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How To Transform Your Household

Radical homemaking tips for everyone.
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Shannon Hayes canning photo by Terry Wild

Canning food at home helps families save money while spending time together.

Photo by Terry Wild

OK, not everyone is in a position to quit their job to spend more time at home. And not everyone wants to. That doesn’t mean that the household can’t shift toward increasing production and decreasing consumption. The transition can start with simple things, like hanging out the laundry or planting a garden. For those people who need or want to push further into the realm of living on a single income or less, here are a few secrets for survival we’ve learned on the family farm:


Get out of the cash economy

Sometimes a direct barter—“your bushel of potatoes for my ground beef”—works. But we don’t always have something the other party needs. At those times, gifting may be the best answer. Gifts are often returned along an unexpected path. Last summer I canned beets and green beans for my folks—of course, for no charge. In the process, I discovered that my solar hot water system wasn’t working. I called a neighbor and asked him to look at it. He fixed it, free. We have a facility that a butcher uses to process chickens for local farmers. On chicken processing days, Bob, Mom, and Dad help out, at no charge. At the end of the summer, the neighbor who fixed our hot water wanted to get his chickens processed. He got them done, no charge. Mom and Dad got a winter’s supply of veggies. Bob and I got a repaired hot water system. The butcher had a place to do his work, and the neighbor got his chickens processed.

Shannon Hayes cooking photo by Terry Wild
Homemade Prosperity
Producing things at home lets Shannon live on a fraction of what she thought she needed.


Be interdependent

It would be handy sometimes to have our own tractor and tiller. But it seems foolish for us to own that equipment when we can borrow from my parents. It’s cheaper to borrow and lend money, tools, time, and resources among family, friends, and neighbors and abandon the idea that it’s shameful to rely on each other, rather than a credit card, paycheck, or bank.

Invest in your home

One of the most solid investments Bob and I have discovered is spending to lower expenses. Examples are better windows, more insulation, solar hot water, photovoltaic panels, or even just a really big kettle for canning.


Tolerate imperfect relationships

Living on reduced incomes may require more family members living under one roof, husbands and wives spending more time together, or greater reliance on friends and neighbors who may stand in for family. The families depicted on television, in movies, and in advertisements show dysfunction as the norm—with an antidote of further fragmentation of the family and community. That gets expensive. While no one should tolerate an abusive relationship, learning to accept or navigate the quirks of family and friends will keep the home stable and facilitate the sharing of resources.


Shannon HayesShannon Hayes wrote these tips to accompany her article, "Homemade Prosperity," in the Winter 2011 issue of YES! Magazine, What Happy Families Know. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers, The Farmer and the Grill, and The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook.  She works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York and blogs at YES! Magazine.

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