DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS
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31 October 2010

Sustainable living - the new normal

Almost all through history, each generation has benefited from the one that has gone before it. What was left behind was built upon by the new generation and in doing that, improvement was constant. But it looks like that will stop, that our grandchildren will be paying for our excesses and that they will inherit a world quite different to that we grew up in. There is a call now for all of us to consciously strive towards a more sustainable future and there is much more emphasis now on green technology, conservation and environmental management. But unless all of us work towards a sustainable future, and change our mindset to be conservers instead of consumers, progress will be slow.


Switching to a more simple way of life will naturally incorporate sustainability. Living simply will make you greener, more frugal, sustainable and healthier if you let it. And if you reap the benefits of frugality and pay off your debts, the banks will have to pass back the keys to your life and you'll be in the driver's seat.

If we all become more sustainable - in every aspect of our lives, we will help lessen the burden our grandchildren will inherit. Sustainable living shouldn't be that difficult, it's many small steps, new ways of understanding and behaving, and supporting our family and friends in their own efforts towards what I hope will become the new normal. Over the next week or two, I thought it would be helpful to go through the home, room by room, and list what has become commonplace as well as what we'd like to incorporate. Please add your own lists to the comments. I think it will be extremely interesting to see just what has already happened, and what is planned in the near future. Reading the lists may also give all of us ideas for what is possible.

Let's start outside first - that place of production and growth - the backyard, or farmland, or balcony, or front steps. Whatever it is you call your outside area, let us know what you've changed there to be more sustainable.

This is us:
When we first moved here 13 years ago, we:
  • Installed a water tank.
  • Installed solar hot water.
  • Put in a vegetable garden.
  • Planted fruit trees.
  • Made a compost bay.
  • Bought our newest flock of chickens - five little beauties.
In the following years we:
  • Built a worm farm.
  • Use only organic methods.
  • Made our own fertilisers.
  • Bought more chickens and made sure they were heritage breeds.
  • Grew feed for the chickens.
  • Grew heirloom, open pollinated seeds and saved seed for the following crops.
  • Built shade tunnels for summer growing.
  • Put up fences - not only on the boundary line but also in the backyard around the garden and to enclose the area close to the backdoor to keep the chickens away.
  • Continued our vegetable garden almost all year through every year. We improved our soil from the original clay to the dark rich soil we now enjoy. That garden gave us organic vegetables when we rarely would have been able to buy them.
  • Built, and then sold, an aquaponics system that grew fish and vegetables in the same system.
  • Installed another, larger, water tank giving us the capacity to store 15,000 litres of rainwater. We cut our water consumption in half, then in half again.
  • Learned to recognised the birds that visit our garden.
  • Recorded rainfall.
  • Put out birdbaths full of fresh water for the visiting birds.
All these actions required hard work and a commitment to sustainability - we wanted to live out our lives here in the way we started out. We still do! But there is still important work to be done here, this is ongoing, this is our new normal. In the near future, we want to install solar panels on the roof to reduce our use of grid electricity and we want to continue growing our own food for all long as we can.

And that is where I believe the important part of sustainability comes in for all of us. This is not an exercise on self congratulations. We don't sit back satisfied with what we've already done, we keep working towards new and better ways, we keep improving what we do, we keep doing it ourselves as well as encouraging others; we do as much as we can for as long as we can. And yes that is a lot of hard work at times but doing nothing is no longer a viable alternative.

What have you been working on?

31 comments:

  1. That's a lot of effort and hard work you have put into your outdoor area. However, I think the results are worth the effort!!! I'm looking forward to what you have to say about the indoor rooms of the home :) :) Have a lovely week. Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

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  2. Having just moved out to Roma it was a culture shock that out here has no fruit and vegie shop only a woolworths making it very expensive to buy not to mention half the range of different vegies. So i am setting out to grow my own from seed. So far I have cherry tomatos, basil, and chillies sprouting and I cant wait to grow everything and eat it too.

