Going to extremes… or not

I keep coming across articles on the internet about people who have pared their life down to the bare essentials… like Rob Greenfield who only has 111 possessions (you can check them out here). Now I’m all for cutting down on waste and not buying unnecessary ‘stuff’, but I simply wouldn’t be happy with so little. What about creativity? What about owning equipment to make things or repair things? What about tools for cultivating the land? Living a nomadic life with no roots (metaphorically and literally … I love my plants), no money and no ‘safe’ place is just not something that I would want to contemplate seriously. I suspect it isn’t something that would work for many people and, indeed, the earth could support a much smaller population if we all foraged for all our food. I’m not saying that any of those things are ‘bad’, but just unrealistic given our starting point.

So, where do we find a balance? How much stuff should we have? Should we all follow the advice of Marie Kondo and only have possessions that ‘spark joy in our life’? I have to confess that I worry about decluttering simply for the sake of it… particularly where in a fit of enthusiasm for a tidy house, all the unwanted items end up in landfill. My desire for fewer possessions is balanced by my desire to be kind to the planet. An item may not spark joy in me, but if I know that it will be useful in the future, then I’m not going to throw it out.

So, my approach to reducing clutter in out home is currently based around the following:

Not adding to what we already have. This means being a member of the library rather than buying paperback books; not buying more craft supplies when I have plenty to keep me amused; making use of existing electronics (mobile phone, e-reader, pc etc) rather than being seduced into buying the latest model.

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it looked like this in 2012…it’s still working but more repaired!

Repairing. Making use of the materials/equipment that we have to repair things that wear out or break. Mr Snail’s collection of electronic components comes in very handy for repairing… this doesn’t reduce what we have much, but it justifies keeping some ‘stuff’ around. I refer you to the much repaired radio.

 

Being generous. When a friend mentions that they need something that I own but don’t really have a use for or a particular reason to keep, I give it to them. I’ve even started giving away things simply because a friend likes them.

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refreshed and ready to be sold

Finding new homes. This is slightly different to the last one because the driving force is that I no longer want an item rather than someone else expressing a desire for it. I feel guilty about sending anything to landfill, but selling something on, donating something to charity or offering an item for free (e.g. via Freecycle) feels like a positive action.

 

Composting. I have discovered the joys of converting unwanted paper into compost. This means that piles of old lecture notes, financial statements, old magazines and official letters are now part of the foundation for our vegetable crops! Composting also extends to natural fabrics that have reached the end of the useful/repairable life, along with worn out wooden items (bamboo toothbrushes, wood and bristle scrubbing brushes, broken wooden skewers etc), although sometimes we burn wooden items (for fuel, not simply to dispose of them).

and as a last resort…

Recycling. But it’s much better to find ways to repair/reuse/repurpose/rehome before you get to this stage.

And more than anything else, not to be seduced into thinking that buying new ‘stuff’ will make me happy.

So I’m slowly clearing and sorting and selling and sharing… I’m never going to be down to 111 possessions, but I am going to have found new homes or new uses for lots of the ‘stuff’ in my house, and I’m going to love making and repairing and creating with what I do have.

The Limery Awakens

We are just at the start of our second full growing season in the limery. Last year saw amazing successes with sweet peppers (capsicum) and a fairly healthy tomato crop (the last of which have on just ripened up in their box!). Now I’m starting to nurture this year’s crops (including at least one new one) and some of the carnivores are beginning to wake up…

As always, we are doing our best to reuse… the writing on the milk carton plant labels from last year has been cleaned off with meths, the padded packaging from around the new chicken feeder looks like it will make cosy trays for seedlings, none of the plant pots are new, we water the seedlings from a plastic milk bottle with a perforated lid and my dad’s propagator is doing it’s stuff for yet another year. Only the seed compost, seed potatoes and the seeds are new (in fact some of the seeds are from last year, plus we overwintered the pepper plants).

I do love the promise that spring holds.

Take it away

Inextricably linked with take-away meals, it seems, is the idea of disposability. Buy the food – take it home – extract it from its packaging – throw the packaging away.  No effort, no washing up, just trash. But it needn’t be this way. You can have a take-away, without the throw-away.

One of our favourite local take-aways is El Salsa. They have a trailer that they take to all sorts of festivals and events, but they also have it in the car park of our local farm shop several evenings a week over the summer.

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Our favourite take-away

One of the reasons we are so keen (apart from the delicious food) is their ethos:

All our food is made from scratch, using only the freshest, quality ingredients…We are committed to sourcing locally where possible. We buy farm fresh welsh beef, chicken & pork from our local butcher. Cheese that’s made just up the road, we grow our own & source vegetables & herbs from local farms when in season. We like to be kind to our planet & use only Bio-degradable takeaway containers.

