Tag Archives: SustainableLiving

Living Large by Living SMALL

I’m sometimes convinced my purse is cursed. It swallows the things I want to find (it has happened on more than one occasion that I’ve had to empty out the entire contents in order to lay hands on the cell phone that has eluded me through three thorough rummaging-searches) and mysteriously fills with things I don’t need to find.

purse kitchen sink

everything AND the kitchen sink–a bursting purse

Seriously. Why did I end up toting Pizza Hut packets of parmesan, plastic Communion cup,  cinnamon-scented pinecone, tire pressure gauge, metallic Sharpie markers, a pair of chopsticks, completed crosswords, a fishing fly in a prescription bottle… Okay, not all of these things at one time, but those are actual examples of things my purse regurgitates when I only want my phone!  The lesson here is that if I have space, I WILL fill it—whether that space be in a purse or in a home.

If I live in a house, the STUFF I own will inevitably expand to fit the space. (I’m certain this happens without any help from me— surely I’ve played no part in accumulating said stuff, ahem…) If I have an attic or shed or garage or storage space, that stuff-expansion will continue till all the corners are filled in. Picture a marshmallow swelling in the microwave–that’s the sort of bloat we’re talking about.

movingI’ve moved eight times in the last eight years, each time with enough boxes to build a fortress. Each time packing, hauling, and unpacking all that Stuff. I would intend to sort and dispose, but I’d cave to the “Keep-its,” afraid to get rid of things I might want or “need,” hesitant to let go of sentimental items or gifts… Every time I packed more stuff than the previous time, instead of less.

The stuff I owned was owning me right back.

I suppose I could take comfort in the fact that this is a thoroughly American dilemma; it shouldn’t shock anyone to hear that Americans invented the self storage facility, an industry that Slate magazine called “a surprisingly fertile cultural indicator.”

What’s the most ubiquitous business in America? I would have answered Starbucks, but the New York Times reported this country supports seven times as many storage facilities as Starbucks stores, with customers’ “third-most-popular use” admitted to be “storing items that they ‘no longer need or want.'”

from a LetGo.com ad

skydiving with sewing machine: a LetGo.com ad

The humorous ads for LetGo.com might be puzzling to people in other countries (the continent of Europe apparently has about 1 storage facility for every 25 in the U.S.) but we here in America understand the underlying truth that makes them funny: people here DON’T let go of their stuff…

I may not have been paying out extra monthly money to keep the stuff I didn’t want to keep, but I was still dutifully packing and moving all of it at least once a year.

fifth wheel RV camp

Home! 350 square feet…

This February I married Jon and we moved into a fifth wheel RV. It’s good-sized for an RV, 40 feet long with a toy-hauler “garage” section for the motorcycle and some storage. Still, we’re talking something like 250 square feet of living space and another 100 for the garage. Big for an RV, yes, but tiny-house-small compared to most American dwellings.

I was watching a marathon of “Tiny-House Hunters” the other day in the RV park-office where I work (or where I work in busier months, anyway—this time of year it may not qualify as “working”)… I’m amused by the whole “tiny house” fad, and even more amused by the fact that the people who enjoy this show are some of the same who seemed aghast that we would consider moving into an RV.  The home-buyers in these episodes riff on common themes: simplicity, sustainability, mobility & flexibility, financial freedom, minimalism…

packingSo I picked up a word that’s new to me: Minimalist. It’s fairly self-explanatory, but I hadn’t heard it (or hadn’t heard it capitalized) until an episode in which a buyer repeatedly used the word to reassure himself about tiny-house squeezes. When his pragmatic sister challenged him with almost any question (“Where will you put furniture?“) he would automatically respond, “That’s okay; I’m a Minimalist.”

Another episode’s couple reported that they had taken the “Minimalist Challenge” before deciding on tiny-house living. The 30-day Challenge calls for disposal of one possession on the first day, two on the second,  and so on until the player/experimenter/prospective-Minimalist has either jettisoned 465 items or decided that Minimalism doesn’t suit.

Apparently I qualify as a Minimalist. I spent most of January sorting and winnowing, taking daily carloads to Goodwill and watching with satisfaction as my furniture walked out the door, piece by piece, on the shoulders of Craigslist buyers. By the time my mother arrived in town for the wedding, my three-bedroom apartment was echoing and empty, save for a small stack of boxes and luggage in the living room. “You must have some serious storage,” she commented. I didn’t correct her assumption at the time, but in truth, everything I own is now in this fifth wheel.

