A couple of weeks ago, I ran into someone who used to work with my husband. It’s probably been 10 years since we’ve seen each other and even then we were just “Hi! How are you?” acquaintances. So, when she asked “What are you doing now?” it was just easier to say, “Oh, the same old things,” than to try and explain what’s going on with me, my career, and my family.
Walking away, I found myself wishing for a label of some kind or an elevator speech I could give when I encounter folks who are truly interested in what’s going on with me, but have no idea what they’re unearthing when they ask, “Whats new?” If only the term “radical homemaker” was more commonplace – not that I’m anywhere near able to claim that, yet, but it would provide some shorthand for what I aspire to (thus explaining some choices that might otherwise appear unwise, based on my previous career path).
Radical Homemakers is a book (by Shannon Hayes) and a concept – women and men who are intentionally stepping away from consumerism and working just enough to live, rather than living to work. These are people working one or two part-time jobs, rather than a 60+ hour work week. They are giving up their second car, committing to grow their own food and/or make their own clothes, because the money they save is worth the time they gain with their family.
I’ll confess, I don’t know how realistic this is for a couple in their mid-40s, with elementary school-aged children and nearly 17 years spent acquiring stuff (and the bills that accompany all the stuff), but it resonates with how I want to live. For the last few months, I’ve been trying to convince myself I’d be okay taking whatever job I had to, as long as it paid what we need to live. But now I’m choosing to look harder at “what we need to live” and hoping to find enough work to pay for that. Such a subtle shift, with such huge implications for my and my family’s happiness.
With that in mind, we swallowed hard last week and pulled the plug on many of our staple “comforts.” No more Sunday newspaper delivered to our door. No more shopping when we need a pick-me-up or a reward. Eating out will be rare, rather than part of our weekly menu. And (gulp) no more cable TV (a savings of $80/month; $940/year!). We haven’t gone cold turkey (have you met me?), just downshifted to using Hulu-plus and streaming Netflix (each costs $8/month) to get our television fix.
We’ve talked about doing this for a long time, but always hesitated because we couldn’t bring ourselves to disconnect from the culture. Television was more than an escape, it was our opiate – allowing us to tune out and turn off at the end of a long day. I know dropping cable is fairly commonplace these days, but for us it’s still radical – much like living out what we believe.
I have always believed in, but never truly lived out, the G.K. Chesterton quote: “There are two ways to have enough: one is to acquire more, the other is to desire less.” In North America, desiring less is radical, but that has to change, especially for my generation. We will not be as prosperous as our parents’ generation (at least not when we compare checking accounts and retirement funds). So it’s time to trade-in my super-sized cup for something more realistic. Or maybe I need to learn how to make my own cup, rather than choose from the sizes and types of cups our culture offers. Better yet, what if I simplify things to the point of having one cup that my family shares – four portions, poured together – maybe then I’d start seeing my cup as more than half full.