Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part Three

Man, at this rate, Sharon's next book will be published and on the shelves before I finish the book club posts. But, I'm determined to speed things up since I know a lot of you have finished reading it a long time ago.

So, here's the third discussion post for the Depletion and Abundance book club. Now, be forewarned, I'm a little critical of these chapters, but I am really enjoying the rest of the book.

Chapter 6: Talking Population with Old Men. You'll have to forgive me on this one, but I had a real hard time getting through this chapter. Every time I tried to pick it up, things just grinded to a halt. I know Sharon has a background in demographics, but this chapter just didn't engage me as well as the others. I didn't want this to keep holding me up so I just sorta breezed through it.

So, here's my short synopsis of this chapter (and mind that I really didn't read the whole thing closely - I just skimmed through it, so it's possible I missed something): overpopulation is bad for everyone and the environment. If you have a lot of kids, try to live with a low-carbon impact and you'll end up actually using less resources than the average American family with no kids.

Chapter 7: The Permaculture of Family. The gist of the early part of this chapter is that, throughout human history, children have spent the majority of their lives with both parents every single day. This continued up through the transition to agriculture and really ended only in the modern era. Sharon states that this lifestyle is a more ecologically and environmentally sound form of family life and that it, ultimately, leads to greater psychological happiness.

This is where I differ with her a bit. I'm sure the children enjoyed being around their parents more often, but that time was spent working. Now, I'm not saying that a bit of work isn't good for children, but up to and during the industrial revolution we really saw the end of childhood as we know it today. In other words, children were considered to be just as useful and responsible for earning their keep as an adolescent or adult. This certainly doesn't necessarily preclude happiness, but it by no means suggests to me that these children were psychologically happier than children who spent their childhoods playing, albeit not at their parent's side while doing so.

Sharon also contends that, after decades spent living apart, we have created a society that "valorizes apartness and fears closeness". I would argue that people have chosen to live apart because they prefer it and, for the first time in history, a large group of the population could actually afford to do so. Given the choice of living under the thumb (or roof) of one's parents, in-laws, neighbors, relatives, what-have-you, most people prefer to live on their own.

I don't think it's because people fear closeness, it's because it's difficult for people to get along. Without some extenuating circumstance forcing them into living together (financial reasons, etc.), I believe that most people would choose to live in smaller family units away from the prying eyes of others.

Another point that Sharon makes is in discussing how "labor saving devices" (vacuum cleaners, washing machines, etc.) have stripped much of what was valuable and interesting in domestic work, rendering home labor boring. I'd have to contend that most domestic work is boring, particularly if you don't have a choice about the matter.

Doing domestic work as a hobby (like line drying clothes, washing dishes by hand, etc.), can be enjoyable and quite satisfying. But, if you have a huge list of manual labor tasks to get through and no quick alternatives to employ, scrubbing the clothes in the tub and wrestling with the dirt on the floors with a dustpan loses its luster real quick. She claims that "what the reduction of domestic work to cleaning did was take away the fun and excitement..." I don't think there's a whole lot of excitement in scrubbing toilets, but then again, maybe I'm in the minority here.

The last bit of the chapter deals with relying on family to help with housing and elder care. The argument that it's stupid for adult children to work a ton of hours in order to pay the costs to support their parents or grandparents in a nursing home assumes that those children wouldn't mind taking on this task themselves. For the most part, many of these adult children don't have the skills to take on an elder (and with people living longer, these elders have increasingly more physical and mental disease).

I think the underlying issue with this scenario and the idea that people would be much happier also assumes that you actually like your parents/grandparents and this wouldn't be a tremendous burden to either party. It's also possible that the parents/grandparents wouldn't like this situation either. If it works out for all parties involved in that everyone agrees that this is a doable arrangement and the older generation doesn't have significant health problems, then this certainly would be ideal, but I reckon that those families are in the minority. It isn't just social pressures that stop people from doing this, it's because, again, they don't want to. Of course, if economic pressures force one into that situation, it's a valuable arrangement, but I wouldn't argue that the people are happier for it.

