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   Chapter 5 IS IT ECONOMY

Trials and Confessions of a Housekeeper By T. S. Arthur Characters: 12729

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

THE "Experience" of my relative, Mr. John Jones, referred to in the preceding chapter, is given in what follows. After reading it, we think that few young housekeepers will commit the folly of indulging to any very great extent in cheap furniture.

We had been married five years, and during the time had boarded for economy's sake. But the addition of one after another to our family, admonished us that it was getting time to enlarge our borders; and so we were determined to go to housekeeping. In matters of domestic economy both my wife and myself were a little "green," but I think that I was the greenest of the two.

To get a house was our first concern, and to select furniture was our next. The house was found after two months' diligent search, and at the expense of a good deal of precious shoe leather. Save me from another siege at house-hunting! I would about as soon undertake to build a suitable dwelling with my own hands, as to find one "exactly the thing" already up, and waiting with open doors for a tenant. All the really desirable houses that we found ticketed "to let," were at least two prices above our limit, and most of those within our means we would hardly have lived in rent free.

At last, however, we found a cosey little nest of a house, just built, and clean and neat as a new pin, from top to bottom. It suited us to a T. And now came the next most important business-selecting furniture. My wife's ideas had always been a little in advance of mine. That is, she liked to have every thing of the best quality; and had the weakness, so to speak, of desiring to make an appearance. As my income, at the time, was but moderate, and the prospect of an increase thereof not very flattering, I felt like being exceedingly prudent in all outlays for furniture.

"We must be content with things few and plain," said I, as we sat down one morning to figure up what we must get.

"But let them be good," said my wife.

"Strong and substantial," was my reply. "But we can't afford to pay for much extra polish and filigree work."

"I don't want any thing very extra, Mr. Jones," returned my wife, a little uneasily. "Though what I do have, I would like good. It's no economy, in the end, to buy cheap things."

The emphasis on the word cheap, rather grated on my ear; for I was in favor of getting every thing as cheap as possible.

"What kind of chairs did you think of getting?" asked Mrs. Jones.

"A handsome set of cane-seat," I replied, thinking that in this, at least, I would be even with her ideas on the subject of parlor chairs. But her face did not brighten.

"What would you like?" said I.

"I believe it would be more economical in the end to get good stuffed seat, mahogany chairs," replied Mrs. Jones.

"At five dollars a-piece, Ellen?"

"Yes. Even at five dollars a-piece. They would last us our life-time; while cane-seat chairs, if we get them, will have to be renewed two or three times, and cost a great deal more in the end, without being half so comfortable, or looking half-so well."

"Sixty dollars for a dozen chairs, when very good ones can be had for twenty-four dollars! Indeed, Ellen, we mustn't think of such a thing. We can't afford it. Remember, there are a great many other things to buy."

"I know, dear; but I am sure it will be much more economical in the end for us to diminish the number of articles, and add to the quality of what we do have. I am very much like the poor woman who preferred a cup of clear, strong, fragrant coffee, three times a week, to a decoction of burnt rye every day. What I have, I do like good."

"And so do I, Ellen. But, as I said before, there will be, diminish as we may, a great many things to buy, and we must make the cost of each as small as possible. We must not think of such extravagance as mahogany chairs now. At some other time we may get them."

My wife here gave up the point, and, what I thought a little remarkable, made no more points on the subject of furniture. I had every thing my own way; I bought cheap to my heart's content. It was only necessary for me to express my approval of an article, for her to assent to its purchase.

As to patronizing your fashionable cabinet makers and high-priced upholsterers, we were not guilty of the folly, but bought at reasonable rates from auction stores and at public sales. Our parlor carpets cost but ninety cents a yard, and were handsomer than those for which a lady of our acquaintance paid a dollar and thirty-eight. Our chairs were of a neat, fancy pattern, and had cost thirty dollars a dozen. We had hesitated for some time between a set at twenty-four dollars a dozen and these; but the style being so much more attractive, we let our taste govern in the selection. The price of our sofa was eighteen dollars, and I thought it a really genteel affair, though my wife was not in raptures about it. A pair of card tables for fifteen dollars, and a marble-top centre table for fourteen, gave our parlors quite a handsome appearance.

"I wouldn't ask any thing more comfortable or genteel than this," said, I, when the parlors were all "fixed" right.

Mrs. Jones looked pleased with the appearance of things, but did not express herself extravagantly.

In selecting our chamber furniture, a handsome dressing-bureau and French bedstead that my wife went to look at in the ware-room of a high-priced cabinet maker, tempted her strongly, and it was with some difficulty that I could get her ideas back to a regular maple four-poster, a plain, ten dollar bureau, and a two dollar dressing-glass. Twenty and thirty dollar mattresses, too, were in her mind, but when articles of the kind, just as good to wear, could be had at eight and ten dollars, where was the use of wasting money in going higher?

The ratio of cost set down against the foregoing articles, was maintained from garret to kitchen; and I was agreeably disappointed to find, after the last bill for purchases was paid, that I was within the limit of expenditures I had proposed to make by over a hundred dollars.

The change from a boarding-house to a comfortable home was, indeed, pleasant. We could never get done talking about it. Every thing was so quiet, so new, so clean, and so orderly.

"This is living," would drop from our lips a dozen times a week.

