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Co-operative Housekeeping ?

(41 Posts)
EleanorHoward Sun 15-Nov-15 13:05:35

Hi all! I'm new to Mumsnet, not a mother myself but a 25 year old woman living in London and interested in feminism, architecture (my profession) and family life in the city.

I did a quick search on 'housekeeping', which returned a LOT of results and seems, understandably, to be a hot topic on Mumsnet. The main thing that struck me is that modern mothers (and to some extent, fathers) are expected by society and themselves to have a successful career and still uphold the duties involved in reproductive labour - domestic chores etc etc, unless they can be outsourced to a domestic worker.

It got me thinking about alternatives to how most of us live, in particular the historic example of co-operative housekeeping, pioneered by American feminist Melusina Fay Pierce in the nineteenth century.

The question I want to ask is do you think we could take aspects of this idea and come up with a way of sharing household duties in order to save time and money?

Does anyone know of an example of this being done at the moment? Logistics aside, how would you feel about, for example, sharing cooking duties with neighbours?

I'd be really interested to hear any opinions on this.


JoeMommuh Sun 15-Nov-15 13:11:13

Why on EARTH would I share cooking duties with my neighbour instead of my husband?

Have I wildly misunderstood the post?

EleanorHoward Sun 15-Nov-15 13:18:05

Very valid point. I'm speaking from a place of no experience other than being brought up in a family who outsourced some childcare, so apologies if I'm being a bit naive, but from just what I've read in other forums there seem to be a lot of mums who are struggling with day to day housework. I suppose I'm imagining families whose parents both don't always have time to cook and/or single parent families.

EnaSharplesHairnet Sun 15-Nov-15 13:22:23

Not specifically answering your question but it occurred to me:

The best bet would be a good cheap neighbourhood cafe. I've been to excellent community / church cafes in the States. But it will never happen in the UK (outside of the wartime of the last century) as we like our privacy.

A sad step back the reduction in meals on wheels for the elderly which was a success story for a long time in the UK.

VestalVirgin Sun 15-Nov-15 13:22:57

Interesting. I dislike most other people, so would not be a good person to pioneer this, but I can see it working for people who are more social than I.

The thing closest to this I have seen happening was single mothers moving in with each other to share the housekeeping and childcare with each other.

What I think might work for people like myself is a return to matrilinieal family structures; i.e. women staying with their family or origin instead of moving in with a husband. Grandmother, mothers and children would then live in the same building and be able to share housekeeping.

VestalVirgin Sun 15-Nov-15 13:28:04

Not saying that men shouldn't do housework, but considering the present state of things, I think that would work best if they lived alone or with other men.There is a tendency that it's always the woman's paid job that is considered less important when children are sick, etc.

EleanorHoward Sun 15-Nov-15 13:37:13

The cheap neighbourhood cafe is an interesting one - there used to be community kitchens in the states but I don't think they exist any more. Does anyone know of a successful example of a shared kitchen?

The point about some not being as open to collaborating with people outside of the family as others is definitely something I could relate to, being quite introverted myself. It's difficult to imagine it being popular to stay living in the family home, however there are issues of the ageing population and care for the elderly which could be resolved at the same time if families stuck together. Having said that, the thought of moving in with my parents would fill me and I'm sure them with dread, at least for the time being!

EleanorHoward Sun 15-Nov-15 13:41:01

Another point on following your last comment VestalVirgin - really interesting about the woman's paid job being considered less important. Would other mums agree?

Does anyone feel that the job of 'housewife' is also underplayed? Are men put off being 'househusbands' because it's seen to be less important than going out to work?

princesscelestia1 Sun 15-Nov-15 13:45:18

If there was a place you could give a months food money to and they cooked all meals for my family I would do it. Sort of like a canteen or forces mess so you never had to shop again.

princesscelestia1 Sun 15-Nov-15 13:48:58

Personally I could not think of anything worse than a return to matrilineal family set ups. I can rely on my husband to cook, clean and do childcare. I definitely could not rely on my mother!

ChunkyPickle Sun 15-Nov-15 13:50:32

I used to live in Singapore, where eating out is very, very common - there are food stalls under virtually every building where you can get lunch/dinner cheaply. My (local) neighbours very rarely cooked, someone would just pop over to the local food court and bring home lunch/dinner or they'd go over themselves as a family.

It was very freeing to know that you could come in and not have to cook, just swing buy and grab what you fancied, and not pay the earth for it.

Similarly, elsewhere I used to go to lunch at a charity Indian restaurant where you just went and picked up a meal of whatever they were cooking that day and paid them a fair price.

Local cafes/kitchens/affordable foodcourts I think are a fantastic idea - they bring a community together and give true value - eating out is just too expensive in this country.

