Volume > Issue > Householding in Action

Householding in Action


By Eric Brende | October 2023
Eric Brende, author of Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, lives sans car in St. Louis, Missouri, where he makes his living as a soap maker and writer. His next book, tentatively titled The Horticulture of Happiness, takes a tour of sundry households and communities across America, each aspiring in different ways to integrate the material, social, and spiritual dimensions of daily life in and around the home — a kind of “organic” cultivation of human beings that was commonplace before industrialization divided up our vital functions for the sake of “efficiency.” His website, thehappyhouseholder.com, provides further practical tips.

Ed. Note: The first installment of this two-part series appeared in our September 2023 issue.

Careerdom is in freefall. The old corporate edifice, composed of millions of human bricks trying to squeeze themselves into rectilinear slots, is tumbling apart. It’s as if we found ourselves perched on the window ledge of a collapsing office building, about to take a leap. Can we guide our descent? Where will we land?

When I jumped from the Ivory Tower, I had little inkling where I was headed. What I now think of as householding was a concept that emerged only after several, well, hits and misses. I just knew that, like most of my siblings and many other career-phobes, I would wither without creative outlets. I was an aspiring musician who dabbled in literature. Yet I shrank from Big U, not to mention Big Med and Big Tech. But how was I supposed to feed a family? I did harbor one hope: that it was still possible to live well on less by practicing basic frugality.

Karl Marx once said that after the fetters of capitalism fell away, he would be able to “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, and criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” As a restless grad student who read Marx in school, I realized I wanted the same freedom — something for which I suspect my erstwhile farming relation, Ed (whose career path, as discussed in Part I, takes him straight to the Big Med treadmill), also pines. But instead of agitating for the next revolution, or even resorting to a rural retreat, I gradually conceived of a third option, which, by shifts and turns, took shape before my eyes. It involved altering my own means of production on my own time, right in the heart of a capitalist city: carving out my own diminutive worker’s utopia.

As this ideal gradually materialized, its terms gained specificity. In my quest for freedom and fulfillment, why should I narrow my options to a single skill or pastime? Work is not an end in itself but a means to larger ends, a mere facet of fulfillment within the wider existence of which Marx dreamed. I have come to believe that a far better alternative to the communist state is a smaller kind of commune: the working household. In that tiny jurisdiction, my wife and I would be partners in power.

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