Sufficient?

What is sufficient? Enough? Neither too much nor too little?

I’ve been on another documentary binge both on Netflix and YouTube. You can see my Netflix list in a previous post.

I’ve most recently watched Four Horsemen and Minimalism (about The Minimalists) and both of these have opened my eyes to new opinions and reminded me of ideas I’ve forgotten already on this short journey.

I guess I’ve gotten too obsessed with the whole money less/moneyless, self-sufficient and greener lifestyle that I have forgotten that simple approaches often provide the simplest answers.

I cannot remember if I ever posted something I’d said to my partner when we moved house, at about the time I started this blog. I declared that I wanted all but the most useful of our stuff to be gone by the time I am 40.

Sure, I am contradicting one of my previous posts when I said that I like building a nest, a well stocked and decorated one. However, like many smart people have said and thought before me ‘your things end up owning you’!

I am happy to enjoy them a little longer, and accept that living in one place means you need more paraphernalia than say someone with a nomadic lifestyle (and one which I now miss more and more). However, we still have more than we honestly need.

Our consumer habits have certainly been buried, not just put to bed, and this is partly from our desire for spending less and being more environmentally friendly. Perhaps though it is time to look at this from a third angle. A minimalist one.

Cooking, baking and growing your own food means you need more ‘valuables’ than someone who simply buys, barters or exchanges for their food. And I accept that wholeheartedly.

The ideal is to see those chattel as the tools they are, things with functions and not bits & pieces that are mine which I must protect and guard from others, causing stress and depression for no-one but me.

Sure, these ‘goods’ may have cost us money to acquire, but once their usefulness has passed we should gift (or exchange) them to others that need and want them. We shouldn’t let them and their original cost be a burden.

I’ve increasingly had daydreams, little fantasies, about our entire apartment being swallowed whole by the earth. Perhaps my imagination was simply running a little wild, in absence of my usual weekend action and horror film marathons.

And yet, this made me think. What would I really miss? If we had to crash at a friends house and only had the clothes on our backs. Would that really be a disaster? What would I risk my life for, in a mad dash to save from a muddy doom?

Well, I came to see our possessions as belonging to one of four different types:

  • Essential
  • Inescapable
  • Escapable
  • Emotional

The Essentials would be those tools I mentioned before, that we neither love nor desire but which our lifestyle dictates we need. Sure, having less or smaller and simpler versions may be a possibility and changes in lifestyle and/or needs should mean we exchange or pass these things onto someone who still has necessity for them, rather than clinging onto them.

The Inescapables are those things we do not particularly want but that we are required to have by law or to be able to operate within society, passports and documentation. I could probably include these as tools, but they are not likely something we should give up or pass on at any future time.

The Escapables are the clobber we have simply because we like/liked them and that may not really provide any use or benefit. This wouldn’t include a collection or something that brings us genuine and long-lasting joy, or which we can build social relationships from. Rather the opposite, stuff we thought would bring us happiness or things that once did but now sit on shelves, in drawers or boxes and merely clutter our homes and lives.

Then there are the Emotionals, these sentimental assets that may very well be irreplaceable. Be them antiques, heirlooms, a necklace gifted at birth, wedding rings and so on. Arguably we shouldn’t need these, and if they are a burden of responsibility, then why not pass them onto other family members to care for?
Still, if they bring us a sense of connection and aid our memories or any positive feelings then getting rid of them can be more tricky and questionable.

My own collection of ’emotional’ belongings was substantial, until I started taking photos of such [re]movables and then let them go both physically and heartfully. Now these number less than a handful.

Funny how some of the gear I once clung to were things I thought my mother wanted me to keep, so I offered them to her. She was surprised and said that she had a small box of trinkets, of little tokens from my early years, she has her memories and her photos and that was all she wanted and needed. So, a click of the shutter and these were off to the charity shop. Liberating!

I can appreciate that the boundaries between these types of gear can be flexible and even utterly different from person to person. The problem for many, formerly including myself, is to be honest and a little ruthless.

Take clothes and shoes for example. I personally see these as merely tools, (unfortunately) with a minimum of them being requirements of society. I don’t care to have a wardrobe full of shirts and trousers. I only need a few of each, or less.

