I promised Sarah in Australia I’d come back to her comment of yesterday. To save you fossicking around wondering what it was she said –
Your path is admirable. It is visionary, gentler and humane. Now, how can such plans as these be translated so that those living in flats (highrise for our North American friends) the frail/infirm, those with disabilities etc can participate? In many jurisdictions tank water for domestic use is still a no-no (check with your local council to see what is permitted within your LGA), increasingly, wood stoves are, in a twist of irony, being 'outlawed' for 'Green' purposes and at any rate, for folk in a place like Australia, many regions are too hot for combustion water heating/cookery for most of the year and firebans would prevent such being operated even in a kitchen or canteen separate from the house during stretches of our summer months. Many of us, though we would love otherwise, are part of the system - especially, with yet more sad irony - the vulnerable. Could 'Slow food/Slow money/slow living/transitional town' inspired households be established similar to the amazing L'Arche model to be a way forward for we with a disability, the elderly/infirm, the lonely, the isolated? ...Australia has the highest rate of urbanisation in the world; I think it is up around 91% of our overall population. Our wonderful 'Gardening Australia host 'Kosta' has sparked an interest in nature-strip/grass verge veg patches and already one local council has successfully outlawed them. Systemic change is needed so those of us who would love to can, because the post WWII model is, I fear, in the medium term, largely unsustainable.
Okay, that was Sarah’s comment; and here are my thoughts.
I think the two questions to ask are:
Where are we?
Where do we want to be?
From there we can start to determine the direction we might like to take. The journey will be achieved like any – one step at a time.
My own focus/purpose/direction/destination is simplicity. If you want to read about that in detail, I’ve written about it fully in my book In Celebration of Simplicity.
In brief, I believe simplicity is essential for sustainable lifestyle, and unless we achieve that we’re all stuffed; and I believe simplicity to be essential for personal holiness and all spiritual development – which is a heart’s desire of mine.
The great thing about simplicity is that you can do it anywhere with whatever resources you have. It transplants and relocates with the greatest of ease. It can tuck into urban high-rise studio flats or mountain huts or remote farms. The style will vary according to the individual and the location – but anyone can live in simplicity.
My own goal is to keep reducing and reducing my possessions until I have almost nothing, and to walk lightly on the Earth in my daily habits.
I recommend to you, if you are a Facebooker, the Facebook page called Innermost House. Michael and Diana Lorence, who live at Innermost House, practice a lifestyle of stunningly beautiful simplicity. Their possessions are astonishingly few. Their home is a tiny wooden house in the North California woods – so, a very rural retreat. But they are not self-sufficient homesteaders, far from it. They run a car, they do their washing at the Laundromat, they have a shower and water closet. They have no electrical appliances and they eat one-pot meals cooked over the fire (they actually own only one pot) or salads, bread, cheese and fruit. They drink mainly water, a little wine, and occasionally a hot drink.
They have no garden, as far as I am aware they do not have a composting system, they don’t grow any flowers or veg at all. Yet they walk very lightly on the Earth because they live so simply. They chose natural fibres, materials and packaging, shopping at the farmers’ market and eschewing all plastics, machines and artificiality.
Another model of simplicity is the one I followed before I married the Badger. I lived in a one-bedroom apartment with no garden. There was a garage with a hard-standing (concrete bit for a car at the front of the garage) and a communal patio with a flowerbed covered in weeds. Inside I had a bathroom with a cupboard, a bedroom with a fitted single wardrobe, a living room with a kitchenette alcove and a chimney fitted with an ornamental, non-functioning fireplace.
A friend who is a builder converted the garage into a studio – one side fitted for stained glass, the other fitted for ceramics for Hebe and Alice. The hard standing I made into a garden grown in tubs, troughs and pots, and I put a wormery there for composting kitchen waste. In those days I hadn’t started composting my own body wastes, but if I lived there again I would do it now I have the know-how.
I bought a little woodstove, installing it instead of the non-functioning fireplace.