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  3. An inspiring post , Rhonda. I think that for people that are beginning to live this sort of lifestyle it is really important to know that we have done things just a bit at a time. Reading your list has given me new ideas for the garden and new things to attempt when I thought I had tried out everything.
    I made soap for the first time yesterday, I did not ever think I would be able to do something like this. But there is a kind of strength that comes from doing things like this in order to live a more sustainable life...it is all about trying new things, and going wherever this wonderful life takes you!
    I keep going into the pantry and marvelling at these little bars of soap that I made all by myself -that's the feeling that I get from sustainability , a feeling of strength,and wonder. The funny thing is , you never get used to those feelings, it always feels this good!
    thegirlwithgreenthumbs.blogspot.com

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  4. i think local councils shouldnt allow such small sections as are being built on nowdays. bigger homes and smaller gardens, thats something that will be regretted in years to come (my opinion)
    ive got very little space to work with, but my front step has pots with tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, beans, lettuces. id love to have more. next on the hit list is the area vacated by recently gone flatting sons car, that space is going to have 3 raised beds of about 1m x 2.5m which eventually will have a tunnel house constructed over one or two to extend the growing season. hubby needs a job first before we can do that.

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  5. This kind of adaptation is really my ideal now, and it's hard to remember sometimes that these things can take time and tend to be a process.

    I don't have a whole lot to work with here - a heavily shaded apartment patio and a few square metres of scrubby yard that I'm not allowed to rip up (not that I'd want to, given how lax my neighbours are with their pets - ick). That said, this year I've grown heirloom tomatoes, dill, basil, and parsley in pots out there, and I'm hoping to expand next year with extra plants and a worm composter. Actually, I'd love chickens, but those aren't yet legal within city limits here, so they will have to happen in another time or another place.

    There's also some hope for moving soon and if that winds up being the case, focusing on outdoor space will be a priority. I'm willing to take a bit less home for a bit more garden, I think, especially if there's a plot of land that I could grow on involved.

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  6. I think one of the most important things we can do in our gardens today is to garden with as few chemicals as possible, and garden to support our local eco system, not only by growing fruit and veg but by growing flowers to support the local birds and insectlife but also the bees, that need our help more than ever at the moment :)

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  7. Good morning Rhonda,
    We do most of the things that you are doing. We also will be installing solar screens in the new year. Nature gives us so much if we are willing to put in a little effort. I still marvel each time I stand under the shower and get free hot water from the panels on our roof, just because the sun is shining. Like Kimmy I am about to make my first batch of soap and I am so excited about that. We are learning to eat just what we can produce ourselves so I am constantly looking for new ways to present our seasonal produce. I'll also look forward to seeing what is written about the inside of the home. Isn't it good to know that whatever age we are we can still keep learning.
    Blessings Gail

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  8. Great concept Rhonda- I think it's really important to take stock like you have. We were lucky in that we've started with a blank canvas- the house that was originally here was 'recycled' to my family's farm and added to the house there to make it more intergenerational friendly- that's a book in itself! We built a house with the second highest energy rating possible, and have never used chemicals in the outdoor space; instead improved the soil organically and relied heavily on compost and mulch from an organic supplier nearby. Looking forward to watching you move through all of your living spaces and take stock.

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  9. This is my first visit to your blog and it looks like I could really learn a lot here! I am wanting to simplify my life but also have pretty significant health challenges that would make certain tasks very difficult. I would love to learn how to live more frugally and simply with the small amount of energy that I have:) I will be back!

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  10. We have a tiny backyard as we only live on a 380 sq m block. We have put all the back into raised vegetable beds, planted a grape vine, orange and mandarin bushes. We have put 1.5 kwh of solar panels on our roof which gives up about half our power needs on a high consumption day or all the power on a low consumption day.

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  11. I just wanted to say how much I love your post. You are truly an inspiration to the rest of us!

    Oddly enough your post fits well with one I just wrote. Feel free to take a look if you'd like.

    http://lifeandloveinthecountry.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-american-dream.html

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  12. Hi, I'm new to your blog and am so glad to have found you. I grew up on a farm in W.A. and have grown up with parents who grew things, made things, mended things and made do.