Photos, pre-digital, are even more complex. Is it OK to make digital copies and give up the originals? I am not so sure.

It’s much easier for me to take stock of all that I own since this past April, when for the first time in my life they are all in once place. I even paid to send some ‘junk’ back from my parent’s home in the UK.

Well, I will enjoy them and will slowly whittle away at them. First thing today I am going to seek out all those legal documents and sentimental items, plus the few things I believe I would need to survive – should I ever find myself facing a muddy hole where my home used to be.

I will also take stock of the accoutrements I ‘want’, and question them again.

I don’t see this as a one time action, but something that needs doing every so often. Much like spring cleaning. Removing what is no longer needed, swapping in the new, or possibly adding to the pile, and so on.

I can see how digital photos and e-readers can help achieve a seemingly minimal lifestyle, but a cluttered computer desktop has the same mental effect on me as a cluttered desk-drawer or bookshelf. Stress.

Perhaps having a larger storage space to keep that which only need be accessed on occasion, such as photos etc, would be OK. However, for day to day use I like to keep my digital space clean and small in virtual size. Perhaps something I should in future apply to my physical space.

I know what you’re all thinking. The lifestyle we are following now is hugely in contrast to this. Upcycling and gardening both call for a lot, a lot of things. Keeping the old ready to be repurposed and pots, plants, seeds, gardening tools all add to the list.

I do not regret our decision to move, to invest in pots and soil, water and the plants that bring a splash of green and colour to a once dead and dusty space. Even if we should never successfully grow more fruit or veg, I take huge joy and peace of mind from the fact that we have created a beautiful spot that has already become a home to all manner of insects and a source of food for local birds.

However, when the time comes I will happily leave this behind. I would hope that someone continues to love and nurture the plants and garden we have created. Be that here or in another space. I am confident that I would not feel chained or weighed to the spot.

If the garden I love becomes a burden, I will simply and inevitably have to let it go to a new owner. Much like our attempts to consume less, spend little, be greener and become a little more self-sufficient, minimising our possessions is very much a journey and a process that will take time.

Home from Home

So, I am off to the UK for a month.

This has put some extra strain on our dwindling funds. Needing time off and costs and cost-of-living in England being much higher. No complaints though, I am happy to spend some much need and overdue time with my folks.

My partner is in charge of watering plants, but am delaying planting new seeds until my return. I have a few things to share but keep forgetting what I have and haven’t posted.

The most exciting thing is the transformation of our barren terrace, full of cement and dust and stone, into a mini-Eden. We’ve got some flowers in to attract insects, we now have some spiders and beetles in residence and get daily visits from bees. We’ve put out bird seed and get frequent visits from a local bird similar to Blue Tits, Sparrows and a female Black Bird.

I’ve given up on home-made soap, it costs more money and time than supporting a local small business. I’d put tinfoil/card insulators behind the radiators during the early winter, before switching heating off.

What else did I need to say?

I’ve still to properly hang the bat boxes and we are now looking to make a bird bath and some bird houses. We’re willing to have more wildlife friendly plants and flowers until we become better at growing crops.

We’ve found some of the funds we needed but are still too short. Sorry to end on a negative note, but I best get back to packing.

Not wanting to end there, here’s some photos I’ve not yet shared:

The Grim & The Good

I’m about 10 minutes into Peter and the Farm, what I thought would be a nice chilled morning viewing. A rare treat for me to watch some telly. And well, I’m horrified!

If my commitment to vegetarianism was at risk of wavering, it’s now firmly glued into place…

As I’m writing this the farmer is now discussing seeds, so I’ll stick with it. Not exactly a quick end for that poor sheep. This farmer follows organic methods, but not apparently the idealised (or humane?) view of them.

Still, I’m not one to judge. I’ve been out spending money this week. My brother and sister-in-law are coming to visit and I wanted to show that we’re not turning into hippies.

My family aren’t critical or judgemental, yet I was concerned about word getting back to mum of us living in ‘poverty’. Second-hand news is the one second-hand thing I like to avoid. When she and dad come out later this year, I can show them how things really are.

I am trying to balance things a little, and not jump in the deep-end of consumerism.

