Sustainable Home Economics

If I can get socks for $3.50 a dozen why would I knit one? Cans of tomatoes are 98 cents, so who in the world would pick and jar her own? Why would I sew something I could just buy for a couple bucks cash and a lot less hassle? Who even talks about Home Economics these days anyway?

Maybe “Home Economics” brings to mind an image of 1950’s girls in classrooms learning to bake bread and honing their husband-catching skills. Maybe it makes you think of girls in the 1970s learning to sew their own pantsuits and perfecting casseroles made with cream-of-something soup. You’re right; those are images of what Home Economics can be, but that’s not all there is to it. Home Ec is not just for the ladies. My dad was the first male student to take a Home Economics class in his high school and he had to stand up for the right to do so. My husband is a chef and culinary artist. Home Ec is for everyone who wants to live well and make the most of the resources available to them.

Economics is the study of how we deal with scarcity, so Home Economics is the study of how we deal with scarcity in the home or family unit. Very few people have limitless resources to allocate without having to prioritize and make some decisions. Home Economics is how we decide what to buy and what to leave on the shelf. It’s how we decide where to source the food we feed our families; it is how we select a contractor or home service provider to work on our home. It is frugality, making the best with what you have, saving money and spending wisely. Home Economics is all that other stuff you imagined too: laundry, cooking, cleaning, sewing, knitting and crafts. Yeah, you can buy an apron for $15 but, for the same $15 you can buy fabric and a pattern and customize your experience. That apron could be a perfect personalized gift. That’s part of Home Ec too, by the way – thoughtful gifting, good manners and remembering to send your favorite auntie a birthday card.

Home Economics at its most basic level is taking care of your house and family. By extension it is caring for your community, your country and the Earth. Home Economics at its very best and most altruistic is taking care of and loving your planet and your fellow humans. I call that Sustainable Home Economics and it’s my favorite. I’m looking forward to some throwback Home Ec lessons – home canning! – and talking about things like finding great deals and selecting sustainable options where they make sense for a family’s needs. What are some of your ideas about Sustainable Home Economics? Do you have any smart, sustainable tips to share?

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6 Responses to “Sustainable Home Economics”

  1. Laura M says:

    Great post! I love your blog Wilderness Girls – Jenny B & I are good friends, so I’ve been following it since the beginning!
    Fortunately, I have a mom who taught me how to cook, sew, etc. before I was old enough to take “Home Ec”. (but I took it anyway as it was an easy A!) I agree with your philosophy on what’s smart to just buy and what’s smart to make. There are a couple of other factors though. Nearly all food products you buy have preservatives, color dyes, etc. in them to give them shelf-life, and make them look pretty even after months on the shelf!
    I make my own bread most of the time. It tastes so much more flavorful than most breads, and I’ve found a simple way to do it ( I just don’t buy prepared foods – I’m not willing to put all those creepy ingredients into my body. Other reasons I do “Home Ec-y” things are to save money and natural resources – why use the dryer & chemical scents when it’s 110 out and your sheets will dry in 10 minutes & smell nice naturally too! I also cut up and freeze fruit when it’s $.69 cents a lb rather than $2.49 to save money. If I’ve got milk that’s just about to go bad, I make Farmers Cheese out of it rather than pouring it down the drain. I take my used coffee grounds and put them into the dirt for my plants. I grow fresh basil as I love using it (& other fresh herbs) and I’d rather pay $1.00 for a packet of seeds that I use for 6 months to keep basic growing in a planter.
    So I honestly think there are many different reasons to practice a little “Home Ec”, and it’s also kind of fun!

    • thewildernessgirls says:

      What great tips, Laura. I checked out right away and I’m excited to try their method. Also, I’d love to have your Farmer’s Cheese recipe. Dairy costs more than we see at the register because production is so resource intensive. It is always good to find a way to do more with less and avoid wasting the products we buy.

      Thanks for reading and sharing!


  2. Scott says:

    Hey I took home ec. Don’t tell christie she might expect me to sew, cook and clean stuff

    • thewildernessgirls says:

      Like I said Scott, Home Ec isn’t just for the ladies. I suspect Christie already knows you are capable of those chores and more. When she puts you to work make sure you come back to to share your tips and tricks. 😉

      — Rachael

  3. Tiffany Bolton says:

    I am a proud Utah graduate with required home ec classes in the curriculum. I love that you are discussing this topic and bringing back the ‘old’ ways in a cool new light.

    • thewildernessgirls says:

      A while back I read a piece about knitting that said for many women in their 30’s knitting wasn’t something their mothers taught them at home. Two to three generations ago knitting was a required survival skill but as mass-produced textiles became cheap and plentiful the perceived value of spending time on knitting plummeted. As women entered the workforce in greater numbers through the 1970s and 1980s knitting fell even more out of fashion. When my generation discovered knitting we saw the value of making something with your own hands and the value of knitting as a relaxing creative outlet was realized. We don’t knit because we have to – we knit because we can. I expect this same sentiment is what drives many people to pick up Home Ec again for crafting, food preparation and more.

      — Rachael

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