    Where I now live we have 1/4 of land but unfortunately we have minimal sun which makes vegetable growing possible only for a short time in summer. We have had chooks for a couple years, I've been improving the soil for about 10 years, and we now have substantial rainwater tanks.
    Most of my clothing is bought at op. shops and I made my own bread, yogurt and do most of my own baking and cooking. I also make my own washing powder and some of my cleaning products. If I was working outside the home I wouldn't have the time for all these things so I'm very grateful that I can.
    Have a wonderful week.
    Anne

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  13. Hi! I've just started reading your blog and I couldn't agree more with the spirit of this article. Living sustainably is action not a destination. I'm so impressed by some of the ambitious projects that you and your husband have completed. Inspiring. But at whatever level we are at, we are all still making it happen and improving everyday.
    Thanks for this.

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  14. Within the last two years I've had two raised garden beds built. I have extensive arthritis so I do not bend over to the ground well. The beds are high enough that I don't have to bend much. I live in a dry area, thus we irrigate everything. I have drip systems for the gardens to save water. This year we've added some hens and 3 goats to the farm. I love having my own eggs.

    I have made both laundry soap and bath bar soap. I am learning how to sew more and plan to make my own new curtains soon.

    I love your blog and look forward to the upcoming indoor room challenges to improve my home.

    Blessings!
    CottonLady

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  15. We put in a small vege patch soon after moving in. We've recently got chooks, which are brilliant, and we've also begun improving the state of the non-productive garden with mainly drought tolerant natives. We don't own our place so we're limited in many things I'd like to do, but they replaced the ceiling insulation in the main part of the house last year, and I'm still working on getting a rainwater tank and a low water usage toilet! One step at a time :-)

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  16. I am finding your blog very inspiring Rhonda. It is good to reflect on what we have achieved and that can inspire us to do more. We have a small suburban block in a beachside suburb and in the 9 years we have been here we have had to learn how to cope with the harsh summer conditions in the garden. We have planted fruit trees (14) have chooks, a veggie patch, 10,000lt rainwater (full!!) I hope we are started to develop a microclimate in the backyard that will make summer veggie gardening easier. I am waiting for the children to grow up a bit more and I will cover our small bit of lawn with more veggie beds..... We have a native front garden that does not need watering and attracts birds and we are about to get solar panels. I do dream about having more land in a less urban area but the reality is that I am here and need to make the best of what I have. I have bought the ingredients to venture into soap making but need to find some time to do it! Hearing you on the radio recently and then looking at your blog is making me think hard about the business of my life and the need to slow down, live more sustainably and consciouly and spend more time at home.

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  17. I have to disagree with your statement that our children today will only have the burden and not the benefit of advances we make today and in the last few decades. Yes, we need to back off of our excesses, but there have been great advances even related to homemaking that will benefit future generations.

    That said, we do have a lot that need to get done.

    My husband and I just moved into a new house with a yard a couple months ago. We've started composting, and will be getting our free shade tree from the utility company this week. I have two barrels to turn into rain barrels still. I need to plan out the landscaping to have xeriscape, shade, herbs, vegetables, clothes line, and a child play area.

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  18. We moved to our country town in Victoria 2 years ago.
    The first thing we did is create a vegie patch/rose garden - no reason why it can't look pretty, right?
    It's been so wonderful to learn about growing vegies.
    http://poofanditsgone.blogspot.com/search/label/vegie%20patch

    Now we are in the middle of creating our orchard - we have 13 trees now!
    http://poofanditsgone.blogspot.com/search/label/orchard

    Next project - compost bins and worm farm.
    Very exciting!

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  19. Rhonda, it is so nice to see the list of things you accomplished over the last 13 yrs. We are 3 years in and our focus has been establishing our vegetable gardens. We have our house in the middle of our plot and the back half is paved with a pool. The front part is where we have established 3 gardens with a 4th under construction. It's hard work but so rewarding.

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  20. Hi Rhonda

    I try and use what this planet freely gives us wherever possible.

    Providing organic vegetables for my family is foremost. Then I know they are chemical free and there is no ecofootprint in their production as I try and save seeds from the previous years plants to use the following year. That, together with mulching and early morning watering in order to reduce the amount of water wastage / evaporation. Finally, I use a 30% shade cloth to further reduce evapouration.

    I have also made the decision not to plant any flowers for flowers sake alone - there are plenty of flowers which are edible and provide colour and thus have a dual use.

    Also, I use my hot box or haybox in winter and my solar cooker in summer whenever possible. The meals on can get from a solar cooker are brilliant - far tastier, and all the goodness is retained, as opposed to evapourating away with the steam.