I got some scented candles, vegetable based, from a local shop that has been making candles for 100 years or more. I ‘m looking to buy a sofa too, i’s one of the cheaper ones I’ve seen and fits our current views and goals perfectly.Well, excluding the 400€ price tag.

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It’s made from old mattresses. The man selling it, along with many other upcycled items, assured me it has been thoroughly steam cleaned. Something I hadn’t even thought about. The little shop has a nice collection of things; typewriter-lamps, suitcase-chairs, clock-tables and much more.

Better yet, is that the items are made by people with learning difficulties and mental disabilities. And even better is that the sale of the items will provide a salary for the workers. This is the kind of buying we should all aim for. When our money helps to empower others and with as little harm to the environment as possible.
The blogspot is fildeferro.

We’ve been buying ‘luxury’ foods too, some cheeses and wines but we’ve be sticking with the five rules I explained in The Big Update.

I’ve also sacrificed some planting space for flowers, tired of bare earth and wanting to feel inspired to get back out into the garden more. I may regret this, if diseases and bugs become a problem. For now though, they have helped keep me busy outside and still leave plenty of space for early season crop-plants.

One last plant, was a heart-shaped cactus. A little gift for my hubby as a thanks for his understanding and willingness to live the way I want. I couldn’t resist a new pot for it either, made from ceramic but designed to look like a crumpled/discarded paper cup.

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That for me has such a significant meaning, a message so powerful. We throwaway so much without care or consideration for the energy needed to make it and what will happen to it next.

 

And finally, a few pics of my new compost bin. :D

The Big Update!

It has been six months since starting this blog, and now feels like the ideal time to give you all an update and help remind myself of what we’ve already achieved and what we want to work towards in the months and years ahead.

It’s also time again to spend a little more, in hope of saving a lot later. I’m also really keen to lessen our impact on the planet some more and in the process become a smidgen more self-sufficient.

Food, Shopping & Waste .

I am working more hours than I’d like, to pay off our little loan. However, we have found ourselves with a few extra pennies each week. Rather than continue to cut our food budget to the absolute minimum, we have decided to take responsibility and have set ourselves a few guidelines for the food we will buy in future.

Our food should meet as many of the following points as possible:

  • be organic
  • be vegetarian (but we’re still eating eggs)
  • be fair-trade
  • be as locally produced as we can find
  • have minimal packaging, especially plastics

There’s one exception to buying local, as I’m not aware of any coffee plantations in Spain.

Giving up caffeine is something I’ll work towards, but not before my hours drop back down. It’s also a bit too cold for us to grow olives here, something that has become a favourite snack of ours.

Organic, fair-trade and local produce tend to be a little pricier than normal products found in supermarkets, but we’ll also be supporting local businesses, small shops, and also local producers when buying fresh stuff in the bi-weekly farmer’s market. Which seems like a good compromise.

We’ve already come to accept that going totally moneyless is not a reality for us, not just yet. We will of course continue to reduce our need for money as much as we can.

And of course, we’re hopeful that the majority of our vegetables and some of our fruit will be home-grown… eventually.

Also, we hope to reduce our weekly waste. Something that has already happened without much thought. 80-90% of our weekly rubbish is recyclable and another 5-10% is organic.

After last summer’s worm massacre, we’ve yet to set up a real composting system. This is something else we will address. Having today spent some money on a decent compost bin, both one for the kitchen and one for the terrace.

I’m hoping to get all those rubbish numbers as close to 0% as I can. Composting kitchen waste and using reusable bags not just for carrying our groceries but for rice, oats and anything else I can find bought from larger sacks. Thankfully most of the organic shops have options for buying these plus nuts, quinoa, couscous and more in this manner.

So, we’ll try to make some sacks of our own to avoid using the plastic (supposedly biodegradable) from the shops loose produce section. We’ve also paid a bit more than usual for truly biodegradable bin bags, made from corn starch[!?] or something similar.

We’ve not gone fully vegan, but are still largely vegetarian. We eat eggs and have the odd treat of some cheese. Once in a while we still eat some chicken too.
(More about chickens/eggs in the garden section.)