Chapter 8: Raising Kids in a New World: Family Life and Education. In the first section of the chapter, Sharon discusses what I like to call "the toy situation". That is, Americans buy their kids too many toys and too many toys made out of crap. She urges us to buy non-toxic, more sustainable toys and in lesser quantities.

Now, while I agree with her, sometimes it's difficult to entice children with the hand-hewn wooden toys when brightly colored and molded Legos are calling. Now, I'm not talking about the cheap crap, just the environmentally unfriendly toys. So, in order to keep some semblance of family peace, I'm all for buying the coveted goods, just in small quantities.

Let me also state that, starting in this chapter, things really started taking off for me with her book and I was really excited with what she had to say. Now, Sharon and I may not agree on a lot of things, but it seems like we both end up at the same result regardless of our motivations.

In the next section, Sharon starts talking about something near and dear to my heart - adding ecological and agricultural education to our children's lives. As she mentions, expecting public/private education to provide this is not exactly realistic and it's something that, most likely, parents will have to do themselves. So, teaching your child about the native flora and fauna and learning where your water and electricity come from is a great start to an education that most adults don't even have. Throw in growing food and they are well on their way to self-sufficiency.

Sharon also discusses alternative or mixed forms of formal education for our children. I believe the solution is really dependent on a number of factors, specifically the availability of parents, proximity to schools, children's temperament and/or learning ability and strength of school districts, that I think it's difficult to extrapolate out a suggestion. What works for one family doesn't work for another. While I still disagree with her that the school systems will collapse in the coming years, it certainly doesn't hurt to have educational materials on hand just for your own edification.

Related posts:
Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part One
Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part Two
Depletion & Abundance - the book club

Related books:
Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front
The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change


Anonymous said...

what a long read

e4 said...

I think the crux of your argument is that we now get to do more of what we prefer, which makes us happier.

I think this is a faulty assumption. Getting what we want, or what we think we want, doesn't necessarily make us happier. If that were so, the US should be the happiest nation on earth, but I think there's plenty of evidence that we are not.

Anonymous said...

The moving out on their own bit might be a part of our Lone Ranger culture. Although, I am not sure how deep that belief really runs in our society.

It is good to have the educational materials around because you never know how long you can rely on the government for a relatively free ride. I must say I do agree with the questioning of the entertainment value in scrubbing toilets though.

Anonymous said...

while a family with lots of children might use less carbon than one with fewer children while the children are small, descendants increase exponentially with each generation. the large family simply isn't sustainable. we're going to have to stop at some point, or the planet will kill us off and take care of it.

Anonymous said...

i enjoyed these chapters. i lean toward what sharon and e4 are saying. i think that if you look at western society we have the highest rates of depression and suicide in the civilized world. why is that? my belief is that while we have jobs, few of us do work that we believe matters. our children have all the time in the world to play but very little purpose to that play. (sorry if my thoughts jump all over the place but it's hard to concentrate with "clifford the big red dog" playing in the background). the freedom we believe we have is a limiting sort of thing. we are told we can have it all (no one can), that this is the land of prosperity (then why is my neighborhood suddenly filled with for sale signs on forclosed homes) and that life should, somehow, look like what you see on television. there is value in work as long as that work has a purpose. children and adults alike need purpose and a feeling of self worth. those feelings don't come in a box from wal-mart or qvc, or anywhere else

Anonymous said...

oh where do I begin, Chrunchy you covered so many good points. let me start with the house cleaning: I have never read a women's diary from the past that ever claimed that washing clothes by hand was enjoyable.That is why they paid "other people" to do it.So I am with you on this point.
taking care of parents: yes people did do this and I agree that we should never let our parents live out their old age with-out family around.But many people are ill equiped to care for their parents. in "the old" days people did not live very long and we were not doing dialasys, heart bypasses etc. to keep pur parents alive for ever.medicine in America does these procedures at an alarming rate and not taking into consideration quality of life.So i disagree with Sharon regarding caring for parents, it really depends on the situation and health of the parent.I hope to die like my father, when he heard he was going to my sister's house for long term care; he died that night. Smart man, few could survive that house.