ChunkyPickle Sun 15-Nov-15 13:51:23

Yes Princess - I've even gone as far as to cost out a month of dinners from M&S or similar, and it's not quite doable yet...

princesscelestia1 Sun 15-Nov-15 13:54:19

I do eat a lot of convinence food and chuck in oven stuff. Dh does fancy stuff using all these herbs and the food processor and god knows what. Way out of my ability level!

Unfortunately due to this I waste too much on eating out, take aways and pre made sauces. Singapore sounds like my type of place.

howtorebuild Sun 15-Nov-15 13:56:11

If community kitchens worked you wouldn't have the problems at uni in halls.

megletthesecond Sun 15-Nov-15 14:02:25

If there was some way of single parents sharing the load it would help.

EnaSharplesHairnet Sun 15-Nov-15 14:30:15

Yes howto. I remember the relief of ditching communal living.

howtorebuild Sun 15-Nov-15 14:35:21

I would hate it as the mess would annoy me, so I would end up doing more than my fair share waiting for procrastinating "in a minute" people who never get around to it.

BertieBotts Sun 15-Nov-15 15:00:39

I like the idea but only if it's not sex segregated. Otherwise you're not shifting the responsibility more fairly, you're just shifting it around all women, and adding in a load of logistics which makes the whole thing less efficient.

I'd love to be able to do somebody else's laundry and ironing in exchange for them cleaning my bathroom or doing my hoovering or whatever, and I do have a low-level exchange thing going on within our family where we all get to pick one job to never have to do except if everyone else is busy and one job that we don't mind doing 99% of, and that works well, I could see it working well to extend the circle of this, especially for small families (or families with younger children) - but currently the housework is SO female dominated that I feel like we need more gender equality first. It would piss me off to swap shares with another woman and find that her share is twice mine because her husband does nothing, for example.

If it was possible to value housework tasks, and then break them up according to ability for each man/woman/child (ability being about age and presence of physical disability) then it could work if it was kept fair. Under the current arrangement - I think it would turn into yet more "wifework" and take men off the hook.

VestalVirgin Sun 15-Nov-15 15:37:46

Bertie Botts, I think women could profit from sex segregating all the labour. That is, the other woman you swap shares with would do nothing for her husband and thus could not possibly have twice your amount of work to do. (That would, of course, require separate households.)

As things are, swapping chores would not free women from having to argue with their husbands over who does how much, and I think constant arguing over "wifework" is something that damanges women's health.

I agree that matrilinieal multi-generation housing is not a solution for everyone. It would work for me because I get along relatively well with my family and don't easily make new friends. Of course there are people whose family of origin is such that one couldn't get away from it fast enough!

We should try to promote alternative living models, I think, so that everyone can choose the one that fits her needs best.

Cheap food stalls with good food are the solution for the cooking conondrum I think would be most easily implemented - would work for introverts and extroverts alike, etc.

Sadik Sun 15-Nov-15 15:42:22

I used to live in a housing co-op/intentional community, we ate together 4-5 nights a week, there was quite a lot of informal shared childcare, and also shared bathrooms/communal spaces (hence shared cleaning). As with everything, there's good points (not having to cook every night) and bad points (parsnip quiche . . .).

Domestic work definitely didn't end up done by the women, in fact in the community as a whole including running an 80 acre farm the only two tasks that I can think of that ended up gender segregated were tractor driving and chainsawing. In both cases that was partly due to previous skills/knowledge (specifically coming to the community with a chainsaw certificate) and partly to size (very old heavy tractor - the skinny slight blokes didn't drive it either!).

Elendon Sun 15-Nov-15 16:04:12

My grandmother shared domestic duties within her wonderful community. There were people who didn't have the cooking facilities to roast a bird, especially at Christmas. She would roast the birds on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning for them at this time of year for a nominal fee. Also did this for funerals, weddings and christenings, but charged extra. She also had a wash house (still there) and charged people to use it.

She had a big range in her house so was able to do this. This was during the 1930s/40s/50s.

caroldecker Sun 15-Nov-15 16:30:29

The vast majority of housework compared to the 30's and prior has been outsourced to machines - communal clothes washing was useful before modern washers and dryers, now it only takes a moment to do.
Cheap kitchens only work if you are paying the staff a pittance or on a volunteering rota.

TeiTetua Sun 15-Nov-15 17:04:32

Well, there were the communal apartments in the Soviet Union, which apparently still exist in some places. It sounds awful, but maybe that's because the whole setup resulted from shortages and a government that controlled every aspect of people's lives.

LassWiTheWellStockitFarm Sun 15-Nov-15 20:25:15

Another point on following your last comment VestalVirgin - really interesting about the woman's paid job being considered less important. Would other mums agree?

Surely that is between individual couples? It wasn't in my case, although I concede that as husband and I are in the same profession and our career paths were in tangent it always came down to which of us could take the time off, it was never automatically one of us.

LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett Sun 15-Nov-15 20:29:31

But there already is a good way of sharing household duties. It's called getting everyone who lives in the house to pull their weight. Am I missing something here?

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