I’m currently looking into healthier options for our cat, the food we buy her now is expensive and processed. I have found a supplement that can be added to meat. Sure, we’ll still be supporting the meat industry and all the problems that brings, but my cat is a part of the family and deserves a healthy diet.

Keeping Warm.

We’ve given up on the olive oil lamps, not great light sources and yet amazing little heaters. I’ll try to find some way to use the parts and might come back to them next winter. The heating is now off and will stay that way indefinitely.

We’re also using our current small increase in financial stability to invest in beeswax tea lights. I hadn’t really thought about the ones we were using before, it was only when the last batch we bought produced a very nasty smell that we decided (much like our food) to go as natural/organic as possible.

I’ve found some that are sold with the option of not having the aluminium cups/containers. I have actually been keeping all of the ones we’ve used with the idea of an art project or upcycling of some sort in future. So, I can reuse them again for now with the new candles. I should do the same with our other light-candles, but we will use what we have first.

Power.

We found out where our power comes from, a nice move on our power company. Utter transparency and honesty, but not such a pleasant surprise. The breakdown was more or less:

    • 20% renewable (a good start)
    • 25% coal (the horror!!!!)
    • 25% nuclear (oh dear!!)

I still need to translate the remaining 30% which came from several different sources.

Well, finding alternatives to both save money and not use this wicked electricity has become an even bigger issue for me.

Thankfully we have unplugged the fridge-freezer and the only major energy we use is my computer for work. Having eventually failed at trying a tablet and a low-energy computer like the Raspberry Pi.

The other three big items is the washing machine, and my husband’s Xbox and TV. He is very much willing to take on this lifestyle change with the exception of one of his favourite games. I’ve asked him to play less, but have promised not to ask him to stop altogether.

Let’s see how it goes, sometimes he says he wants a new electric razor and this and that. Maybe it’s old habits or maybe he’s just thinking out loud and not entirely serious about getting these things.

Currently we are generating our own power from the wood burning oven and kettle that both use heat to make power, plus the old small solar panels and a some wind-up torches.

In the future I’d really like a small wind turbine, rather than a questionable (environmentally-friendly speaking) solar panel and perhaps more human-powered options.

I’ve decided to donate my Kindle to my father, once I’ve read all the books, as I know he is interested in getting one. I’ll ask that he sells/hands it on in future and so my concerns over its sustainability should have been solved.

Cleanliness.

I have been using soaps and shampoos again, and I did need a shave last month.

I had a Xmas treat of a haircut too. I kept the top long, and just had the sides shaved. So, I can still see exactly how much my hair has grown.

I am not changing my mind about not shaving or cutting my hair, this was simply an end of year treat.

I am reading about making my own soap/shampoo and won’t buy new products. I need to be ready with my own by the time our supply runs out, or go a few weeks again without any.

I am still peeing in the bidet to save water, but once our compost bin is established I’ll be peeing there. I’m sure the neighbours will be giving me some funny looks, but I need to set up a screen for me to also have showers outdoors come summer.

It’s entirely possible for this screen to evolve into an outdoor shower and compost toilet cabin. I have been doing my research into compost toilets. And am wondering why these aren’t mandatory in all new buildings?! Well, it’s at the top of my wish-list but being one of the more pricey items, will not necessarily happen this year.

What about the garden?

I spent the princely sum of €0.80 to buy some garlic, lettuce, cabbage and a little more on a new apple tree, raspberry bush and I forget one more. We’ve planted seeds for some insect friendly flowers, more peas (our current ones were badly damaged in gales), cornflower, borage and chard.

I’m finally getting organized and have began making monthly planting schedules that I can refer to again year after year.

I also harvested some onions, but have replanted them to produce more. I was very excited to see five little onions had grown from the one I planted last year. Never have I smelt fresh onion before, wow!

We need to get more soil but have plenty of wood chippings left, and we’re avoiding spending money on more pots by upcycling anything and everything that has no other value or use. As part of our cutting down on rubbish, we now only have one bin, our old coffee maker, which no-one wants to buy, joins an old kettle, old cat litter box, mugs, vases, packets and more.

