Homemaking - the power career

16 August 2010
I have just finished reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes, which was kindly lent to me by my friend and fellow radical homemaker, Sonya, from Permaculture Pathways. I enjoyed the book, and although I was radicalised many years ago and am already doing much of what the book is about, I did get a strong message from it - we need to stand up, be proud of our lives and talk to others about how we live and why we live this way. We need to develop small communities of like minded souls so that what we are doing becomes a common way of being. If we all do that, hopefully those small communities become bigger and young people will learn that having one partner stay at home to keep house, raise children, shop wisely and manage the income, is a valid, significant and acceptable way of living. And not to leave anyone out of this revolutionary equation, those single people, the divorced, widowed and never married out there who work a paid job and who live as simply as they can while they do it, they need to spread their message too. We all need to be role models and show that living a simpler life brings much more than a clean home, connected children, nutritious food and no debt; it brings contentment and enrichment with it, and it is a career.

I have had three careers - I was a nurse, a writer and now I'm a homemaker/housewife. Writing that sentence has highlighted to me just one of the hurdles we face - that of language. When I was a nurse and a writer, everyone knew what those terms meant; with homemaker or housewife they don't. Homemaker is more an American term than an Australian one, and housewife is old fashioned and implies that everyone is married. We need to coin a term that accurately describes this work we do and we need to realise that even though work at home is unpaid work, it has value and it contributes to our countries wealth. I really dislike those terms that make light of our work - domestic goddess, home engineer etc, we need something substantial that describes, in general terms, what we actually do. I do like the term homemaker because it could mean just about anything that is done at home, but I also like home worker.

We all need to help change the perception that happiness is gained by buying it, that economies should grow at the expense of their people and that stepping back from the mainstream idea of buying more than we need, with money we don't have, is a hippy fantasy. And on the more positive side, we need to show our younger people that living this way is empowering, engaging and revolutionary. At the moment young people see staying at home as a drudgery. They have to clean and cook, look after children, and sometimes frail parents, and when the only knowledge you have of those tasks is what is seen on TV or advertising, you start to understand what a negative perception there is in the community about working at home.

We have to show that working at home gives us freedoms that paid work rarely offers. Imagine your first day at a paid job. You're given a range of tasks to do, a time limit in which to do them and standards to meet. All the time someone is watching you, making sure you do everything according to their plan. Now imagine your first day in your new home. You have already talked about your values and needs with your partner, so you set about setting up routines and learning new skills that will support your visions. The sky is the limit. You may do your work to your own rhythm and to whatever standard you set yourself.

You start taking control of your home - this is not a place where you just spend time waiting for your partner to return home. This, my friends, is a work in progress, a place that you want to spend time in, you want to make beautiful, safe and comfortable. You want to create a home that will nurture those who live there and that provides a warm and welcoming feeling to those who visit. You decide on a plan that will see you use your home and the land it sits on to help you live. You decide to grow organic vegetables and fruit in the backyard, get a few chickens, make a worm farm, or keep bees. You want to live an environmentally sound life, to eat organic food, or at the very least, the freshest food you can. You decide to learn as much as possible to cut the cost of living in this healthier and organic way so you set about learning how to make soap, laundry powder, bread, jams, relishes, sauces, and pasta. You start mending torn clothes and household linens, then progress to making gifts and simple clothes for the children, you start knitting and crocheting with natural fibres. In short, you take your new life as the positive empowering career it is and run with it. You make the most of what you have and you reduce your impact on your environment while doing it.

Sure, I agree, no one wants to clean toilets or dirty nappies/diapers, but look at the alternative. Do you want to use a dirty toilet or have your baby unhappy and uncomfortable? Every job has parts that we don't like doing, life is not always about what we want to do. We need to step up to all our tasks - enjoyable and not so enjoyable, just do them and then get back to the rest of it.

I have already seen changes happening. More people are cooking and gardening now than in the past. There has been a revival in home crafts, sewing and knitting. More people are understanding that debt is a life sapping burden and working actively to paid of their debts. Many beneficial things are happening, but we need to drive this along and we need to talk about our lives in a positive way to show others that working in our homes helps build good lives. That might be evident to us but to the general population, it isn't. Let's start talking about the happiness that lies waiting when we live this way and let's show, by example, that housework rewards us with homes we want to spend time in. Stop talking about housework as if it's the last thing you'd want to spend your time on, discover the good in what you do and highlight it. Let's start supporting other women and men in the work they do, no matter what it is, unpaid or paid. We can change things if we start with our own front door and work our way out. Gentle reminders about our way of life, speaking up when we heard someone complaining about housework, writing about this on our blogs, all these things will help make a difference. All it takes is that a lot of us start doing it.

I am doing a soap making class at my neighbourhood centre next month and I'm continuing with my frugal home workshops but I'm also going to think about how I can engage with the young people at our Flexischool and talk with them about this. What will you do? Do you have any great ideas that we could all use to help show that housework is not only radical, empowering and enjoyable, it is also a career? If so, please share.