Over the last couple of weeks, my husband and I have been remodeling our basement. When we bought the house, it was “finished” in that classic combination of wood-grained paneling and burnt orange carpet. And while we really do appreciate vintage, we also accept the reality that we’re simply not cool enough to pull it off. On a hipster scale of 1-10, we’re an ironic 3.1415…. So a bit of rewiring, several gallons of paint, and twenty-eight boxes of laminate later, we’re close to having a space that’s hopefully more Pottery Barn and less Brady Bunch. Part of it will be a den and the other half will be devoted to, what I like to call, the creative urge.
In the past when we dreamed of our ideal (then non-existent) house, we always envisioned a room devoted to creating—whether it be crafting, sewing, drawing, writing, or simply playing with play-dough—we wanted a room that invites you to find your inner creative muse and let lose. Instead of fussing at my daughter for yet again cluttering up her room with odd bits of construction paper and glue, I want to be able to point her to cupboard of paints and glitter and chalk and say, “Go for it.”
I don’t know if other people dream of rooms like this, but I have noticed a trend among my generation. More and more of us are devoting our time and energy to things like crafting, cooking, and frugal living. You only have to hop on etsy, pintrest, or any number of DIY blogs to know that this phenomena is larger than any one subset and isn’t contained to the SAHMs among us. Women everywhere—from university-educated vegans to crunchy conservative homeschooling moms—are embracing the domestic.
In this Washington Post piece, Julia Rothman worries that this “new domesticity” will lead to obligation and foster a whole batch of June Cleavers trying to one up each other, not necessarily with our meatloaves and kitten heels, but with knit scarves and cheese making. And while this is definitely a possibility, I think the new domesticity can actually teach us something deeper about ourselves, if we let it.
Because whether it’s being motivated by a case of burn-out in the boardroom, a commitment to staying home with young children, or simply trying to make ends meet in these difficult economic times, this renewed interest in the creative process is really about reclaiming something very fundamental to our humanity. Whether you realize it or not, it’s about reclaiming the image of God in us.
In the case of my peers, generally young Christian women, the return to crafting and baking and decorating has accompanied a renewed emphasis on the importance of family life. We see marriages crumbling around us, children struggling through cookie-cutter schools, and so for many, the solution comes by devoting themselves full-time to their families. They’re educated women with more than a heaping of gifts, but they choose to become SAHMs because they really believe that, at least in the early years, they can best care for their families there.
But the truth that many are learning the hard way is that staying at home isn’t without sacrifice. In the eight years that I’ve been at home, I’ve discovered that little ones don’t often want to discuss French existentialism or world events, and major life accomplishments have been reduced to having everyone clean and fed at the same time. It doesn’t take very long to realize that staying at home can be less than stimulating.
In her breathtaking essay “Are Women Human?,” Dorothy L. Sayers argues that this is one reason why so many women pursue professional careers in the first place (a novelty in 1938 when she first gave the speech that would eventually be published as an essay). She says:
It is all very well to say that woman’s place is the home—but modern civilization has taken all the pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organized by men at the head of large factories…
It is a formidable list of jobs: the whole of the spinning industry, the whole of the dyeing industry, the whole of the weaving industry. The whole catering industry…the whole of the nation’s brewing and distilling. All the preserving, pickling and bottling industry, all the bacon-curing. And (since in those days a man was often absent from home for months together on war or business) a very large share in the management of landed estates…
Now it is very likely that men in big industries do these jobs better than women did them at home. The fact remains that the home contains much less interesting activity than it used to contain… It is perfectly idiotic to take away woman’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones. Every woman is a human being—one cannot repeat too often—and a human being must have occupation, if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.
Sayers concern was not really to define what constitutes a “woman’s” job or a “man’s” job but to emphasize that every human being—of which half the species are women—must be engaged in creative, productive work because they are made in the image of a creative, productive God.
So I’m wondering, especially in the case of my peers, how much of the return to domestic creativity has less to do with our need to care for our families and more to do with caring for our own souls? How many of us craft and sew not primarily because we can do it better or cheaper, but because we simply love to do it? And for women who don’t stay at home, how much of your drive toward the new domesticity comes from the fact that the modern workplace has forced us to become mechanistic, unimaginative robots, spending most of our days processing bureaucracy and paperwork, without ever seeing tangible progress for our labor?
This is why we’re seeing the resurgence of creativity, especially in the home. Ultimately, we create because He did. We love beauty because He does. And when those things are less and less present in our lives, we are driven to find a way to recover them—whether we realize that’s what we’re doing or not.
This is not a problem. Domestic arts do often allow us to better care for our families. And creative pursuits do fill a need and enable you to return refreshed to the humdrum of work on Monday. It’s also not a problem if your creativity doesn’t take the form of traditional domesticity—feel free to go rebuild the engine of that ‘57 Chevy this weekend—because ultimately what’s at stake isn’t that we all become June Cleavers; it’s that we all become like our God.
In the end, we must recognize that we pin and we plant and we bake and we knit, not simply because we are women or mothers, but because we are human beings made in His image. And all the mechanization, all the industrialization, all the assembly lines in the world can’t remove that part of us that needs first to create, and then to step back with satisfaction and declare, “That’s good.” Just like He once did so very long ago, just like He continues to do every day.