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When told to stay at home, basic home ec skills come in handy

by Beth Henary Watson



Early during the COVID-19 crisis, I opened an envelope containing four home-sewn masks, one for each member of my family. My husband’s cousin Julie made them for us without being asked.


With a shortage of masks available for purchase, and the CDC promoting homemade alternatives as a way to slow virus transmission, all of a sudden we are paying attention to who can sew. Two months ago I would have told you that sewing was a quaint, useful, though largely unnecessary skill. 


As COVID-19 drags on and many people are staying home more than they used to, I have noticed that domestic skills--mostly good old fashioned home economics--are key not just to saving money, but to staying safer as well. Being able to do the things your ancestors found necessary to sustain life helps you succeed at social distancing.


My husband, Steve, is a household purchasing whiz. An accountant by training, for years we chuckled at him as he routinely bought enormous boxes of toilet paper online based on the cheapest cost per sheet. No one’s laughing now! He has also always insisted on maintaining large quantities of liquid hand soap and household cleaners.


Purchasing acumen demonstrates the intersection of two invaluable domestic arts: frugality and planning. I have written elsewhere that frugality isn’t what people think it is; it’s simply, as Merriam-Webster calls it, careful management of material resources and especially money. To Steve it makes no sense to pay more for or have a meager supply of an item you will always need. Buying larger quantities does require a little extra storage and getting used to bigger upfront bills, but it saves trips to the store--which is more important now that it normally is.


I know several people who often go to the grocery store more than once a week and wonder how they are coping now. Judging by the Mineral Wells Wal-Mart parking lot...not very well. The reasons for this are varied. Sometimes it’s poor planning but some people just prefer the freshest produce or meats. In a normal world neither of these is a fatal flaw.


Many of us are learning to make do, or at least we should be. Since we’re used to buying whatever we need at any time of day, making do is an underappreciated ability that needs a rebirth that extends beyond COVID-19. 


Most helpfully, making do is useful when it comes to cooking. After all, we eat up to 21 meals a week! In a pinch, yes, ketchup can be used for tomato paste. You will not starve if you eat what’s available in your pantry even though it may not be your favorite dish ever. I didn’t really learn to cook well until I was in my thirties, but I’m so glad I did. Having the expertise to make a tasty meal with some beans, canned tomatoes, and spices keeps you out of the mayhem. Takeout, fast food runs, and eating grocery store prepared meals every day were never good for your health or your bank account.


Lastly, I have noticed that even staying at home itself deserves a place on the list of vital home ec skills! Most of us suffer a go-go-go culture. But one person not having any trouble staying at home is my Mom. Normally she sees friends and works a little here and there in retirement. By default, though, she is content staying in her house. Many years of practice as a homemaker who didn’t overextend her family’s schedule probably helps. She tends a garden, she reads, she talks on the phone, and she doesn’t have as many doctor appointments as a lot of people her age.


Have you been able to dust off or acquire a skill during this time of “social distancing?” All of a sudden house cleaning, home education/teaching, menu planning, and laundry--tasks many of us have outsourced--are more wisely done at home, at least for the very short term. Hunters with stores of meat and experienced gardeners are far ahead of those who decided this month that a bit of self-sufficiency might be a good thing. At the end of all of this, I hope each of us emerges with a newfound respect for these abilities that increase our independence, and a heightened awareness of the tradeoffs we often make for convenience.


Beth Henary Watson is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional with Corner Post Financial Planning.