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rehabilitation for us regular folks?  RSS feed

 
c. grey
Posts: 3
Location: pac n'west
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hello, i'm new here and thought that this would be the place to find out how to amend my lifestyle to become more self-sufficient and in keeping with the cycles of the natural rather than post-industrial world. instead of a lengthy post about myself and my non-existent achievements, i'd rather use this space to discuss how a 'normal' denizen of the U.S. semi-urban environment can change what is within their power to change about their consumption cycles, growth, sustainability, etc. let's just say that i look upon myself as an formerly unwitting, yet unwilling regular person who has to engage with a certain amount of the insanity that goes on in our current incarnation of 'civilization', but am looking through the bars of my cage and wondering how to fix things. the first step is fixing oneself, correct? well...i'd like help (HEEEELLLLLP!).

background is that i grew up in an urban ghetto. although we rented our own house and had a backyard, no one in our family ever took that as an opportunity to do much other than occasionally prune the landlord's rosebushes. we had some pre-existing plum & orange trees, but they appeared to be in their last useful years (or perhaps were suffering from some disease), so not knowing anything about these we left them alone. the family ate typical mid-20th century American fare----white bread, lots of potatoes and canned goods, pork chops/meatloaf/fried chicken, pepsi and cheddar cheese. i had not always eaten this way, due to an extended stay with my half-brothers' East Indian family, but at the time of my association with those people was too young to help in the kitchen (or merely seen as an obstruction, don't know) so did not pick up much other than the idea that there were other ways of eating out there and WonderBread was not the only way.

they did have an eventual effect on me that was deeper than i realized at the time---after a summer stint with some relatives on their small cattle ranch, i realized how miserable the lives of animals grown for food are. upon returning to the urban homestead, my family was quite dismayed that i was in a full-stage teenage rebellion against their meat consumption (rejecting of such was viewed as a rejection of them and their moral values, even though i did not go around harping on anyone's choice of food and merely adjusted my own eating) and reading Laurel's Kitchen. more than 20 years later, i still do not eat animal flesh of any kind but obtain valuable calories from milk & egg products, although try to pick the more humane choices if financially possible. other than that, i am probably one of those 'unhealthy' vegetarians that everyone discusses. we try to cook at home, but that usually ends up being a combination of prepared products, fresh vegetables and rice or pasta. i would like to get away from the evil soy conglomerates and their Tofurkey, and really hate what is still called 'bread' in supermarkets, but sometimes just need a quick sandwich to fill my stomach. i've never been able to successfully grow AND harvest anything, but would like to try. my "stick a seed in a pot and wait" method has only produced things that look like weeds, so i must be doing it wrong (again *sigh*).

my partner and i live in an apartment, which we obviously cannot remodel to make more sustainable. although we would love to move off to some land of our own and start a real Homestead, that is probably not going to be a part of our financial future and even had we the money, i can't see it pencilling out unless everything were SUPER cheap and involved zero financing. we live just outside of Portland, Oregon in an apartment building which has electric everything, but because we are on the middle floor have not needed to run our electric heat even once in the past year. i can't say the same for our air-conditioner---this apartment faces almost exclusively southwest, and so although ideal for winters is excruciating during summer. i recently put up that see-through insulating film on some of our windows, and have no idea how this will affect solar gain through the winter. we did change out some of our lightbulbs, which decreased our power bill, but i'm not totally convinced on those (through my own experiences, and also reading the article here on the main website which backs up those experiences). it seems to me that incandescents make a lot more sense, at least over the wintertime as one is at least getting heat as well as light.

our apartment has washer/dryer hookups but also a laundry room (full wash & dry is about $1.75 per load, with about 3 loads per week) on the premises. we never purchased the units to go into our own apartment, because as far as i can tell manufacturing has fully adopted the 'planned obsolescence' model and every unit that i researched seemed to last only 5 years. at $500-$600 per unit (x2) which does not include the electricity to run the darn things, i just don't see how buying them can pencil out if they only last that long. i remember my grandmother's Kenmores which ran for over a decade and only needed servicing a few times, even though more than 6 people were using them on a daily basis, and wonder why we don't make appliances that tough anymore, then remind myself of the aforementioned business model of planned obsolescence which forces everyone to buy everything new all over again every 5 years, and that seems to answer things. we don't want to engage in that level of wastefulness, and in reality simply can't afford to and yet no one seems to have a problem with it around here. our landlord has specifically prohibited putting up a drying line on the deck, and our bathroom has no windows (i will never understand this method of building, but it seems prevalent in apartments. no windows in the steamiest rooms in the house are a common feature of apartment living, but then you get lectured by your landlord about appropriate ventilation being necessary to keep down mold---go figure!).

the property is also surrounded by lawns (badly kept and not watered, which is a blessing at least), so we have only our own 5 ft by 10 ft deck to grow on and i doubt that the owner would welcome any attempt at composting on-site. this deck faces due west, and only sees full sun past about 2-3 p.m. so i have no idea what could be grown there, especially over the winter with the low light conditions we have here in Portland. it is covered on top and sides, so only gets sun from the front directly.

sorry for making this so long, but it's a way of explaining that we have little experience and very few resources to achieve our sustainability goals. we try to shop more responsibly, but money is a concern (and sometimes mere convenience) so that does not always get put into practice. what would the experts on this site, if they were faced with the same limitations, do? what would they grow? would they grow? what would they make from scratch vs. purchase? would their efforts go into making smarter buying choices alone? are my fixations on what we eat obsessive, or simply the result of sticking with the areas where actual change is possible? are there significant areas i'm neglecting? is my math just all wrong (quite possible!)?

thanks for reading, if you've stuck it out.

