Homemade for the holidays

Recent news segments and articles report that consumer spending is up. Yay, materialism! Hopefully, some of you sane people who are in the same boat I am (um, poor and/or refuse to go to the mall) can fall back on the homemade gift idea this holiday season. 

Making your own gifts** and self-sufficiency can be seen as many things: heartfelt, economical, traditional and, yes, cheap. But, when you find yourself baking cookies for a friend, knitting a scarf or even shoveling snow, these actions also make you address questions of self-worth, success and social and political empowerment. 

Shannon Hayes, author of "Radical Homemakers," writes an insightful article called "Homemade Prosperity" and addresses this issue  in the current issue of Yes! Magazine. An excerpt from the article:
[M]ost American lives reflect a transition that happened in households following the Industrial Revolution. Before then, the home was a center of production, not very different from the original households that first emerged in 13th-century Europe, as the feudal period was coming to an end. The family’s economic security was a result of the householders’ combined efforts to produce what they needed. They raised their food, cured their meats, made soap, wove fabric, and produced their own clothing.
Once the industrial revolution took hold, the household changed. Men were first to leave the home to work in factories, where they earned wages and used them to purchase the goods and services they were no longer home to produce. The more men worked outside the home, the more households had to buy in order to meet their needs.
For a time, women continued to produce from within the home, but factories eventually supplanted the housewives’ duties as well. As time wore on, domestic skills were no longer paramount for survival. Instead of cultivating skills to provide for our own needs, we pursued skills to produce for others’ needs in exchange for the money to buy what was once produced in the home. The household had changed from a center of production that supplied most of its own needs to a center of consumption that bought nearly everything it needed.
At first, there were some pretty great consumer items that, in all fairness, lightened a burdensome domestic labor load—automatic washing machines, for example. But the idea of buying labor-saving devices that can’t be made at home gradually turned into our modern consumer culture—where everything from bread to entertainment must be bought—and generated our national assumption that a middle-class family requires one or both spouses to make lots of money.
"Homemade" is making waves. The birth and widespread popularity of farmers' markets, Etsy and other venues that promote small business and local movement ventures is encouraging, and people seem to be making a living from their success and crop of loyal followers.

You'll never become monetarily rich from your adventures in self-sufficiency. Learning to grow your own food, make your own gifts, minimize your economic and environmental output, test your strengths and limits, and, most important, boost personal happiness are externalities that can't be neatly factored into standard input-output/cost-benefit models. I can say with a great degree experience and confidence that learning to be self-reliant is one of the greatest gifts you can recognize.

Don't have your own sheep to sheer and not planning on knitting a matching hat and scarf set? No worries. At least try to make a commitment to other local artisans and producers. Make the pledge to Buy Handmade this season.
Go to BuyHandmade.org to make the pledge!

(**You may change your mind on the whole homemade/cheap thing - I'll be posting a really easy recipe for Chocolate Bark that's perfect for anyone whom you might have forgotten to give a gift to/couldn't make shipping by Christmas...)