Last summer, while I was enjoying the tail end of my maternity leave, I heard about Shannon Hayes' new book, Radial Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, and I decided to buy a copy and check it out. I was loving maternity leave so the idea of people making the conscious choice to stay home was appealing.
Hayes begins by giving a history of the value of household work and describes the principles that radical homemakers live by in "Part One: Why." She defines radical homemakers as people looking to move toward a life-serving economy rather than an extractive economy, and who follow the principles for a sustainable way of life set forth in The Earth Charter (2000):
1. Respect and care for the community of life
2. Ecological integrity
3. Social and economic justice
4. Democracy, nonviolence and peace
Hayes describes the path of the radical homemaker. The radical homemakers first renounced consumer societies, began to reclaim homemaking skills that allow them to depend less on consumerism, and then moved on to a rebuilding phase:
Hayes then goes on to describe the role of the American housewife over time, the shift to two income households, and the increasing amount of work outside the home. I was especially shocked by the amount of time Americans spend at work:
"In this period, they took on genuine creative challenges, tended toward engagement with their communities, and made significant contributions toward rebuilding a new society that reflected their vision of a better world either through artwork, writing, farming, fine craftwork, social reform, activism, teaching, or a small business."
"From 1973 to 2000, the average American worker added 199 extra hours onto their annual work schedule, the equivalent of nearly five extra work-weeks per year... the famously squeezed middle class shouldered an even greater labor burden between 1979 and 2000, and increased their work hours by 660 per year - a total of nearly twelve weeks. Americans now work more hours than any other industrialized country, including famously industrious Japan."
While I did find it interesting, I was happy when "Part One: Why" was over. I tend to be less interested in philosophical musings and much more interested in stories from real people, and that is what I found in abundance in "Part Two: How." Hayes conducted interviews with real people living the radical homemaker lifestyle, and complied the interviews to share their lives. She found radical homemakers through a post on her website:
"If you have learned to live on less in order to take the time to nourish your family and the planet through home cooking, engaged citizenship, responsible consumption and creative living, whether you are male, female, two people sharing the role, with or without children, or part-time, please drop me a line and tell me your story."
I loved reading about women and men who chose to make homemaking their life's work. I found myself identifying with other young families, but there were senior citizens, single people both young and old, older families, people living in urban, suburban and rural areas. I would imagine that there was a radical homemaker to serve as a reflection of each individual reader. Hayes describes the radical homemakers and their lifestyles:
"While no single family accomplished everything on this list, I came across homemakers who would: grow, can, dehydrate, freeze and lacto-ferment vegetables and fruit harvest and store root crops; make wine, beer and herbal teas; press juices and cider; make jams and jellies; raise livestock and harvest meat; make pates and sausages; smoke bacons or fish; keep honey bees; milk a dairy goat or cow; make cheese, yogurt, butter and kefir; make soap or other homemade nontoxic cleaning supplies; keep chickens; forage through city parks and streets, neighboring backyards and country roads for wild plants and "feral" fruits cut their firewood; set up water recycling systems; provide their own human-powered transportation; make toys, invent games and educate their own children; make medicinal remedies; fix their houses and cars; sew, knit and mend their clothes; create art, literature, music and crafts; graft fruit trees; build their own homes; build soil through composting; and, of course, bake and cook."I would recommend this book to anyone trying to live a simpler life who wants some ideas about how other families make it work. Am I a radical homemaker?
I'm a professional, highly educated woman who chooses to grow, raise and preserve her family's food. I try to reduce waste and stay away from consumerism. I value hand-made over store-bought, and I enjoy doing things like kneading bread by hand and making my own yogurt or cheese, knitting or crocheting gifts, or helping to butcher our yearly pig. Radical for sure, especially among my contemporaries: professional women in their late 20's. Most of my real-life girlfriends would be much more likely to go out for sushi than clean a just-caught fish.
But am I a homemaker? Absolutely! I'm not a full-time homemaker, and I don't see the absence of outside work as a prerequisite to be a homemaker. The good news is that I find that my work to be valuable and mostly enjoyable. My job as a teacher is the best of both worlds. As an environmental educator, I get the chance to share my passion for the planet with my students and feel that I'm making a real difference. Plus, I get to spend summers at home, which just so happen to be pretty busy times in the life of a homemaker. I'm also fortunate to provide health insurance for my family through my job. Many of the radical homemakers featured in the book do have full- or part-time jobs to supplement their homemaking.
Win A Copy!
In the spirit of anti-consumerism, I'm giving away my copy of Radical Homemakers. Hope you don't mind dog-eared pages! To enter, please leave a comment below answering this question: Are you a radical homemaker?
Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact the winner! The giveaway will remain open until Thursday, February 17, and I'll announce the winner in my post on Friday the 18th, so be sure to check back then!
Note: I purchased this book myself and have not received any compensation for doing this review.