City to Country, Minimalism

The short-term garden: love it and leave it

In North America, and many other countries, the culture of capitalism steers our view towards personal benefit while blocking out the wider picture of how we fit into the wider community and world.  We evaluate what we invest our time, money, energy or other resources using a lens of personal gain.  It’s not that we never do anything selflessly for one another; however, we can often even in the kindest gesture identify a root of self-serving benefit.  Do we drop off that meal to a struggling friend simply to be helpful, or are we just a little bit feeding our ego when they are grateful for our efforts?  For several years I have been exploring my own web of currencies and how I come to decisions on where I invest myself.  Trying to consciously acknowledge when I am only looking at an investment for my own gain (and yes it IS okay to have a positive yield for yourself!) while avoiding doing something where the benefit might be greater for another- be that human, planet, animal or community.

And here is where my garden comes into the picture.  I have a “nice” garden.  It has well ordered plants, requires little maintenance, gets lots of water from rainfall, and is partially to full shade.  The downside is that I have limited growing space, there is a lot of shade, and the only yield is a few raspberries.

This is how I’ve viewed my garden for much of the past 12 years I’ve lived here.  Why put in more effort if I’m not going to succeed in getting what I want from it?  And then I started exploring permaculture and it has taught me the following: if I change my mindset about who the yields benefit it will also benefit me, just maybe not in the way I expect.  So if I put in the effort to heal and nurture my space the benefit will be that I am caring for the earth that supports my family, support pollinators that are the foundation of food production, create animal habitat, and the list continues.  Maybe the food/medicine/materials yield for myself will never be the level I dream of but that doesn’t need to be my only goal or reason for investing my time, money, and energy.

When I think about changing my garden space, I encounter a lot of “problems”.  “Problems” that make me throw up my hands and say, if I’m not going to get X, then I’ll do nothing at all!  Why the quotes?  Let’s look at the issues and I think the quotes will be more evident… Also let’s keep in mind the permaculture tenant of “the problem is the solution”.

I can’t grow more plants that produce yields (foods, medicines, materials) because it’s too shady.  Why put in the effort if I’m not going to get a lot of food out of it (there’s that thinking about ME part)?

Is this true?  My garden isn’t in pure darkness and even where it gets almost ZERO sun I can still grow hostas and ivy.  It’s actually mostly partial sun and the rest is a dappled sun/shade.  If I spent more time looking at a variety of plants that tolerate less than full sun I would likely have a huge list of options.
I’ve never even looked at medicinal plant choices!
I have also stubbornly refused to look at completely redesigning the layout in order to use more of the sunny areas.  If I moved my path (which could care less if it’s in total shade!) to the other side of the garden that would free up several square metres of food growing area.

My garden is too small and so it won’t produce enough for my efforts to be worth it.

Firstly, what is enough?  If I step back and consider enough beyond a material benefit I can see that a space that is used more effectively will actually yield a TON.  A lush green garden that grows limited food (material gain) would be a wonderful space to bring together friends on a summer night (social and community benefit).  It would be a beautiful space to meditate or be creative in (spiritual, intellectual and cultural capital).  It would repair and feed the earth and insects (living capital).  It would be a space for me to learn, and to teach others and share knowledge (experiential capital).  Is all of that enough?  Yes.
Ok, now to the physical size.  It is a long narrow lot that needs to have some area for my children to play; however, I’m not using all the possible growing space or being creative with that space.  There are vertical spaces not in use- fences and deck supports.  Because my original design was based on traditional gardens there is a lot of open “lawn” area that is just not used.  Even my garden beds are fairly underplanted.  And then you need only search online for small scale permaculture and you will readily see Small Is Only Limited by our Imagination!!

Then we come to my final “problem”, and this is the one that really speaks to my original point on a capitalist mindset.  I have been, and am still, seriously considering moving.  Overhauling a yard to a permaculture design set up is going to have significant costs associated.  Those can be monetary (if you buy all the resources needed), time (both creating and maintaining; or in the case of getting free resources it could be in researching and gathering those as well), or energy (are you doing the work alone?  Will you gather and organize volunteers?  Everything takes energy).  These 3 outputs are always in balance so if you save in one area it increases another area.

