Doing Life

The Power of Cliches: Life Lessons from Little House

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Not long ago, as the weather turned cold and we started looking forward to the holiday season, my husband and I both started reading the Little House book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I had found an almost complete set at the used book store, and it seemed like just the sort of thing to put is in the mood for winter and Christmas.

Of course, like most GenXers, I grew up with the Little House on the Prairie TV series, so I thought I knew what to expect. I also thought I had read these books already when I was about 10 years old or so, although it turns out I had only read the titular book, not the entire series. At any rate, I didn’t expect to develop such a strong fascination for the Ingalls family and their way of life, or to become a Laura Wilder fangirl.

I also didn’t expect to get so much from these books that I can apply to my own life. Not just the detailed instructions for things like making cheese and sour dough bread and baked beans and building a log cabin (not that I’m likely to ever need that particular bit of knowledge… but you never know), but also attitudes and philosophies about life.

It seems that Charles and Caroline Ingalls (a.k.a. Pa and Ma) put a lot of stock in sayings that we think of as cliche. But sometimes the reason things get repeated to the point of becoming cliche is because they’re true. The Ingallses met with a lot of hardship and adversity in their quest to carve out a living from the land, and their ability to remain positive and keep their optimism in the face of catastrophe was breathtaking.

Here are a few of the sayings of which they were most fond, that did so much to carry them through hard times.

Wash on Monday . . .

This isn’t so much a saying meant to cope with hard times, but this little rhyme definitely helped Ma with her considerable amount of housework and chores:

Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday

Other versions of this rhyme say “Market on Thursday,” but being that the Ingalls family usually lived quite a distance from town and raised their own food, Ma’s modification was more fitting.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought about how to adapt this rhyme to modern life and my own household needs, which don’t actually include having to make my own dairy products. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Vacuum on Monday
Laundry on Tuesday
Sprouts Market on Wednesday
Aldi on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Big projects/yard work on Saturday
Rest on Sunday

So far, so good. I vacuumed (and swept) the floors yesterday, and today I’m getting the laundry done. Wednesday’s and Thursday’s shopping trips are already part of our routine, so we’ll just have to see if I manage to fit in cleaning on Friday and muster up enough energy to tackle one of my big organizing projects on Saturday. I guess I’ll keep you posted.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Pa was fond of saying this after narrowly surviving disaster or narrowly avoiding getting his family killed. It seems at times like a way of brushing off boneheaded decisions, but really, it’s not a bad attitude to adopt. You can’t change the past and you can’t take back bad choices; and if things work out in spite of your mistakes, then there’s no point in dwelling on what you could have done differently. Just give thanks that nobody got (seriously) hurt and move on (and try to be more careful in the future).

There’s No Big Loss without Some Small Gain

This was one of Ma’s favorite sayings, a more modern equivalent of which might be “look for the silver lining.” Ma trotted out this chestnut in the face of some pretty major disasters — such as when blackbirds ate their entire crop of corn, but Pa managed to kill enough of the blackbirds to provide meat for days — as a means of staying focused on the positive. This is definitely a trait I could do well to emulate in my own life.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

If you think about it, the pioneers never would have made it in the West without a tenacious streak a mile wide, and Pa exemplified this trait. This is something I used to believe wholeheartedly when I was younger, but since I’ve gotten older I’ve grown a lot more cautious and more likely to let obstacles dissuade me from pursuing my goals. Pa and the rest of the Ingalls family have reminded me how far hard work and determination can go toward achieving the life you want. You just have to be willing to do what’s necessary, and to not let fear hold you back — two things I’ll be doing my best to remember as I chase after my writing and publishing goals this year.

What about you guys? Do you have any favorite cliches that you’ve found to be true? Have you read the Little House books (and aren’t they great)? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “The Power of Cliches: Life Lessons from Little House”

  1. You are officially making me want to reread Little House. It has been a very long time! I like how you adopted Ma’s ‘schedule’. I think that’s a fantastic idea.

    One of my favorite sayings is something you will often here in Japan. “Shouganai.” It essentially means “It can’t be helped.” I have seen some foreigners take this to mean that you are giving up, but the Japanese view it more as something to say when no matter what you do, the situation is what it is. Your alarm didn’t go off. There is a train accident. Whatever. If it can’t be helped, don’t worry about it, and focus on the things you CAN do instead!

    1. Sounds kind of like a Japanese version of “Que sera sera.” I like it! It’s a great reminder that there are some things that just can’t be helped, and there’s no point in getting worked up about it. Good thing to keep in mind when navigating Tulsa traffic. ๐Ÿ™‚

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