An Old Maid's Paradise
A Chapter of Experience
Good Housekeeping, March 30, 1889, pp. 258-260.
So many girls in the city, and even in the country, are half living in cheap boarding-houses where they feel their own insignificance as a member of the human family, and where they have not the poorest imitation of a home, that it has seemed to me possible some of the number might be benefited by my experience in starting an "Old Maid's Hall," which more properly might be called an "Old Maid's Paradise." To begin at the beginning and tell you how it all came about I must give a few personalities. I am a teacher, and when I tried to find a boarding place, all that I cared to have were beyond my means. Those which suited my purse did not suit my inclination. I can not live with uncongenial people whose highest ideal of things can be found in the exceeding light reading of the day that is circulated so freely.
I'm considerably like the lady from Boston, who during her visit to New York was observed often to go away alone and talk to herself. Being asked the reason, she gave it. "At times I feel the need of sensible conversation, and I have to take some means to get it." As well as "sensible conversation" one needs some spot where he can feel that he is at home; where he can gather his treasures about him and feel the dear delight of ownership though he does pay rent and does not own a foot of ground. Boarding has become an old story to me, and it is also a weariness to the flesh. It is such a trial to feel that some one is as well informed of your outgoings and incomings with the reason for their being as you are yourself, and that almost your inmost thoughts are known and discussed by other women who are not busy enough to leave you to yourself. Not even the wish to add to the happiness of others can make it endurable to feel yourself the subject of gossip either good-natured or malicious.
These being the sincere convictions of my heart you can imagine with what joy I heard of a place where I could set up my Lares and Penates. Upon investigating my new kingdom I found myself ruler over two rooms of good size, one opening from the other, three closets. The rooms are in an old house of Revolutionary fame. The walls are low, the floors are uneven; but that does not debar sightliness from my domain. There are five windows in the two rooms, and the sun shines in each one at some hour of the day. I have a large closet in the back room and that is my cellar. In it is my coal, my wood, on shelves my vegetables, and in a special corner my oil, and cleaning materials. In the front room is my dish closet, and in another corner is my clothes closet. Upon holding a discussion of ways and means with my wants, needs, and income I found I could take the rooms, furnish them plainly, and board myself as cheaply as I could get board, and moreover have to show for my living expenses my little stock of household goods as well as the fact of my existence. "Said I to myself, said I, I'll do it," and without loss of time started my vine—it is an ivy and not as thriving as one could like—the fig tree is to come later.
For furniture I first bought a stove, and from that stove did my only troubles proceed. The stove was second-hand for that I paid cash. My other furniture is a bed, bureau, commode, two tables, four straight chairs, three rockers, a mat three yards square, and three smaller mats, then I have just enough dishes for myself with an extra plate for a guest. Silver I already had which was my mother's. I also had bedding and linen. At odd times I had gathered it together. You see the list is not a long one and perhaps you think it a bare looking place. If it were I should say "a poor thing, but mine own," and take some pleasure from that, but on the contrary it is a very cheery spot. The piano, which I rent, I have covered with dark red Canton flannel, the table has a cover of the same, so has my packing box which is converted into a stand for my aquarium and books of reference. I also have some shelves for books and specimens collected by the way. My curtains are of scrim and I have draperies over some of the doors. When I have my dishes to wash I put a board top on my trunk and thereby have a kitchen table.
My furniture was bought on the installment plan, because I had not ready money. That makes it cost a little more but it is a great convenience, for one can pay five or ten dollars a month more easily than fifty at a time. The few things I have are such as I shall be pleased to own because they are well made. The furniture dealer agreed to have all goods delivered by Monday night, when I was able to take possession. Monday after school I went to my new home and all that greeted my sight were four bare walls and an equally bare floor. The stove came later and a lamp but where was I to put the lamp, and where was I to put myself? No chair, no table and I, tired and disposed to make some earnest and forcible remarks on the faithlessness of furniture dealers. My landlady came up to see me, found me "plunged in a gulf of dark despair," and, like a good Christian, lent me a helping hand. She also lent me the necessities of life till such time as my goods appeared, so things looked brighter. The next night everything was there, and since then every day has turned itself to a song of content and happiness except when an occasional discord from the stove interrupted the harmony. That stove was the perfect example of the total depravity of inanimate things. It burned out coal as a monster with ravenous appetite devours food. At any very cold time it kept all the heat for itself and left me shivering, though I sat wrapped in an afghan and my feet in the oven. The fire went out every time it was left alone, and altogether that stove was as great a trial to my Christian character as Job's boils were to him, but I had one advantage with my trial, I sent it back, and now I have another, not a trial but a parlor stove, which behaves in an angelic fashion. It doesn't go out, it doesn't do anything which ought to be left undone, and I really have quite an affection for that piece of my household effects.
