Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Review: Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

When I got this book from my wish list on Amazon, it was after about 6 months of trepidation.  It had been on my Amazon wish list for that long and I’d go back, read reviews, read articles, hem and haw over how it fit into the grand scheme of the plan we Lieberts have for our lives.  I ended up getting it last month and have been diligently reading it.  What I am most shocked by is how much it challenges me to think about our life.

This book has challenged me to think about how we’re living and what we’re trying to achieve.  As Americans, the thing we learn is that you want to be making lots of money so that you and your family can be happy.  Ms. Hayes says we’re buying into a construct, literally buying, but that we’ve been taken for a ride.  Money, literally, can’t buy happiness.
Involvement in our own homes, our families, and our communities- building a life that is full of people you love and is self sustainable is where you get happiness.  She advocates a sort of ‘return to our roots’ idealism and the amazing part is how she incorporates stories of people across our country, Radical Homemakers if you will, that have done just that.

We live in an extractive economy- you pay for absolutely everything you need for survival.  Rarely do people have the domestic skills to actually live sustainably without having to pay for it.  Very few of us keep a garden, can mend a sock, using canning techniques, or even stock up for anything beyond a week.  But we need more storage space than ever and we have more debt and bills than ever too.  She asks the reader “Why is it that only paid work is considered to be inherently valuable?”  Why is the home makers work, of raising children, building a home that has a real sense of community, nourishing that family, etc., considered to be valuable work too?

She sees being a homemaker not as an act or moral submission or servitude but rather one of transformation for the better because we come to think of our lives as a sort of eco-system- natural, self-sustained, and powerful.  Ms. Hayes quotes Thoreau and his own theories on money and the destruction of society often.  He states that we live ‘lives of quiet desperation’, meaning that we buy everything we ‘need’ to be happy but rarely ‘are’ happy.

Ms. Hayes
The first part of the book is Ms. Hayes case for ‘why’ we need to rethink our lives and the second part is her interviews with people who have done so, how they did it, and how she did it.  It talks about how to reconstruct and rebuild your life to not be completely dependent on money but rather how to depend on yourself to build a life that is solely based on the life you and your family need.

I am startled and grateful by how MUCH this book made me think about our life, like I said earlier.  I started looking around our home, our lives, our skills and realizing that we SHOULD be doing more for ourselves and family and relying on others far less.  Yes, I should know how to mend a hole in my pants, not just throw them away and buy a new pair.  I should be building a sense of community into my family and I should be grateful to be home with them.  We absolutely should be taking charge of our health, our families and lives by shaping them ourselves, not letting society tell us how to shape and manage these things.

Ms. Hayes compelled me to think about my family, our life, and kept me fascinated with her well thought out and researched book.  I hope it does spark radical change, where even if we don’t adopt every single one of her tenets, we think about how we can be more conscientious in our homes and the world.  I won’t say that all her ideas are for everyone and I think that’s ok.  But I do hope that more people read it and merely think about the best life possible that they could have, and how it doesn’t necessarily have to involve sacrificing your personal life and family for padded pockets. Be sure to check out her website too- there is an AMAZING page of resources and so much more.

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