One day, about three months

after we had commenced housekeeping, I came home, and, on entering the parlor, the first thing that met my eyes was a large spot of white on the new sofa. A piece of the veneering had been knocked off, completely disfiguring it.

"What did that?" I asked of my wife.

"In setting back a chair that I had dusted," she replied, "one of the feet touched the sofa lightly, when off dropped that veneer like a loose flake. I've been examining the sofa since, and find that it is a very bad piece of work. Just look here."

And she drew me over to the place where my eighteen dollar sofa stood, and pointed out sundry large seams that had gaped open, loose spots in the veneering, and rickety joints. I saw now, what I had not before seen, that the whole article was of exceedingly common material and common workmanship.

"A miserable piece of furniture!" said I.

"It is, indeed," returned Mrs. Jones. "To buy an article like this, is little better than throwing money into the street."

For a month the disfigured sofa remained in the parlor, a perfect eye-sore, when another piece of the veneering sloughed off, and one of the feet became loose. It was then sent to a cabinet maker for repair; and cost for removing and mending just five dollars.

Not long after this, the bureau had to take a like journey, for it had, strangely enough, fallen into sudden dilapidation. All the locks were out of order, half the knobs were off, there was not a drawer that didn't require the most accurate balancing of forces in order to get it shut after it was once open, and it showed premonitory symptoms of shedding its skin like a snake. A five dollar bill was expended in putting this into something like usable order and respectable aspect. By this time a new set of castors was needed for the maple four-poster, which was obtained at the expense of two dollars. Moreover, the head-board to said four-poster, which, from its exceeding ugliness, had, from the first, been a terrible eye-sore to Mrs. Jones, as well as to myself, was, about this period, removed, and one of more sightly appearance substituted, at the additional charge of six dollars. No tester frame had accompanied the cheap bedstead at its original purchase, and now my wife wished to have one, and also a light curtain above and valance below. All these, with trimmings, etc., to match, cost the round sum of ten dollars.

"It looks very neat," said Mrs. Jones, after her curtains were up.

"It does, indeed," said I.

"Still," returned Mrs. Jones, "I would much rather have had a handsome mahogany French bedstead."

"So would I," was my answer. "But you know they cost some thirty dollars, and we paid but sixteen for this."

"Sixteen!" said my wife, turning quickly toward me. "It cost more than that."

"Oh, no. I have the bill in my desk," was my confident answer.

"Sixteen was originally paid, I know," said Mrs. Jones. "But then, remember, what it has cost since. Two dollars for castors, six for a new head-board, and ten for tester and curtains. Thirty-four dollars in all; when a very handsome French bedstead, of good workmanship, can be bought for thirty dollars."

I must own that I was taken somewhat aback by this array of figures "that don't lie."

"And for twenty dollars we could have bought a neat, well made dressing-bureau, at Moore and Campion's, that would have lasted for twice as many years, and always looked in credit."

"But ours, you know, only cost ten," said I.

"The bureau, such as it is, cost ten, and the glass two. Add five that we have already paid for repairs, and the four that our maple bedstead has cost above the price of a handsome French, one, and we will have the sum of twenty-one dollars,-enough to purchase as handsome a dressing-bureau as I would ask. So you see. Mr. Jones, that our cheap furniture is not going to turn out so cheap after all. And as for looks, why no one can say there is much to brag of."

This was a new view of the case, and certainly one not very flattering to my economical vanity. I gave in, of course, and, admitted that Mrs. Jones was right.

But the dilapidations and expenses for repairs, to which I have just referred, were but as the "beginning of sorrows." It took, about three years to show the full fruits of my error. By the end of that time, half my parlor chairs had been rendered useless in consequence of the back-breaking and seat-rending ordeals through which they had been called to pass. The sofa was unanimously condemned to the dining room, and the ninety cent carpet had gone on fading and defacing, until my wife said she was ashamed to put it even on her chambers. For repairs, our furniture had cost, up to this period, to say nothing of the perpetual annoyance of having it put out of order, and running for the cabinet maker and upholsterer, not less than a couple of hundred dollars.

Finally, I grew desperate.

"I'll have decent, well made furniture, let it cost what it will," said I, to Mrs. Jones.

"You will find it cheapest in the end," was her quiet reply.

On the next day we went to a cabinet maker, whose reputation for good work stood among the highest in the city; and ordered new parlor and chamber furniture-mahogany chairs, French bedstead, dressing-bureau and all, and as soon as they came home, cleared the house of all the old cheap (dear!) trash with which we had been worried since the day we commenced housekeeping.

A good many years have passed since, and we have not paid the first five dollar bill for repairs. All the drawers run as smoothly as railroad cars; knobs are tight; locks in prime order, and veneers cling as tightly to their places as if they had grown there. All is right and tight, and wears an orderly, genteel appearance; and what is best of all the cost of every thing we have, good as it is, is far below the real cost of what is inferior.

"It is better-much better," said I to Mrs. Jones, the other day.

"Better!" was her reply. "Yes, indeed, a thousand times better to have good things at once. Cheap furniture is dearest in the end. Every housekeeper ought to know this in the beginning. If we had known it, see what we would have saved."

"If I had known it, you mean," said I.

My wife looked kindly, not triumphantly, into my face, and smiled. When she again spoke, it was on another subject.

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