It’s funny how things happen… I’ve had a blog post brewing in my mind for a while – a vague jumble of thoughts & things relating to the journey I’ve been on but it wouldn’t really come together. Mon’s latest post nudged me towards a new blog and there I found Kate and her inspirational space. Apart from making me feel quite overwhelmed and inadequate, her ‘year in review’ was the tickle on the tummy I needed to get started… Yes, a month-by-month recounting of my personal green awakening & how that has overlapped with living more simply & consciously – that’s it! So, here I am…
First some context. I wanted this blog to be a journal of sorts about the way in which Steve & I were growing our full monte life – all aspects of it. But the massive task of building our eco shower block and opening our campsite has dominated most of the posts this year, unsurprisingly since there are only so many hours in the day and this is the progress that friends and family (who use this space to keep updated on our news) were keen to hear about. Consequently, the ‘little stuff’ has got lost along the way. Put together, all the ‘little stuff’ isn’t so little and it helps explain the ways in which my (sometime our) thoughts, behaviours, life are developing. So this is a post about those ‘little things’.
The two diverse places we currently live between are also very key, contextually:
On the one hand we have eight hectares of land supporting an emerging eco project (all year round) and a clothing-optional campsite (summer only) where we live in a tent and use our purpose-built shower block and inside/outside kitchen. There, we have limited solar PV power, standalone solar grounds lighting, petrol genny for indoor lights and power sockets, a solar-thermal hot water system, 3 compost loos, 2 waterless urinals (still not installed), a water tank holding 45 cubic metres of spring water from our stream, a DIY greywater recycling system, 6 raised beds for organic gardening and the makings of an orchard. We refridgerate our beers in the stream and everything else in 2 small gas fridges; there’s no freezer or washing machine and we don’t use any electric kitchen ‘gadgets’ because its ludicrous to start the genny to power them when hand-power will do.
On the other hand we rent a 3-bedroomed, detached house in the nearest town. The 3 floors of luxurious living space is way bigger then we need and under normal circumstances we would never live in a place like this. It’s poorly insulated; the open plan design, walls of glass (& no blinds) and big draughty stairwell make it expensive to heat in winter and hard to keep cool in summer; it only has air conditioning units for heating & cooling (albeit they are the dog’s whotsits in their eco-efficiency) and has one small hot water tank for all 5 sinks, 2 bidets and 2 showers which is at the very top of the house so when you want to wash the dishes in the kitchen at ground level so much hot water is wasted in the distance it has to travel. It has a poorly designed septic tank which leaks (and reeks) and generally the plumbing is a disaster.
But, it has 2 spare double bedrooms and endless sofa beds so we can comfortably accomodate all our friends and family; it is fully furnished, tastefully & luxuriously, so that was a whole bunch of expense saved; it has off-road parking big enough to accomodate our family of Fords (van & car) and is unbelievably cheap. Living here is both wonderful (affordable, comfy, spacious, all mod cons and a view that takes your breath away) and awful (gets nil points for energy efficiency, the water goes off every night & consequently the pipes are filled with air every morning, smells of drains at times, has mould growing despite being newly-built, has dodgy electrics, takes days to clean and is freezing ~Brrrr~ in the winter) at the same time. Every day it’s a reminder that appearances can be deceptive, that the devil is in the detail and that building with sound eco principles in mind is the only way to go. Every day it makes me appreciate our campsite more where the water never goes off; where the sewerage doesn’t smell; where we recycle water, not waste it; where the on cost of heating our water and powering our solar lights & fans is zero and where our veg will flourish in the compost from our loos!
Blimey! All this rambling – and I haven’t even started the year’s round up yet!! The point I’m making here is that my improvements in living green and simply is limited by the rented (read “beyond our power/ will to change”) house we live in for 9 out of 12 months. Phew! Glad I got that out – I feel like I’ve confessed a guilty secret!
Right, on with the year in review, dammit!
January – mmm, can’t remember much about it. But here’s a photo that might sum up where I was on my journey – mostly in the dark with some areas of light…
February – I started this blog and made a conscious decision to share the green things we did. I also clarified to myself that the goal was living a full monte life – full in the sense of:
- being open – to new ideas and old traditions
- doing more of the things that make me/ us happy & fulfilled and less of the things that don’t
- living life consciously, aware of my impact on things, people, the planet
- having enough money to avoid deprivation & hardship – but recognising that’s very different (in a good way) to having what you want, when you want it without a second thought. If it’s SO taken for granted, what’s the point?
- pursuing our passions and having space to share these with like-minded souls
March – I tuned in to nature, becoming aware of the changing season and starting to document the wild flowers on the land. We sowed countless seeds in pots and trays and watched in awe as they grew to little plants in a matter of weeks. I planted the onions in the beds – better late than never. I learnt about companion planting and planned the garden to maximise healthy growth and natural disease protection.
April – I read “It’s Not Easy being Green” and got inspired about the possibilities. I began to go eco-loco! I stopped buying fabric conditioner (how ridiculous buying yet another thing in a plastic container just to make my clothes smell nice!) and started to investigate natural ways to soften skin, freshen breath, deodorise & perfume. We planted up our raised beds with all our brave little seedlings and I harvested my first crop of fresh herbs. I made it my mission to reduce the number of plastic bags I used and re-use all I could. My biggest breakthrough was shopping with a basket and learning to explain in local language (+ lots of gesturing!) that the fruit & veg be put in it minus the plastic bags, yep, nude! Go on, put the onions with the apples what the hell – it doesn’t matter! I brought my own re-usable shopping bag (made from recycled materials) with me to the stores and use this and old plastic bags for the rest of my shopping.
