The Compact

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.

CRAFTY: Handmade Kids Toys

Since we were still operating on The Compact this past Christmas, all of our gifts were either handmade or purchased second hand. I thought I'd highlight a few of the gifts for our girls that we made, as they turned out to be very cute and some of their new favorite things. They are certainly gifts that would be ideal to give at any time of year, especially for birthdays.

I found the idea for these adorable and easy handmade stilts on one of my favorite mama craft blogs, She has a whole slew of darling kiddie crafts and other ideas that I've also used. I decided to use coffee cans for Lucy's stilts, as they are a bit larger and more study. I covered them with some scraps of vintage Contac paper I got at a thrift shop. Eric drilled small holes in the sides to loop some rope through and voila, they were done in like 20 minutes. They are great for indoor and outdoor fun and her friends have come to love them as well.
I got the idea for this dolls-sized log table and stools from this cute website for green, recycled kids craft ideas. "Santa's elves," also known as Eric and his brother Dominic, took some of our firewood into Dom's shop and fashioned this little set for Alice's Santa gift. They are rustic and are also great for imaginative play both indoors and out. I found the stuffed creatures and tableware are a variety of antique and thrift shops for super cheap. The best part, however, are the handsewn felt cookies I found from local Boise Etsy seller, Vivian, who owns and makes the best culinary creations on Time To Play. They were around $10 for 6 cookies, and I got to pick the "flavor" and frosting colors. The cookies are really well made and SO DANG CUTE I can't even tell you. Her work is stellar and I can't recommend purchasing from her enough.

Santa brought Lucy a similar set up, but her wooden table and chairs were an amazing thrift shop find. Her ballerina dolls also came from thrift shops, and both girls' table linens came from my mother and grandmother's collections.

Lucy and Alice were thrilled with these gifts, and they have really sparked their imagination with play. The cookies are a constant hit, and the table settings have already hosted a number of tea parties for other stuffed pets and Barbie friends. I find these simple toys to often be the most interesting in the long run. They may not be the fanciest or the flashiest, but they are heartfelt gifts that kids are sure to love.

Mission Complete: The Compact 2009

Last May I wrote a post on this blog about our family's 2009 New Year's Resolution to live The Compact for an entire year. For those of you who are new readers, you can click on the link above to read more about The Compact but, in a nutshell, it's a philosophy and a lifestyle that combats our increasingly consumerist culture, the one that got us into this nasty recession in the first place. Basically, there is one basic tenant: buy nothing new for an entire year, with the exception of food, medicine, underwear and the like. You must borrow, barter, or get everything used, as a means of reusing, recycling and reserving resources. When purchasing services, The Compact suggests supporting local businesses. Admittedly, I am extremely thrifty and have a keen eye at flea markets, so this concept appealed to that part of my personality. We were already avid recyclers, so that part of The Compact seemed easy enough, too. I had to talk my husband, Eric, into it, as he was a little leery about living an ENTIRE YEAR without purchasing power. As it turned out, a few months into 2009 I was laid off from my job, in which we lost nearly half of our income. At this point, The Compact took on an important role in our financial health, as frugality became key to our survival. All in all, I've never had a New Year's Resolution be SO MUCH FUN. What could've been seen as a struggle or a setback turned out to be so much more refreshing and rewarding than we thought imaginable. Here are a few highlights:

Making new things out of old items really fueled our creative juices. I sewed clothing and library book bags. The girls really got into making objects for their friends' birthdays. We made Christmas gift tags out of old greeting cards and gift containers from old yogurt tubs.

We also began eating at home more and took pleasure in making our meals from scratch with our own hands. The library offered a great resource, as we explored different cookbooks, especially for foodies on a tight budget. Our friends offered their talents as well, sharing their knowledge on canning and gifting us fresh produce from their summer gardens.
As I mentioned earlier, thrifting is a pastime I was already passionate about, but The Compact took it to a whole new level. Before, I would go to garage sales or thrift shops for fun to see what I could find, but this past year I learned how difficult, yet exciting, it is to search for specific objects. Like white Little League baseball pants. Or large flower pots. I also learned to really utilize other local resources, from online forums like craigslist , Ada County Freecycle and the Boise Barter group on Facebook, to local shops that specialize in gently used gear like Play It Again Sports and Kid to Kid.

