Powerful Householding, or How to Stop Flicking Switches

I am part of a group that seeks to “green”  our church (UU). At the last meeting only women came, five of us. One of our discussions revolved around single-use paper cups during coffee hour and Sunday school. We have many mugs and we figured out how to put them back to use. The major obstacle is, of course, inconvenience. Will people go into the kitchen and rinse their mugs or put them in the dishwasher? What kind of mess will that make? Can we ask the (volunteer) coffee hour hosts to take this on? Should we help the coffee hour hosts deal with the dishes?

To us it was self-evident that we should do this: we avoid plastic bags and single-use bottles, bring our own containers to restaurants for leftovers and to the deli to avoid the baggies. But we were well-aware that others, even in our liberal church community, would not welcome this. Their lives are busy and difficult enough as it is, why add another inconvenience?

As we talked this through, I realized that, though I take on some of these measures because they are “green” and, even deeper down, principled, I also like the fact that they add effort to my daily life. I actually think it’s a nice bonus!

You see, as an unpaid part-time work-at-home mom, I gradually realized that the daily running of the household was so easy as to be meaningless, worthless. Yes, it is wonderful not have to scrub the laundry and one’s hands in cold water, not to have to go out to the pump to draw water, to have dishwashers and automatic furnaces and a car to go get all the food we want from the supermarket. But what was left, but the flicking of switches from on to off to on again? That demands no respect. The respect goes to the money-earner in the house who bought the machine, the engineer who designed it, the “civilization” that made it all possible.

Then I started carrying take-out boxes around and eschewing plastics and single-use anything, and began to divest our household from supermarkets through gardening, keeping hens and bees, and began building things with my own hands, hanging laundry to dry, and switched from oil heat to a wood stove (we buck, split and stack  our wood and gather and cut kindling ourselves). I did all this for environmental and resilience reasons, out of the principle to take only what I need, and partially also as a way to contribute financially by generating savings.  And I found that the inevitable inconveniences were welcome, because they put effort and thus meaning back into the daily chores, making them  empowering again.

Later on I talked about this with a friend who is a full-time (and then some) career woman. She took exception to my line of thought. She is stretched so thin that adding any of these inconveniences would just make her snap. Of course, we all make different choices. She chose to get her empowerment mainly from her position, her pay check. She pays others to do the household chores for her, so all she has to do when she gets home after a long day of work is mostly flick switches (she has outsourced everything but cooking, which she loves), so she can spend her precious free time with her family. I chose to aim for a balance between household/homestead and activism (not found it yet!). I get some of my empowerment from my activism, but I too want a fully meaningful life, and so I welcome it in my household life.

That is why this morning I got up way too early, having gone to sleep too late after working on solar in my town – what was that about balance? I shrugged into my winter jacket and sneakers and grabbed the wood basket and went outside. The freezing wind and slushing snow woke me up good. The hens were yelling at me to be let out of the coop, and then I replaced their frozen water. Back in the porch I filled my basket with firewood. I took it in and made breakfast and lunch while shouting to DH and DD to get out of bed!  Then I sat down in front of the stove and lit the newspaper, which lit the fat wood, which lit the kindling, which lit the firewood. While others were still waking up, having breakfast, commuting to work, waiting to get somewhere empowering, I had already worked. I was already powerful.

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  1. My only comment is that given all the alarming news of recent days regarding ice and ocean rise, etc. I fear even those who don’t have the time to adopt a lighter footprint will find it a necessity. You are showing the way.

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