Okay, radical sounds hip. I can live with that. But homemaker? The last few decades that word has been a synonym for drudgery. Besides, ask my kids who really does the dusting and vacuuming around here. They do.
What’s radical homemaking? A few years ago Shannon Hayes wrote a wonderful book called Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. Yes, I thought when I heard the term. Naming something gives it momentum. And the lifestyles of people defining for themselves what The Good Life is all about haven’t gone unnoticed so much as undefined. It doesn’t seem radical in the slightest to many of us who try to live simply, it just makes sense.
Thankfully Shannon pulls the pieces together. As she writes,
…each of us has a calling or right livelihood that enables us to serve the common good, and in finding this calling, we will be most happy. Few, if any spiritual teachings call us to seek the accumulation of money, stuff, power, or other purely selfish interests. Further, in a life-serving economy, we individually accept responsibility for creating our own joys and pleasures. We do not rely upon corporate America to sell us these things. We take personal and collective responsibility for supplying many of our needs. In taking these steps, we discover that true economic assets, unlike money, are intangible.
There’s nothing new about this. Most of our foremothers and fathers upheld frugality and scorned excess. Throughout history people have been growing and preserving food, making gifts, providing hands-on care for the young and old, repurposing materials and finding meaning in pleasures that aren’t necessarily linked to spending money.
This sort of lifestyle simmers along quietly and purposefully while consumer culture runs at a full boil, generating heat over every new trend and news flash.
Somehow, in a world bristling with radical homemakers, I’ve been outed as one of the representatives. “A poster child,” claimed the journalist who trekked out to our little farm with her notebook in hand to interview me. As a writer, I’m more comfortable interviewing others rather than being interviewed, but I put my trust in her expertise. I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to talk about trying to place our interests beyond the shallow values of appearance as I sat there wearing a thrift shop shirt that had to be 20 years old. Well, until the photographer showed up. Judging by the anxiety that generated I’m still the product of an appearance-indicates-worth society. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I gave up all hope of looking 20 pounds lighter or remotely put together and kept talking.
And laughing. Her questions struck me funny. In fact, she came right out and asked, “Don’t people treat you as if you’re odd?”
Maybe they do but I always thought that’s because I’m sarcastic and tend to sing songs with made-up lyrics.
I tried to explain why I preferred to make sandwich buns for an upcoming party rather than buy them. “Was it part of your philosophy? Was it cheaper?” she asked.
I don’t know if cheaper is relevant. I ground wheat berries, used eggs from our chickens and butter from our cow and honey from our bees, kneaded the dough and baked the buns that morning. It cost almost nothing in ingredients and very little in time. It had more to do with deeper choices. But don’t write about the buns, I said, it makes me sound really annoying.
I’m sure I’m annoying (just ask my kids) but also I’m pretty relaxed. I’m comfortable with weeds in the garden (nature doesn’t like bare dirt anyway) and stacks of reading material everywhere. I make homemade pizza all the time but that doesn’t mean we don’t succumb to the greasy allure of what my kids call “real pizza” from a little carry out nearby. We don’t have money for things like vacations or video games, we do have time to sit around talking long after dinner is over.
But I’ve decided the radical homemaking closet is a more comfortable place. A book I just reviewed dismissed gardening, canning, sewing, and other DIY pursuits in scathing terms, calling it a “chicken mystique.” And I have to admit, I’m no “poster child” by any means. The local article mentioning me made me do the introvert squirm but the one following it, in Ladies Home Journal, took the cake. It termed radical homemakers (wait for it) Extreme Housewives! No more interviews for me. I’ll stick with writing articles, making cheese, hanging laundry off my porch, and laughing at the dinner table with my family. The rest of you, go ahead and explain radical homemaking all you want.
When I was fresh out of college I planned to save the world. I’m beginning to see it’s possible to do so, simply by saving what’s important right in front of us.
About Laura Grace Weldon
Laura Grace Weldon is a writer, editor, conflict resolution educator, and marginally useful farm wench. She is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. She lives with her family on Bit of Earth Farm. Check out life on the farm at http://bitofearthfarm.wordpress.com/ and keep up with Laura’s relentless optimism at http://lauragraceweldon.com/blog-2/