Having bees is a long way-a-way, given finding them locally has proven a headache. My source of worms has also disappeared, meaning I can’t get some once our compost bin has been established. :-(

And chickens? Given we still eat meat, and that I have found much cheaper starting options than I originally posted? Yes, they are back on the radar – but with no clear date in mind for when we’ll get them. I can always feed the kitchen scraps too, but will there be enough for feed and compost?

What else is new/old?

We’ve still got plenty of old pallets and wood to make more things but have no real need for anything just yet. Maybe our outdoor bathroom/screen or some pot containers. I guess there’s no rush to decide.

Sadly, I am still waiting for my Altered Nozzle, the sooner we get this and save some water the better.

We’re ready to sell on more items such as books and other odds, but having got sick of boxes, we recycled or upcycled them and will now just have to accept less for items than we had once hoped.

I’ve been checking through my social media and have lost access to my Tumblr, but I’m not currently too bothered by this. If you’re messaging me there, I won’t get it.

The future?

Let’s just see what happens with Instagram, vlogging and other social media, but for sure I am excited to continue writing here.

As I said, chickens sometime this year and hopefully bees who knows when.

Willow coppice for firewood is also on my list, but this may not be a reality until we have our own land… along with the wind turbine.

I plan on getting/making a camping shower for free hot water this summer, but in the meantime we will need the boiler and gas for short hot showers.

Other things for the longer future that require we own our home, need more land or basically money are a plant-based grey-water filtration system and that compost toilet.

I don’t expect many people dream and wish for a compost toilet, but I’m one of them now.

And of course, more crop plants.

 

Phew. I think I’ve said enough. Thanks for reading this mammoth post. I’m so excited for the year ahead, and hope you continue to follow us on this journey.

A few pics…

A few pics of the furniture we (mostly my husband) made from a selection of wood, pallets and old furniture parts that people were literally about the throw in the bin when we stopped them and asked for it… who doesn’t love free furniture?

Wait, reset.

I feel that I’ve already gotten off topic on a few of my posts here, sure I wanna be self-sufficient and sustainable for the good of the planet. I have always been an environmentalist to some degree, even during my less green and more wasteful moments.

The reason I haven’t dedicated this blog purely to green issues is that it depresses me. I see waste and destruction everywhere, always have done. That’s why I studied Environmental Science and that’s why my family told me I think too much.

Perhaps they are right, and rather than get depressed about it I need to not over think things and simply act on them. I will try.

Focusing on my health, happiness and living within my means, on a much reduced salary (partly by choice), is the best way that I can help the planet.

I have fallen back into some old habits in such a short time and need to remind myself of why I started this blog, money and my hatred for it. Perhaps it is naive or immature to only blame money for creating the environmental destruction we see today. But you have to admit money creates the perfect conditions for the social and environmental apathy that riddles our societies today. Well, not counting those who do more harm by trying to do good. Yes, you. You social media junkies.

I wanted to support alternative companies and convinced myself that a Fairphone and some GoTennas were acceptable purchases, one is sustainable and socially responsible and the other allows me to save money and make use of the first.

No, no, no. Damn! We are all so brainwashed to buy, spend, dispose and buy again. It is crazy. I do not need nor want a smartphone (no matter how like-minded the manufacturer and I are). Neither do I want or need to use social media. Where better to share my photos and ideas than right here.

It was my patient partner who made me realise that I’d fallen into the trap of commercialism when he made our new dinning table, from pieces recused from being dumped. One main piece was a beautiful antique but very weather-beaten set of legs, the others were a mix of pallets, wood and chipboard used to transport fittings for a new shop.

There’s that waste issue again, so much wood wasted after one use. Need to shake of the sadness and anger. The positive, an entirely free and repurposed dinning table for us. :-)

So as before, I have cancelled my funding for GoTenna on Kickstarter and my order for a Fairphone 2. It’s a little late to return the fancy cooker that generates power (a BioLite BaseCamp), but this is something that I need, use and can just about justify. Good luck to those who need fancy devices, there are some great companies out there producing products that are better for the environment and good for people wanting to be more self-sufficient/to go off-grid. But let’s face it, everything we make is bad for the planet no matter how green it is. I, however, am happy with my modest dumb Doro phone.