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.

Tick, tock

I feel like bit of a yo-yo, determined that I don’t need or want a smartphone and any gadgets, gizmos or devices that consume more than is necessary.

Then I swing, like pendulum?, back to thinking maybe a smartphone and some devices that allow me to communicate for free isn’t such a bad idea. When I do the maths, if I had no mobile contract then I would make my money back in a little over a year!

Not bad, given the mobile I am looking at is designed to be repaired and live 5+ years. As for the portable-personal antennas, well I’d hope they could last just as long with proper care.

If I am going to spend my days wandering, foraging and losing myself in the forests and mountains, then there is a lot to be gained from an emergency communications system too. I can already negate the need to charge these, having sorted my renewable/free supply of power for a handful of things.

A ‘less-money’ lifestyle is very much a balancing act, sometimes spending in order to save. Ideally a little investment for a big return.

I wish these companies would make a repairable dumb phone which worked with your own antenna network, that would be ideal. So many of these new ideas for socially, environmentally and sustainable technologies all have one too many gimmicks, an app for your smartphone. Common, society needs to sort itself out. People need to divorce their mobiles and re-engage with reality.

At the moment I no longer have many electronics, less than I started with and the list is steadily growing short. The number of devices I use daily has dropped dramatically.

I use my camera when the mood to snap photos hits me, this was my partner’s camera so I feel that I should get brownie points for having a secondhand one. I only have my dumb phone now, having sold my tablet and smartphone, which I use a lot for work. And I have my computer (laptop) which I use for work, watching videos, reading the news and blogging. Then of course there’s the washing machine, fridge-freezer and occasionally the electric hob. Oh yeah and my eReader, I’d read about the environmental benefits of these once before. Given that any books I want will need to be shipped to me, often from the UK, I am very confident that once I’ve finished all 48 books, previously bought, then the carbon footprint has been balanced out. That said, I would in future prefer to buy secondhand books. Can anybody recommend a cheap-yet-green courier?

Having previously used a smart weighing scales, pedometer, fitness tracker, smartwatch, smartphone, tablet, laptop, printer, wireless mouse & keyboard, smart lights, TV, games consoles (one portable and two regular), VR headset, internet radio, action camera, coffee machine (2), kettle, oven, microwave*, hairdryer and a landline handset. Phew! What a list.

Don’t worry, these have or will all be sold, donated or recycled. Hence another swing to this indecisive pendulum, I do not want to increase my impact on the environment anymore, especially in terms of e-waste.

It’s not too late to pledge again on Kickstarter, but the clock is ticking. What to do!?!

 

*We haven’t bought one since moving house, I am yet to do some research and find out if it is a good/cheaper/greener option than the oven and hob. Although not as good as the wood stove, but sometimes starting a fire to heat milk is such a pain in the ass.

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.

Small Smelly Victories

The small victories need to be celebrated. Having become more aware of how much water we are using I switched from a hose, with its endless stream of water, to a watering can.

I counted the number of times I filled it and took note of the amount of water that flowed away down the drains. 12+ was my count.

Since then I have cut down to 7.5 fills of the four litre watering can. There’s still some puddles on the tiles but nothing like before. Sure the sudden drop in temperature and cloudy days could explain the need for less water, but I am happy to know that less is being wasted.

Never in my life have I wished for rain so much, a day with zero litres from my own tap is the best!

I am already working on cutting that number down on rainless days too. Following the Moneyless Man’s advice on cosmetics, I gave up using any products during my daily shower. With the idea of then using the same water to help thirsty plants.

The temperature was a sweaty 30 degrees when I started, but the cooler temperatures have settled in now. It’s been almost two weeks and I must say, I am happy.

I have no idea how my hair smells, but it looks and feels amazing. The only odor I am fighting (with regular washes) is my armpits. Maybe I do have a natural smell about me, but my partner hasn’t complained.

My skin is better and the blackheads are finally in retreat after half a lifetime of chemical warfare. I do give my nose an extra scrub with a hard sponge to help, but no soaps or scrubs.

Looking to the months ahead, I wonder if perhaps a change in my diet would help with the stinky pits, but at least the rest of me isn’t stinky …not even my privates!

I’m still using soap and/or hand sanitizer for washing my hands, I don’t think that’s something I could give up. And alternatives to toothpaste is something that’ll have to wait.

It is still sandal season, so fighting off potential cheesy feet could well be the next challenge.

What else has changed? My partner has started lighting candles and not switching on lights without me having to ask. :-)

We are eating less crap and cooking more, and we’re losing weight as a result. We both have more energy and are going for regular short walks. We are both sleeping better too.

I am reading a lot, lot more. I am stocked up on unread books so unplugging the TV was the best decision. I still haven’t sold off my smartphone or tablet, too nervous to let them go just yet.

Still I am preparing for their departure, especially after finding a new mobile tariff that includes a few free SMS and unlimited phone calls. This is less than a third of my current plan, includes a free dumb phone and means I do not get distracted by social media, emails or chats all the time as it has zero data.

The weird thing was that it included a mobile number and a wireless “landline” number but these are locked to the somewhat dumb-dumb phone. I guess it was designed for technophobes or older people with poor eyesight. It’s no fashion setter but it’ll function for what I need. I rarely message my partner, as we often see each other during lunch breaks. I prefer to meet friends rather than use an app to talk and I can still Skype family and send emails when on my computer.

So yeah, I really need the call time for work and for the odd personal call but that’s all. This isn’t something that happened quickly or easily as I started cutting back on my apps and internet usage about a year ago. Still, everyone is used to the idea now so this shouldn’t be a big adjustment.

I am getting off topic now. In fact it’s time to go collect some firewood, I’ll explain that next time.

To grow, or no?

It’s funny how people can come to very different conclusions about the same ideas.

I was watching a show on telly this past Sunday, Extreme Cheap Skates. A somewhat offensive title, if you ask me. Anyway, in the show this guy shaves his head to avoid paying for shampoo and conditioner, like totally skin bald.

I had come to the exact opposite conclusion, tired of shaving my hair short (something I started while living and working in the tropics) and paying for haircuts, then razors and now for the need to charge my clippers. I am pretty sure I can get away with buying some cheap shampoo or shower gel and kill two birds with one penny. I’ve also given up shaving my face for the same reasons.

The interesting thing with trying to live on a very limited budget is perceived value.

In Mark B’s book, The Moneyless Man, he talks about pens and how at 25p even someone considered living a life of poverty could probably stretch to that expense. Whereas having committed himself to spending exactly zero for a year, well that’s about 0.25GBP too much.

He then goes on to explain that what costs the average person a couple of minutes equivalent of their salary, he would need to dedicate an entire day to fabricating and harvesting his own.

So, for me not to have to spend so much time and use electricity is of greater value and importance than paying a few euros a month for a bottle of shower gel. I shall go on with my hobo look and grow my hair and beard as a symbol and reminder of what I am doing. No more spending!