Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thoughts on Radical Homemakers

"It is time we come to think of our homes as living systems. Like a sour-dough starter, the home's survival requires constant attention. A true home is inhabited by souls who live, breathe, eat, think, create, play, get sick, heal and get dirty. It will wither in an antiseptic condition. A true home pulses with nonhuman life--vegetable patches, yeast, backyard hens, blueberry bushes, culturing yogurt, fermenting wine and sauerkraut, brewing beer, milk goats, cats, dogs, houseplants, kids' science projects, pet snakes and strawberry patches."  -Shannon Hayes, from "Radical Homemakers"

I picked up this book after my friend Erin recommended it. It seemed like a good time in my life to read a book like this: the end of my maternity leave was looming, and I was struggling with the decision to go back to work.

Radical Homemakers, written by Shannon Hayes, is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the history of domesticity, and details how our culture shifted away from a home-based economy, where both partners of a marriage took part in homemaking. With the advent of the industrial revolution, men were increasingly taken into the factories to earn money for their wives to buy the goods being mass-produced.

(The industrialization of our food supply is something I've been giving a lot of thought to lately, and I find this paradox particularly interesting...that we must work long hours outside of the home to earn the money to go out and buy convenience foods that are quick to cook and to eat, because we no longer have the time to prepare a meal-let alone grow the food that goes into it!-because we're overworked.)

The second part of the book discusses the "how" of radical homemaking, using ideas from a sampling of homemakers interviewed for the book. Shannon discusses the changes we need to make in our mindset and in our lifestyles in order to begin moving towards a radical homemaking lifestyle.

I think it's an interesting comment on our society that the idea of homemaking, the idea of growing and preserving one's own food, building one's own home, and consuming much less "stuff", has become a radical one. It wasn't all that long ago that this was all the norm. In the book, Shannon discusses ways to reclaim these domestic skills, because there is certainly a gap in the knowledge. I find this in my own situation: my mother grows a beautiful flower garden, but I know nothing about growing vegetables. I was lucky in that she did some canning, so I understand the basics of it, but there is still so much knowledge to be regained. I love the idea of reaching out to the community around us, seeking out those with the skills we wish to possess and learning from them. Here in Dawson, there are a lot of people who hunt, fish, trap, forage and grow their own food. There is a really rich skill-set to learn from!

At the beginning of my year of maternity leave, I had no idea what to do with myself at home (other than nurse the baby and nap when he did!) But now, as I begin to do more and more myself, cooking from scratch in particular, I'm realizing that this is really a full time job.

The book talks a lot about both partners foregoing work outside the home to work within it, and I really wish that was a possibility for us. I am so grateful that P works hard at his business. It affords us the chance to travel outside of the territory a couple times a year; but when I look around our place at all of the things that need to be done, that I can't necessarily do, I feel sad. Running his own business, he often works long hours, and when he does get some time at home, he's often too tired to do much of anything. Eventually the hope is that he won't need to be there as much, and can spend more time at home, but for now, it pulls much of his time and attention.

Radical Homemakers gave me much to think about. It is so important that we begin to measure our wealth in something besides monetary terms. To be rich in time, in family, in friends, in community, in good food, seems so much more fulfilling than a fat bank account, new cars in the driveway, new clothes in the closet...I never thought I would feel so empowered in my decision to be a homemaker!

You can visit Shannon's website, Radical Homemakers, to learn more.


  1. Tara, how envious I am that you have been able to embrace this with such passion. I hope that one day I too can find my similar happiness.


    1. I hope so too, Lindsay. It was totally unexpected and really came out of nowhere for me...and it can take many forms, don't forget that!



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