The great disadvantage to a woman keeping house alone is her proneness to neglect proper food. I do not slight myself but have three meals a day of nourishing food. It is not really cheerful to eat alone day by day, but it is like other things, one gets used to it, and it is better than eating with persons who don't know how to eat.
I have for my breakfast some form of grains, oat meal, wheat germ or some of those cereals, and rich cream. Sometimes I have coffee, sometimes not. As I am not at home at noon I have a lunch. At night I have my dinner, meat or its equivalent, potatoes, some vegetables, and fruit for dessert. It costs me, unless I have company, never more than a dollar a week for food. I have light breakfasts because I prefer them and have no time to prepare an elaborate one. My walk to school is a mile and a half, so an early start is a necessity. In the morning I cook my meal, make my bed, brush up, fill my lamps, and start about half past seven. At night I am home between four and half past four and then my time is my own.
As I am writing this to encourage the promotions of homes I will give my figures. A package of rolled avena or such grains makes my breakfast for nine days. The cream for it comes from a pint of milk a day, cost three and one-half cents. I get my milk from a man who evidently keeps a cow for on my pint of milk there will be cream to the depth of almost an inch. The milk I use for cooking. I like to cook and I make a good many dishes like cracker brewis, scalloped potatoes and meats or fish, and in fact every nice recipe I hear of that is not an extravagant one I try. Occasionally I get tired of having no one to say whether my dishes are good or not, and then I send for others. It is a luxury to be able to have all the company one wants and one who has boarded is apt to appreciate it.
My coal bin being small I have to buy my coal by the quarter of a ton. That amount lasts on an average a month, sometimes it is a little more, sometimes less. If I lived in the city where the coke can be had so cheap I should burn that a good deal of the time. Here fuel and provisions are as high as in the city and there is no chance to take advantage of markets. In a city there are always times and places where provisions can be bought at less rates than the usual prices. There never is anything of the kind in a small village. A gallon of oil lasts me eight days. My rent is two dollars a week, so my actual living expenses are, room one month $9.00, fuel and lights $2.50, food $4.00, making my months expenses inside of sixteen dollars. Had I a roommate the expense would be greatly lessened. I know a girl can hire a room in a respectable locality in the city for the sum I have named, and all her other items need be no larger than mine. I have tried the same experiment in Chicago and New York, though there I rented furnished rooms and it cost me more. I have not reckoned into the cost of living, my piano hire nor cost of furniture, for that is an outside matter and could be made larger or small according to one's inclination. I look upon the furniture as a gain, and the piano as a necessity but it would no be to every one and so I do not count it in.
No girl need to be discouraged because it takes time for the work; less than two hours a day keeps my rooms tidy. The exercise is a benefit to me and would be to any persons whose means of labor were of a sedentary kind. City girls have the advantage of bakeshops. I have not. I eat no pie nor cake because I do not care for it enough to make it and I can not buy it. I find time to practice, write, read and study and my school takes as many hours of my day as most girls give to store or other duties. I love my work and in my little home which is so warm and inviting to me after my busy day and long walk, I find the rest that fits me for the new day to come. In the quiet, new plans and more earnest desire for good work come to me. My home, small as it is, is a tower of refuge to me, where I get fresh strength, and renew the courage that sometimes fails me.
If I can through this article influence any girl to try this mode of living I shall be very glad, for I know she will be the better for it. I can speak as a girl for I am nothing else myself. Let two try it together and if they want further particulars I will send them. I don't understand how any one who ever tried it could again board as one must who earns no more than ten dollars a week, and I know there are hundreds who do not earn that. Think of all that "home" means, and it is possible to any one who has the will to give a little time each day. It means ease of mind, hospitality to friends, and one spot on the earth where one can be just what one feels like being. The poet, homeless himself, sang truly,
"Be it ever so humble
There's no place like home."
There's no place like home."
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In a seaport town in the late 19th-century Pacific Northwest, a group of friends find themselves drawn together —by chance, by love, and by the marvelous changes their world is undergoing. In the process, they learn that the family we choose can be just as important as the ones we're born into. Join their adventures in
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