RV living room fifth wheel

still roomier than a sailboat…

Also truthfully, to a person who has long dreamed of living aboard a sailboat, this roomy rec-vehicle didn’t seem squeezed or unfeasible at all. Like a sailboat, it makes the most use of every space, tucking storage areas under the bed and in lofts by the ceiling… Like a sailboat, cabinets are built to keep objects from achieving flight when the home is in motion. Like a sailboat, the shower sports a hatch skylight and the toilet sports a flush-pedal and the tanks have to be monitored and maintained… It’s all familiar enough to be comforting, even exciting.

And for a Gypsyish soul like myself, the wheels beneath have as much appeal as the compact home itself. I have sat in the park office and watched my house roll by, knowing that HOME will be somewhere other than where I left it. And guess what? I didn’t have to pack a single box! (I will admit, though, that it felt odd to affix a license plate to my house!)

Gypsy-mobility is its own topic, about which I could write volumes (and probably will), but for now let me just say that my life is open for Experiences. When my counselor asked me recently what I want out of Life, “Experience” was the word that flew out of my mouth.

sailing skipper

greatest riches are in my mind… Skippering a sailboat, 2008

“Living Large” is not my aspiration; my greatest riches are in my mind. The things that fill pages in the box of journals stored in the RV’s extra bunk, or the pages of this blog. These are riches no one can strip from me—they won’t go into foreclosure or get repossessed or have a tax lien put on them. I may be an “anti-packrat,” but I do collect one thing: Memories. And fortunately, memories don’t require storage space—not even in the form of mementos or souvenirs.

The idea of minimalist living seems to appeal to many people on the surface—just look at the popularity of magazines like “Real Simple,” which hawks facsimiles of Streamlining & Simplicity with exorbitant price tags! …but minimalism does require some Letting Go. Actually, a lot of it.

vase of flowers

“small space” DOESN’T have to mean “cluttered”…

I had a conversation in the park office the other day with another full-time RV-er whose possessions are piled up in storage units, and who expressed curiosity about how I had managed to minimize my own Stuff enough to eliminate the need for storage. Like most Momentous Things, it’s deceptively simple.

Um, I got rid of the Stuff.

I suppose a person (if she does want to minimize) has to consider the various reasons why she has been keeping the Stuff she has. Does she use it or wear it regularly? Is it Important to her for some reason or another? Does she feel “guilted” into hanging on to it? Does she love it?

Things in the “use-it-regularly” category I kept. You might be surprised what a small pile that is, compared to the sum total of the Stuff you own!

storage boxes

TWO sentimental-storage boxes… (AND some unused space)

“Important” things—well, that can be subjective. I kept the little fire-proof safe with birth certificates, passports, and the like. I kept a large-ish box containing four decades’ worth of journals. I kept a smallish box of mementos: a handful of my kids’ baby-things, my own baby-blanket, some other items I feel strongly about… But honestly, the majority of things I’d been saving for “sentimental” reasons could fulfill their purpose in a photograph as well as in person. I took pictures, and I let things go.

fifth wheel autumn

the view out my window: my Best Friend’s home…

Things I would have felt guilty about getting rid of, I offered to the other people who might feel strongly about them. I gave things to my children, who live elsewhere; I took family-furniture to my parents; I handed family genealogy records to my sister-the-historian. And some things I really didn’t need. The current FaceBook comments from high school classmates mean more to me than what they wrote in my yearbooks a quarter-century ago. I dismantled bulky photo albums and simply kept the pictures.

Living a mere mile from the Oregon Trail, I feel a strong affinity for its travelers of long ago: people who embarked on a new life with everything they owned stowed in a very small, mobile space. The trail is ahead of me—we’ll see where it leads.

imagehome is where we park itI’m packed, and I have more than I need. At the end of the day, as the country song goes, “Ain’t never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch!”

(If you haven’t heard the song, I recommend spending the three minutes—just click below.)  :)

 

 


Bathing Ferrets, Idaho Wildlife, & Pumpkin Pie

A Princess Robe with Ferret Accents: Elena Grace, just out of the tub & wearing my robe

I used to think that my sister and I had the best-ever outlet for playing with our bath toys. We grew up in an Idaho farm-town that practiced irrigation-watering for the lawns in town, so our front yard was flooded in several inches of water for a couple evenings every week.

