Minimalists Today: The Radical Homemaking Movement

radical homemaking

“Radical homemaking is a very hands on approach centered around taking responsibility for where your required resources come from (food, shelter, entertainment, clothing etc).”

– Hannah Moloney

“Radical Homemaking” is a term coined by Shannon Hayes, author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. The idea is that when people work outside of the home, their ecological impact is a lot greater than if they’re more self-sustaining.

Radical homemakers don’t want to get rich. They’re not into keeping up with the Jones. They try to make do with what they have. They grow their own food, or buy it from local farmers. They learn to sew, knit, cook, can and make their own bread, cheese and soap.

They repair items they already own, instead of buying new ones. They barter with friends and neighbors instead of paying cash. They share tools and equipment instead of individually owning items that aren’t used that often.

Of course, not all radical homemakers do all of these things, but, as you can see, being a radical homemaker is a far cry from the life of a typical stay-at-home mom or dad.

It’s not just about spending more time with the kids. It’s about living more simply, meaningfully and sustainably, as well as developing community networks and resources.

“There’s very little differentiation between work and play in this lifestyle. How can you spend a morning watching the mist rise and not feel moved to prayer and celebration and joyousness?”

– Shannon Hayes

Hayes, who grew up on a grass-fed livestock farm in upstate New York, wanted to continue to farm there as an adult, but her parents were still farming. She realized the small farm was unlikely to produce enough money to support two families without a lifestyle change, so, she and her husband learned to live well with less by learning the domestic skills of our ancestors.

Radical homemaking isn’t about doing it all yourself, though. As Hayes says:

Radical Homemakers are not one-person wonders, single-handedly capable of heroic feats of self-reliance. Rather, we have some handy skills (cooking, knitting, gardening), and then some meta-skills that work the real magic: savvy functioning within a life-serving economy, an ability to self-teach and overcome fears, realistic expectations, an understanding of what gives us deep pleasure, and, most importantly, relationship skills. I don’t do it all. I am in an interdependent relationship with my family and my closest friends, and together, we get stuff done.

For most people, it’s also not about completely withdrawing from the world of outside of employment. Many radical homemakers earn money through selling goods they produce, freelance writing, and teaching homemaking skills.

“Was encouraging a Radical Homemaking movement going to unravel all the social advancements that have been made in the last 40-plus years?”

– Shannon Hayes

While Hayes’ husband is also a homemaker, and she believes radical homemaking is best when both partners work at home, most radical homemakers seem to have a partner with outside employment.

I wasn’t able to find any statistics about how many radical homemakers are male and female, but the articles and interviews I found do focus more on women. So is radical homemaking simply a push to keep women from working outside the home?

There are some people who think so, but to me, the movement looks like a hipper version of homesteading, which doesn’t carry the same gender connotations as the word “homemaking.”

Also, while I’m not a radical homemaker, I do enjoy many of the “domestic arts,” as well as being employed outside the home. I don’t feel that my interests in knitting, soap-making and bread-baking arise from cultural stereotypes or traditional gender rules.

In fact, in today’s world where we learn from mostly from books and articles with a scientific bent instead of from our relatives, some of these activities seem downright geeky.

Have you read Hayes’ book? What do you think about radical homemaking? Do you consider yourself a radical homemaker? Do you feel the radical homemaking movement is sexist?

4 thoughts on “Minimalists Today: The Radical Homemaking Movement

  1. Thanks for clearing that up. I can see where they came up with that figure then and it’s a nice way to choose to spend their money.

  2. I have yet to read this book but it’s on my list. I thought I’d read that Hayes found it necessary to have an income of $40,000 to be able to live this lifestyle, do I have Hayes confused with another person? I do think one could survive on less if they were into a homemade lifestyle. I agree with you that the term homemaking is geared more so to women and that there is little difference between homesteading and radical homemaking. With Hayes I agree that both parents being able to work at home and include the children in the activities that create a life on the farm/homestead is the best way for children to grow up and is a natural way for them to live. There are many examples of how children benefited from being included in the work on the home property along side their parents from Wendel Berry to Laura Engalls-Wilder.

    • Thanks for sharing, Lois. I haven’t read the book yet either, but I have seen the $40K figure in articles. When they chose the “radical homemaking path,” they prioritized international travel with their children, and they try to save up for long trips abroad every few years. They also invested in new tools and equipment to expand the farming business, as well as invest in local community resources.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.