If I am going to move in a year or two, why would I deplete my own resources if I’m not going to get the long term benefit?

We are all temporary.  Even if I move tomorrow to the perfect home and parcel of land, it will be temporary.  What do I want to leave behind as my legacy to that land?  I want to leave it better than I found it.  And I can do that in one year or forty years.  Permaculture isn’t about me.  I am an element in the cycle but I am not at it’s core.
I would be leaving a new owner with something beautiful and productive.  I would be passing on knowledge.  I feel one of the most important responsibilities as a permaculture student is to share and educate.   This is knowledge that isn’t meant to be horded or hidden but to be disseminated so it can enact change.

In permaculture yields and investments need to be evaluated, not with tunnel vision, but with a kaleidoscopic view.  Permaculture is activism, which makes it bigger than each person who practices it.  It is a radical stance against the mainstream.  Every seed we propagate, person we share our knowledge with, or land we heal sends a ripple of change out into the universe.  When I put my hands in the earth of my tiny temporary garden this spring I invite you to join me in sending those ripples of change out using your own space no matter how small or shady or temporary.

blog, Minimalism

All or nothing: choosing to celebrate first steps

One of the reasons I love social media is because it can offer you the opportunity to be a part of like minded groups which can give you great advice when you want to trouble-shoot problems or achieve goals which you just don’t know how to approach.  An example are the zero waste groups that I’m on.  It is a lofty goal to attempt to be zero waste when you have children, have many demands on your time and budget, and are also pursuing many other endeavors at the same time but these groups can be motivational as well as throw out little tips that bring me closer to losing the garbage bin.

However, the flip side of social media is that it brings to the front the populations’ way of reacting to people motivating change and the reaction I see the most is an “all or nothing” attitude.  If it won’t affect total change, then it’s just not good enough.  Nobody sees any first step as just that, a FIRST step.  A step towards something bigger.

Plastic is bad: let’s really push to get rid of plastic straws!  Starbucks is on board which brings a lot of attention to the issue.
Reaction: straws aren’t good enough!  There are so many other single use plastics out there.  What about cup lids? What about….?
Outcome:  People get too bogged down in feeling like they fail no matter what they try that they just give up on trying at all.  So instead of straws being step one, lids step two, and bags as step three we all just flounder while fighting over what’s good enough.

Loblaws bread scam: Loblaws is giving out gift cards to amend for the mark-ups.  Let’s give them to food banks instead!
Reaction:  well actually food banks could get more if you just gave them cash.  Gift cards really limit them and they can’t buy as much.
Outcome: many people just didn’t bother giving the gift cards to food banks or cash either.  No gift cards and no cash means they lost out entirely.

Vegan, zero-waste, minimalist lifestyles:  People out there trying to do their best to live up to a personal standard that they hope to attain.
Reaction:  You’re not truly “fill in lifestyle choice here” if you eat/wear/use “fill in offending item here”.  Couldn’t possibly allow someone to feel empowered in their own choice, just had to knock them down a peg and show them just how superior you are, didn’t ya?
Outcome: we all feel we aren’t good enough or will never reach our goals.  We become non-starters because we expect failure even before we have begun.

What is truly sad is that any of us feel like we must meet goals at all.  I tell friends who keep trying to quit smoking to just quit every day until it works.  You smoked today, that’s fine, just quit again tomorrow.  It’s hard.  It’s okay that it didn’t stick this time.  Yet I started my zero waste journey and immediately felt like it was overwhelming and I was a complete failure at it because I couldn’t stop making garbage within a month.  Within a month?!  Why did I think that was possible?  Oh because of this.

One young woman is all over the internet as the holy grail of zero waste.  We are nothing alike in any way.  I’m also sure she didn’t flip to her mason jar garbage can in her first 4 weeks of reducing trash.  I’m certain that, just like me, she had a learning curve where she had to figure out how to live without certain waste producing products, or how to source alternative options, or how to raise children/work a full time job/race all over town buying from bulk stores…. oh wait, again, she isn’t me so scratch that last part.  That last part is my journey, not hers.  And that’s okay.  Just as it’s okay if I don’t manage to fit 4 years of garbage in a mason jar.  Right now my family doesn’t usually even fill a garbage bag over the course of a month.  I’m proud of that.