Another model of simplicity is a friend of mine who is blind, has ME and lives in a trailer. She is frugal of necessity because she relies on welfare benefits since her ME stopped her working – but she would be anyway because she has always lived simply, that’s how she was brought up. She doesn’t do anything extraordinary, she just uses less of the Earth’s resources than most people. She has a fair amount of electrical gadgetry to facilitate her communications with the outside world – recording equipment to allow her to make and send letters, for example – but that’s appropriate to her needs.
So, let’s look at some of the areas touched upon by Sarah: if you are disabled, frail, or living in a block of flats, what are your options?
You might consider living with others, accomplishing in community what you cannot accomplish alone.
You might have the income/capital to have solar roof installations fitted so that your hot water and electrical appliances can be run with clean energy generated by you (in our home we use much less electricity than we feed into the national grid even though there are five of us, we have all the usual things like washing machine, electric cooker, fridge-freezer, TVs, laptops etc and we don’t have a massive roof). Good insulation and double-glazed windows are also helpful for keeping down fuel consumption.
Maybe you are frail, disabled, poor and live alone in a high-rise block of flats. You are probably living frugally already – and you can do things like when you boil a kettle put whatever hot water is left over into a thermos flask for later, snuggle up in a duvet with a hot water bottle rather than run the central heating high – heat the person not the house.
For the aesthetics of the thing, you can also enjoy the rhythms of the natural day. Have just one clock and keep it discreetly tucked away where you don’t see it. If you need to be reminded to take pills, set the alarm on it, you don’t need to see it all the time. Let your life be shaped by natural light waxing and waning. Keep the curtains open at night so you can see the dawn and the clouds, the moon and stars. Even if you live in the city you can see some stars – even if your neighbour has an infernal bulkhead security light. Have your bed by the window. If possible, choose to live somewhere with a view of trees even if you don’t personally own a garden. When you have your evening meal, turn off some of the lights you normally have on, and light a candle at the meal table. This way you can be close to the living Earth even in a high-rise flat. I can’t have the life-style I wanted – a tiny house in a field – because of my family commitments and obligations; so I asked if I might have the room at the top of the house, so I can be close to the sky instead. If I lived in a nursing home, I would ask if I might have a window that looked out on a tree.
On a practical point, make sure you turn off any lights and appliances you are not actually using. If I lived alone now, I would not own a fridge. I live in an urban setting so I can walk along to the supermarket frequently, the ‘piles of rotting food’ people envisage are not the reality; most vegetables do well out of the fridge. Dried milk is a more frugal option, hard cheese and butter don’t require refrigeration, and there are usually long-life packaging options for items we might normally refrigerate.
When you have to replace a freezer or washing machine, choose one with a good energy rating. They say that in our society people throw away about a third of the food they buy! Not doing that is a good start. If one lives in an apartment in a high-rise block, part of one’s responsibility to the Earth will be to be mindful about acquiring well-judged amounts and types of food, responsibly produced and packaged, so that one is not putting out big piles of rubbish to landfill. Perhaps a disabled person won’t be able to get to the farmers’ market for some reason – but mindful choices made by shopping online can help – perhaps a regular organic veggie box from one of the delivery schemes, or choosing eggs from hens free-ranging in woodland at the supermarket.
When I lived in my little apartment, I did my washing every day, by hand, in the bath. I dried it in a rack over the bath. I kept a small chest freezer in the bathroom cupboard: the heat generated by the freezer made the cupboard effective as an airing cupboard. I wear a lot of micro-fleece clothes – they are easy to wash and dry and keep me very warm in winter.
Just living in a very small apartment, or if you have a large house then letting rooms to tenants, of itself contributes towards living lightly and responsibly on the Earth.
Composting requires less land than people imagine – wormeries take up little space and are tidy and clean. A wormery could stand by the bins in the area of the property designated for those. A person living in an apartment with no garden at all could maybe create a relationship with the local permaculturists (there will be some, even in the city), who may be willing to collect/receive veggie scraps for their compost heap.
