Book Review: Radical Homemakers

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with the author of  this book. I came across it while doing some research online and purchased it myself. All opinions are my own, obvi.

Hello all,

Finally I finished “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture” by Shannon Hayes. It was a very interesting read, because it was the first book I read that included the “theory” of homemaking. The book is organized into two parts. The first part describes the history of homemaking and talks a lot about how much advertising and media impact our understanding of the “1950s housewife” and the non-contribution she made to society in the eyes of many. According to Hayes, prior to about the 1940s, most homes were considered units of production. Self-sufficient in many ways because families grew their own food, made furniture, cooked and cleaned for themselves, made and mended clothing, etc. Following WWII, our society switched to one of consumption, whereby families didn’t have to do things for themselves any more, they could just buy anything they wanted to take and burden of all that “creating” away. But we weren’t just purchasing things, we were purchasing education, experiences and entertainment as well. As such, there became less and less for a stay-at-home wife to do other than be a chauffeur of sorts to her children. Accordingly, many women developed housewife syndrome and found at home life to be non-fulfilling. Granted, my grandmother certainly wasn’t sitting at home watching tv and eating bonbons. My grandparents grew their own veggies and fruit, made furniture, had chickens, etc.

Much of the book is focused on turning away from consummerism and leading lives of production once again. The second half of the book describes many “radical homemakers” who have varying levels of education, some work outside the home and some are completely self-sufficient in terms of income. Many of these people grow their own vegetables, raise their own sources of meat, do housework themselves, cook homemade meals, and work together closely within their communities to barter for what they do not have in terms of both resources and knowledge. For example: John trades his surplus vegetables for help from Susan with a plumbing problem.

I was really inspired to look differently at our culture in terms of consumption to think about how I might live my life differently and economically. While I’m not a complete hippie, I am concerned about the environmental impact that I leave and would like to find ways to reduce it. I’m not going to go completely “radical” and go off the grid and get rid of my health insurance (many of the radical homemakers profiled in the book did not have health insurance which for me is going way too far, they did however have insurance for their children either privately or through the CHIP program.) But the book did help me think about many ways that I can become more independent by doing things myself.

Another point that the author makes is that most of these people have created communities that share resources and help each other. I think this is a huge factor that we are largely missing in society today. Most people don’t even know their neighbors let alone count on them for help. Many of the homemakers profiled in the books learned to garden, cook, repair things and build things from others in the network of like-minded friends they made. If you think about it, this is really how it used to be but most of us now weren’t raised having to fix the sink, mend clothing, or grow tomatoes. As such, we have to reach out to others who do have that knowledge to learn those skills.

The book gave me a lot to think about, especially in terms of how advertising has shaped our current culture and I really have to focus on breaking from that way of thinking. As a recovering addict of retail therapy I have a long way to go but it was great to get some ideas from this book. It was an interesting read and I recommend it even if you’re not a complete hippie. 🙂

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