Radical Homemaking Week (3): Dispelling the Myth of Self Sufficiency

Many of us who hark after a “simpler” life have grand visions of “self sufficiency”. My secret mental tick list includes:

*Growing and preserving all our own fruit and veg
*Home cooking all our own food
*Filling our house with handmade craft
*Having chickens…and a couple of pigs…and maybe a cow, do we have room for a cow?
*Making my own soap and herbal teas and creams and lotions and potions and candles…
*Sewing at least some of our own clothes, and patchwork quilts…
*In an ideal world community/ home schooling and perfectly raising 3 wonderful kiddies in an attachment parenting, Steiner influenced, celebrate every tiny festival way
*Running a community bookshop/ cafe…as a way of earning a living from all my book reading and cake baking
*Writing a few best-selling books on transition living, women’s circles…which you’d all buy, right?
*Editing a groundbreaking journal or magazine
*Having a spotless house and weed-free, colour-coordinated flower beds
My husband adds making our own beer,wine and cider, willow weaving, energy self sufficiency, knitting jumpers and making our own artwork and furniture to the list.


We grew up on fantasies inspired by the BBC comedy The Good Life and John Seymour’s Self Sufficiency bible. Add a dash of Country Living Magazine and boy do I have a rod for my own back in terms of what I want to achieve in my Radical Homemaking lifestyle.

This, according to Shannon Hayes, author of Radical Homemakers is a very common problem!

She recalls every house she arrived at to interview for the book, the house was spotless, the lawns neatly trimmed, they were a picture of perfection…until after a couple of hours the family admitted they had spent the preceding days cleaning and tidying and mowing so as to make a good impression.

One thing that all the radical homemakers she interviewed had come to realise was that self sufficiency, especially for a nuclear family, is an impossible dream. None of them could do everything. They had to set realistic expectations for themselves. The few pages on the challenges of radical homemaking with small children in tow are so comforting and reassuring that I am copying them and posting them above my desk, with the following highlighted: When working with an ecosystem, the work is never done. Life is always going on. Weeds grow, children express their true nature, the pump for the solar hot water burns out, windows stop closing correctly, the chickens wanter in the road or poop on your porch furniture and the best toys have a quirky trait of preferring floors and kitchen tables to shelves or windowsills.

While the work of homemaking (Radical or otherwise) is never done, a key to keeping pace with the lifestyle is to limit the amount of time spent doing it. As long as all people and critters are fed and safe, all other work will always be there tomorrow….Having small children understandably slows down the progress of our work.”

Self sufficiency as a family is not a realistic possibility, but leading a self determined life is. Families seeking independence are on an exhausting road to nowhere. It is not independence, but interdependence, a communal, community based self -reliance, that is a practical and viable dream.

Book Review
Part One- Beyond Housewives and Feminism
Part Two – Value beyond Money
Part Three – Dispelling the Myth of Self Sufficiency
Part Four – Niggling Issues

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  1. Seonaid

    Wow! I think you’ve been in my head. I have a list that looks almost *exactly* like that! Unfortunately, I have plunked down a micro farm (oh, no! No cow. Maybe we have space for a goat?) in the middle of a traditional vacation spot, because it was the place that had large enough lots. Suffice it to say that we are finding the lack of local community-in-common challenging. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. laangel

    me too, that’s exactly what I want too!

  3. Patrick

    I do know a couple of people who have gone pretty far down the self-sufficiency track. What they have achieved is amazing – but, in these particular cases, I have wondered whether in reaction to the unbalanced society they find themselves in, they might have ended up in another unbalanced place themselves.

    Finding the right harmony of independence and interdependence that really works for the individual and family is a big challenge and I’m sure it’s slightly different for everyone. Unfortunately it’s a concept that most of us put very very little thought or energy into – we live in a society that automatically punches our cards with a full set of givens and normals before we’re even born!

    As with our own individual journeys, and our paths as a society, as a nation, as a species even, our homemaking adventure is dynamic and constantly evolving with no clear route or end-point.

    I don’t know what we should all be aiming for – all I can say is that in all of these journeys the important thing is to be on the road and awake at the wheel. That takes a lot of questioning, sensitivity, conviction, good humour, decisiveness, humility and judgment – the human condition at its best.

  4. Amy

    I’m loving your blog and your thoughts on Radical Homemakers. Its how I view myself too and have struggled with calling myself a homemaker in the past. I was actually writing my own blog post on the different roles of my family members when someone posted a link to your blog on FB. You said a lot of the same things I was thinking and you’ve introduced me to a new book to read.

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