Saturday, 2 June 2012

Ideas as promised

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.  


365 366 Day 154 – Saturday June 2nd  

This pretty voile curtain went into one of the fabric craft kits I put together for Freecycle.   


Michelle-ozark crafter said...

Simplicity can be many things for many people.

Ember said...

Yes indeed - it's such an individual thing, and I think also it belongs to vision and calling in our lives, so will be unique to each one.

Buzzfloyd said...

I found this a helpful reminder. When I see lists of the many virtuous things other people are doing for the sake of the planet, I tend to be plunged into despair, feeling that I can't possibly manage all those things and that I am therefore responsible for killing the Earth.

It's good for me to remember the things I am already doing - not running a car, keeping my heating switched off most of the time, using cloth nappies, composting food and garden waste, and so on - which gives me the courage and cheerfulness to believe that it is worthwhile making the effort, and that I can keep creeping up on myself with little changes.

By the way, I am certain that in Germany people in flats keep wormeries. I'm not sure what they do with the resulting compost.

Hawthorne said...

Lots of good advice and encouragement there, Ember - thanks. I love the idea of the 'Please' and 'Thank you' boxes! x x

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for putting such thought and care into your article, and responding so promptly; this is a genuine blessing.

Your entry has prompted many more thoughts - without sounding 'conspiracist', I wonder whether the air of busyness and life clutter (especialy for families - both parents, where there are two parents, working, commuting, battling to keep roof over head and food on table) is encouraged by more malevolant forces that would like us to simply spend more, consume more, become increasingly time pore and thus dependant on 'the system'...Just a thought and in no way whatsoever a judgement of folk battling hard in the current that is 'the rat race'. Aloneness is a growing issue in our society; If not mistaken, I heard a figure on the radio around two months ago or so that 30% of 'households' are single-person households...for a certainty, there are those who prefer the 'life of the anchorite', so to speak, but...

I for one do have a higher 'gadgetry' expendature due to significant vision impairment (use to access computer and the 'Brailliant' over at to thus read, getting as long as possible out of my tech; using till it doesn't work and disposing of as best as possible (the IT industry needs to lift its game re true recycling of materials and parts, especially batteries and screens).

for readers in Sydney,

is an excellent resource, be one in need of craft supplies or other items from paint to carpet to fabric...fantastic concept!

also, re thoughtful food purchases, I'm in one thousand percent agreement - 120,000 Sydney residents go to bed without enough to eat every single day, while the big two supermarket chains here throw out roughly 6 Billion (yes, Billion with a B) dollars worth of perfectly good food annually.

and this

Re the valuing of persons with a disability by and in society, this

offers an amazing perspective.

Back to food, this manifesto, though it may seem radical, addresses many points in dire need of consideration, if not action.

This is also worth reading

and this re transition towns

Sorry if I've carried on for too long here,



Ember said...

Buzz - I would say your life is simple and Earth-friendly - having a low income is, oddly, a blessing and a defence against the creeping forces of Mammon.

Hawthorne - yes, the 'please' and 'thank you' is a wonderful habit - it surprised me how often I forgot what I'd prayed for, and impressed me to see the steady flow of answered prayer.

Sarah - Wow! Thanks so much for all those brilliant links - so handy when someone gets them all herded up into one place for easy reference - thank you!!

Linda said...

Sarah I don't think firebans include wood stoves in the kitchen. I remember distinctly driving though Biggara or somewhere on a hot day seeing smoke from a kitchen chimney. My Grandparents and my parents all used their stove all year round. It is got too hot that is where the cold meat and salad came in. People were always making jam with large amounts of steam in the middle of January. Some just did it in a cooler part of the day I imagine.

Linda said...