Crunchy Chicken said...

e4 - I wasn't implying that people are happier. Which point are you referring to?

e4 said...

Crunchy - Maybe I'm reading implications that are not there.

I got the impression that you were saying that the following were generally an improvement over the past: Kids with lots of playtime, people choosing to live where and how they want, having appliances to clean dishes & clothes, medical facilities for elder care, etc.

And they probably are an improvement in many ways, but they might be detrimental in others. To oversimplify to the extreme, your assessments tend toward what's best for the individual(s), where Sharon's trying to take a communal / societal angle.

"Best" is such a slippery concept...

Greenpa said...

Well, you're just wrong.


No, you're not. :-P

ok, see, my point is (and you make it very well yourself!) a lot of this stuff gets to be matters of honest differences of opinion. Fine by me.

My favorite fantasy is where someone grabs the three of us? You know, you, Sharon, and me? And does the old trick where they lock the three of us in a room together, and won't unlock the door and let us out until we all agree on everything.

I think that could be good fun. From several aspects. :-)

ruchi said...

Um ... if I could get a robot to do all my house cleaning for me, I would. I cannot imagine any way that scrubbing a toilet could constitute "fun."

What concerns me is that, and I haven't read the book, but a lot of these discussion posts seem to be encouraging the re-domestication of women's work. Basically, society has been reliant on unpaid women's work for years in the form of child care, elder care, cleaning and cooking. With the advent of the feminist movement, many women got out of the house to do paid work, and thus ended up paying others to do domestic work. To me, this is a *good* thing, because our society today really only values and recognizes work which gets paid. Now, because women are realizing their time is more valuable than they thought, some women are forgoing domestic work to get higher paid work, and some women are forgoing unpaid domestic work for paid domestic work.

Why should women go back to doing all that work and not getting paid for it?

ruchi said...

Sorry, I just reread my comment, and I didn't meant that the discussion post encourages the domestication of women's work, but that your summary suggests that the book encourages that. Crunchy's comments actually argue against that, which I find very valuable.

Anonymous said...

Now my interest is piqued. I've read Sharon's blog for a long while. Like you, while I disagree with her on a lot of points, we often end up in the same place. Anyhow, I guess I didn't realize that she saw overpopulation as a threat. That's so...1980s. Seriously. The world is in the midst of a major population decline that promises to completely unravel the world's economic system (which is dependent on ever-increasing population and productivity growth). Check out the relatively new documentary "Demographic Winter" for more info.

Amanda said...

Interesting discussion! I haven't read the book yet, but plan to.

Regarding the Ruchi's comment on "re-domestication of women's work" ... One problem is that domestic work still needs to be DONE.

Yes, our society currently values work only if it's paid. But that doesn't mean that domestic work is TRULY without value. Or that it's only valuable if you're doing it for someone else who is paying you.

Whoever does the work, our lives would be improved by placing value on it, and doing it well. Homecooked meals made with quality ingredients and served with love will never beat fast food. And a clean toilet will always be better than a dirty one. ;)

Chris said...

ruchi--Sharon argues in her book that part of the problem is that we *don't* value domestic work. She also says that because children no longer have important work to do at home anymore, they're own sense of value to the family has been diminished. I'm a homemaker, a "feminist haus frau," as I like to say, and I have struggled with my place here. I don't enjoy doing most housework (and I totally did not get Sharon's comment about it being more "fun and exciting" with fewer labor-saving devices) but I do like having an clean orderly home. And I would rather stay home and do it myself than go back to work, doing something of little value to me personally that primarily lines the pockets of stockholders, just so I could afford to pay someone else to do it. Even at my last paid job, with an above-the-American-average salary, I'd have to work six hours to earn enough to pay someone to clean my house--something that just takes me a couple hours if I put my mind to it.

