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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Householding vs. Homesteading

I started this blog to chronicle my efforts to turn a late-century-ranch-house-on-a-quarter-acre-lot-in-a-suburban-cul-de-sac into a homestead in an urban setting (she wrote, neatly sidestepping the trademark issue). 'Homesteading' is not quite the right way to think of it however; I am neither trying to claw an existence out of a wilderness nor am I trying to work a free tract of land for a proscribed period of time in order to be able to keep it.  I mean, when it comes right down to it, homesteading was largely the US government seizing millions of acres of land and displacing who knows how many Native Americans, and then handing over said property to bunch of non-natives saying, here- let's see what you can with it.

I've since learned that what I'm really doing is householding and homemaking.  From Harriet Fasenfest's A Householder's Guide to the Universe *, I've learned that our word 'economy' comes from the Greek compound word oikonomos, which literally translates as 'one who manages a household', from the root words oikos which means 'household', and nemein, which means 'to manage'.  From Shannon Hayes's Radical Homemakers *, I learned that centuries before the industrial revolution, people worked largely at home, and that the word 'husband' came from the Old English hus for 'house' and band for something being bonded or bound to something else, so 'husband' came from someone who was bound or bonded to his house.  I also learned that the husband and wife made their lives by a useful and logical division of labor based on their physical abilities: she kept the garden, and house and cooked and made clothes; he worked larger pieces of land for grain, took care of the animals, and made the shoes. Interestingly enough, he made the wine and mead, and she made the beer (not that I'm volunteering for this job- Steve has it down.)  It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution in the 1800's that more and more people left the home to earn a wage, which started the vicious cycle of actually needing the job, because now you needed to buy what you used to have time to make.

So, division of labor aside because Steve's and my division of labor is certainly not typical, what we're really doing is householding, which appeals to me a great deal.  I think more people should be doing it.  A lot are, but in this instance, more is better.  Instead of being a nation of consumers, we'd become a nation of producers.  And even though we could not perhaps sell what we grow and make, largely because we can't compete with Big Business or Big Agribusiness, we could at least do more for ourselves.  I can't help but feel that a really good way to deny any further profit to the wealthy few hell-bent on owning our government and seeing to it that various laws are enacted or repealed to benefit themselves would be to stop being part of the economy that funnels our dollars into their coffers and instead start growing a home-based economy.

This will probably happen anyway, insofar as dollars drying up. Regardless of however the Fed chooses to manage the money supply, if you don't have a job, you're not earning a paycheck.  The faster the middle class shrinks, the faster the number of people without money will grow, and the sooner the business and corporation owners, CEO's and industry barons will find themselves without a domestic market, or certainly, they will have a much, much smaller domestic market. And going overseas for a global market will not be so attractive once the price of oil rockets sky high, which it will.  It's the same shortsightedness that extracts a profit from the earth at all costs that is extracting a profit from the masses at all costs, and the only way to fight back is to not participate in it.

Even in my little cul-de-sac, we most of us garden, and we've talked about each of us sticking with a particular few vegetables that we grow well and then trading them among ourselves.  It's this kind of thinking that foments something like BerkShares, which are an alternative currency used in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. You can't exactly pay your income or property taxes with them, but for buying both goods and services in the region they work.  I'm not convinced that the wealthy wicked won't get their hands on them some day and dry up that particular currency, but they can't get their hands on barter or trading, which I see as the way out for the ninety-nine percent.  'If you don't like how the little boy down at the end of the street plays, don't play with the little boy down at the end of the street' paraphrases something I heard growing up, and seems logical and simple solution for dealing with economic bullies.

