Rarely has any book so moved me, or had me nodding my head so often, or reading out loud to my partner in culinary crime than Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes. Wow! This book is likely to be my favorite pick for 2010 and here it is only March.
Radical Homemakers is eloquent, engaging, thorough – a veritable bumper crop of research, field notes and beautifully crafted arguments that are, quite frankly, tough to dispute. Shannon Hayes leads the reader through cultural evolutionary changes that reduced our homes, once bustling centers of production shared by all family members, to the cold, disconnected, consumption-driven places they are today. Radical Homemakers shows us that once we traded our survival skills and domestic skills for post industrial revolution cash, we became victims of our own need to consume to survive. And Radical Homemakers makes it painfully clear that consuming to survive, the way we do, has pointed us on a class-stratifying path of environmental and emotional destruction that is not sustainable, not healthy and not very forward looking (or thinking).
In Radical Homemaker, Hayes considers the real cost of owning multiple vehicles, paying for childcare so that two incomes can support a household and a belief that having more stuff will somehow make us happy – and makes a compelling case that the cost far outweighs any benefit in real happiness. To the contrary, higher incomes tended to correlate with higher stress and stress-related “issues,” higher divorce rates, lower feelings of security, more debt, higher feelings of vulnerability to debt, consumption-related anxieties associated with having the “right” stuff, anxieties related to how to store all that stuff, and more.
What to do?
In Radical Homemakers, Hayes offers a glimpse of hope for reversing (at least to a manageable level) the consumption craze. Her model begins with an assessment of what we really need to be happy and accepting that the home needs to be a center of production – at least to some extent. Radical Homemakers is loaded with anecdotes and reports from people who are living happy, fulfilled, safe and healthy lives, with incomes that the kings of consumerism would scoff at. It turns out that producing your own food, reducing your transportation needs to one older vehicle, learning how to surround yourself with helpful community, bartering, etc. isn’t so bad after all. In fact, it turns out that we don’t need to be entertained every step of the way either. One of the key points in Radical Homemakers is that we have forgotten that it is possible to make our own fun, right at home.
While most of what Hayes has to say resonates well with my way of thinking (not always my way of doing) her method is one of encouragement and nurturing. I really appreciate this. Unlike many other radical thinkers, her tone isn’t strident and she presents her case with balanced analysis, rather than setting up the status quo as her straw man. The concept of radical homemaking can stand on its own as a guide for living a humane life; and as Hayes points out in Radical Homemakers, there’s no harm in taking baby steps or even partial adoption of the plan.
Will Radical Homemakers make some folks uncomfortable? Sure enough! I think that’s part of its importance. Even if you can never see yourself living outside of the consumerism-conventions we’ve been brought up with, Shannon Hayes, at the very least, make us all a little less comfortable believing in the resource hogging, and human spirit demoralizing, economic model that we now call home. Order your copy from the author here.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.