I really enjoyed the Permaculture of Family chapter. I agree with Sharon's assessment that we are less happy now because few of us are doing much meaningful work that adds value to our own lives. Instead of being with the people we love the most, with whom we have chosen to be, we spend a great deal of our waking hours with people someone in Human Resources chose for us.

While there was definitely a dark period, for some children in some parts of the world (that hasn't ended in other parts of the world), I think that one could easily argue that just as the medieval peasant adult spent less time working and had more time for leisure and festivals than her modern counterpart, children too used to have more time to play. Now, children as young as five are in school all day, and they are not playing at school nearly as much. Children aren't playing at home, either...they're going to lessons and practice or staring at TV or "playing" video games and they are definitely NOT playing outside in the neighborhood. When I was a kid in the 1970s, we ran as a pack, going from yard to yard, playing not with toys, but with our imaginations. We got lots of exercise, learned to work together, played with kids of various ages. We were safe because we were together and because there were, at least until end of that decade, some adults home during the day. There's been much written about the demise of play...I don't think you can argue that children are happier or playing more now than they were just a few decades ago.

I haven't read Chapter 8 yet and honestly, my kids have a lot of toys, mostly made from natural materials because that's my preference. They don't play with most of them, though, and I think they'd be just as happy with far fewer toys. I don't necessarily agree with Sharon's assessments about how quickly things are going to collapse, but with the financial state of state and local governments these days and the already fragile state of schools in places like Portland, things are already quite dysfunctional and there's no money and seemingly very little will to improve things. When I listen to other moms talk about what's going on at their kids' schools, about how much they have to drive to get them to a "good" school, it makes my head spin and makes me so glad to be here at home, baking bread, schooling my kids, and cleaning house.

Anonymous said...

FoodRenegade - The working population is decreasing, but overall the numbers are still going up because for now people are living longer. I agree though, with a lack of producers comes the economic troubles.

e4 said...

Nobody said only women had to do "women's work". Seems like a loaded phrase.

Gender aside, I think there's value beyond a paycheck in some tasks. In fact, people often work more effectively and get more satisfaction from "unpaid" jobs. And I'm sure some will disagree, but I think there's a pretty strong case to be made that one parent staying home with small children is more beneficial than a second paycheck. Put another way, given a choice between a nicer house or more time with mom/dad, most kids would get benefit from the latter.

Obviously there are a thousand variables I'm ignoring.

Our society may only value work that is paid (and I'm not sure exactly what that means), but that doesn't mean the only option is to go along for the ride.

jewishfarmer said...

It is probably churlish of me to disagree with Deanna's assessment of my book, but I am going to repeat what I actually did say about the fun and excitement of domestic work.

"We are no longer engaged in the absolutely urgent process of feeding and clothing ourselves, nurting and loving and protecting others. That happens at work, where we make the money to buy food and provide security.

Many of the laborsaving devices have been proven not to save us much time - or any at all if you count the time to earn the money to run and maintain them. A classic example is the vacuum cleaner. Research shows that when vacuum cleaners were developed, carpets got bigger and standards got higher, and the time spent cleaning floors remained essentially the same. But what the reduction of domestic work to cleaning did was take away fthe fun adn excitement, the meaning and urgency, adn make it seem valueless, something always to be relieved by technology."

It certainly would be silly for me to say that it is fun to clean toilets all the time. But that's not what I said - what I said was that we haven't actually reduced domestic labor that much for those (most women) who cannot afford paid help. Someone still has to scrub the toilet.

What we did was give women a full time job, not do much about the problem of who does the work of toilet scrubbing (while male contributions have increased over the years, women are still doing well over twice as much domestic labor as they are), and take out of the domestic sphere all the stuff that isn't crap labor, that is actually interesting.

