Story: Household management

The often mundane activities of household management underpin the rest of life. Tasks such as housework, gardening, home repairs and feeding a household have changed over time as technology has evolved.

Story by Megan Cook
Main image: Jan Moss of Auckland, carer for a disabled daughter and elderly mother-in-law

Story summary

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Household management involves tasks such as housework, gardening, repairs and caring for household members. Heavy work has become lighter over time as new sources of power and machines have been developed.

Wealthier households were able to pay for servants in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and cleaners and other helpers in the 2000s. Men and boys typically did outdoor tasks such as gardening and repairs, while women and girls did indoor tasks such as housework.

Indoor work

Housework includes cleaning the house, cooking, and washing dishes and clothes. Water was carried to the house in buckets and heated in pots or kettles until the 1880s, when water tanks and wetback ranges became available. Wood and coal fires were the main source of power and heat until the early 20th century.

Māori households were usually poorer, and many did not have running water, electricity and flush toilets until the later 20th century.

Women preserved food, made jam, baked and made clothes. This became less common as more women entered the paid workforce from the 1960s.

Outdoor work

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, most homes had vegetable gardens, and many had chickens. People also supplied the household by fishing, hunting and collecting firewood. Front gardens were seen as public areas, while back gardens were working areas, with a vegetable garden, fruit trees and compost heap. Growing vegetables became less common over time.

Men were usually responsible for household repairs such as painting, fixing broken windows or boards and building garden paths. Some built carports, sheds or additions to the house. From 1991 local councils took a more uniform approach to regulating building.

The wider world

Managing a household also involves dealing with the outside world – buying food, paying bills and organising tradespeople. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, in some poorer families the husband earned the money and the wife controlled the budget. In wealthier families the wife was often just given an allowance to buy food and clothing for herself and the children.

Especially in working-class communities and farming areas, neighbours were closely linked by favours and friendship. These networks became weaker in the later 20th century.

How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Household management', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 30 May 2024)

Story by Megan Cook, published 5 September 2013