Confucius said that the health of a nation could be determined by the integrity of its homes. If we apply that standard, we’re in trouble.
Culturally, most Americans don’t even have homes anymore. They have houses, not homes. Homes are something that are made, not bought. And, homes, thus, require homemakers. That’s right, plural: homemakers. I’m not talking about just women. And, I’m not talking about Ozzie and Harriet stereotypical housewives.
Take back your home
Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes, Left to Write Press, 352 pp, $17.23.
Mainstream American culture views the household as a unit of consumption. A radical homemaker turns this conception upside down by restoring the household to a unit of production. This viewpoint empowers households to produce their own food, clothing, repairs, electricity, entertainment, preventative health-care and environmental resources.
Radical homemaking pulls the plug from an extractive economy, where corporate wealth is regarded as economic health, and re-plugs into a life-serving economy where people can live meaningful lives created by their own efforts.
And radical homemakers use life skills and relationship networks as a replacement for money. Planting a garden, growing beans, mending a shirt, butchering, repairing an appliance, cooking, canning, hunting, fishing, splitting wood, caring for children, milking a goat, tending bees, installing solar panels, mending a fence, and playing music make radical homemakers less dependent upon the ups and downs of an unstable economic climate.
In it together
Let’s remember that the household was not considered “a woman’s domain” until theIndustrial Revolution. Prior to that time, both men and women lived on their homesteads and participated, conjointly, in living off their land.
But with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, men left home to work for wages. The more a man worked off premises, the more his family had to rely on commercial goods to replace what he would have produced, were he there. Over time, industrialization supplied most of the products that, earlier, the household would have made by hand. And, domesticity became another cog in the consumer wheel.
You know the rest of the story. Over time, a second family income was no longer an option. It was a necessity. So, women left the households, too. There was nobody home. And, homes morphed into houses — filled with consumer goods.
Gone were the men and women of yesteryear who had generated genuine self-determination in their households. Gone was the sense of pride in bread well-baked; meaning in a sonata well-played; sustenance in a hog well-dressed; or confidence in an herbal (medical) tincture well-made.
Everything became purchased, not produced. And, in more recent years, the quality of those purchased commodities declined, as well. Job outsourcing, pesticides, chemical toxins, cheap labor, GMOs and profit frenzies changed quality-based production into quantity-based manufacturing. And, lifestyles that were once earthy and meaningful gave way to stress disorders, antidepressants and obesity.
Everything old is new again
The good news is that we can do something about this. We can step off the treadmill and revision our domestic arrangements so that our homes can become productive again. Instead of just getting pulled along by the dominant paradigm’s ideas about how we should live, we can choose how to structure our lives. We can take a hard look at our priorities and decide if we are better off watching TV or tending a garden. Would a small flock of chickens work out in our backyard? What would it be like if everyone pitched in to prepare a fresh, wholesome home cooked meal?
There might be a period of adjustment in the beginning. It means turning off the TV, cell phones, and Facebook and spending time with one another. But, once all of the players begin to enjoy companionship with one another, and recognize the mutual benefit in terms of health, personal economy, vitality and well-being, interest might grow.
There’s something about shifting from being a net consumer to a net producer that is very satisfying. And, there’s something truly magical about making a house a home.