The New Domesticity: More Choices

ironing-403074_640I read Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity shortly after it came out. Of course I did; I’m interested in urban homesteading and had just opened a store along these lines. Soon after though, I came to the realization that I couldn’t continue working on the store – it just wasn’t compatible with my home life with young kids.

This work snapshot, though it involved challenges, still encapsulates to me a lot of positives. I was able to choose to try a venture, and I was able to choose to stop. I think about this when I hear the term women (and sometimes men) “opting out” which has negative connotations. I like to focus on the “opting” part, which means there is a choice or options, which I see as a good thing.

I’ve chosen to stay home for a few years while my kids are young; I’m choosing to return to my paid work as a lawyer when they are in school. Maybe you are making similar choices; maybe yours are opposite. I appreciate the frankness of my work colleague who once said of my decision to stay home: “I don’t know how you do it. I’m never happier than on Sunday night, when I know I can have a break from home and go to work.” We shared a laugh and that was it. No drama. She knows I know she loves her kids and is raising them well with a knowledge of herself; I hope I am doing the same.

I like being at home. I like doing things with my hands as well as my head, so I often make things: bodycare products, arts and crafts, toys, gifts, dinner. Making do is also something I do well. The “new domesticity”, as Matchar calls it, makes staying at home more interesting for me – often making something, with its space for creativity and a personal touch, is more fun and satisfying than buying it.

But not always. Sometimes making something is actually quite hard, or too time-consuming, or just not fun. In these cases, I either go without it, or if I need it, I relish being able to go online or to the store and employ cash or plastic to buy it. Ah, the luxury of choice.

I’m also not sure I agree that women (and some men) who are opting for the new domesticity somehow become detached from the collective action that makes the world a better place. Does knitting your own scarf or chopping wood for your own heat really mean that you can’t join a protest or attend a meeting or sign a petition, especially in the world of online communication?

I’ve met many people who are staying at home for various reasons, and these people are at least as active, and often more active, in their involvement in the causes that are close to them than they would be if they were working full-time. They are advocating for changes in their children’s schools, to protect the environment, for a wide range of the social issues that they believe in. I really am not persuaded that choosing the new domesticity equates with civil irrelevance.

The emergence of the new domesticity, or any unconventional path for that matter, is a good thing insofar as it’s a manifestation of greater choices. I understand that if workplaces offered greater options for its workers that these alternatives might be less attractive or necessary. But while we work toward those changes in the future, it’s good to have greater options for the present. The traction of the new domesticity seems to show that these options are sorely needed.