I am shocked 91% live in urban areas in Australia. I must admit it is difficult talking to people on facebook. Why? Because even though most of us grew up in the same place, a medium sized country town 3 hours from Melbourne, second largest city, well they are now urbanised. I stayed there and 8 years ago moved to a remote location 5 1/2 hours from Melbourne, 1 1/2 hours from McDonalds, Aldi, Target, Safeway. It is not the outback, but we do receive a remote allowance from the State in our wages. The things we can't talk about are simple everyday relating. Even my language is out of date, maybe it always was, I am not sure. If you all study the map, it is ridiculous, most of Australia is open country.

Linda said...

Sarah I had this discussion about the supermarket chains in particular on facebook. They blame the supermarkets, but in reality if more people stood up to Coles and Safeway, it only takes a small percentage shift to affect these chains. I don't have either of them here. Have fantastic IGAs who as far as I know have nothing to do with those chains. You need to develop friends who live outside the mainstream. They think totally differently and still live in your country. xx

Linda said...

Speaking of Where There Is A Will There Is A Way reminds me of a very inspiring novel. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It really reminds us of the simple things like having food and being warm. Which to me is a focus at the moment, I am supporting two children and two houses.

Linda said...

A simple Australian blog that comes to mind off the top of my head is Little Jenny Wren, both urban and simple.

Tess said...

Some wonderful ideas here. People might also be interested in a book called Radical Homemakers (website here: which charts many journeys to a better, simpler, future.
Ember, another reason I checked in here today was to share this meditative video with you. It reminded me so much of the underlying theme of bread in your Celebration of Simplicity book:

Ember said...

Wow! What a harvest of wonderful ideas! Thanks, friends xx

Ember said...

Fascinated and surprised by the video about making bread - we all do it differently, don't we!
I personally mix all the ingredients together late at night, whack it around on a floured board for ten minutes, bung it in an oiled plastic bag in the fridge overnight, get it out and knock it back for two minutes in the morning, shape it into rolls and leave them to rise on an oven tray, covered with the oiled plastic bag torn open to make a sheet, about 20mins while the oven heats up - and in they go to cook for 15 mins.

Asta Lander said...

I loved all these links - especially as I live in Australia.
Fires (as in slow combustion) are banned in some suburbs in Perth, but we live in country WA so, as I type, we are sitting around ours. I have been thinking about getting a kettle to put on it, or a pot.
Staying cool is probably one of the most expensive things for Australians. We don't usually have central heating (I don't know anyone who does), but we have reverse cycle air-conditioning units, and frequently in summer we have problems with power supply because everyone is trying to cool down. We are very frugal with it - personally I feel quite cross when everyone has it on because it is a catch 22 - the air outside the homes becomes even hotter because the units pump out heat! Crazy. We are lucky here in the country, we have cooler nights, and as we live on a hill we get a breeze.
I enjoyed your long blog entry. It was great reading, thought provoking and encouraging as always.
I thank God for like minded people.
Asta x
As I type this I am downloading 'The Art of Making Bread', I saw the first couple of seconds and that looked so peaceful and beautifully put together.

Asta Lander said...

I loved all these links - especially as I live in Australia.
Fires (as in slow combustion) are banned in some suburbs in Perth, but we live in country WA so, as I type, we are sitting around ours. I have been thinking about getting a kettle to put on it, or a pot.
Staying cool is probably one of the most expensive things for Australians. We don't usually have central heating (I don't know anyone who does), but we have reverse cycle air-conditioning units, and frequently in summer we have problems with power supply because everyone is trying to cool down. We are very frugal with it - personally I feel quite cross when everyone has it on because it is a catch 22 - the air outside the homes becomes even hotter because the units pump out heat! Crazy. We are lucky here in the country, we have cooler nights, and as we live on a hill we get a breeze.
I enjoyed your long blog entry. It was great reading, thought provoking and encouraging as always.
I thank God for like minded people.
Asta x
As I type this I am downloading 'The Art of Making Bread', I saw the first couple of seconds and that looked so peaceful and beautifully put together.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so very much for your kind and heartfelt responses!! Its wonderful to 'hear' fellow Australian voices on blogs like this; The Sydney 'burbs' can be a bit overwhelming at times... To everyone here, you simply must listen to the conversation with 'Kosta' that aired on the richard Fidler radio programme this - it is utterly amazing!!!!!!!

and thank you for Little Jenny Wren's link; her sight is fantastic.



keitha said...