I wonder how many people, who compare the boringness of their jobs to domestic life would actually compare them if their own job went into "all crap all the time mode" - ok, all we're going to do are software upgrades or inventory, or report data entry...." Would domestic work look that bad?

My guess is that most people's jobs include some crappy bits - all of the ones I've ever had, paid and unpaid, included those. When women's domestic work also included provisioning their families directly, and producing basic needs, as well as cleaning, there were areas of art and pleasure involved - you see that for example, in women's quilting, sewing, knitting, their gardens - when you read social histories you see that these were the areas of creative and satisfying domestic labor.

What we did was make sure that domestic labor as it exists now functionally for most women is all shit work - so much so that all we ever associate with it is the shit. So of course we devalue it (listen to the immediate leap to toilets - domestic work is always quite literally shit in our minds) - and this ends up devaluing the women who do it (the whole point of this section of the book is that all this contributes to the Mommy wars and the conflict between working and at home women).

I guess I view Ruchi's point rather differently - I don't think that the women who get to do their own cleaning and clean someone else's toilets are all that lucky -you might read Barbara Ehrenreich's _Nickle and Dimed_ for a view on that. We don't pay fairly for domestic work, including childcare generally, in part because most of us don't get paid enough to afford to pay for the domestic labor we need fairly - so what we do is pay unfairly, often non-white women to care for our kids and cook our takeout and clean our toilets. The original feminist model involved state support for childcare and other programs - what we got was this "you get the quality you can afford." So fairly affluent women can hire housekeeping help, less affluent women do their jobs and then come home and do the domestic work, and the really lucky poor ones, who might have once been able to live (cost of living rose when women entered the workforce) on one salary, get to scrub their toilets and someone else's.

This isn't just bad because of the cultural message it send "cleaning toilets is so icky and degrading that we couldn't possibly devote our time and energy to it, we're much too valuable, oh, but Elena isn't" but also because moving everyone into the workforce has an ecological impact. Me driving to work to make money to pay my housekeeper to drive to my house to clean my toilet after dropping her kids at daycare so she can do the toilet thing takes a lot more energy than me cleaning my toilet. I think feminism has never dealt with the rise in emissions that accompanied this - now they are not simply the responsibility of women - men could have gone home, in fact, that's how I start my chapter, with the point that we should ask whether men should stay home or not. But the reality is that having 30% more people in the workforce meant a substantial increase in ecological impact per household.

Now if we just say "women should go back to the toilet cleaning" then we're screwed. But I don't say anything like that - I say that the version of feminism that said we can't stick this solely on women was always right - but that the current model is unsustainable. IMHO, the growth economy model of feminism has gotten us off the hook of the hard questions of how to equitably divide the work - instead of asking our husbands and sons to do their full share of toilet scrubbing, we've been able to say "oh, let's just get poorly paid maid service, and let her get the repetetive strain injuries." So now we may actually have to go back to where feminism started, and start allocating the work justly.


Tara said...

I'm not so sure about the "families living together" thing myself. I have, by all accounts, a pretty laid-back, responsible, *mostly* easy-to-get-along-with family. That said, I think I'd rather my husband and I live in a tent than move back in with them. I actually don't always like the fact that we live so close to them. We're both nearly 40, and our proximity to family makes it hard for us to feel like a family in our own right. We still feel like "the kids". We try hard to establish some of our own traditions and such, but it's quite difficult because the rest of the family expects us to keep doing what they've always done. I really would live with them (or let them live with me) if circumstances were dire, but I'd REALLY prefer not to.

Oh, and cleaning house stinks, with or without devices. :)

Greenpa said...

Sharon- I admire your guts. The whole housework thing is such a barrel of gunpowder. With ancient gender issues around every corner. I share the great majority of your views there; and I remember many fruitless hours trying to get Spouse to resent the dishes just a little less. Not much luck; the attitude was deeply embedded.