Our family has always explored fun, free family-friendly activities in our community, but with my new non-paying gig as a stay-at-home-mom, this was imperative. Not only for my mental health, but for our financial health as well. Lucky for all of us, the Treasure Valley offers a plethora of cheap activities to do, especially outdoors. We spent most of our summer exploring the local parks and watering holes with our bright blue picnic basket in tow. The cooler months have offered much of the same, but we've traded our picnic basket for sleds and thermoses.

I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't acknowledge the difficulties we encountered via The Compact. It was a little hard to find quality used adult shoes when Eric or I needed them. We found out the hard way that not everyone appreciates thrifted or handmade gifts for their birthdays or Christmas, which just goes to show how consumer oriented our society has become. I don't mean to be preachy, but it would better us all, and our Earth, to take at least one or two of The Compact's notions to heart. Even something simple like support our local businesses and get a delicious, thick handmade lasagna at Cucina di Paolo instead of The Olive Garden next time you're craving Italian. Or wrap your holiday gifts next year in newspaper and top with these cute creative bows rather than spending a fortune on shiny giftwrap at Walmart. Little steps go a long way in taking care of our environment, our economy, and ourselves. After reflecting on this past year I can't believe how fulfilled we are with less and what a great journey it's been. And like all good and successful New Year's Resolutions, The Compact has become such an ingrained and important part of our daily lives that we aren't giving it up at all. That's not to say I might not succumb to the occasional sale on tank tops at Old Navy or the McDonald's Happy Meal with the new Alvin & The Chipmunks toy that Lucy keeps begging for. We're all human (and young American parents) after all. But the important part is that we are making informed, conscious decisions that we feel, in a small way, will help make us, and our world, a better place.
p.s. We did not buy that little black taxidermied bear at the garage sale pictured above, although Alice would've been thrilled if it lived in her bedroom. And after reading this hilarious post, I wish I'd had $500 to fork over for it.

Livin' The Compact in 2009

I have always been a thrifty gal who gets a thrill out a great deal, be it after Christmas sales at the mall or a fabulous retro find at a flea market. Most of my wardrobe since high school has consisted of funky items from the Goodwill mixed with stuff from the clearance rack at Old Navy. I'm also a sucker for well-loved antiques or other misfit cast offs. I love both their history as well as their potential, and have rescued many a defunct piece of furniture, painted it, and turned it into a great new find. It isn't just thriftiness or living on a budget that has drawn me to this type of lifestyle, though, but also the importance of reusing as a major component in recycling. Over the years our family has become avid recyclers, and we try to produce as little waste as possible, buying in bulk, using our own shopping bags, reusing yogurt containers and cereal boxes as building blocks for Alice, and taking our travel coffee mugs to Moxie Java. So, it probably wasn't a big surprise to Eric when just after Christmas I announced that I wanted our New Years Resolution to be committing to The Compact for one year.

There is one simple (or not so) rule of The Compact: buy nothing new for a year. The Compact is an idea that started a few years ago with a group of people in San Francisco and has since spread nationwide. The group has several stated aims:

1) To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc.

2) To reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er)

3) To simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

We've agreed to follow two principles:

#1 Don't buy new products of any kind (with some exceptions like food, toiletries, and underwear!)

#2 Borrow, barter or buy used

Eric and I had been trying to simplify our lives for a while, and the idea of The Compact really appeals to us (admittedly, more to me than him, but he has been converted). We knew it would be a challenge, but we were up for it. We live in such a materialistic society, one that got us into this economic crisis in the first place. And even for us, it was still going to be hard to break those old habits of purchasing new. The fundamental question for us was (and still is): will we be happy without as much stuff in our lives? We're well into month 5 and I have to say, we are.