    We have set our geyser to 50oC - so it's not so hot in winter, but that encourages us not to linger - afterall a shower is there to clean one, not to linger longer in. Wish we could afford a solar geyser, but perhaps that will come.

    I can't remember when I last used the tumble dryer - and my freezer was switched off at the end of last summer. As for ironing, only my husbands shirts get that treatment - sheets and pillowcases are vigorously shaken straight before hanging on the line - then folded tightly when they're dry - iron sheets only last the first night - the 2nd morning they are creased anyway.

    Through careful monitoring of our electricity consumption my monthly bill is 50% what it was in 2007

    All my kitchen waste goes to my compost heap, and recycling into the recycling bag. I throw in the dustbin approximately 1 shopping bags worth of refuse weekly. Preiously our bin use to overflow on the kerbside.

    A few of the items which are on my list are :

    using only CFLS

    recycling - not only in the waste from my kitchen, but also on either gumtree or freecycle if I have anything that I no longer require

    carefully using my water, and storing that which comes from the heavens

    I sweep the floor often - that prevents carpets from gathering mess.

    For more steps which we are taking / have taken, please go to http://ecofootprintsa.blogspot.com/p/trying-to-make-difference-start-of-our.html

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  21. Hi Rhonda

    I try and carefully use what this planet freely gives us wherever possible.

    Providing organic vegetables for my family is foremost. Then I know what we are eating is chemical free and there is no ecofootprint in their production, as I try and save seeds from the previous years plants to use the following year. That, together with mulching and early morning watering in order to reduce the amount of water wastage / evaporation. Finally, I use a 30% shade cloth to further reduce evapouration.

    I have also made the decision not to plant any flowers for flowers sake alone - there are plenty of flowers which are edible and provide colour and thus have a dual use.

    Also, I use my hot box or haybox in winter and my solar cooker in summer whenever possible. The meals on can get from a solar cooker are brilliant - far tastier, and all the goodness is retained, as opposed to evapourating away with the steam.

    We have set our geyser to 50oC - so it's not so hot in winter, but that encourages us not to linger - afterall a shower is there to clean one, not to linger longer in. Wish we could afford a solar geyser, but perhaps that will come.

    I can't remember when I last used the tumble dryer - and my freezer was switched off at the end of last summer. As for ironing, only my husbands shirts get that treatment - sheets and pillowcases are vigorously shaken straight before hanging on the line - then folded tightly when they're dry - iron sheets only last the first night - the 2nd morning they are creased anyway.

    Through careful monitoring of our electricity consumption my monthly bill is 50% what it was in 2007

    All my kitchen waste goes to my compost heap, and recycling into the recycling bag. I throw in the dustbin approximately 1 shopping bags worth of refuse weekly. Preiously our bin use to overflow on the kerbside.

    A few of the items which are on my list are :

    using only CFLS - and having at least one nights light a week provided by candles;

    recycling - not only in the waste from my kitchen, but also on either Gumtree or Freecycle if I have anything that I no longer require;

    carefully using my water, and storing that which comes from the heavens;

    I sweep the floor often - that prevents carpets from gathering mess.

    For more steps which we are taking / have taken, please go to http://ecofootprintsa.blogspot.com/p/trying-to-make-difference-start-of-our.html

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  22. My fiance and I have lived in our house for a little over a year now. It's a townhouse with about 1/10 of an acre, and a steep incline. But last year, we built a raised bed and grew peas, snap peas, zucchini, squash, corn, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. It was our first year gardening, so next year will be much more productive. We have a compost pile into which all of our vegetable matter goes. That means that the only things that go into the trash can (because we recycle) are styrofoam (rare), meat, and cat litter. One day, we might even be able to find a way to compost the litter and meat. We know we won't be here forever, so we won't put on solar panels, but we're looking into rain barrels to water our raised beds. In the future, I hope to imitate my grandmother and uncle, who lived off the grid in northern Arizona for 20 years. Thank you for your awesome posts. I always look forward to reading them.

