It’s a Semi Victorian Life

Image credit: National Media Museum from UK

Strolling through the Victorian era

Some months back, I read a great book, “ How to be Victorian” by Ruth Goodman. As vintage mavens, many of us love this period in history- the beautiful clothes and dashing gentlemen. We’d dial the time machine back to live a Victorian life.

Let me be clear, life could be tough. Even for the middle class. There were food shortages. Heating your house was difficult, so you were often chilled. Hot and humid weather equalled a hot and sweaty you. Laundry and bathing were an ordeal. The hot and unpredictable stoves had to be stoked and maintained with wood or coal throughout the day. Every thing was made by hand. There was very little in the way of prepackaged food, and what there was might have killed you.

No KitchenAid stand mixers. No food processors. No Viking induction ranges. No Lean Cuisine. No central air or heat. No Costco.

Of course, if you were rich or at least upper middle class, things were different. You had help. You could worry more about ribbons and gossip and the latest Parisian fashions. Which is were I’d like to land when I dial back the time machine, just saying.

Why is this a thing?

Since the time of the pterodactyl, I’ve been corporate detritus. A big merger released me from a lucrative and responsible corporate position – I know, right?

Like Greece, I’ve been practicing austerity – hopefully with a bit more success and without the riots. Living on the cheap prompted me to think about this book, and how I could lead a semi Victorian life.

Let’s take a look at how this 21st century girl took what she learned from Ms Goodman’s book and is trying to live a semi Victorian life!

Semi-Victorian Life | Domicile and Comestibles

Did Victorian housewives use Pledge? A Swiffer? Uh, no.

It’s amazing what a clean, fresh house you can keep with a jug of white vinegar and big box of baking soda – vinegar is great for hard, shiny surfaces, think bathroom, kitchen and windows. A mixture of vinegar and soda cleans your commode right up. Since it’s mildly acidic, vinegar can cut through soap scum – use it straight on your shower, helps fight mildew, too! Have gunky gunk? A thick paste of vinegar and baking soda will most likely take it up, you may have to use some elbow grease, but who doesn’t need a bit of a workout? For wood, Murphy’s Oil Soap all the way! The powdered cleanser Bar Keepers Friend (made right here in Indiana since 1882!) will keep your stainless sink tip top as well as removing difficult stains (coffee, red wine) from your laminate counters.

Image courtesy:

Your new friend

Bag the paper towels (expensive and wasteful!), get a bucket and a couple rags – keep one dry to polish. Throw in a couple inexpensive spray bottles from the hardware store – one for diluted vinegar, one for straight and you’re cleanin’ it old school. If you feel the need to disinfect (food prep areas, cutting boards, etc) – a very mild bleach solution will do the trick. Just be sure to rinse it away and be wary of using it on stainless. Be sure to NOT mix the bleach with vinegar or ammonia, no good comes from it.

Modern, “convenience” cleaning products are expensive, loaded with all manner of craziness and many times stink. Frankly, they don’t save that much time, from my own experience “spray on and wipe off” cleaners are not and don’t. Plus, great grandma Clemmie didn’t use scrubbing bubbles! Right?

For laundry austerity, put aside fabric softener and dryer sheets. Expensive stuff, that. I use HALF the amount of detergent indicated on the packaging, cold water wash and rinse almost all the time and a shorter wash cycle. Put as little as possible in the dryer – your clothes and linens will thank you. A set of home made dryer balls will help reduce static and fluff the items that do go in the dryer. They work pretty well, especially with the fluffing, to that end, a splash of vinegar in the rinse reduces static as well – no, you won’t smell like salad dressing. Since I wear a lot of vintage pieces, I do a fair amount of hand washing. Fill your wash tub with tepid water, a generous splash of white vinegar and a touch of Woolite or your favorite mild laundry soap. A good rinse and everything comes out fresh, after a good air dry – it’s ready for the iron – let me be clear, my vintage collection NEVER even sees the dryer. Neither do my jeans, when I wash them, which is rarely.

A note on linens: I use all white linens, bedding and towels – to keep them bright, a warm water bleach wash every 5th or 6th cycle is necessary. Cold water washing does keep them clean, but a boost is needed every so often. Give your sheets a 15 minute push in the dryer, then air dry several hours. They will last longer! I iron mine dry. Yes, I iron my sheets. They look and feel awesome. Enough said.

Image courtesy:

Get your rag on!

My house is clean (when I clean it! Ha!). My clothes, towels and sheets are fresh and clean. I’ve not fallen for marketing or used a passel of perfumed junk in my house – it’s almost totally semi-Victorian.

Food can be a huge expenditure. Think about it – how much to you throw out? How much prepackaged food to you purchase? How much planning do you do?

Since every meal was home cooked and eating out was a luxury (those working outside the home would take a simple lunch or if possible, go home for lunch). The typical 19th century housewife shopped for food several times a week. She planned meals, with no refrigeration or freezer, she had to. Buying just what was needed, waste was not in the equation. Conversely, in this era of huge food, pre-packaged food and bulk buying, this seems silly. Right?