Another idea that I'm coming to terms with is the idea that money is something for which you trade your precious and very finite time on earth. To my knowledge, no one ever lay on their deathbed and said, "I should have spent more time at the office."  Your Money or Your Life *, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin solidifies my intention to retire early but also makes me take a hard look at my relationship with money.  This year we were supposed to live solely on my income and throw all of Steve's at the mortgage, which by and large we've been able to do, except for last month when both the premiums for the car insurance and house insurance came due at the same time, and is something I forgot would happen. I know there's a whopping three-thousand dollar property tax bill looming in November, but I should be ready for it by then.  But reading YMOYL has me thinking about my purchases in terms of how much of my life I'm trading for them. I have to remember as I'm forking over the lucre that every dollar spent is not a dollar saved and that I'm thwarting my own exit strategy.  And in the meantime, I know there have been times when I have not been as careful as I should have been, and this time I am not talking about backing into the neighbor's mailbox and scratching the bejeezus out of the back quarter panel of the car such that we have to have it repaired before the rainy season starts ($800).  No, I'm talking about adding things to the grocery cart that weren't on the list, and not thinking about a purchase before hand to determine why I'm buying it.  Do I really need it or do I just want it? Is it worth the adjusted $15.18 an hour I'm making (adjusted for how much gas it takes to get there and the real hourly wage I'm making because I'm salaried and put in a LOT more than 40 hours a week) for which I'm trading my time on earth?  Time I'd rather be spending at home with Steve? Much rather.  By the way, the adjusted $15.18 an hour is not in any way what I'm bringing home because I haven't factored in taxes and my 401K contribution which is maxed because I'm as old as I am. My take home adjusted-for reality-hourly rate is more like $9.10 an hour.  I don't know how people making minimum wage do it.

The whole idea of course, is to change how we're living so that we can spend more time together, it's as simple as that.  We each of us have only so many hours on earth, some of us less than others, so it's really important that we spend them doing things that are important to us or spending more time with people that are important to us.  And yes, I'm talking to you, Karen, if you're even reading this.  My father died a month after his sixty-second birthday after a long fight with brain cancer.  He really left years before that because he wasn't himself, but what stayed with me all these years is that he didn't get to retire. So not only was he cheated out of his retirement, my mom was also cheated out of his retirement. I don't want that happening with Steve and me.

I'm not sure how many of you are still with me on this post, but what do you think?  Why are you householding and homemaking?  Has this recession (which is still on, as far as I'm concerned, CPI and GDP be damned- there are still a lot of people hurting out there) changed how you think about money or was it the reason you started doing what you're doing?  And even if you're not householding, what changes have you made in your life that push you along in this direction?  Do you even like the idea of a nation of makers trading with each other?

I'd really like to know.

And in the meantime, Steve and I gotta go grocery shopping.

* all borrowed from the library


Anonymous said...

Paula, this is a wonderful post; I love reading about how others are coming to terms with all of these issues. I've written recently about my despair at what's coming down the pipe, but it has made us really focus on what's important in our lives, and what we want to hold onto if the economy tanks again and/or we're just priced out of things that we take for granted now.

I love your discussion of householding; I've also been thinking of our property along the lines suggested in Peter Bane's Permaculture Handbook, which is really worth a read too. His label is the Garden Farm, which also makes sense to me. The garden farm is also intended to shift us from consumers to producers, of everything from topsoil to income, within an ecologically sound context.

I'll look forward to reading about how this evolves for you.

russell1200 said...

Wage earning in England started to predominate in the 1400s. The commercial revolution (started by the Dutch) began the move to the cities, and raised the cost of labor to the point were mechinization was worthwhile. The agricultural revolution in England in the 18th century, helped feed the industrial revolution.

Most of the initial people who would go to the cities had never owned land. The were farmhand-wage earners, or second/third sons. They went were they could earn more money, and with less restrictions.

I am not real big on over-idealizing the agrarian past.

Rae said...

We homestead/household because we enjoy it, more than because we need to (either for economic or personal belief reasons). Plus, home-raised veggies, meat, and eggs are just tastier, and tending the garden and critters keeps me from watching too much tv. Lol. :)

I think trading is a fabulous idea, though the most I've done is trade bacon for smoked salmon (my uniform driver makes killer smoked salmon) or a pork roast for a beef roast (coworker raises beeves), or wild huckleberry jelly for strawberry freezer jam (welding rep's wife rocks). How about this... I'll trade you a whole bunch of last year's pork fat for you to make your own soap (or render to cook with if you prefer) if you will come out and turn one of this year's pork livers into pâté and you guys will have some drinks and BBQ with us. Um... Thinking that over, I believe I might end up getting the better part of said deal. :) Let the bargaining begin!!

Paula said...

I'm glad you liked it BYF, and thanks for your comment.