The process does not end here and I do hope to keep reducing; however, I can’t let my motivation be sapped by those who have no room for first steps.  We have to celebrate first steps as much as we do the final giant leaps.



blog, Minimalism

Minimalism: the 100 in practice

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on decreasing objects in my tiny home and reeling in the tide of stuff that enters then you will know I strive for minimalism but it’s definitely still a struggle.  This past year has been full of change and I’ve been trying to focus myself on some specific goals as I move forward.  One of those is to recommit to minimalism.

Something I’ve always aspired to achieve is the 100 items per room.  Today I tackled my first room and thought that I’d share a bit of a ‘how to’ on going about this process.  Throwing away stuff seems pretty self-explanatory but if you don’t go in with a plan you’ll get tired, unfocused and derailed from your vision.

Let’s start with the 100 concept.  It’s an arbitrary number that can be applied in many different ways.  Some go as extreme as only owning 100 objects period, others take that as applying to categories such as clothing or toys.  I’m applying it to rooms in my house and you will have to decide where you are comfortable drawing that line.  Next I’d pick the easiest room in your house to begin.  I chose my back room which is our powder room and serves as storage.  It’s a small space with a moderate amount of stuff.

Step 1- Empty the room!  Here’s what the entire contents of my bathroom looks like on my living room floor.

2017-12-15 12.20.45.jpg

Step 2- Clean the empty room.  This is an opportune moment to get the space fully cleaned before you put everything back.

Step 3- Look at your pile of stuff and set aside the obvious items that fall into the following categories:  Necessities, Garbage, Donate, Gifts.  Some examples from my own room were Necessities (toothbrushes, toilet paper, etc.), Garbage (left over Hallowe’en candy, old make-up), Donate (old backpacks and bags), Gifts (neoprene wine bottle bag that I’ve never used.)  The necessities will jump out immediately and so will some garbage.  It’s the other two categories that take time.  I put the first round of items away in order to clear floor space and see what was left more clearly.  I counted them first to see where I was on my 100 items.
Take the time to think about where you put items back.  This is an opportunity to evaluate the logic of where items should go.  Also, clean anything that needs it before returning it to the fresh space.

Here are my necessities.

2017-12-15 13.07.11

Step 4- Take your time and be ruthless!  Admit to what you don’t use, to what is a duplicate of another item, to what you don’t need, to what you are holding on to out of a sense of want rather than need.  Remember to continue to count the items you put in the “keep” pile.

A note on counting:  how you decide to count your items is up to you.  Some people count sets of things as one item.  If you do this too much you’re not going to make a dent in your belongings, so challenge yourself.  In my case I had craft supplies so a bag of glue sticks I counted as one item, but things like my make-up I counted each eye-shadow and liner individually.  Another example is that I keep a few coats in the armoire which I didn’t count at all as I’m going to go through all my clothing another day and I will apply a numerical rule to clothing as a whole.  Overall I’d say to stick to individually counted items as much as possible.

Step 5- Sorting is completed.  It’s time to put everything away.  This should be simple now!  I probably decreased the number of items in my room by at least half, if not more.  Here are all my post its with my count: total number of items in the room 137!


My example was a fairly simple and small space with items that were easy to part with.  There wasn’t a huge amount to go through and virtually nothing that would confront me with sentimental attachment.  But it still took me almost 5 hours.  You heard right, FIVE HOURS.  This is why when people think they can tackle their house in a weekend, I’m baffled.  I have been slowly plugging away at parring down for years now.  It’s a process and it takes time and effort, so set your bar high but also be forgiving if it starts to feel overwhelming.

Share your stories of “dismantling your house of want”

blog, Minimalism

The Giving Season

I have to say I LOVE Christmas, but I also DREAD it.  The season of giving is wonderful and overwhelming and I’ve found that only to be more so as I’ve had children.  My family loves to give… STUFF!  And more stuff!  When it was just myself and my partner in our tiny home that was, somewhat, okay.  We can decide for ourselves what fits, what is junk, what aren’t items we will feasibly use.  Now there are two more bodies in this home.  And Everyone wants so much to give to them.

