The XX Factor

“Radical Homemaking” Is More Fun When It’s Optional

“Radical Homemaking.” Do it in a Vermont cabin with a college degree and an old Nissan and you’re quaint and quirky; do it in a Kansas trailer with an old Chevy truck and a G.E.D. and you’re lucky to be called middle class. Is that a compost pile or a dung heap? Only your banker knows for sure.

I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of making fun of the eco-hipster-I’ve grown my share of overpriced tomatoes and played around with trendy home canning . But over on Salon , Madeline Holler has baked, gone the co-op route for her child care, and shopped Craigsist, not in the name of saving the planet or living with purpose, but just to make ends meet. Replacing the handiwork of “the man” (Crate and Barrel, Smuckers) with the work of your own hands, she says, is only a fun way of sticking a finger in the eye of industry when you can pick and choose whose eye you poke. Rejecting Gogurt squeezers because they’re full of sugar and travel cross-country in refrigerated trucks is one thing. Putting them aside because they’re outside the budget is another. She’s living green, buying recycled, and making her own-and she’d really rather not. Does she need to feel guilty because she failed to make a virtue out of economic necessity?

Now that nearly every modern convenience from cars to plastic baggies comes with an associated burden of guilt, everyone from the ” femivore” chicken farmers of Berkeley to Made by Hand author Mark Frauenfelder gets to coat their choice of hobby with an air of sanctity. But, as Holler says, “choice” is the operative word. Frauenfelder can buy Ikea; the Berkeley chicken farmers can afford eggs. Many-even most-people feel that their talents lie in a non-chicken-farming and co-op-building direction. The whole goal of a modern economic system is to foster the kind of trade that makes individual chicken-farming optional.

Holler mentions French feminist Elisabeth Badinter (whose argument the simplicity movement and its accompanying guilt are contributing to women abandoning the workforce we’ve written about before ) in passing, but her whole article makes Badinter’s thesis ring even more sadly true: All of these “movements”-“radical homemaking,” simple living, a return to sustainability-carry with them as much guilt as they do change, and we waste a lot of energy on that guilt. “Radical homemaking” should stand as what it really is-a lifestyle choice. What would be really radical would be figuring out a way to bring the more laudable goals of most back-to-basics proponents-healthy food, healthy living, healthy families-into the mainstream.

Photograph of housewife courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.