Making It Yourself: Why Bother?

Kathy's homemade soap. Find the supplies you need to make yours at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Kathy’s homemade soap. Find the supplies you need to make yours at Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

I recently taught a workshop on soapmaking at our local folk school. I was telling a friend about it and she asked a pretty profound question: Why do you bother?

It pays to ask this kind of question from time to time. The truth is that much of what I routinely do is optional. I can afford to eat without my garden and critters. I can get good quality soap and candles, hand cream and lip balm without spending my time and energy creating them. I probably save a bit of money but in truth, if I calculate my salary after expenses I would do better picking up cans from the side of the road for the nickel return.

But I do it anyway, and here is why.

I like to keep my life as local as possible. I like to deal with local farmers and artisans and I know they would rather support me than a multinational. I like to know

Our stainless steam juicer does all the work and makes fresh juice from berries, grapes and other soft fruits. At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Our stainless steam juicer does all the work and makes fresh juice from berries, grapes and other soft fruits. At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

what I’m consuming and putting on my body. Labels are sometimes misleading. When I do it myself I’m sure. I prefer investing in myself. When I buy a commercial soap, I’ll use it and then it’s gone. When I buy a soap mold I shall have it forever.

My candle molds, my Mason jars, my steam juicer, my grain grinder are all investments in myself and my family. Most will be passed on to my children and some things (think cast iron cookware) will be passed on to theirs. My recipes, carefully written and slipped into clear protectors, will remind my granddaughter how to make that special bread and what went into the lip balm she loved when she was little.

Water bath canning is a great way to get started in preserving low-acid foods. At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

Water bath canning is a great way to get started in preserving low-acid foods. At Lehmans.com and our store in Kidron, Ohio.

The most important reason though is that I want to know how. I want to know to bake bread and make soap. I may never need to do it in the sense that I’ll die if I can’t, but I still want to know. It’s our heritage and part of our muscle memory. Knowing how to program my DVD player would be nice but it will never be critical. I have been reading about the history of soap in the world (I know. My nerdiness takes center stage sometimes) and it really is fascinating.

You can judge how a civilization is doing by how much soap they use. During times of famine and war, soap is in short supply because families can’t spare the fats for such a perceived luxury. People die because of disease that can be prevented if they have a way to keep clean.

With nothing but a can of lye, water and any fat or oil, even vegetable shortening, you can make 40 cakes of soap, a full year’s worth for most families, with some left over to trade. I think that’s not a bad thing to understand.

Editor’s Note: This post was first published in July 2015.

Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.