Every year since my first child was born I have become increasingly more strict about giving both “to” and “from”.  My To list gets shorter and my gifts are simpler, home-made, and eminently useful.  I like to make people gifts that they can comsume in some way, leaving nothing to store or find room for in their space.

On the From side I’ve had to become, what some feel is, a Grinch.  I claim that if you can’t slide it under our front door it’s too big for this house!  Giving us all loads of Stuff just means I have to sort through it later, give toys away to charity, and upset my children.  They cannot discern what is worth keeping… they love it all and want it all.

This year I felt I was fairly successful in managing the influx however.  I sent out a note well in advance of Christmas to all of the Usual Suspects.  The note reminded everyone of our space constraints and then went on to say that I understood thinking of presents was hard so I was sending suggestions.  I suggested clothing they needed, gift cards to specific stores, outings and experiences they would enjoy, paying for classes, art supplies, and books.  No toys.

Did we still get toys?  Yes, of course.  But we did also get much more of the requested items and much fewer toys than usual.  And I also followed my own advice.  My children only received one toy each from Santa and us with the rest being classes, interesting books, and useful items such as the bed canopies pictured below.  My older child has been having trouble sleeping in their bed, so I sewed the canopy for the top and made a string of “amulets” to hang inside of it.  (They were small glass craft bottles filled with “clouds”/cotton ball, “moon beams”/glitter, “stars”/glow-in-the-dark plastic pieces, etc.)  And my younger was just about to move from crib to bed so I made them a curtain for the bottom bed.

People get this idea that children won’t love their gift if it isn’t a toy, but they use these curtains every night and think of who made them with love and it improved our daily lives.  I have two kids who sleep in their own beds without tantrums!  Huzzah!  Those classes you pay for can later become a passion in life that they think back and thank Grandma for giving them that gift of piano/skating/painting lessons that got it all started.  But beyond that we should be giving with love and the best of intentions instead of trying to “win” Christmas with the most loved gift.

The struggle against Stuff is real. I hope you all enjoyed your holiday season and are having a Happy and clutter-free New Year.

2016-12-06-13-34-43Fabrics are from my favourite site, Spoonflower.

blog, Minimalism

Dismantling the house of want

I was recently given heaps of hand me downs for my little Monkey. So much generosity that I was almost drowning in baby clothing. I sorted out the items that I liked and were useful, which was more than I’ll probably even be able to use before he outgrows it.
This was the catalyst ‎for the garage sale I spoke of in my last post. Being surrounded by clutter makes me feel visually overwhelmed. And so in sorting the clothes I then moved onto the room, and the next, then the whole house.
I have a few issues when it comes to getting rid of “stuff”.
1- I always think I might need it one day… the fact is if I need something I can purchase it again. Why have something sitting around taking up space and collecting dust for years just because you might use it a handful of times?
2- I save things for my kids. I’m done with a cute necklace but maybe one of my kids might want to play with it. This is just offloading my problem to them and it doesn’t teach them that stuff does not equal happiness.
3- I can athropomorphise anything. I can feel how sad that cup would be if I threw it in the garbage. I know how heartbroken that chair would be if I sent it away from my home. Oh the humanity.

But during my cleaning something clicked. I don’t need all this stuff and it is, in fact, not making me happy but instead making me quite miserable. With each item I put in the “out” pile a small weight was lifted‎ and a little more breathing room was made.
I want my kids to be able to discern what items bring them joy and how to let go of those that do not. And also to grasp that the joy they feel from most objects is temporal. If I found myself without 90% of my current belongings for a year it would be unlikely that at the end of that time I would even miss most of them.
So, as this post is titled, I am on a mission to dismantle the house of want. My other realization was that this is not a quick process. Changing your mindset takes a while and saying goodbye to your belongings requires time to mourn.
As of today our house is significantly less cluttered and my mental ‎state is much calmer. I hope to one day reach a point of true balance and more importantly I hope my family will join me.