Recently, I’ve been revisiting Radical Homemakers almost ten years after it rocked my world back in grad school. Parts are brilliant and parts a bit flaky, just like I remembered, but the overall effect is to fire me up. And I came across a cornerstone of X’s vision for domesticity: Save the planet, make a friend!
“Solid and satisfying relationships are beyond a doubt the primary step in building a sustainable home.”
This was good news to me. I don’t recycle anymore and I have a list as long as my arm of domestic skills I should probably cultivate, but I do invest in friendships.
When I think about the claim, I sort of see it. There aren’t all that many days anymore when I don’t feed someone outside my immediate family or get fed in return. I don’t buy many children’s clothes. We do very few formal cultural events –good and wholesome though they are–because much of our time is spent in pleasure and duty to our network of friends: just passing time and sharing meals at one home or another. All of this reduces consumption and waste.
We also are able to sidestep some childcare costs by swapping care for appointments and other one-offs. When we do have to pay for services (childcare, lawn care, tailoring, etc.) we can also often keep it within the church or homeschooling community. We are keeping our money hyper-local and practicing frugality while we’re at it.
Here is a fairly typical day:
- At preschool drop off, I pass one bag of Pip’s hand-me-downs to a friend who passes me two bags of her daughter’s for Scout. (Everyone needs a friend with children the same ages as her own but opposite genders.)
- I go through an IKEA bag of stuff from another friend who’s in the process of moving. I set aside the things I can’t use to find homes for.
- At naptime a friend’s high school daughter brings by the duvet she finished making as a commission for me.
- In the afternoon, I work out a complicated childcare scenario where a friend piggybacks on my mother’s helper, who subcontracts with her little brother. It ends up costing us $10 each for two hours of childcare, during which time I listen to an audiobook uninterrupted and wrap birthday presents. On the phone, I also walk a friend through setting up an evite for an All Souls prayer potluck.
- A young friend’s husband is finishing up work on our back deck. She drops him off, grabs an apricot and leaves some vases I’ve left her
- Dinner is pasta and homemade meatballs from our yearly cow. I double the recipe and drop half off at the home of the farmer friend who raised the cow, who’s having a difficult recovery from surgery.
- When I get home J is having a beer on the porch with the wife of our deck repairman and the father of the extra kid our mother’s helpers watched.
- After kid bedtime, I eat a brownie baked by one friend and enjoy a cup of tea from the hostess, when I meet to plan our Blessed Is She Advent retreat.
These friendships are different, more demanding and deeper, than those friendships when you get together when your life is under control for a night that feature fancy food, sparkling conversation and clean countertops. Sometimes we have those things and they are good things to be sure. But this life of ours paradoxically requires more mess and more order. When your child outgrows her wardrobe, you can’t just bag it up for Goodwill or simply toss it; instead, you divvy and deliver it between friends, and you accept hand-me-downs in advance that you’ll have to store. You invite people into the nooks and crannies of a busy family life and hope they don’t walk away when you run late because of a diaper blowout or you offer them half of the non-gourmet thing you froze weeks ago. It’s harder and more vulnerable than the independent suburban way I think a lot of people live, but its porosity and clamor and warmth are a comfort in times of trouble (and morning sickness) and a fortress against the materialism of the world in which our children can flourish.
PS–Would it be helpful for anyone if I did a detailed post on my system for storing hand-me-downs?