May – I became acutely aware of how precious water is. When you turn the tap you have no real idea of how many litres gushes out each second/ minute – but when you pour it from a 5 litre bottle because there’s none in the tap you get really focused on the quantity you use. I stopped leaving the tap running whilst I cleaned my teeth; never had the shower on full; turned the shower off whilst I was scrubbing and lathering and then back on to rinse; stop flushing little wees and adopted the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” approach. Nature continued to amaze as orchids sprung up everywhere on the land and butterflies flitted about & I learnt about the delicate eco system thriving there and how to work with it, not against it.
June – I bought some Eco Balls and stopped buying washing powder. I invested in a Mooncup so no more tampons going into landfill from me! Steve went mad with a new gadget that monitored power consumption and we learnt to our horror that even when switched off completely the PC and printer used 30W of power unless they were actually diconnected from the mains! Already bonkers about turning off lights and using low energy bulbs, we now religiously unplug everything when out of use.
July – I minimised my veg purchasing and we mostly lived on the produce from our garden. We were overrun with marrow and I found interesting ways to use them so we didn’t get bored of them and nothing went to waste. I saved the seeds to grow more next year for free. I started to get creative about ingredients I had already rather than buying more stuff and looked for tasty, healthy alternatives I could make cheaply rather than buying expensive things in wasteful packaging.
August – I acquired some wonderful books about living self-sufficiently, growing organically and other good stuff and began to educate myself and try new approaches. I kept all the plastic pump-handled bottles (from window cleaner sprays etc) and re-filled them with my own potions made from essential oils, distilled water – maybe some vinegar & a little alcohol. I made toilet cleaners for our beautiful compost loos, air fresheners and insect repellants – all natural, free from nasties, deliciously fragrant and they cost nothing to make.
September - Overrun with plastic bags (despite re-using all I could as bin liners, shopping bags & freezer bags) I looked into using them as a material. The plastic bag plaiting began and I’m slowly but surely creating a flyscreen curtain made of plaited plastic bags. I need loads so friends started to collect them for me too. Our pumpkins ripened and I made buckets of soup and some yummy pumpkin pie – of course, saving the seeds for free pumpkins next year. I continued to document the flowers, bugs, butterflies, spiders, snakes and other wonders that were on the land long before us and how they all fit together. The only drawback with the compost loos is the increase of flies – there are definitely more of them about although mostly high up outside around the stench pipes but the wonderful thing is this has attracted more birds to the campsite, especially, unsurprisingly… fly catchers!
October – I hadn’t bought any household cleaning products since the summer and have been eeking out what I have. Now I’ve run out of most things I’ve started making my own. I use eucalyptus, clove & thyme oil for bacterial cleaners in the kitchen and bathroom; lemon oil deodorises the fridge and vinegar is my new favourite glass cleaner. Clothes that fall apart from being over-worked on the land are recycled as cleaning cloths. Inspired by an article I read here I started to use things ‘one more time’ – not washing things until they really need it; getting one more use out of an old sponge before finally chucking it away. I now think very carefully before disposing of anything and even more carefully before buying something new.
November - I preserved all the fruit we’d grown or been given and stored them in recycled jars. For the cost of a few bags of sugar and minimal other ingredients we had jars & jars of marmalade, chutney & lemon curd – all way more delicious and natural than anything I could buy. I got really serious about thrifty living and stopped going shopping, just living off food in the cupboards and freezer. I couldn’t live without milk and cheese so I had to relent and buy these and a few other things but I managed to spend next to nothing on food every week. I created authentic Indian, Thai & Chinese dishes from scratch grinding my own spices and making my own pastes and sauces. Always debonair in my recipe-following, I really went off the rails on a mission to use what I had rather than buy a thing… Sugar – got loads of icing sugar, that’ll do; basmatic rice – nope, plain ole long grain instead; palm sugar – no chance! brown sugar & honey instead.
December – I ditched my big kitchen bin because it requires shop-bought bin liners. I have reverted to a small bin so I can re-use plastic bags and be more conscious about waste management. We now generate one small plastic bag worth of rubbish every week. Not as good as Ilona, who is a real inspiration (but lives in the UK where more stuff can be recycled!) but we’re getting there. All our veg waste, egg shells, coffee grounds, used tea bags, toilet roll inserts & other bits of non-plasticised carboard/ paper goes into the compost; we recycle all the jars we use (not many – I hardly buy jars of stuff anymore) for our own preserves or for storing seeds; we recycle some of the bottles we use for our wine bottle window and some for storing our own syrups in ; we take plastic bottles and paper/ cardboard we can reuse ourselves to the local recycling bins; I keep egg boxes for sowing seeds in next year and reuse most of the old marg pots and other plastic containers for storage and for freezing left over food.
It’s taken me hours to piece together the ways I’ve changed over the months but it’s been fun and a worthwhile reminder of what I’ve achieved so far. I have been prompted by some of the wonderful blogs out there to take my conscious living to new heights and to keep better records of what I save and what I grow so I can see the quantifiable changes over time. I’d love to hear what others have achieved…
PS: Thanks again to Kate at Living the Frugal Life for kicking all this off. Following her link to one of her favourite blogs I discovered this beautiful site and a poem that really touched me… ‘The peace of wild things’ ~sigh~.