Home-based economy

6 May 2013
Google "home-based economy' and you get a lot of links about setting up a business at home, earning money from home and a lot of flim-flammery about earning big bucks working one hour a day at home. My idea about home-based economy is as far removed from those concepts as is possible. To me, home-based economy is exactly that - the domestic economy that revolves around the work done in the home by the people who live there. A domestic economy is a multi-faceted resource that involves prudence, thrift, sound judgement, home production, hard work and common sense homemaking.

We set up our home economy here about ten years ago. I had just closed down my business and Hanno was still working in our shop, having previously retired from the mines. I was absolutely sure that at our stage of life, having already paid off our mortgage and with no other debt, we'd be able to cut back, earn less but still be able to live within our means.  We did that in a number of ways, the main ones being:

Live with less
One of the first things we did when we decided to cut back was to get rid of pay TV and our second car. We then went on to drastically reduce what we bought. It felt good but we were out of touch with the rest of the Australian population. Since 2003, people here have increased what they spend on internet fees by six fold and they're paying a third more for pay TV. At the same time the number of electrical appliances in Australia increased by 45 percent.

We decluttered, and found that's an ongoing activity. We do small areas and then stop until we decide to do it again. I also realised the challenge isn't just about getting rid of what we already had but also not buying as much as we used to. Changes to shopping habits reaped big rewards and I also started to make quite a few of the things I used to buy.

Home production of previously bought goods
I looked in books and online to find a variety of recipes that would enable me to make things that used to be made in the home. Our domestic production line still includes bread, soap, laundry liquid, jam, sauce, relish, cakes, biscuits, dishcloths, cleaning rags, all sorts of knitting, aprons, napkins, tablecloths, salves and creams. Doing this taught me what my grandmother and her grandmothers had known all along - that home production generally gives you better products at a cheaper price. Making as much as we can with our own hands is still one of the hallmarks of our home.

Remain debt-free
Living with no debt at our stage of life gives us a feeling of security and that we're in control. Paying money out for rent or mortgage repayments earlier in life is usually the norm for most of us and it's a great relief when that last mortgage payment is made. Adding more debt not only increases your footprint it also requires you to work to pay it off and often that brings a level of stress with it. Going hand-in-hand with debt-free living is developing the capacity to feel content with what you have. The ability to feel that contentment needs to be developed and nurtured along the way so that when you finally pay off your debts, the temptation to spend has been replaced by other more benign and rewarding activities.

Growing food in the backyard
Learning how to grow food in your own backyard, or in any space you have, will help you cut down on your grocery bill and give you fresh healthy food. If you want to eat fresh, local food, nothing will beat your own backyard produce. And not only will you reap what you sow, vegetable gardening gives you the opportunity to get your hands into the dirt and reconnect with what is outside your back door. Getting to know your land, learning about the birds and insects that visit your backyard will place you within your eco-system and help you understand more about your local climate and environment, and how what you do in your home affects it.

Community-based bartering and swapping
No matter how sharp and switched on you are, I doubt you'll be able to make and do everything you want to do in your home, particularly if you're working outside the home as well. We all have things we can't make and therefore have to buy or barter for. If you connect with your local community you may find there are some things that can be had, simply by producing more eggs, tomatoes, honey or dishcloths. Bartering is a great way of getting what you need without the need for money. See what you can find out and try to get yourself into a bartering arrangement with someone.  You'll still be getting local fresh produce but you'll also be helping your local area develop its own economy.

Cooking from scratch
Without a doubt, cooking from scratch will help you save money, eat healthier food and look at your household systems in a different way. Before I made my change I cooked from scratch about 90 percent of the time, but I did it out of habit rather than the radical action I see it as today. When I chose to cook from scratch everyday, it allowed me to shop in a different way, saving more while being more selective in my choice of product, point of origin and packaging. Grocery shopping became a political act as well as a domestic one. It also moved me towards stockpiling which saved me much more time than I ever expected and helped me get more value for the money I spent.

Green cleaning
Along with cooking from scratch, making your own cleaners will help you save money and become healthier.  Using simple products such as borax, washing soda, bicarb, olive oil, vinegar and soap, you can make every cleaning product you used to buy at a tiny fraction of the supermarket cost.  No matter what you hear on the TV ads, you do not have to buy a different product for every cleaning task in your home. As long as you match the cleaning ability of these simple products with what you're cleaning, it will do a very good job. The added bonus for you, as well as the dollars saved, will be that you bring far fewer chemicals into your home.

There will never be one thing that allows you to reduce your cost of living, it will be many things. What I've written about here allowed us to reduce what we needed to live on and it made us healthier, more self-reliant, stronger and happier. Developing your own home economy enables you to see beyond the commercialisation of the home and brings you back to a place where there are many alternatives and possibilities, not the single one - the supermarket - that is predominant today.

Have you developed your own home-based economy? Please share what you do in your own home.