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  23. I think I had high hopes to make major changes when I quit my job a year ago. It's been frustrating as I think I want things to change too quickly. Thanks for the reminder that this is a process. I need to take time to learn and realize the awareness of this process. These changes are not instant gratification but this process will make our retirement for my husband attainable.
    <3 Debbie
    Central Illinois

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  24. Wow, such large accomplishments are on your list! It actually looks much like my to-do list for our little homestead here.
    I've been enjoying your posts on organizing- it is so helpful and it keeps me motivated. This year we grew a large vegetable garden with your basic vegetables, and a couple weeks ago we expanded it. I'm looking into edible landscaping- using fruits, edible flowers, and veggies in our flower beds in a creative way. Looking forward to your next post!
    The Girl in the Pink Dress

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  25. We moved into our house 4 years ago and so far we built 7 vegetable beds, 2 berry beds and planted 3 apple trees. We bought and set up a worm farm and 2 compost bins. I only use organic fertilizers and pest control. Chickens are still something I'd like to keep one day, but that will have to wait until we no longer have dogs. We also built a small pond and always have water in several bird bath all over the garden. There is still a lot we'd like to do, but we only do them as money allows.

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  26. Wonderful work!! Your post inspired me... but I´m living in a big city (Buenos Aires-Argentina.
    Neverthless Ihave a small yard and I have some herbs in pots. I bake my own bread and I´m trying, little by little to live this sort of lifestyle, and your blog is encouraging.
    In the future (when the kids grow up and go on with their lives, I´ld love to live out of the city limits and have a real garden, chickens etc.
    But here in Argentina although there is a lot of land, it´s very expensive and it´s dificult to buy.
    Thanks for being an inspiration, and sorry for my English!!!!

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  27. Over the years I have worked towards creating a wildlife friendly garden. No chemicals are used and I try to utilise all the natural resources I have in the garden to improve the quality of the soil. I have a greenhouse and various vegetable plots. I am planning on increasing the area given over to vegetable growing next year and can see this being the trend in my garden over the next few years.
    I also dry my washing outside whenever possible, other wise it's dried inside on airers and the tumble drier only gets used as a last resort.
    My son is hoping to buy a new property with his girlfriend in the near future. His priority is to have a large garden so that he can realise his dream to grow organic vegetables and keep chickens. I am looking forward to helping and encouraging them both in their efforts.

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  28. that's inspiring, rhonda. we've been in our london flat for two years. i pulled up a heavy brick path to put in a winding pebble one that allowed for bigger beds, freecycled the stones and used them as a foundation to keep the shed going a few more years. we moved the shed to fit in a compost which we shared with neighbours, enriched our soil naturally. we put in a clothesline, grew more and more food, added two rainbarrels, and put in a simple drip irrigation for hot summers from the barrels and tap. it has been such a pleasure. now that we're moving on i'm taking some plants with me, my clothesline, and i look forward to using a greenhouse and a big pantry to stockpile in! exciting! x

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  29. Here! Here! Another great post, Rhonda. We have just finished our collard and cabbage garden for winter. We transplanted dozens of strawberry plants and have more to go. I'll be sharing some with our yard boy (neighbor kid needing attention), too. Have in onions, green beans and Japanese eggplant. Need to week and mulch the flower gardens.

    waxlers.blogspot.com is my blog of our little piece of heaven on earth, if you'd like to peek. I try to get yard stuff out there as often as possible.

    Have a great day!

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  30. Ah Rhonda, whenever I feel like it's too much, I turn to your blog to be reminded that inspiration is born of perspiration.

    I've: cut down the pine trees, put up a fence, planted flowers, planted native trees, put in 3 different vege gardens, have had things fail and others thrive, removed all garden beds from around the house walls, had the house treated for termites, put in whirly birds, a shade pergola and even more productive gardens (thinking for 4 years in the future).

    And now, I'm continuing to save for the things I need to become more sustainable, never to borrow for my sustainable lifestyle.

    Thanks for quietening my spirit this evening.

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  31. Since moving to the country 3 years ago we have learned lots of new skills. Canning, gardening, pruning, composting, we have chickens, fruit trees, berry bushes, rain barrels. I learned how to bake bread and make my own laundry soap. I hang laundry out to dry (sometimes)and try to cut back on electicity use. We keep the heat low in the winter and try to be frugal as much as possible. The biggest thing we are still learning is how to slow down. I have seen the changes slowly, but when my friends visit they can't believe that I have changed so much. I think it is funny.

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