Home Ecologics

Homeward Bound

With tough times and good intentions comes a return of home making…

We have gotten to more difficult situations, thanks to the very economic growth that is supposed to be good – but increasingly, only is if you are already among the top earners. Otherwise, we’re now all being asked to bring sacrifices not to “save the planet,” but to save the economy – which is still growing. For the others, anyways. “We’ll never have it so good again” is what the present (or rather, already the past) feels like.

Homeward BoundWith that has come a return forward to what Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound describes as “New Domesticity.”

The rebellion is domesticity, but this is not cocooning trying to shut oneself in and the world out, it is an attempt at gaining control over life and changing the world starting with practices at home, turning inside to show better ways without, digitally connected and internet-savvy.
“It’s part of a shift away from corporate culture and toward a more eco-conscious, family-centric, DIY lifestyle… [partly] driven by economic necessity… but … also by a genuine feeling of disgust with the status quo…”

Things like choosing good food and cooking it, managing a household, and balancing incomes and expenses… these are the skills which are being turned (back) to, the skills which it now seems only too quaint to teach, but which are too essential not to teach (given that they aren’t learnt in families anymore, necessarily), so that calls to “Bring back home ec.!” have been raised.

The whole theme is one of the best illustrations of the need for an “ecological” view understanding and utilizing connections and synergies in order to take the good and make things better rather than fall for simplistic (mis)understandings leading right into the trap of the obvious and easy – and Emily Matchar’s “Homeward Bound. Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity” is a fascinating analysis of this movement, presenting motivations, practices, upsides, and (especially economically and socio-politically/feminist) problematic points equally well, and through the stories of people who chose to live them (or give up on them).
(With two caveats: the persons portrayed are predominantly middle class; the whole question of whether or how this is a fact of life and a problem or possibility for the creation of better situations for the poor(er) is largely missing, and much of the discussion is very much concerned with the feminist perspective on it all.)

One of the great novelties is that the new domesticity is no longer a dull shackling to the house that cuts off from others. Thanks to blogging and the like, it is also inspired, inspiring, and connecting.
Some have even had economic success with it, adding to the inspirational nature – and as in so many an online arena, “anyone can do it” is the rallying cry for only too many.

The problems with that, as Matchar points out, are as manifold as the opportunities:

Blogging about homemaking projects lifts them from a purely private and shut-in pursuit to a social enterprise that may get acknowledgement or even make money – which is good. It is highly unlikely to lead to financial independence except for a very few (and by and large, already established) representatives, though; while it may look like a way out in tough times and something anyone could achieve, it is facing a strong headwind of tight purses and stiff competition. When all that gets produced are yet another five pullovers a month virtually indistinguishable from any number of others, it’s not going to be the great success that leads to financial freedom.

In fact, the very inspirational nature of it all, or maybe more exactly, the need to be inspirational, telling great stories, having great pictures to show of(f) one’s “projects,” coming up with new ideas and still-better things, can all become rather overbearing.

Simply putting food on the table that actually gets eaten and maybe isn’t from a take-out joint can already be enough of a challenge for many – and it may have little to do with a lack of education and understanding; it can indeed be a side-effect simply of the need to make money to get by. It’s tough enough without the pressure to make everything from scratch and blog-worthy, let alone having higher-class people “slum” and rag on about the pleasures of it all while having a career partner bringing in the money. “[B]loggers are supposed to be our friends, our sisters, our neighbors. So when we see what looks like an organized, stylish picture of domestic bliss…, there’s a natural tendency to hold ourselves up against that; if our lives don’t measure up, well, we feel like crap,” notes Matchar.

Then again, maybe it should tell us something that not-rich people used to be the ones who had simpler, but more often than not sufficient, diets which would now be healthier than modern fast food, and that they got by, making do. It’s not only a matter of personal skill and decision, though, it’s an affair of family, society, and economics as well.

There is great allure and great potential, still, whether it is with a motherly (and in a still lower but increasing number of cases, fatherly) desire to stay at home and take good care of kids, or an economic need to live frugally, provide at least some food through a kitchen garden, and reduce the need for higher incomes, or even a need to find (’emergency’) entrepreneurial opportunities. Or just a desire to find outlets for a creativity and humanity stifled in many a workplace.

Homemaking and similar blogs, alongside the craft and local food movements, only give this approach more prominence and validation – and these movements may be so interesting and inspiring exactly when and because they are not so much about making money as they are about making a better life. The greater self-sufficiency that can be gained with them even contributes nicely to ways of making a living recognizing that living is not the same as making money – but that’s a point for these pages to consider again, not one much-raised in the book except indirectly or as a problem when women’s financial independence is put at stake.

A new focus on home ec and homemaking is an excellent way of adding some sense of control over life, skill, and purpose – alongside actual change to better – to daily living. But, it is also a matter that requires more careful consideration than just simplistic calls for going back to earlier ways of doing things and a simplistic appreciation, if not adoration, of the (supposedly) natural (into which it sometimes seems to devolve, misunderstanding the romanticization involved).
Then again, even as (political) work towards improving social conditions should indeed not be forgotten over all the canning, better living might not need quite as much political concern as Emily Matchar apparently has.

Yes, as one finds out in the course of the stories told and discussed in “Homeward Bound,” job dissatisfaction can lead to pioneer-like new homesteading, but homemaking can also lead to a new appreciation for the possibility to simply buy bread. Nor must all work be stultifying – be that making a home or going to a job.

Well, it is only by thinking, and acting, through the connections and balancing acts, following an “ecological” view in practice, that we can get to really better lives.

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