Occupation: Radical Homemaker

People, this book changed my life:

Or, rather, my life was already completely changed, but this book reaffirmed what I already knew, gave strong support, a voice, and a NAME to this new 'career' I had chosen. I am a Radical Homemaker.

Because Shannon Hayes, the book's author, says it so much more eloquently than I can, here's the low down on the book (and the subsequent lifestyle) from the website:

Radical Homemakers uncovers a hidden revolution quietly taking hold across the United States. It is the story of pioneering men and women who are redefining feminism and the good life by adhering to simple principles of ecological sustainability, social justice, community engagement and family well-being. It explores the values, skills, motivations, accomplishments, power, challenges, joy and creative fulfillment of Americans who are endeavoring to change the world by first reclaiming control of the home and hearth.

Mother Nature has shown her hand. Faced with climate change, dwindling resources, and species extinctions, most Americans understand the fundamental steps necessary to solve our global crises - drive less, consume less, increase self-reliance, buy locally, eat locally, rebuild our local communities.

In essence, the great work we face requires rekindling the home fires.

Radical Homemakers is about men and women across the U.S. who focus on home and hearth as a political and ecological act, and who have centered their lives around family and community for personal fulfillment and cultural change. It explores what domesticity looks like in an era that has benefited from feminism, where domination and oppression are cast aside and where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude.

Radical Homemakers nationwide speak about empowerment, transformation, happiness, and casting aside the pressures of a consumer culture to live in a world where money loses its power to relationships, independent thought, and creativity. If you ever considered quitting a job to plant tomatoes, read to a child, pursue creative work, can green beans and heal the planet, this is your book.

For a few years now our lives have been slowly moving in this direction. We cultivated garden spaces around our small urban yard and traded produce and homemade items for free range chicken eggs. We began eating out less and when we did, we made sure to support local restaurants, dairies and the like. I even took my thrift store addiction to a new level, convincing my family to not buy anything new for an entire year in 2009.

Then there was that surprise layoff from my full-time job about a year and a half ago. While the layoff was traumatic and stressful, so was the job, so it didn't take me long to choose a completely new life path. We pulled the girls out of full-time daycare/preschool and I became a stay-at-home mom with benefits. I got to play outside all day. I got to be barefoot, bake bread, and take vacations whenever I wanted. Quickly, I became a working-at-home mom, as I was lucky enough to hand-pick one or two of the best art projects that came my way. Ones that had to fit into my new lifestyle, one that I wasn't willing to negotiate on this time around.

Eric and I sat down and examined how we could survive financially only his modest income as a college professor, as our yearly budget was now $30,000 less than it used to be. This meant some major changes including eliminating DirectTV and our entertainment budget, instead relying on free, local outdoor activities for the girls and Netflix. We cut way back on our grocery and clothing bills, by making food from scratch and relying on garage sales or clothing swaps.

Most importantly, we've made a major commitment to our Earth, by taking our recycling and reuse to a whole new level. We use reusable cloth napkins and plastic plates on our picnics and compost all food scraps in our backyard composter. Eric bikes or rides the bus to work, as we've cut back to one vehicle. Our lawn and garden use only organic materials and are watered by our neighborhood canal irrigation system. The girls and I keep food packaging materials for art projects and use both sides of paper for drawing on. I make my own shampoo and conditioner and shut off the AC every night.

We don't take fancy vacations or have lots of shiny new toys, but we also don't have any debt other than our student loans and our home mortgage. What we have truly learned (in this economic crisis oddly enough) is that money does not make you happy. Nor does money make your life better nor is it a measure of success. We are a good, no a GREAT, example of that. And we aren't the only ones. I have witnessed many friends just up and quit their successful, good-paying jobs recently in order to make their homes a healthier place. By having (and giving) time to connect with each other and our communities, we are creating a revolution. We are turning the American obsession with consumerism upside down and writing a new chapter in feminist theory.

It's a complex, amazing movement, y'all. And one that I'm so proud to be part of. And next time I have to fill out a form or someone asks me, "What do you do?" I can answer with a title, a name, an identity that sort of sums it all up nicely. I am a Radical Homemaker.