I don't mind doing dishes; I find it a reasonably enjoyable form of meditation. Of course- I don't do them very often (which kind of messes up my point). Because- I have my own basic chores I must do.

That was a common place for the argument to go- "you get to spend all that time doing email, while I have to do the dishes!" To which I would, fruitlessly again, respond, "Fine, you do my email (business, I assure you) and I'll do the dishes. The email crap IS my dishes." Not a real possibility, of course, Spouse was manifestly not up to speed on the business; and it never worked to point out, again, how much unfun it was to deal, yet again, with yet another brainless neophyte who wanted my urgent personal attention on this incredibly important point of information (which just happens to be #2 on the readily available FAQ- which they haven't looked at, and never will...).

Anyway. When we get Crunchy into that room, you and I can gang up on her on some of these points.


Anonymous said...

The fact that middle/upper class, usually white women were "liberated" from unpaid domestic work is not a good thing in my opinion. That "liberation" came, literally, on the backs of poor women, usually of color, who had no damn choice in the matter of what work to do.

In addition to being wholly unsustainable, the very nature of this scenario depends on making sure there is a constant supply of people (again, usually poor women of color)available to do the dirty work for the rich.

You call that equality? You call that feminist? HARDLY.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Greenpa - You won't have time to argue any points with me, because you and Sharon will be busy cleaning while I'm doing something more fun - like burning my eyebrows off making soap...for you two to clean with.

Farmer's Daughter said...

My family lives close together, out of necessity, and because we want to. With the farm, we're all close by. We also try to take care of elderly relatives, which is easier because we all live close, so it can be split up.

As far as a natural and agricultural education, my family took care of that. My dad would keep us home from school to teach us "Yankee Ingenuity" and tell us we could learn much more on the farm than at school. About farming... But there's more to life. Self-sufficiency is important, but so is literature, music, art, science, and mathematics. And how can parents that are clueless teach kids about nature and agriculture?

Anonymous said...

Crunchy, Crunchy, Crunchy...

You should know better than to give GreenPa an image of you bent over a boiling kettle.

You're just feeding the monster.

Remember he's like a stray dog. You never feed a stray, unless you want a pet for life!

Farmer's Daughter said...

I can see Sharon's point about the housework... Being a full-time employee (well, September-June, and then part time on the farm), AND doing all the domestic work considered "women's" work by some: (cooking supper, cleaning, gardening, etc.) is A LOT. I haven't gained any loss of housework by going to paid work. And the truth is, when I'm home on vacation, I do enjoy cleaning my house because I have the time to do a good job. And I'll always enjoy cooking, I hope. Now, toilets? Well I must say I enjoy having the time to do it and I do appreciate the results.

I'll never have a cleaning lady or anything like that due to lack of money and overabundance of pride. I wouldn't ever let someone else clean my house. But I DO enjoy it when I'm not expected to do all the other things my paid job entails. Nothing against my job, I love it (most of the time), but I think we as women have lost a lot with going to work. A lot of time for the home chores we're still expected/required to do. I think that's one of the major drawbacks of the feminist movement. Don't get me wrong, I love that I can vote and am paid equally with my male counterparts. However, I feel a lot of pressure to be a good employee/wife/homemaker and I'm sure those women who are working moms are feeling even more pressure than I am.

CuriousNomad said...

I really really want to be in that room watching the sparks!

re: family care. My grandmother just moved into a nursing-type home (I don't know the details). She lived with her two sons for the last dozen years or more. Both sons have minor/major disabilities as well. Ideal yes?