Now that I rarely eat out and cook daily, not so silly. It’s really pretty smart, shop 2-3 times a week. Only pick up what’s needed for the next 3-4 days. It does mean a bit of pre-planning. What’s interesting, my impulse buying has all but stopped. I tend to not get sucked into “buy 10, get 10 free” deals and other marketing ploys – which can lead one to buy stuff you don’t really need or want. Who needs 20 of anything? I’m throwing away a lot less – less is spent on food in general.

Which led me to think more like the Victorians – make what you can. It does save money and tastes much better! Here are some examples:

Ketchup can get pricey if you cook out frequently and/or make your own cocktail sauce, like I do! I learned to make my own – it’s VERY easy and rather tasty! More tomato flavor than bottled. Takes all of 15 minutes to make.

Cocktail Sauce – expensive and BEYOND easy to make your own! Ketchup (homemade!), prepared horse radish, Worcestershire Sauce and Sriracha (Rooster) Sauce. All to taste and made in small batches. If this takes 10 minutes, I’ll eat my bonnet.

Mayo/aioli – Home made is hands down better. Very easy to do in either your blender or processor. Flavor it up! Delicious! 20 minutes, maybe.

Hummus – SUPER easy. Yummy and why pay $4-$6 for something you can make for $1.50 and tastes better? T-minus 15 minutes and counting to whip up.

Baked goods – make your own! Home made tastes better, lasts longer and because it does taste better, you tend to eat less of it. Dense cookies and cakes freeze really, really well (freeze in individual servings). Do a batch of spice cookies and watch an episode of Downton Abbey! Perfect!

There are also recipes out there to make your own flour tortillas, pita chips, ranch dressing mix, etc. Pinterest is a great vehicle for this!

Image courtesy:

A mighty wind- the infamous Vornado

A word on climate control: last summer I had no AC – luckily, Indiana was blessed with a fairly mild summer. I invested in two awesome Vornado fans (got them at a discount off of WOOT!). They work really well, the air moved and it was cooler than the outdoors.. Was it AC cool in my house? No. The fans ran all the time and I spent a lot more time outside on my shaded deck. You get used to it. I have AC now (thanks Dad!), I keep it set fairly high and still use my fans all the time. The AC runs less with the higher setting and fan support. There’s a definite impact on my monthly energy bill.

I also haven’t had a dishwasher for several months – do my dishes 1-2 times a day, it only takes a few minutes, I promise.

Semi-Victorian Life | Technology – Channeling My Inner Semi -Luddite

Our great-great grandparents didn’t have TV, cable or the internet. They read, wrote, created art and socialized in their limited leisure time. Focusing upon activities that interested them and fed their need to learn or improve – a bit more meaningful than vegging in front of reality TV.

Do you know how much you spend per month on your technology? The amount of money we pay the cable company scoundrels is borderline criminal. I watched less than 10% of the line up I was paying for (do you really need 10 ESPN channels?). I was paying over $200 for 10 channels! Outrageous! Scandalous! Highway robbery!

And there was nothing on!! NOTHING.

Dumped the big package, went low tier. Bought a Roku Streaming Stick – signed up for Netflix at $8.99 a month and Amazon Prime for $99 a year (there are numerous streaming options out there, all very reasonable). Now I watch what I want when I want. History, science, classic movies, BBC and indie TV. No junk! No Kardashians!

Nerd heaven. I’ve learned a lot and saved about $150 each month.


Image courtesy: National Media Museum from UK

Reading – it’s a good thing!

What else? I got a library card, free books! OK, I read on my iPad (not Victorian in the least), but still. Free. Books. I still do buy books from time to time, but since I read a lot, I figured I’m saving about $20 or so a month.

I have’t completely tuned out – but I’ve tuned down.

There are some things that I can’t and won’t go completely Victorian regarding – the three months between a shampoo deal, the a once a week bath scenario or totally giving up 21st century technology.


Semi – Victorian feels good. Somehow less stressful. I’ve made other economies, of course, and the impact on my bottom line has been amazing. Few things are missed and many will not be added back when my circumstance allows – my bi-weekly massages being the main exception. I’m making the best with what I have and what I can work with, not unlike our stalwart Victorian predecessors – making the best of adversity.

All in all, it’s a good life.

Dear readers – what changes have you made to simplify life and/or your bottom line? Do you have tips to share?

Replies for “It’s a Semi Victorian Life

    • Becky Oeltjenbruns

      Hi Susan,
      Thanks for stopping by and reading this feature – Ellen has inspired us all! Keep us posted on how incorporating the tips and tricks go – new adventures are always fun 🙂

  • Ellen Dial


    Thank you! Let us know what you do to go “semi Victorian”… I also recommend checking out Ms Goodman’s book, it was very interesting and an easy read.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments will be subject to approval by a moderator. Comments may fail to be approved or may be edited if the moderator deems that they:

  • contain unsolicited advertisements ("spam")
  • are unrelated to the subject matter of the post or of subsequent approved comments
  • contain personal attacks or abusive/gratuitously offensive language