I still have memories (and I’m sure my mom has photos) of the two of us prancing around the flooded grass just before bedtime, lifting the hems of our nightgowns above the water and pushing around all the toy boats that usually lived in the bathroom-drawer by the tub. Those were some great summer evenings.

I think, though, that my son has us beat when it comes to bath toys, thanks to the discovery that ferrets (not unlike kids!) require bathing. On his last weekend with us, he wore his swim trunks in the tub so I could give him another scalp scrub, and then I brought out Niele the ferret for her first shampoo in our household.

best bath toy ever: a FERRET

I confess I braced myself for a ruckus (imagining what would happen, for example, if we tried to bathe our CAT), but evidently ferrets don’t have an aversion to water. At least this one doesn’t!

Christian and Niele happily played in the tub for a good half-hour before I scooped her out to dry her off. I had the bright idea of using the “low” setting on my hairdryer so she wouldn’t get chilled, so I can report that this ferret DOES have an aversion to the hair dryer. Lesson learned—I did the best I could with our newly-designated “ferret towel”…

On the topic of “wildlife sightings” (moving now to wildlife living OUTside our home), our country neighborhood been visited in the last couple weeks by:

  • Christian wearing a (clean!) fur hat

    A skunk, which waddled right up on the porch with me one afternoon while I was reading…

  • A flock of wild turkeys. which had us thinking about the bow-hunting classes in which Christian has expressed an interest, and in which I’d like to join him…  He took a “Hunter Education” class this fall–and has the card (and the shot-up target!) to prove it. Keoni paid him the compliment of remarking that he “shoots like his mom.” Maybe next Thanksgiving we’ll snag our own turkey for the table… We wake every morning to the sound of shots from nearby duck-hunters (there’s a duck-blind in the cow pasture right across the country-road from our place), so turkey-hunting doesn’t seem too fantastic.
  • A raccoon, which (after checking online to see how raccoons and chickens get along) had me checking the chicken-house at obsessive intervals for an entire night. Our “girls” have been providing us with four or five eggs every day, and our Thanksgiving table included both Yorkshire Pudding and Pumpkin Pie made with our own big, brown eggs.
  • a day’s eggs from our chickens… (bowl made by Elena Grace from salt dough)

    A red fox (ditto the above reaction regarding the chicken-house)

  • Barn owls (not unusual at all here, but meriting a place in the list purely because of my affinity for my “totem”)
  • A beaver, hanging out in the lake at the State Park right by our home, and…
  • A mountain lion, which we are happy not to have encountered for ourselves! It has been hanging around the river for a number of weeks, and sighted in numerous locations nearby, but hasn’t made a house-call.  As much as I enjoy living out of town and encountering some of Idaho’s wildlife up close and personal, I’m happy to take a pass on this one.

I do love Idaho. AND I’m still enjoying Keoni’s pumpkin pie, so I’ll leave you with his new recipe (adjusted for the “regular” ingredients we didn’t have on hand, and for how he “tastes things in his head”—the mark of a Born Cook)…

  • Keoni’s pumpkin pie

    1~1/2 cups sugar

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 tsp Chinese five-spice (that’s one of his “tasted-it-in-my-head” additions)
  • 5 large eggs (from OUR chickens, of course!)
  • 1~3/4 pounds (equivalent to one large can) pureed baked pumpkin (from our neighbor’s garden!)
  • 2 cans coconut milk (most recipes call for evaporated milk; we didn’t have any on hand, but—because of our habits of Hawai’ian cooking—we did have coconut milk)
  • 2 pie crusts (of course, he makes his own from scratch)

Beat the eggs, mix in the dry ingredients and pumpkin, slowly stir in the milk, and pour the mixture into the pie crusts. Bake for the first fifteen minutes at 425, then another forty-five minutes at 350.  He sprinkled the top with shredded coconut and a dollop of sour cream (I’ve always used whipped cream, but my hubby’s taste-it-in-his-head instinct never ceases to surprise me—pleasantly!) Speaking as a pumpkin pie aficionado (aficionada?), this is the BEST I’ve ever enjoyed!


From Noah’s Ark to Yellow Submarine

busted pipes

an unwelcome sight beneath our home at two in the morning

I jinxed myself, no doubt about it. When I wrote last week about our growing tribe of pets and animals, I ended by saying I hoped we wouldn’t be floating away like Noah’s Ark. Just a couple nights later–Saturday night, to be specific, or rather, the “wee hours” of Sunday morning–Keoni woke me to say there was a distinct sound of gushing water beneath us. Oh, that can’t be good.