 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
pollinator
Posts: 1422
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
17
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Hello Mee, and welcome to Permies

I am prone to quoting Bill Mollison more than is probably necessary – but permaculture as he coined it is not just about growing things – it about how we live our lives in a more permanently sustainable way. It sounds as if you are already on the road to doing that. Just the fact that you are aware that our current mainstream culture is not sustainable is a start.

As for your prohibition about line-drying clothes: Can you hang some of your clothes in the light of those hot windows that you mentioned with a fan on them? Not too attractive but who cares if you don’t have company coming over. Might save a dollar here and there.

I am guessing that by living in town you are saving on transportation? I live out where I can grow stuff but I also have to travel 74 miles a day for work – not real sustainable. The trade off is probably not worth it but it is what is available to me.

If you do want to grow stuff there may be community gardens you can get involved with.

Check out our many forums here and look into the regional section – you may find permies living right in your area.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9741
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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5 x 10 deck looks big to me. Many leafy greens will grow in low-light conditions and these are among the very healthiest foods you can eat. For tons of ideas about growing them, I recommend the videos of John Kohler: http://www.youtube.com/user/growingyourgreens

Worm bins can be kept in bathroom or kitchen and used to make small-scale compost.

If your landlord will let you put up a roller shade on the outside of your hot windows, it might help (this is assuming you can easily get out there to install it and roll it up and down):
 
Jeffrey Hodgins
Posts: 166
Location: Yucatan Puebla Ontario BC
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If your a veggi than you should see Green Dean on youtube or at eattheweeds.com I eat a lot of the weeds he talks about on a regular basis. here's a link to a video. Chenopodium is one of the best and most common food plants in the wild. imo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oL49PBsCP0
 
Rion Mather
Posts: 644
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Welcome, Mee. Love the thread title.
 
c. grey
Posts: 3
Location: pac n'west
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thank you for the welcome and the resource links.

we do have a big rolling clothing rack that accomodates hangers, like those one sees in shops. it might be the perfect solution for drying, at least during the summer. for winter, the humidity level combined with cold air might bring on mold, no?

best to start watchin' those videos....
 
Xisca Nicolas
pollinator
Posts: 1320
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
26
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I don't know about your job (and your partner) and if you can save and both go...
Why not try to volunteer around the world in order to learn?
Places like wwoof I mean...
It's all about ecological places.

I have been foraging in parks, eating berries that all people surely thought to be toxic!
You can start plant identifiying in cities.
It is good to get used to be able to SEE plants. They belong to families, and you must get the habit to look at the right things, such as form of stem, if leaves are opposite or alternate, hairs etc.
Then, as you will ID with flowers, observe the rest, so that you will be able to recognize it later, WITHOUT the flowers!
Then you will one day recognize it when it just sprouts...
With trees, same, and try to be able to recognize them without leaves!

So you can at least start a useful hobby.
 
c. grey
Posts: 3
Location: pac n'west
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Jeanine Gurley wrote:Hello Mee, and welcome to Permies

As for your prohibition about line-drying clothes: Can you hang some of your clothes in the light of those hot windows that you mentioned with a fan on them? Not too attractive but who cares if you don’t have company coming over. Might save a dollar here and there.

I am guessing that by living in town you are saving on transportation? I live out where I can grow stuff but I also have to travel 74 miles a day for work – not real sustainable. The trade off is probably not worth it but it is what is available to me.

If you do want to grow stuff there may be community gardens you can get involved with.

Check out our many forums here and look into the regional section – you may find permies living right in your area.


your tip may prove useful about the clothesdrying, at least during the summer. i will hit up the local community garden and see if they need extra hands as well.

you are correct---living as we do, we don't necessarily have to ever use a car. granted, public transport costs are ever-increasing around here.

i was mentally trying to come to some sort of cost reckoning about public transit vs. car ownership. not to harp on those who use their cars, as some people do live far from where they work and some people have 'working' vehicles, and i can't see how anyone can live in the country without one. but for us urban dwellers, i really do not know how a car makes any sort of sense if one is only counting money, and that is without getting into the production and disposal externalities that most owners don't usually face about their vehicles.

right now, a bus pass is about $100 per month. i calculate that even if someone had a car given to them absolutely free, insurance is equivalent to about $1200 per year, and gas is probably twice that. maintenance could be as little as a few hundred or as much as a few thousand every year. when adding up all of these immediate out-of-pocket costs, one is already over 3x greater than the cost of public transportation. unless this vehicle is getting one to a job that pays sufficiently more to compensate, how does it ever get justified in financial terms? this is not even accounting for the fact that most purchase a vehicle with financing, and have to repurchase approximately every 10 years (although most seem to do this every 5 years just because they can). it's mind-boggling to me why so many are over-willing to take on this obligation when the buses are running by every 15-30 minutes. just another weird modern conundrum, i guess.
 
