In the South of France, on the outskirts of the city of Nice, lies a hill named Mont Boron. On the slopes of this hill, slumbering in the warm Mediterranean climate, lies an archaeological site named Terra Amata.

Terra Amata is known for producing evidence of some of the oldest homes in the world. Excavations suggest that the occupants of Terra Amata lived in oval huts with hearths in their centres. From this description, it’s not difficult to conjure up a mental image of home life at Terra Amata, a life punctuated by a rhythm of work, play, and rest, in these huts where the kitchen was literally the heart of the home.

Terra Amata is 400,000 years old, and sites like this remind us that homemaking is an ancient practice. It’s remarkable to realise that many of the homemaking tasks we perform today have been performed in some variation by countless generations before us. Like the people of Terra Amata, as homemakers we spend our days creating homes that support work, play, and rest.

Given the long history of homemaking, it’s tempting to think of homemaking as an inborn skill, similar to ducks being born knowing how to swim. This belief gets reinforced when we hear people say things like “She’s a naturally tidy person” or “She has a green thumb.” Statements like these may be true, but they don’t tell the whole story. The whole truth is that homemaking is a skill, and like any other skill, it must be learnt and honed. Proper knowledge and practice are the essential ingredients of homemaking success, even for someone with an aptitude for homemaking.

Homemaking encompasses a wide range of tasks, which makes it hard to know where to start. My first few years of homemaking were filled with fruitless bustle. In my enthusiasm, I baked bagels, ironed pillowcases and organised bookshelves. But each day I seemed no closer to that elusive goal, the goal common to all homemakers: to turn my house into a home.

I said that those early years were fruitless bustle, but that is not strictly true. During those years I initiated countless homemaking experiments, and although they weren’t always successful, they were valuable. I’m reminded of Thomas Edison, who conducted over nine thousand unsuccessful experiments in the process of inventing the alkaline battery. Edison’s colleague asked, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?” Edison replied, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”

As it turns out, those first few years of homemaking did yield fruit, though the harvest was of a different nature than I had expected. Those years bestowed upon me two important lessons. The first was a crystalline understanding of my goal. When I started homemaking I had nothing but a faint and fuzzy concept of what I considered a “home”. By process of elimination, my experiments showed me exactly what I desired to create: a clean and functional space that allowed its inhabitants to thrive.

The second lesson was the realisation that homemaking must be approached methodically. Thus far I had been guided by whim, and my homemaking efforts had been scattered. No wonder I found myself floundering in murky waters. Now I saw that by applying myself to the right tasks in the right order, I could carve a direct path to my ideal home. These realisations prompted a turning point in my homemaking, and like Edison, I could proudly assert: I have gotten a lot of results!

Shortly afterwards I entered one of the busiest periods of my life. Time became a scarcity, and I no longer had the luxury of spending hours each day pottering around my home. With the scant time I had, I set about testing my new theory of homemaking. First I identified the key skills required to make a home, then I set about acquiring these skills.

The days that followed saw a rapid change in my home. Floors gleamed and windows sparkled. Surfaces lost their robes of dust. Meals became reliable, nutritious, and homemade. And all of this was accomplished in a fraction of the time that I used to spend on homemaking. It was clear that focusing on the fundamentals was the key to homemaking success.

As my home became shipshape, so did other areas of my life. I started going on daily nature walks with my husband. I reclaimed long-neglected hobbies and acquired new ones too. I started getting in bed on time. And in between all this, I found more time to think, relax, and just live. In this way, I stumbled upon the secret of homemaking: your home is a mirror of your life, and a smoothly running house begets a smoothly running life.

As a child I enjoyed browsing my mother’s recipe books. I remember marvelling at the ability of a recipe to grant culinary success. A recipe bestows upon the reader a magical ability to concoct a dish that she has never made before. And unlike the magic in fairytales, the magic of a recipe does not dissipate once used. We can use a recipe again and again, with each attempt strengthening the magic, allowing us to produce ever-improving results. A good recipe is a magic act that rivals any conjuration produced by a genie in a bottle.

Homemaking without a proper method is like baking a birthday cake without a recipe. There’s little chance of producing anything edible, let alone an impressive Black Forest with stacked layers of chocolate sponge and a lustrous garland of cherries.

This book is my attempt to write a recipe for homemaking. It is not a recipe for Black Forest cake, which is delicious but unsuited for the everyday table. Instead it is a recipe for a wholesome loaf of bread, one of the oldest prepared foods in the world and a hearty, nutritious staple.

This book covers essential skills for all homemakers. These homemaking skills are universal. They apply to anyone who wants to learn the art of homemaking, regardless of where in the world you live, the size of your home, or if you are a full-time or part-time homemaker. Like all good recipes, this book aims to help you produce desirable outcomes efficiently and consistently. It’s the book I wish I had when I first became a homemaker.

This book is organised into three parts. Part 1 focuses on the “who” of homemaking and aims to prepare you for your homemaking adventure. Part 2 focuses on the “what” of homemaking and teaches you the essential skills that form the core of homemaking. Part 3 focuses on the “how” of homemaking and equips you with techniques for transforming a humdrum homemaking routine into a fulfilling one.

Homemaking is a practical activity. The suggestions in this book will produce fast, tangible results in your home—clean sinks, warm meals, tidy cupboards. These concrete changes have a cumulative effect, and they immediately make your home a more pleasant place to live.

Homemaking offers intangible rewards too. I was originally going to call this book Happy Homemaking because that is an accurate depiction of my homemaking. Learning and honing the homemaking fundamentals transforms homemaking from fruitless bustle into a labour of love that leaves the homemaker feeling contented and fulfilled.

Terra Amata means “beloved land”, a fitting moniker for a home. It is my hope that this book will help you create your own beloved land, one that propels you and your family towards a happy and full life.