But after a few visits, we decided that whist bio-degradable containers are good, reusing containers over and over is better. So, we’ve started taking our own. Finally last night, I remembered to take my camera and got round to taking some photos, which naturally led to a conversation about the subject. And the up-shot? They are now considering encouraging customers to bring their own containers and offering a discount to those who do. How great is that?

 

 

Pack up your lettuce…

For many years now we have bought much of our meat by mail order from a company specialising in organic produce. Up until out latest order they always sent a pre-paid address label so that we could return and they could re-use the insulated packaging. Our last parcel, however did not contain the label. I enquired, only to discover that the cost of postage has made return of the polystyrene boxes uneconomic. I’m so cross about this… repeated reuse of packaging is such a great idea.

Our local council do accept polystyrene for recycling, but I really didn’t want to take advantage of this unless absolutely necessary*. We thought about paying for the boxes to be returned or even dropping them off when we are over in that direction, but I’m not sure whether the company would accept them back (I will check next time). So, they have been sitting in our hallway whilst I waited for inspiration to strike – which it did on Saturday whilst I was planting seeds.

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Not the most exciting picture ever posted… compost in a polystyrene box

I had two boxes, so I stabbed a few holes in the bottom of one, chucked in some compost, sowed some winter lettuce seeds and covered it with its lid. And there was a nice insulated growing space for some winter leaves. I’m keeping it in the limery and hopefully I will have a crop from it in a few weeks time. Having decided to focus on growing, I am keeping the other box for cultivating mushrooms. I ordered some mushroom spawn (the fungal equivalent of seeds) last week and when it arrives, I’ll use the the second polystyrene box as a mushroom propagator.

Of course, I can’t find a use for a never-ending supply of polystyrene boxes, but at least the current ones are turning out to be useful. I will find out whether the meat company would be prepared to take any other ones we receive back and will return them at our cost if possible, but for now I’m satisfied to have found good uses for something it would have been all too easy to consign to the recycling.

-oOo-

* It’s generally more energy-efficient (and therefore, greener) to re-use or re-purpose than to recycle.

Only we can save the world

It’s ages since I’ve put together a post with ideas about how we can do our bit for the planet, support our communities and generally save the world, so here goes…

We can fix things:

We can see value in what’s around us, in what others might consider waste, and we can turn it into something useful or beautiful, or both:

We can support local business, small producers and community activities:

We can make thoughtful choices when we spend our money:

We can grow and cook our own… that way we know what’s in what we eat:

And we can share our stories:

I have no idea what I was talking about at this point!

I have no idea what I was talking about at this point!

Piles of files

National Recycle Week – Day 5

Today it’s recycling my way!

With my half-century on the horizon (ok it’s more than a year yet, but it’s still there) I have been re-evaluating my life and some things have had to go, the latest being my teaching for the university. Finally I acknowledged Mr Snail’s repeated cries of ‘you’re being exploited’ and decided that I’d had enough. I’d fought the good fight – I’d argued the case for better treatment of ‘casual’ (their term, not mine)  teaching staff with everyone from personnel to the Vice Chancellor for the last 17 years and finally, I’d had enough. So, it’s over and I’m now looking forward to writing knitting and crochet patterns instead, alongside my usual editing work.

This change has brought with it the incentive to clear out my office… over the years I’ve accumulated loads of files and reports and they have been looming over me on my shelves for far too long. So, on Monday afternoon, whilst I was running a defrag on my ailing laptop, I decided to start the clear out in earnest.

I started on a shelf of lever-arch files, with one stuffed full of jottings from my 2002 Open University MEd module.

A small start

A small start

And then I worked my way along the shelf, realising just how much paper I have been accumulating over the years.

A few more

A few more

And so it went on, as I progressed to another shelf, which included box files

and more

and more

And then on to the pile on the floor up the corner

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and more

Until my computer was finally done and I had a break, having filled a couple of boxes  and a large bag full of paper

Just one of the boxes

Just one of the boxes

and having completely stuffed one of the liberated box files full of poly-pockets

Reused box file containing poly-pockets awaiting reuse

Reused box file containing poly-pockets awaiting reuse

I suspect that we will never need to buy any sort of filing supplies for the rest of our lives!  And I’m only part way through.

So, what of the recycling part of this post? Well, the new raised bed is now complete and there’s a lot of it to fill. We’ve decided to treat it like a big composter for the time being and so, the bottom needs a good layer of paper and cardboard to act as a base:

A nice absorbent base - full of carbon

A nice absorbent base – full of carbon

Before being covered with greenery:

Grass clippings on top

Grass clippings on top

Several years ago we trained some of our neighbours to deliver their grass clippings to us and, right on time, a bag arrived this morning for me to add to the mix. Now, I just need to go and collect the bags of moss I have been promised and some horse muck and we’ll be well on the way to a replacement for the bed that was removed to make way for the limery. Now, that’s my sort of recycling.