Bundled up in bathrobes and sweatshirts, we emerged from our back door with a flashlight, stepped over the rivulets of water streaming out from underneath the trailer, and pulled the skirting off the side beneath our bathroom. Sure enough, the main water line was in free-flow.

flooded

the remains of our “lake,” Sunday afternoon

Our favorite neighbor, Bill, is also the maintenance guy for our trailer park, so Keoni was knocking on his door as early as we deemed decent. (The sun wasn’t quite up, but the sky was light… All three of us realized afterward that the nation’s clocks had been set back during the night, so we really woke him at an earlier hour than we’d intended…)

Bill answered the door in his pajamas; Keoni greeted him brightly with the observation that it was Sunday at our house, and he just wanted to see if it were Sunday at Bill’s house too. Oh, and by the way… Our trailer was now sitting in a veritable lake, and could Bill come take a look?

Times like this, we’re glad that our home is propped up on cement blocks ABOVE the ground. We’re also glad we’re on a well, and not paying for all the water that was suddenly surrounding us. (Not even feeling guilty; it’s headed straight back to the water table it came from.)

Neighbor Bill, prepared to swim beneath our trailer

Keoni whipped up some French Toast for all of us while Bill crawled underneath to wrestle with our pipes (and modeled his sense of humor along with the life-jacket I jokingly fetched for him)… Before noon we had running water IN the house again, and our moat gradually began to recede.

I’ve had the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” song stuck in my head ever since. That’s absurd, of course, since our home was mercifully NOT “beneath the waves”–but somehow that song is sticking with me anyway. I think it’s not even about the flooding.

I have (at long last!) begun writing a book. A book of my own—which is a topic we’ve talked about every time I’ve been commissioned to ghost-write an e-book for someone else. Hell (we keep saying), if I can knock out a book on astrology or vitamins or the Foreign Exchange system (topics in which I really have no interest or background—just solid research skills), why am I not writing the book I want to write? So now I am. Working title: “Your Backyard Homestead: Sustainable Living, Wherever You Live.”

And still humming “Yellow Submarine”…

“…and we live a life of ease; every one of us has all we need…” I’ve always associated the phrase “life of ease” with affluence, but that’s not necessarily so. After all, I’m paying the bills by doing the one thing that comes most easily to me: wrangling words. And I get to spend my days in this home I love (moat or no), with my husband and our kids (and the cat and the ferret and the chickens and the mice)… I love my life. I am happy. No, more than that. I am joyful. The official U.S. “poverty line” is still a target way above our heads, but we have all we need. And right there we have the heart and the core of my book!

“…and our friends are all onboard; many more of them live next door…” I’ve been reading Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography of Bliss. It’s a humorous and insightful look at the nature of happiness, and the things that actually make people happy. He observes, among other things, that people often say “money doesn’t buy happiness,” but then proceed to behave as if it did. Social science studies show that money does affect happiness–but only up to a point. And that point, he explains, is a lowly fifteen thousand dollars a year. With the basics of security (and, interestingly, dignity) taken care of, additional funds don’t translate into additional levels of happiness. This idea, too, fits in with the premise of the book I’m writing.

Weiner also illustrates that many factors that do add to people’s happiness are tied to social interactions. Trust. Family ties. Cultural connections. Community identity. Neighborliness. He observes at one point that when we get money, we tend to use it to buy walls. Richer people are likely to have taller fences, essentially–and poorer people may have known neighbors instead. Which of those things make us happier? Why, the people-connections! When I shared that bit with Keoni, he pointed out that the thought was exactly in line with a blog-post I write a while back, on the Dying(?) Art of Knowing Your Neighbors.  As I think about it, our neighbor-relations have also contributed substantially to our “homesteading” lifestyle—everything from our ability to scrounge and barter to our collaborative efforts last summer in Bill’s vegetable garden.

the rock Keoni painted for Elena Grace, whose favorite song is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”

The “Yellow Submarine” song, after all, isn’t about getting overwhelmed or swept away by flood. It’s about living joyfully among other people in a state of satisfaction. Small wonder if that’s been playing in my head all week.

Come to think of it, even Noah’s Ark (the original “swept away by water” story) ended with a Rainbow of Promise.