anything else. And I got the rest of my cast iron from antique stores. LOL The old stuff is better and cheaper than the new stuff but you will still pay a hefty (pun intended) price.

  8. I had a glory box 40 years ago with all the kitchen bits and pieces and still have some things. I remember buying something every pay day. My cheap saucepans were replaced 20 years down the track with Arcosteel . I also invested in a cast iron fry pan about 2 years ago and think it’s great. You just have to get over that it isn’t shiny and pretty. It eventually goes black and is what is used in most restaurants. The more you use it the better it becomes. When my son and daughter moved they each got a box of kitchen stuff and twiddly things – scissors, sticky tape, string, you know, important stuff. Oh, and a book of favourite recipes from home.

  9. I have 3 daughters. My oldest daughter is 14 turning 15, and it scares me to think that she could be moving out of home in 5 years or less. Unless she stays home longer like I did (24). My parents didn’t have credit cards, so my brother and I were brought up with the mantra “if you don’t have the money you can’t have it, and if you truly want it you will save up for it”. Which has stood me in good stead all of these years. I I am 41 and still don’t own a credit card so therefore have never had to pay off huge debts. What frustrates me is that the world today basically revolves around credit cards. You can’t purchase a lot of things without one, so in one way I am glad that my hubby has them. But I don’t like to feel like I am underpinned by the rules of owning one, and the thought of repaying one sends my blood cold. I did collect bits and pieces that I liked at the time when I was in my late teens and early 20’s, for when I did eventually move out of home. I bought my first Queen Anne bedroom set, complete with side tables, large drawers etc. Cost me a fortune at the time but I loved it.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Thank you for all your lovely comments! Nice to get to know you.

      You’re right, so much revolves around credit, I think it’s ingrained in the way most of us spend.

  10. I am also about functionality. I am not so worried if everything matches and blends in with everything. I will never have enough money to think about that concept. It is nice to look at magazines and Pintrest and drool over lovely bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens that look super fabulous. But at the same time I am a realist, and think well as long as my family is happy who cares that all my appliances don’t match, and my lounge cushions look daggy and the overall decor is a miss match of photo frames and my kids art and craft creations. I think Ebay is a wonderful place for collecting household items that other people no longer want, but you do. Last year I bought a really comfortable well know brand of lounge for $5! Mind you it was a hideous colour – thick green and white vertical stripes……but that is not the point, it is super comfy and it was super cheap. Not that we care but so other people aren’t offended by the colour scheme we put a throw rug over it when company comes over. I have bought appliances that people don’t want that are brand new for almost no money. My kids even get birthday and Christmas presents from Ebay. They know and they understand, and they love it too. I totally refuse to buy things such as Nintendo DS games for $60 plus, when I know we can get them on Ebay for $5 or less sometimes. So I am thinking and dreaming and hoping that my daughters will get the frugal bug like me and decorate their houses with amazing cheap finds that help them fill their homes with their own taste and a lot of love. Who said bright, shiny, expensive possessions makes you deliriously happy?

    1. I’m not much one for looks either, although every now and then I get the feeling that the place is drab, but I don’t do anything about it. Second hand furniture is awesome! I don’t think I will ever buy new furniture again. I just picked up a pair of beside drawers off eBay – excellent condition, just what I was looking for and for a fraction of the cost. I’ve currently got my eye out for a second hand juicer (for the right price :) ).

      Do you start early looking for gifts on eBay?

  11. Hi: Came over to your site from Down to Earth and had to comment on cookware. I’m still using the Revere Ware pots/pans/skillets that were a wedding present to my parents in the 1940’s! (I’m in my 60’s….). They are still in perfect shape and work wonderfully (and you don’t HAVE to polish the copper bottoms each time for them to still work great). I would also recommend cast iron as being something that will last a lifetime. Cookware is something you should never have to replace if you buy the good quality.

  12. Your aunt’s solution to the batting problem is very interesting and rings a bell for me.

    During the depression my grandparents ran a small cafe in the little town where they lived. My grandmother decided that they needed a new bedroom set. Since she didn’t have the ready money to pay for it or pay on time schemes at that time she came up with a novel way of saving up for it. Every evening when they counted up the days takings she would put aside the silver dollars that came in. Eventually she came up with enough money to buy a mahogany (I think) bedroom set—bed, dresser and chest of drawers. Wish I knew how long it took to come up with the necessary amount and how much she paid for them.

    I have the set in my guest room now and love to think about all the time she saved and saved and thought about what exactly she would get with the money that she set aside.

    Nothing like anticipation to give true value to things.