Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Home Economy

Today's post is an excerpt from a post I made over at Wardrobe Refashion. Please excuse the re-use, But I have every intention of going further into this over the next week or two, and it seemed a good way to start here, too.


I've been looking into and reading up on the devaluation of the home arts in American Society (Yup - we're going deep again!) I don't know anything substantial about other societies, so please feel free to chime in and tell us if what I'm about to say is relevant, or not relevant, where you live! Please - I want to know!

The thought is that, in light of the crashing American Economy, folks seem to be finding their way back to the "home arts" in droves. They're sewing, thrifting, gardening, repairing rather than replacing, and driving their cars longer than they normally would (since when is a two-year-old car "old", anyway?) My point is that enough people are finding economy that we could nearly call it "trendy" around here.

Now, this shouldn't be such a big deal. During World War II, nearly every home and vacant lot had a victory garden growing food for the war effort, so more of the farmers' food could go overseas to support the troops. There was no call for victory gardens when we invaded the Iraq and Afganistan. Still isn't. we've been told to buy our food and support the farmers.

During WWII, there was mass rationing of commodities such as silk, aluminum, steel, eggs, and butter to support the troops and the war effort. There has been no call for that here now, and people get upset if prices go up by a tiny amount. We've been told to go shopping to support our manufacturers so they can make more.

Now we have banks collapsing, major corporations are going under, and credit is dried up completely unless you have significant cash on hand already, despite the bailouts by the federal government. Can you guess what's coming?? We've been told to go buy stuff to support the failing Economy.

Stay with me here, I'm coming back around to what we do here, promise!

The thing we're not seeing in the news is that there are really two Economies here in the US, and just about every other industrialized nation: the Formal Economy, and the Informal Economy. The Formal Economy is the one we keep hearing about in the news, the one that's ailing and we need to go buy from major corporations to "support". The formal Economy is Big Business and Corporations, and making money for the execs and investors is key.

By contrast, the Informal Economy is smaller, and exists in probably every society on the planet. It's the trade, barter, talent, home economy, or whatever you call it where you are. It's buying small, local, trading, doing favors, loaning things (and money) to friends and neighbors, and generally benefits all involved by the fair and just barter of goods and services. Have excess tomatoes in your garden this year? I'll help you paint your house for a bushel of them! That kind of thing. I once traded a doctor's treatment for painting her office for her. We both benefitted. I also traded sewing a Tudor-style court outfit for a man who plumbed my new bathroom, some years ago.

As people lose their jobs and can't find new ones, a problem especially prevalent in here in Michigan (the official unemployment number is 14%, but when you add in the people working part-time when they want full-time, and the folks who have just given up, the number went over 26% a month ago!) we find more and more people bartering. More people are shopping at the thrift stores. And more people are planting gardens.

So what, right?

Here's the so what part: it's entirely possible, that with a contraction of the Formal Economy, more people will go hungry than during the Great Depression of the 1930s, simply because of the lack of self-reliance and home arts. during the Great Depression, it was common, normal, and somewhat expected that if you had any yard at all, you grew some food. You knew how to sew, how to be frugal, and how to take care of your own. And in a worst case scenario, you most likely had family somewhere on a farm who could take you in.

That's not going to happen now. I've seen clothes thrown in the trash for want of a zipper. I've had people bring me shirts at the alteration shop because they couldn't sew a button on it for themselves! Most people don't have gardens now, and wouldn't know how to grow, can, or preserve the food if they could grow it. It's just not common knowledge anymore.

And then there's the public message: Go Shopping.

If I'm hungry, and don't have a job, why should I care about the Economy? Because Everyone will suffer if the Economy fails, we're told. In other words, we're being asked to sacrifice our credit ratings and families, and potentially our houses (to foreclosure) to save the Almighty Economy, so Others won't suffer.

Which economy?

I think everyone here at Wardrobe Refashion already "gets it." It's not about being trendy, jumping on the bandwagon, or even necessarily about getting unique fashion. It's about doing things for yourself and your own. It's about pride of accomplishment, making do, making up, and getting off the treadmill of buying "stuff" that supports large corporations and underpaid overseas workers. It's about keeping it local, keeping it real, and developing a skill set that has gone unrecognized since the Economy was invented (by men, to their standards and benefit, and using criteria they deemed important).

Home Arts disappeared even further with the women's movement and Power Women in the 1980s. The feminist women's rights movement got co-opted and turned into something it was never meant to be: it was supposed to be about freedom of choice in lifestyle, and it became anti-home. A woman had no value if she stayed home with her children, and that has remained in force until very recently with the trend of young housewives and mothers reclaiming the value of raising children and making a home.