I'm not real big on over-idealizing the agrarian past, either, Russell, nor am I a Luddite. The agricultural revolution to which you point not only saw the advent and use of mechanization (and the loss of jobs for those land laborers), it also augured in the use of chemical fertilizers, and many years later the depletion of those soils where they were used. I think maybe you missed the point of my post though.

You are totally on Rae!! I won't be ready to render lard until the weather cools down though. I have some pork fat in the freezer that I'm saving for just that purpose. But I'd be happy to make you guys a pate!

Susan said...

I found this post interesting and thought provoking. I only have a small veg plot, because I like to grow at least some of my own food but don't have the time or energy to do a lot more. When I can stop full time work (which I will do when my youngest finishes university) I will expand the food gardening and get some chickens. In the meantime I bank with a co-op, buy my groceries from a co-op and my veg from an organic producer and, so far as I can, avoid the big multi-nationals.

Paula said...

Thanks for commenting Susan. You might think about putting in fruit trees now so that they're starting to produce when you're ready to stop working. If you don't think you have a lot of room, look into espalier, and what you can do with dwarf varieties. Dave Wilson Nursery (disclosure: a family member works for them) has information about different ways to fit an orchard into your backyard that you might find useful. Check out the video section.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Paula, I like 'householding.' I've always balked at 'homesteading,' and it's good to have an alternative.

I raise food because, and only because, it's interesting and satisfying. If I were to do the math on everything we do, I would undoubtedly find that it's much more expensive that simply buying food.

As for everyone producing and trading, I think barter is an excellent community-builder, but that kind of decentralization is ultimately inefficient. When farmers grow the food, other people are freed up to be doctors, or auto mechanics, or artists. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Paula said...

Interesting comments, Tamar. It's been said before that we don't really have an idea of the real cost of food, and that we pay far too little for it here in the States. If the environmental and social costs were factored in as well as the cheap oil taken out, you might be closer to breaking even on the real cost of food. You do make a very good point about farmers freeing up people to be doctors and auto mechanics, et al., but I don't mean to infer that absolutely EVERYONE should be growing their own food, et. al. I'm just saying that when the ship hits the sand, as it undoubtedly will, folks can build in some resilience by being able to do more for themselves than just depending on being able to buy their way out or depending on technology to fix things for them. For whatever reason, I've been all about skill acquisition for most of my life, starting at around the age of thirteen or so. Don't know what it was that started me on that path. But because of it I can do a lot of different things, and I feel pretty good about being able to figure things out. It's problem solvers that will have the best chance with our sketchy future and I hope to encourage more people to become problem solvers. (You, for instance, will be just fine; you're married to a brilliant problem solver, who seems to have a touch of mechanical genius besides.) And you were absolutely correct about my use of 'proscribed' which I did not catch. I meant to use 'prescribed', but perhaps 'fixed' would have worked even better. Thanks for that!

hilary said...

We are growing almost all our own food including beef and chicken. My husband goes to the coast twice a year and catches our fish to fill the freezer. This year we focused on growing Asian veggies and many varieties of winter squashes. We try new produce every year as well as the usuals. We harvest as much water as possible, started hydroponics and aquaponics this year as well. When the dollar tanks, and it will, we want to be ready for bartering as they did in the depression. They are already starting the process of inflating the dollar and will soon have very little value. I just retired early last June and love it.

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - you have a wonderful mind and that post was illuminating. i particularly like your call to become a nation of producers rather than consumers which, when I listen to podcasts on the economy (macro of course), is exactly what experts claim will pull us out of the worldwide recession.

I hate comparing my hourly rate at paid jobs to what I could be doing at home; the two never balance out and often I would be quids in if I eschewed a day labouring for someone else and put the work into our own fields and livestock.

Mike works SO hard that I only see him when I pass him in the road; many of our 'catch-up' conversations are held out our car windows. I woory we'll never have that elusive "quality time" together.

I am, however, most concerned that no one in our house is making alcohol...

Leigh said...

Excellent post, full of things well thought out and common sense. I'm going to add it to my homesteading viewpoints links. If we weren't blessed with 5 acres, I would be householding. I do the homemaking, though I put a more biblical twist on it and refer to it as homekeeping. Without a doubt when you all are heading in the right direction.