Rod Dreher

Madeline Holler is no Sharon Astyk, and she knows it. She and her husband left a relatively high-income lifestyle for a place in the Midwest, where they found themselves living on a third of what they had been making. Excerpts:

After we settled, I looked for work but couldn’t find childcare that made part-time work affordable. Instead, we cut back: no ballet, Kindermusik or swim lessons for the kid. No date nights or special gifts for us. We dressed in marked-down Old Navy and filled the car with gas just once a week. I missed my best friend’s wedding.
We ate differently, too: We didn’t go out, I cooked mostly from scratch, we bought ingredients in bulk. I made my own yogurt, thin and sour compared to the $4 buckets of organic plain that we liked.
I didn’t know it eight years ago when we made this move, but spending less instead of earning more nudged us toward the Radical Homemakers movement, a group of educated men and women living as if money’s not everything and working for The Man gets in the way of what is: relationships, health, freedom.

Holler writes in a way that’s easy to empathize with about how ill-suited she was to the lifestyle. More:

I wasn’t raised on a farm [and] I’ve never kept a basil plant alive from one caprese salad to the next. I don’t trust myself with a bread starter, much less livestock. Imagining total reliance on a backyard farm makes me cry for my starving children. I am comforted by our growing 401K. And I can’t help it: A little piece of me dies when I notice the baby sitter drives a nicer car than us.
… Like a majority of Americans, I’ll always prefer direct deposit to getting paid in chicken eggs. I’m comfortable with the smile-and-wave relationships I have with most of my neighbors. While I share the Radical Homemakers’ family, environmental and social justice values, the way they propose bringing about change requires too much of the kind of work I frankly don’t want to do. I’m fine giving up stuff. But I can’t imagine spending afternoons rendering fat and lacto-fermenting cucumbers.

I kept finding myself wanting to judge this writer, but I know myself well enough to know that if I ever tried to radically live out the things I value, I’d almost certainly end up more like her than like Sharon, or like Caleb Stegall. I hope not, but I know my own weaknesses far too well.

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