Now that she's moved into an [professional] home, EVERYONE is much happier! She has always been a social butterfly; now she has people to socialize with all the time. The boys have a lot of pressure taken off them to care for mom as well as their own medical problems.

re: toilets Oddly enough, I just did this the other day. I give the insides frequent quick swipes, but don't clean the outsides often. a couple days ago, i grabbed the bottle of vinegar water and a cloth, a few sprays, made the outside and surrounding floor pretty and shiny in less than 5 minutes. It was very satisfying! The key is to let the dust build up so you have a tangible reward!

re: wages. I effectively manage two households. I am paid in room and board, and more importantly respect and appreciation. I struggle all the time with people thinking oddly of me for not having 'normal' wage labor. But I consider myself very well paid. My work really does have meaning, and it allows my housemates to focus on the work that (mostly) gives them meaning.

fwiw, i'd rather use the quiet carpet sweeper than the noisy vacuum cleaner any day! I find breaking tasks into small doses makes a huge difference. I have few clothes - I never have more than a couple loads of laundry to do. I have friends with TONS of clothes. Laundry day is always a huge hassle for them! I haven't been there in a while, but check out for great clean-as-you-go ideas.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Spice - I don't get it. Is that some sort of role-playing thing you guys do called "stewing rabbits in the kettle"?

ruchi said...

Sharon, I agree with you that there should be state support of childcare, and that domestic work should be paid higher than it actually is ... but that's sort of my point ... domestic work should be paid. Period. And frankly, the fact that so many women are willing to do it for free brings down the wages that people can make doing this work.

I *hate* domestic work. I can't imagine any way that it could be fun. I don't even like "creative" domestic work that much- the cooking, etc. Yes, I've made my own butter. Yes, I've made my own jam. It was fine as a novelty. If I had to continuously make my own jam and butter, I would kill myself. I think the problem is ... people are different. And I get cranky when I perceive that people are telling me that I should enjoy cooking. Or cleaning. Cuz I really, really, really don't.

Anonymous said...

Lots of interesting discussions, especially on the housework thing. I'm a "stay-at-home" mom for the moment, with plenty of (unpaid) projects. When I was working (for pay), we had a fair amount of childcare and housecleaning help. I've been gradually weaning us off the help. My kids are 7 and 12, and I figured they were plenty old enough to start helping more.

Since September, they each have their pile of ironing every few weeks (we're not too fanatic about ironing everything), and they have been amazingly applied in their efforts. My son is really good at it and seems to enjoy it. I think the stereotype of women doing the ironing is sufficiently far behind us, that he doesn't even seem to realize that it might be considered "odd" for a boy to have ironing as a chore! (and I'm not going to clue him in!)

As for household work in general, and toilets in particular, I think it comes down to a kind of honesty. If we are the ones using the toilet, why shouldn't we be the ones cleaning it (taking turns, of course)? If we end up farming out some of the housework, it doesn't seem right that the reasons would include "Oh, but you can't expect ME to do that kind of work!" Why should a person be "above" taking responsibility for their own messes? And if we do hire someone to help us out, then I think they deserve a LOT of our respect for taking on what in reality are essential tasks in daily life (as opposed to such socially useful jobs as, say, designing new flavors of Cheez Whizz).

I'm not sure I agree with the idea that all the stay-at-home work should be paid, but certainly it should be VALUED. In any case, if we veer towards a barter-oriented society, as some are predicting, then the stay-at-home work will probably take on a much better aura.

Unknown said...

Now that the economy is in crisis, I see a lot of people killing themselves because the horror of cleaning their own mess. I hate cleaning the house and for many years I found it very boring and a waste of my time. Now, I consider it very valuable because all the money that I save doing it myself. I have come to the realization that it is my responsibility to clean my mess and I should not get pay to do it and that is OK. The world is changing and we have to change the way we think about the thinks that we value again. I see “Depletion & Abundance” as a way that we will revalue our lives in the future were there will not be that many jobs, food, and energy. I does not apply to our present state were “I” is more important than “we”. In a lot of nations the grandparents are important in the family nucleus because they take care of the kids, cook, and clean the house while the kids are working for wages. It will be interesting to see these posts 2 years from now. Crunchy may be doing her soap and clean with it too.

jewishfarmer said...