Reduce your use

Tomorrow marks the beginning of National Recycle Week, with the aim this year being:

to get us all thinking about all the items we can recycle from around the home that we might not previously have thought about recycling (Recycle Now)

Now, I think this is a great idea. We should all think more carefully about what we can recycle. However, I think that recycling is similar in some ways to carbon off-setting, in that it gives us ‘permission’ to carry on as before with the same level of consumption. Telling ourselves that it’s ok to keep buying ‘stuff’ and using resources because they can be recycled is really not sustainable at current levels of consumption. Recycling takes energy, but less than production from raw materials:

It takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to make it from raw materials. Making recycled steel saves 60%, recycled newspaper 40%, recycled plastics 70%, and recycled glass 40%. These savings far outweigh the energy created as by-products of incineration and landfilling. (Stark State College)

But it still takes energy – and there can be other negative outputs, such as from the bleaching and de-inking processes in paper recycling. So, whilst recycling should be one of our ways to be more sustainable, it shouldn’t be our first one. It would be much better if we didn’t actually use the object or resource in the first place. If you don’t accept the plastic carrier bag offered to you in the supermarket and instead use a cotton bag or a basket or a box of your own, then one less bag will be in circulation and it will never need disposing of at the end of its life.

Reducing consumption is a much more effective way of saving the planet, and if you do already own ‘stuff’ then, when it comes to the end of its, life consider whether it could be repaired or re-used or repurposed. And if you get fed up and want a change, why not try a bit of adaptation, embellishment or upcycling? All these approaches encourage us to be creative – to see our ‘stuff’ in different ways and to think about our options.

So this National Recycle Week I will be:

Reuse = Reduce

Reuse = Reduce

  • repairing some pyjamas (and thus not buying new ones)
  • buying my fruit and vegetables loose and using my own bags
  • sorting through all my old teaching notes, extracting the paper for use in the garden and saving all the cardboard folders, lever-arch files, box files and poly-pockets for reuse
  • opening my post with a letter opener so that I can use the envelopes again with the aid of some envelope reuse labels
  • and continuing to look for ways to be creative with my ever-increasing pile of OHP transparencies… before I give up and send them to Emily in the US to get them recycled!
  • oh, and recycling too… I always do.

But it might come in useful…

Apparently those of us interested in being greener by reducing consumption can be divided into two camps: the minimalists and the hoarders. You can, most certainly, find me in the latter. Whenever an item has reached the end of its use I find it difficult to throw it away. I cannot help but think that ‘it might come in useful’.

  • That box that my new secateurs came in? It’s very sturdy, if somewhat oddly proportioned… it might come in useful.
  • The old dismantled chicken coop that was a bit of a disaster? There’s mesh and a little door and wood… it might come in useful.
  • The old gutters from the house that were replaced five years ago? You can use them to grow plants in apparently… they may, even now, come in useful.
  • Padded envelopes? You can never have too many padded envelopes in a variety of sizes because you never know when you might need to send out 157 items in the post! They may (all) come in useful.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

Filling the space available

My bulging office

The trouble is, I’m starting to feel swamped by all this accumulating ‘stuff’ and so I’m having a bit lot of a clear out. A responsible clear out that does not simply mean sending everything to landfill and starting again, but finding an appropriate home for everything that I feel able to let go of.

The big task  at the moment involves teaching materials. After an internal tussle, I have made the decision to give up my university teaching and not to seek other similar work. The time has come to let it go. Now, there is a lot of ‘stuff’ associated with my teaching, including piles and piles of handouts. These take up an enormous amount of space in my office – occupying floor and bookshelves – that could be put to better use. So, I’m getting rid of them. Pretty much all the up-to-date stuff is on my computer anyway, so I don’t need to keep paper copies. And, even better, I know what to do with all the paper… it’s going in the bottom of the new raised bed to act as a carbon source! Well, we will keep a bit as scrap for printing on, but the amount I have would last us forever, so I’ve decided to convert it back into plant material: from hand-outs to herbs!