In reclaiming the home arts as valuable, worthwhile, useful, and fun, we're reclaiming our informal economy, our home economy, and putting it back into circulation.

It all starts small. With one person. One pillowcase turned into a dress that a child is proud to wear. Made by hand is made with love.

And with Love, we can rule the world.


Julie said...

Every less-industrialized culture in the world has a word for reciprocal work - I'll help you with the milking every day if you help me with the haying every autumn, or whatever. The Amish/Mennonite do it regularly, there are several Gaelic words that refer to the concept, and in Hawaii they used "aloha" for the idea of community spirit - large public projects where everyone donated their time to, say, landscape a public park, were called "Aloha projects". There was also the term "kokua" which was literally translated as "cooperation" but in spirit meant more like "not being selfish". As in, "the lab over at UH is asking for some kokua to finish a big project, any volunteers?"

I, too, am disturbed at the lack of what I think of as "homemaking skills" among both men and women. I know engineers who can't sew buttons, chemists who can't cook. It makes no sense. And these skills STILL get sneered at (probably due to the women's lib movement trashing them), yet they're nothing more or less than SURVIVAL SKILLS. The gardening questions I get these days... it's amazing. But more people are planting, so I try to be optimistic.

walterknitty said...

Since the economy started to tank last spring I've seen a lot more gardens in my neighbourhood than in previous years. This year, if I get enough veggies, I do want to try my hand at pickling. My Mom taught me the basics of cooking when I was a kid. She also taught me how to sew a hem, whip stitch a seam, and how to sew on buttons. She taught these things to my brother too but he refused to learn and thought it was funny. I'm amazed by the amount of people, both men and women, who dont know the basics of cooking. It's so much healthier to cook for yourself rather than buying fast food or pre-frozen meals. I'm struck by people who say they cant or dont know how to cook. Seriously folks, it's not that hard and you'll feel better once you get started.

Julietta said...

Thank you for the very informative post. Would you mind sharing your sources? I'm actually considering writing my master thesis about a similar topic and this would be very helpful for me. Thanks and I'm looking forward to more philosophic posts!

highflyinsm said...

You know I think you've hit the nail on the head. Last year was the first year I had land to grow a garden and I was AMAZED at how much money I saved on produce. Plus my neighbor and I traded so we had even more!! I know a whole group of people who make their own cloths, grow their food (where I live a lot of people grew up on farms) and we trade, I just got 3 new pairs of jeans that didn't fit a friend in trade for milk I wouldn't drink (wrong percentage delivered) for her boys!

In the progressive movement there is a call for people to grow green gardens,as it is better for the environment. I think they, and you, are on the something. Please keep the info coming!


Jofran said...

Amen Sister.

I am always amazed when I am knitting or spinning someone saying that their grandmother used to do that - well guess what you can too. it is not that hard does not take that much time and really feels pretty good.

Jofran - who got her clothesline up tonight....

Alwen said...

Dan Arielly, who wrote Predictably Irrational, talked about the differences between the market economy and the social economy.

I found his book very interesting, because I run a Yahoo group and allowed ads one day a week. The group had gone quiet except for the ads on Ad Day. Market economy had taken it over.

So I put a moratorium on ads, and slowly the life of the group is coming back. Fascinating!

Sara said...

What an excellent post! I love bartering or trading skills or supplies.

Erin said...

Catching up on my blogs this morning and I read your post on Wardrobe Refashion and I had to come over hear and thank you for such a well-thought out post. At 45, I've been saying for years that the "women's movement" has forgotten its intent...it wasn't to devalue the work women do, it was to give us the choice/option to do more. I've spent the last five years teaching myself the "home arts" and have never felt more accomplished or more fulfilled. Cutting ourselves off from doing it ourselves in the name of progress has been anything but. Thanks again!

Monica aka Gloria Patre said...

You're right about one thing, Erica - it's the mainstream media that scoffs at the idea of "home made" unless it's "commercially produced home made". We have a whole generation of hopelessy helpless people who are so dependant on commercial it's scary! We really have to ask ourselves who is in control of these social influences. Commercially controlled mass media, that's who! We have to stop looking at the boob tube and start looking around our neighborhoods to see the true reality! People need to re-claim their creativity and ingenuity - and with it, their self esteem. "We can, so we should" should be our new motto instead of "I can but let's buy instead". Loved this post! Looking forward to more!