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Culture Self

Capitalism vs. the Homemaker

February 21, 2018

Capitalism vs. the Homemaker

I’ve been relatively absent from social media in recent weeks; I’ve been too wrapped up in the workings of our daily lives, our home, and how they come together and support each other. My house is functionally clean, my sourdough game is on point, my chickens are happy and laying again, I’m on top of our laundry, I’ve been present with my toddler, and my kitchen renovation is coming along. These accomplishments bring me real bliss.

I have a confession to make: I’m a severe home ec nerd. I loved Life Skills class in middle school. As a not quite twenty-something, my roommate and I mused about how beautiful it would be to be homemakers, reclaiming all the grandma-skills that go along with that line of work. Every apartment and house I’ve ever lived in has been subject to my renovations, redecoration, and improvements. Baking and rearranging furniture are two of my main hobbies. Friends call me for advice about their crock-pots and laundry cycles.

My first blog back in 2007 was about living life as a single girl in a 180 sqft apartment. Delicious and budget-friendly meals for one, using only an electric two burner stove top and a toaster oven; small space decorating when you just have a single room and a 3/4 bath; tips for cutting your utility bills to the absolute minimum. I worked as support staff for a team of energy efficiency consultants. My interests have waivered very little over the years; work at home mom life just happens to very closely overlap with my native skill set.

I overheard friends talking a few months ago at a party, and one friend, who is passionately invested in her career, laughingly told a stay at home mom friend of ours that decorating her house was not a real hobby, and she needed a real one. I love and respect both women, and the different approaches they each take to life, but their conversation hit a nerve. Why would making your home a joyful, pleasing place to live not be a worthwhile pursuit?

Currently, the work of homemaking occupies a strange cultural space. We live in the time of Pinterest, with 70 million users creating their inspiration boards for brightly lit living rooms, budget meal plans, and organized clothes storage each month. At the same time, if you do all these projects, you’re likely to be called a “Pinterest Mom” (said with disdain); or you’re just channeling your boredom, or you’re avoiding the sadness and frustration or having put your career dreams on hold, or any combination thereof.

How many working Americans are living their dreams in their careers? Some, for sure. I have many friends who genuinely love what they do. I also have friends who are doing what they do just for the paycheck; watching the hours tick away until the moment they can go home. The friends in this latter group are still treated with significantly more respect than homemakers because their work is directly tied to monetary value.

I so often am tangibly patronized when it comes up that I do not work outside the home. Whether at the doctor’s office, a social gathering or at the grocery store, the look on a person’s face falls to a soft, “oh, I see, you’re not in the real world” half smile-smirk. I can practically feel them patting my head in their mind. The second wave feminist image of homemakers as oppressed damsels in distress waiting to be freed still lingers, even as many other attitudes about work and gender advance.

If I got offered a job that paid $115K a year, it’s likely that most people would tell me I should take it, even if it meant long hours and hard work for someone else’s goals. The tasks performed by a stay at home mom each year have been valued at $115K a year, and I can tell you, my family’s quality of life, while not cash rich, is much higher for all the work I do in our home.
We eat better, our home is cleaner and functions more efficiently, we spend far less on food, and my son receives loving one on one care. Add in homesteading activities like gardening, raising laying hens, and preserving seasonal produce, and we’re looking at an incredibly lucrative career, just without the paycheck. That’s to say nothing of the value to me and my son of our time spent together.

Homemaking is not fulfilling for everyone, but neither is being a CPA; just like any career, it’s a good fit for some and not for others. I propose a shift to valuing the needs work meets, not strictly the dollar amount attached to the tasks performed. So who’s up for a radical conversation about capitalism, self-sufficiency, community, family, and how we value work? I’m ready when you are. Anyone up for a Radical Homemaking book club? My copy is on it’s way to me right now.
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