Ruchi, I'd be curious to think about how you sould imagine us paying for all domestic work. Does that include breastfeeding? All meal cooking? All cleaning up of all messes? That is, all of us should only ever make messes and dirty dishes and eat meals - we should never have to clean it without being paid?

I admit, I have trouble envisioning such an economy - and am troubled by the ecological impact that an economy that worked that way might bring on.


Crunchy Chicken said...

Just in case y'all think I have a staff of thousands or something, I do it all myself: the cleaning, the yardwork, most of the cooking etc. For the last year and a half I had to do everything myself since my husband was too ill to help. (Although he's really never done much yardwork.)

I sometimes enjoy cleaning (only because I really like the results), but for the most part, it's like brushing your teeth. I wouldn't add it to my list of things I love doing, but it gets done. And sometimes it's pleasurable flossing after eating corn, but doesn't really rank high up there on my list of "fun and excitement".

I don't get paid for keeping myself clean and fed, why should I get paid for keeping my house clean?

Anonymous said...

Hey! Is there some form of toilet cleaning technology I'm not privy to?

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book yet, but I've been catching up on Sharon's blog, so I'm assuming that what she has to say in the book reflects some of the things she's posted in her blog.

I think the essential thing is to find meaning and value in what you are doing, whether its inside or outside the home. If you are working just to earn enough money to pay other people to do the chores in your home or to pay for labor saving, it is worth reconsidering your decision to work or the hours you are working and so forth. However, if it a job you truly enjoy, you not only get that, but you also get money to pay for things that maybe you don't really like doing yourself. I think to assume that all the paid work women do out side the home is "make work" is as disingenuous as to assume thatall the unpaid domestic work has no value.

For myself, I have never liked cooking or cleaning. My inclination is that I would much rather get some one else to do that if at all possible or use labor saving devices in order to give me more time to pursue a career in science and medicine, which is my passion. There are elements of being a scientist that can be as tedious as housework, like the data entry Sharon mentioned. The difference for me is that I can spend weeks crunching numbers and get some pretty graphs out of them that tell us something important that we didn't already know, whereas I clean only for things to get dirty again with no other purpose than to maintain my quality of life.

Of course, there are a host of other factors to consider vis a vis domestic work; for instance, because I'm single, there's no one else I can convince to cook for me other than agribusiness, and the price for that is way too high.

I think for every decision in life one must carefully examine the advantages and disadvantages of each option and then decide what to do based on which option has the most favorable balance. Sometimes it will be to do something by hand and sometimes it will be to use an appliance. And different people will make different decisions in each instance, depending on their values and beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Something had been bugging me since my last post, but I couldn't put my finger on it until today.

Who ever said that the only work that was worth doing had to be fun? Or exciting? Or fulfilling? Or productive (as in, producing something to ooh and ahh over when you're done)?

Well, actually, our society has done a great job of convincing many, many, many people that the only work worth doing is fun/exciting/productive.

And all of these things are very much in line with a society that values unchecked economic growth at all costs, quick fixes, dependence on slave labor, and unsustainable practices.

Christy said...

I pretty much agreed with Sharon on these chapters. I do think it is silly that my husband and I are working to afford our house, while his mom and stepdad are working to afford their house in another state. It would make more sense to live together and share expenses. We could all work less, have more time as a family and have a real bond. Maybe I am the only one in the country that feels a sense of isolation much of the time? I think we've given up a lot of valuable things in the pursuit of independence and privacy. And I think we can't even imagine what those things are anymore.

I think it would be great for my son to grow up with more family available. I think it would be great to have another woman around to do the household work with. Not to pass it off on her but to do it together. Having someone to cook with would be nice, I'd feel less isolated.

Logically, it makes so much more sense to share households. They do it in other countries and it works. I also think someday we won't have any choice but to share households and we'll have to figure out how to make it work. The transition would be much easier if we had more practice at it.

I know it would be hard at first, but we would adjust and find ways to make it work. And I think the benefits would outweigh what we think we've given up.