On Monday, I was struck by Joanna Goddard’s article on home as haven. As someone homeschooled K-12 who now works from home, I have a sweet appreciation for the rest and security that can one can find in a home. But as I’ve moved away from my parents’ home and set-up my own place (first in a dorm room, then an apartment with a roommate, now an apartment with my husband), I’ve realized that the home is also a place of liberty and anarchy.
In many ways, the home is a controversial place. In her manifesto “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan subtly questions the value of the home through looking at the housewife: “Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?”
I’m not out to discuss the role of woman and whether she should stay-at-home, work full-time or balance the two. Instead I’m interested in understanding what rests at our understanding of the home. “Is this all?” It’s a question I can find my heart murmuring as a I look about my house and see the laundry to put away, the bathroom to clean, the empty refrigerator to fill. Men ask the question in a different way when they look at the lawns that need to be mowed, repairs that need fixing, children that need driven places. We enter life and conversations assuming the home is a place of bondage. But what if that’s a lie?
My sophomore year of college, I started reading G.K. Chesterton’s “What’s Wrong With the World” (let’s be honest for a minute, I’m still reading it…). Chesterton’s known for his pithy way of observing paradoxes (apparent contradictions). Writing in the peak of the Industrial Revolution and the heightening feminist movement, he offers this vision for the home.
“But of all the modern notions generated by mere wealth the worst is this: the notion that domesticity is dull and tame. Inside the home (they say) is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety. This is indeed a rich man’s opinion.”
Chesterton explains that the rich must rely on life outside the home because their own homes are, in short, boring. They move by the work of servants in “swift and silent ritual” versus their own industriousness, creativity and ingenuity. The rich have the resources to indulge in the lives they want outside the home. And because they are wealthy, they too often dictate the tone of “advanced” and “progressive” thought, and in turn “we have almost forgotten what a home really means to the overwhelming millions of mankind.”
Those words resonate with me. How often do I act as though my home is a place to be escaped and the “real-life” happens outside of it? Chesterton goes on…
“For the truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only place of liberty. Nay, it is the only place of anarchy. It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter. He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes… A man can wear a dressing gown and slippers in his house; while I am sure that this would not be permitted at the Savoy, though I never actually tested the point. If you go to a restaurant you must drink some of the wines on the wine list, all of them if you insist, but certainly some of them. But if you have a house and garden you can try to make hollyhock tea or convolvulus wine if you like. For a plain, hard-working man the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure. It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks. The home is the one place where he can put the carpet on the ceiling or the slates on the floor if he wants to.”
This sentiment goes against the grain of modern thought. Too often, I think of my house as the place where things have to be “just right.” Pinterest, the Joneses, my own idols tell me to make my house look great so I can look great. And this pursuit does lead to the emptiness Friedan articulated. But instead of demeaning the home (as Friedan did), Chesterton imagines a different purpose. Everywhere else we bend to the rules and ideas of someone else; why do that in our homes too?
Chesterton argues we should make our homes places that reflect our vision for the world and allow us to exercise our freedoms. Eat your breakfast on fine china, because you want to rejoice in a new morning. Do yoga to ABBA music, because you can. Buy a small weedeater engine, take it apart at the kitchen table and rebuild, because you want to understand a bit of how the mechanical world works. Wear the beautiful clothes you purchased on your last international trip, because you want to remember the glory of the nations and the people of the world. Drink red wine with fish at dinner, because you like it better. Sing your prayers before meals, because sometimes we need to change our habits to remember truth. Have a nightly dance party in your living room, because you want to celebrate another day of life that was lived. Practice that instrument collecting dust in the closet, because beauty is worth cultivating. Own five dogs, a bunny and teacup pig, because, well, why not? Do you things you can’t do anywhere else.
Craft your house rules based on your values, pleasures and vision for the world, not some abstract ideal of world. Live wildly into those rules, and find liberty. Create a home that looks chaotic and disorderly to the world, but only because its conforming to a different order, an alternative kingdom, a contrasting way of life. Freedom might just come not from leaving the home, but pursuing a peculiar form of anarchy within the home.
How can we make our homes places of liberty, perhaps even anarchy?