Jutta Jordans
Posts: 4
Location: Germany
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For me getting rid of my car was a huge step towards a more sustainable and much more independent lifestyle.

Of course, my situation was a bit different from yours, because I am single and have been for the past 15 years or so, so I was free to move around, change my living arrangements etc. without taking anyone else into consideration. Also I live in Germany where distances are smaller and there still is a relatively stable safety net with health insurance and public welfare in place. This makes decisions like giving up on a well paid job for something less secure a little easier. But here are a few of the things that I have done to scale down and simplify my life during the last ten years or so:

- Getting rid of my television. Actually, I did not have one when I left home to go to university, because I used to be a real tv addict when I was still in school and I did not want that habit to keep me away from studying. But later, when I was working my first full time job and also recovering from a messy break up, I did get a tv. That's what a tv is good for ... like a drug, it numbs your pain. It also keeps you in a passive, motionless state, glued to the screen, unable to do anything useful with your time. Once I had figured that out, I threw the thing out again. And even though there does not seem to be a connection between watching or not-watching television and a more sustainable lifestyle, there really is. Not being fed with commercials and mainstream "news" all the time really does help to get a different perspective on things. Suddenly other things do become important.

- Switching from a full time to a part time job. That was probably the most important step I took. It was made possible by not driving a car any longer (driving is really really expensive in Germany, much more so than in the US, mostly due to high taxes on both the vehicle itself and the fuel). Working part time did mean I would not move up in the company hierarchy any further, but that was okay with me. Stepping down from a five day work week to a three day one gave me so much more quality of life, it was almost unbelievable.

- Moving into a house sharing community. That was great fun. I had always lived on my own or with a partner, even as a student. Moving into a house with six other adults, all of them strangers in the beginning, was an adventure. We shared two kitchens and two bathrooms. It did feel like staying in a backpacker hostel in the beginning, but I soon learned to really love it. Sharing the house, an old converted factory building, made rent and appliances bills really really cheap. I paid less than half for rent, heating, electricity, phone, internet access etc. than I had before, while having almost as much personal space plus use of a huge backyard/garden. I have moved on to another place by now, but I wouldn't want to miss one day I spent in that community.

As I said, it was easy for me to do, because I was on my own. I also went on a six month long trip to Canada as a WWOOFER and a six month sailing cruise through the Mediterranian to learn new skills and maybe look for a place to stay. People kept asking me: "How did you afford this?" and the answer is easy: it did not cost me much money. In both cases I subletted my rooms in the house sharing community, so I did not have any running costs there. Also I was able to switch from the obligatory and expensive regular German health insurance to an international one, which cost me 30 € a month. Actually, after the Canada trip I had more money in the bank than before, due to an income tax refund. The sailing trip was a bit more expensive, but only because we did eat in restaurants a lot when we were to lazy to cook on board.

I guess where I am heading with this is: Dare to think and act out of the box. It may feel like you are stuck with an inner city apartment and a crappy job forever, but it does not have to be that way. The best way to move forward is to find like-minded people. This can be people from your neighborhood who are interested in a community garden project, some small scale farmers close by willing to exchange living and growing space on their farm for an extra pair of hands etc. You are not alone in your wish to live differently. I am certain there are others (nieghbors, co-workers, people who shop in the same supermarket, whatever), maybe people you would never suspect, who would love to change their lives into something more sustainable and more satisfying as well.
 
LaLena MaeRee
Posts: 148
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Welcome to Permies! I am not an expert yet but I do know who some of those like minded people you would want to find in Portland are, City Repair You may have seen their work, if you have ever come to a 4-way stop in a residential neighborhood with the streets painted up and cob benches built in people's front yards. They are great people doing great things, they also have workshops and volunteer events.

Portland also has a rebuilding center, which is an awesome place to get materials on the cheap, may help transforming that deck into a mini Eden Rebuilding Center

I also recently bought a book you might find useful, "The ultimate guide to Permaculture" by Nicole Faires. It was a lot cheaper than most books on the topic, and we have already learned a ton from it, more than a year of internet searching has taught us, sadly. Nicole's approach is more of a how-to, which I found useful because sometimes you have to sort through so much "fat" in other material. (opinions, philosophies, political discussions)

Best of luck to you, you're in the right place here at Permies. This is one of the most helpful communities I have ever seen, especially since it is on the internet because as most of us know the internet is for anonymous bullying and drama causing.
 
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