Hi friend. Been meaning to ask if you read One Thousand Gifts by Voscamp or if you read her blog: aholyexperience?

Also, have you tried summer porridge - oats soaked overnight in Greek yogurt with fruits and maple syrup or honey then served cold? I thought I might try it in a mason jar this week for a breakfast picnic. I know your love of porridge.

Enjoy your day.

Ember said...

Hi friends - Asta, I guess you do have lots of trees? I mean, I know trees don't grow overnight, but what and astonishing difference they make to cooling the air! The summer Bernard died when I was living in his cottage with him, it was mega-hot. More old people than usual died because of the unaccustomed heat. I was dividing my time between Hastings and Bernard's cottage several miles inland at Beckley. Down in Hastings town centre the heat was bouncing off all the concrete surfaces and the layer of sea-defence shingle that covers the beach. Inland on the edge of the forest where Bernard lived, it was entirely different - cool under the trees, the air refreshed by their transpiration. I was very impressed by the difference trees make, that summer.

Keitha - yes, I've seen Anne Voskamp's blog and Julie kindly sent me her wonderful book. She is quite a lady! Lives life at 500% intensity. A real inspiration.
The summer porridge sounds yummy!


Anonymous said...


In my experience here, when housing developments are built, the land is all but flattened - trees are not strategically preserved, and not nearly enough of them are re-pplanted to provide real cooling, and because of the shoebox gardens etc are not good shade-providers. Also, the increase in high and medium density housing within capital citis creates more little ovens without cooling trees and adequate ventilation that are miserable to live in - old, 1920's flats have high ceilings, larger windows, are 3 storeys maximum with often some half decent established trees now grown up, but these are an increasing rarity in our cityscape. Houses seem not to be built with heat in mind either; the days of wide eaves, verandahs and high ceilings seem to be over. Many modern homes are built with huge amounts of glass that chill houses in winter, cook them in summer. We're lucky here; two story; North-South facing, wide eaves with the living airea downstairs and tiled, not carpeted. As long as the humidity is not horrible, the house remains fairly cool, with the front and back doors in line of sight so they can be opened up to allow afternoon sea-breezes through; further West, though, these don't reach quite so well. Good window-dressing assists in the heat; good curtains or even good olf-fashioned external awnings that can be lowered or retracted as needed. We inherrited air-conditioning with the house; it receives more of a work-out in February when Sydney's humidity is aweful to dry out the air more often than actually cooling the home.

To all the Australian readers here, greetings!!



Ember said...

Interesting description, Sarah - I can really picture that! Thank you x

Asta Lander said...

I forgot to say in my comments how much I loved your list of baby steps to simplicity. A x
I wonder if you even got them actually. I was having trouble leaving them.

Asta Lander said...

I see you got the comment. It was so much higher up than I expected. The conversation keeps going and going. Wonderful. I love that there are other Aussies here (though I am technically a Scottish Aussie!). A x

Linda said...

Sarah, I'm not sure which circle of Aussie bloggers you follow, so forgive me if I list some that you have already heard of.

the most popular blog about simplicity is down to earth, but I don't follow it any more.

Ember said...

x Waving!

Anonymous said...


I follow off-shore blogs (sorry to say) that are chiefly faith-focused, and have never heard of any that you've sent; Thank you for posting some good ones here.



Linda said...

I haven't been reading anywhere else for awhile, but when I did read other faith focused blogs they were from a meme called Thankful Thursday.

It is a beautiful site. I'm glad she is still hosting it. I felt much better when I daily found things to be thankful for and joined in in this meme.