One of the things Sarah asked about in her comment was using rainwater - not possible for everyone, she pointed out. But we can all treat water as precious. When I run the tap for the water to wash up, I don't let it run down the sink while the hot is coming through - I collect in in a jug and tip it into a bucket to water plants, steam veggies, rinse clothes etc. When I shower, I turn on the water to get wet, then turn it off while I put the bicarb/vinegar on my hair, then turn it on again to rinse. When I clean my teeth I use a little water from the bucket (collected while the hot water was running through) to wet the brush and rinse my mouth and brush. When I wash my hands I put a little water from the bucket in a bowl, wash my hands in that, and tip the water onto the garden (or a house plant). I don't stand there with the tap running. In our house, no-one flushes the toilet at night. Saves a lot of water from being wasted and a lot of people from being woken up.
Each person’s circumstances will be individual. The path of simplicity and responsibility we create will be adapted to those circumstances – or we can make changes in our circumstances, often more readily than we might at first suppose. The key thing is to start by looking at what we can do – the internet is heaving with ideas and examples and suggestions.
You may not have a fire to use your garbage for fuel, or the money for a solar installation, but everyone can put on an extra sweater before deciding to turn up the central heating, and everyone can share.
Again local variations make it impossible to be prescriptive, but where we live the charity shops drop bags asking for donations through the mail slots, so we don’t need a car or to be physically strong to get our surplus possessions responsibly passed on.
Group schemes are helpful – local libraries rather than buying books, in the UK the Red Cross will sometimes loan disability equipment so one can try it out without buying (and I think groups like eg the MS society do similarly), machines for building or gardening work can be hired rather than bought.
Freecycle is a wonderful thing for sharing resources and living frugally. People want anything – part sets of tiles, half cans of paint, bags of electrical cables, cardboard cartons for housemoves, old duvets for their dog to sleep on – anything and everything! This cuts down a lot of acquisition and keep a lot of junk out of landfill as well as out of your house.
Here are some principles:
- Your options may be few – but where you have a choice, choose in favour of blessing and cherishing the Earth.
- Reduce, re-use, repair, recycle.
- Get together with others – perhaps start a group committed to living simply, or get talking with friends at church. What we cannot achieve as individuals often becomes easy in a group. Sharing is very Earth-friendly, very frugal, and offers the fun and interest of interaction that alleviates boredom and offers an alternative to leisure activities that cost money.
- Simplify, always simplify. Owning too little is rarely the challenge we face in the Western world. The simpler our lives become the more clearly we can see and think and choose.
- Organise your mind. Know what you are trying to achieve and take small steps every day in that direction.
- Set aside a small area for an altar, write down your prayers, and petition the Lord persistently for the change you want to see in your life; and work towards it yourself too. Put a ‘please’ box and a ‘thank you’ box on your altar – encourage yourself with the delight of seeing your prayers answered and the slips of paper moving from ‘please’ to ‘thank you’.
In the end I think the bottom line really is just to know what you want and be prepared to prioritise it. Being willing to change, compromise, question, sacrifice and work. Get close to people who live simply and see less of people who live unwisely and extravagantly. Follow blogs that encourage and inspire you down the road you want to follow. Read, research, explore on line. The important thing is not to concentrate on what you can’t do but work out what you can do.
- Change one thing.
- Share one thing.
- Give away one thing.
- Turn off one thing.
- Plant one tree.
- Choose one Fairtrade item in your regular grocery shopping.
- And one organically grown item.
- Choose one thing with no packaging in favour of one in a plastic bag.
- Do without one thing.
- Turn your heating down one degree.
- Flush your toilet one less time (the pee will sit there happily waiting until you go again).
- Spend one summer day in natural light, not turning on electric lights.
- Spend one evening a week not watching television.
- Throw one clothes-swap party.
- Take out one light-bulb from a multi-bulb fitting
Or any other One Thing you can think of.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
This pretty voile curtain went into one of the fabric craft kits I put together for Freecycle.