Homemaking for a New Generation

A few years ago I noticed that something was happening among me and my friends. We started taking up interests that a decade ago would have been considered dated or overly domestic. Crafts that used to be for “old people”, like quilting or knitting, were suddenly back in fashion, with friends proudly displaying pictures of their handiwork on Facebook. It was no longer cool to buy pre-packaged food; cooking from scratch was the only way to go. Gardening and visiting the Farmer’s Market on the weekends was hip. Canning your own food and making your own clothes was the mark of a socially aware citizen of the world. Moms were blogging about how they cleaned their houses and posting tips for cloth diapering.

Circular knitting on a circular needle

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seemed that everywhere I turned, young people were embracing the culture and practices of previous generations. Then I was introduced to two websites that took these ideals and raised them to a whole new level: Etsy and Pinterest. Visit either of these sites and you could spend hours scrolling through the fruits of other people’s labour: millions of pictures of crafts, homemade goods, recipes, interior design, organization tips, and instructions on how to do anything yourself.

We have entered an era where “DIY” is the new standard for the young middle-class. I myself have been swept up in the movement without really understanding the reason behind it. I cook from scratch and make my own bread and baby food. This year for the first time I’m growing a vegetable garden and canning fruit from a local u-pick. I know more than one person who is studying beekeeping, and I’m one of the few of my friends who doesn’t knit. So why is there a resurgence of these activities that all but faded away after our grandmother’s generation?

I’m reading an interesting book right now called Homeward Bound that seeks to answer these questions. I urge you to read it if you’re interested in this topic because the author provides some ideas and raises some questions of her own. I believe that there are a few reasons why we’re seeing young men and women taking up the domestic arts.

We live in a hectic society where we are saturated with information and technology. There are days at a time when I don’t leave the house, but I am still glued to my laptop, iPhone, TV screen, and e-reader. For all of the apps and tools that we have to make our lives more efficient, I feel like we have never been so exhausted. Everything is artificial. You can learn how to play the guitar without ever touching an actual instrument. You can have an entire relationship with someone that you’ve never even met. We inundate ourselves with “reality” television programming that is anything but. Is it any surprise that, at the end of the day, we just want to slow down, do something with our hands, and produce something tangible?

I remember watching a music documentary once where someone (I think it might have been Tom Petty) said, “Sometimes you just want to touch wood.” I get what he means. In a world where everything is fake, sometimes you just need to get back down to basics. When I’m in the kitchen, baking something from scratch, or when I hear the pinging of my jars as they seal over a fresh batch of jam, I get such a great sense of satisfaction. If I’m rolling out a pie crust or weeding my garden, I’m not staring at a screen or sitting on the couch. I’m making something.

Pinterest

Pinterest (Photo credit: stevegarfield)

I think another reason we are embracing homesteading is a general distrust of the products and services that are available to us. Truly, this is the luxury of an affluent society to have everything that we need (and more) available to us, and to turn our backs on it in favour of making it ourselves. But I think that we have good reason to do so. When we hear reports about the awful things that can happen in daycares, it can seem attractive to give up a career to stay at home with our children. When we hear that bees are dying at record rates many of us want to do what we can to help preserve the species, even if it means keeping a colony on our rooftop. We’re warned about genetically modified foods and the dangers of artificial sweeteners. We can’t even pronounce half of the ingredients in an average pre-packaged food. Growing our own vegetables and making our meals from scratch seems like the healthiest thing that we can do for our families.

The work of a homemaker used to be invisible to everyone except for her (I say “her” because the majority of domestic duties used to be relegated to the woman, and statistically still are). If she spent all day organizing her linen cupboard, she might get a “thank you” from her husband, but there was very little recognition for what she did. Now, men and women who choose to devote their time and energy to cleaning and organizing their homes can post pictures on their blog or on Pinterest and receive immediate feedback. The invisible work of homemaking is now very much part of the public arena.

One question that is raised is whether or not this is a positive movement. In some ways, it is. I think we’re nearing a breaking point in the way that our society is structured. Organizations are getting larger and larger, with behemoths like Wal-Mart absorbing everything in their paths. We rely on products shipped from half-way around the world instead of producing them in our neighbourhoods. We’re losing the skills that we truly need to live in favour of keeping up to date with our technologies. I think a return to a slower, more authentic way of living is inevitable and necessary. The way that we currently live just isn’t sustainable, in many different ways.

On the other hand, there could be some drawbacks. This movement is lead primarily by the white middle class. It takes money to stay at home with your kids and to live on a property that allows you to grow your own food. Single mothers, people living in urban areas, those who are forced to work and place their kids in daycare don’t have the option of checking out and living off the grid. Who will fight for their rights? The new focus on the home is very much an “every woman for herself” type of situation. You could look to the rise of parents who choose not to vaccinate as a perfect example. What is good for a singular family is not always the best choice for a society as a whole.

Some might ask if the increase in domestic culture is feminist. You could argue that the answer is both yes and no. It is positive to see things that previously would have been referred to as “women’s work” receiving recognition and popularity, however when taken to the extreme it can cause competition and pressure to keep up. What of the young men and women who don’t subscribe to this movement due to lack of ability, financial means, or simple desire? Is a mom less of a mom because she doesn’t host a themed birthday party for her children (complete with handmade invitations and a homemade designer cake)? Whereas twenty or thirty years ago, a woman who chose to forgo career to stay at home might be viewed as lacking ambition, today a woman who works outside the home and feeds her baby food from a jar might be judged the same way.

On a personal level, I find the rise in popularity of domestic skills fascinating, and I’m enjoying watching this movement unfold as I play my own small part. So far, there are no chickens on my patio and I won’t be quitting my job and supporting my family by selling handicrafts on Etsy. But I have enjoyed learning some of the skills that were a way of life for my grandma and great-grandma. I like to see the results of my efforts and know that I have the ability to create something. It satisfies me. Because sometimes, you just want to touch wood.

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