The other thing I came across today was a collection of OHP transparencies. I quickly searched on the internet to find out if these could be recycled… the answer is ‘yes’, but not in the UK as far as I can tell. The company 3M used to recycle them, and still do in the US, but an e-mail from them this morning confirmed that they no longer offer this service here. I’m rather disappointed about this because clearly a method is available. I see that there are a whole host of things you can use them for in an arty and crafty way, but I don’t want to. First, I want them gone because I’m making a break from this aspect of my life and second, I just don’t want to add to my stocks of ‘but it might come in useful’ craft materials. Anyone got any ideas? It has been suggested that I pass them on to a local primary school for craft work, but I’m not convinced that they wouldn’t just end up in the dustbin (call be cynical). So, if you have some use for acetate sheets with printing on them (all about conservation and ecology), just let me know because at this rate I’ll be sending them to Pennsylvania for recycling!!!

 

Limery Update

I know that regular readers will be itching for an update on the limery (yes, that is now its official name).

I knew that building work was not likely to happen quickly, but I had hoped that it would be finished by now. Alas not… although there has been progress and it might be done by the end of next week. My builders are lovely – polite and thoughtful and happy to chat over a cup of tea. But even so, it’s terribly unsettling, and the noise of my roof being taken apart and rebuilt was not conducive to calm contemplation or, indeed, editing work or writing blog posts!

However, I have things to show…

They started laying the patio (re-used flag stones) and  building the raised bed:

Flag stones look good as new, but they are about 20 years old!

Flag stones look good as new, but they are about 20 years old!

Then we got the framework for the glass:

Then the builders dismantled part of the roof (this was VERY noisy):

and this the day before thunderstorms were forecast… fortunately they didn’t arrive.

Next they covered the new bit of roof:

Well, at least it isn't going to leak

Well, at least it wasn’t going to leak (much)

Then they came back and put the slates back on the house and attached the battens ready for the new slates… which, apparently can’t be put on until the glazing is completed:

Roof in tact and lead installed

Roof in tact and lead installed

All the flag stones for the patio were put down and the raised bed had its coping stones fixed in place:

And finally, work started on the floor inside the limery – two layers of insulation (all off-cuts from previous jobs), a drain and a concrete floor (mixed using only stored rain water) which is to support yet more reused flag stones:

And that’s where we are tonight… I have just had to create a barricade:

No entry!

No entry!

To avoid any more of this:

Marking their territory

Marking their territory

I am SO looking forward to it being finished, so my garden stops looking like this:

Last year this was a vegetable bed

Last year this was a vegetable bed

 

Living in the future

On Saturday morning we went out shopping and to do some chores. All the latter were related to reuse or recycling: glass bottles to be recycled, polystyrene packaging taken to the Post Office to be sent back to the company it originally came from for reuse; and a bag of clothes and box of knick-knacks taken to a charity shop (finally those never-used wine decanters are out of the house).

Local cheese from Simply Caws - mileage specified

Local cheese from Simply Caws at the People’s Market- mileage specified

It appears that, in recent years, shopping has become a form of entertainment and this was certainly the case for us this weekend, although it wasn’t the goods that we purchased that provided the instant gratification, but the people we met. All our purchases were practical: nuts and bolts, ingredients for granola, local cheese, hand made bread… so we weren’t really supporting the consumer society. We are never going to be the people responsible for ‘spending our way out of recession’, but we might spend our way to a robust and sustainable local economy.

The lady who served us in Mulberry Bush admired my string bag. The lady in the Post Office was devastated that her broadband wasn’t working and so she couldn’t open properly, but was happy to take our Freepost parcel as long as we didn’t need a receipt (we didn’t). LAS, our local recycling company, was busy with folks dropping off all sorts of items, and the man at the charity shop welcomed our contributions with a smile.

Loyalty card and vouchers

Loyalty card and vouchers

Our final port of call was the People’s Market, where they were giving out prizes to the winners of a recent treasure hunt run in conjunction with the Lampter loyalty scheme. Lampeter has recently become the first town in Wales to launch a loyalty card, with 59 businesses currently participating. Every time you spend £3 or more in a business, you get a stamp in one of the slots on your card, but you can only get a stamp from each shop twice on the same card. Once you have 10 stamps, you can drop your card in one of the designated boxes around town. At the end of each month the cards are all be entered into a prize draw. The winner receives £30 in vouchers that can be spent at any of the participating businesses. The businesses involved in the scheme ran the treasure hunt as an additional incentive a couple of weeks ago and a friend of ours won one of the prizes. Because we helped her with some of the answers , she shared her prize with us and so, as well as our shopping, we came home with a couple of vouchers. All this is designed to keep money circulating in local businesses and, so far, it seems to be working.

Finally, I was stopped by a friend who wanted to show me a square she had crocheted – I taught her how to make granny squares a while ago and she has finally got the hang of doing it on her own. She was so pleased, she brought her creation shopping with her in the hope she would bump into me to be able to show it off. I was delighted.

And this, I hope, is the future of shopping – a social activity where we support local people and make our communities a richer place… just like we used to do in the past.

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