Motivation to declutter

Following a link from Little Eco Footprints, I’ve just found Small Notebook: for a simple home, and surfed to a great post on her Inspiration to Declutter most of which I could almost have written myself, but the first point is for me the money shot (so to speak):

1.  A sense of calm. When a home is crowded with stuff, it goes beyond cozy and starts to look messy.  If my home is a mess then I feel overwhelmed and stressed.  It’s also incredibly distracting from the people who I really want to be giving my attention to.

Yes, that is just how I feel. Why have I lived like this for so long?

I’m not kidding myself, decluttering this house is going to be a long process, and one that I will struggle with along the way, particularly because it seems contrary not just to my nature but to the rest of the family’s as well. A friend told me recently that her friend said it took her eight years to truly declutter her house.

Eight years! Well, I’m sad to say that I could easily believe that it will take us that long too. On the upside, as the years move on the children will be older and we’ll have more time. 😉 However, even if we don’t get the house completely decluttered in 2011 – or ever – I’m determined to keep at it, and I feel sure that however much we do manage, each piece of clutter that leaves the house will make us feel lighter, calmer, and help motivate us to continue.

And now I am off to sort through the kitchen drawer!

“Declutter” is the word

My word for 2011 is declutter. I thought about simplify, sustainability, and even Reduce – far more elegant than declutter, don’t you think? But I settled on declutter because that’s what we really need to do.

Decluttering has been on my agenda for a couple of years, but has only been a passing fancy from time to time. A bunch of clothes given to Vinnies now and again, but no real impact made on the house.

And to me this is a sustainable lifestyle issue, because it is also about living simply, about reducing – reducing the amount of stuff we bring into the house, and reducing the amount of stuff we hold onto that maybe someone else could be using.

It’s also about simplifying the process of keeping a tidy house (something we are absolutely hopeless at), and it’s also about providing a clean, ordered environment for my kids, where they can play and create and work without feeling overwhelmed by the clutter, the choices, the mess. In Steiner terms it’s important to provide a beautiful environment for young children, and that’s hard to do when there is clutter everywhere.

I’ve been a packrat my whole life, and also chronically lazy when it comes to house work. I don’t like doing it, and more, I don’t like wasting time on it. Time is precious and I simply don’t have enough of it to be wasting it on maintaining all this clutter. And I am starting to feel that the clutter is making it hard to think clearly and creatively. And if it’s hard for me, what’s it teaching my children?

On top of all that, I’d like to pass on better habits to my children than I have developed myself. Now, I’m not kidding myself – forcing a massive decluttering could just turn them into packrats. My mother always kept a tidy house (though not excessively so), and as a child I sort of thought that being tidy was something you simply grew into when you grew up. Evidentally not. But anyway, at the moment I am quite sure I am teaching them bad habits, so I might as well at least try to model good ones, and if they catch on, so much the better. If not, well, nothing lost.

2011 is the year of decluttering. Wish me luck.

Sustainable design vs sustainable building practices

Cover, Sustainable House by Michael MobbsIt’s interesting to read the updated edition of Sustainable House (pub. 2010) to see things Michael Mobbs would do differently today, some because of different options available, but also because of what he’s learned.

In the first chapter of the new edition (I don’t have a copy of the old edition, so I can’t compare), he says if he were doing it again he would use modular, factory made kitchen, bathroom and other pre-built products as much as possible, to avoid the miriad trips to and from the sites by “trades and deliveries to name just a few”.

Perhaps the largest gap in design and construction is the failure to achieve efficient use of energy, water and materials in the constructions of buildings of all types. Huge amounts of energy and resources are wasted during construction by travelling workers and delivery trips which easily exceed a thousand kilometres of travel a week for one modest construction site and this and the wastage from avoidable cutting to size and fabrication practices far outweighs savings to be made from the sustainable design of the house. (Michael Mobbs, Sustainable House, 2010, p. 15)

Cloth Nappies for Queensland, Plus More Floods

Babybeehinds, one of my favourite cloth nappy providers, who are themselves located in (Northern) Queensland, have pledged $17,000 worth of cloth nappies and accessories to flood affected families in SE and Central Queensland, in some of the worst floods in Australian memory. I love their nappies, and they are a great family run Australian company. Here’s to them, and people like them.

Meanwhile Victoria also braces for more flooding, and Brazil has had a month’s rain in 24 hours and with over 250 people killed in flooding. Global warming?

More on solar power

So we had someone come out and talk to us about installing solar power today, and he said that a roof facing due east would be 20% less efficient than due north. Ours, as it turns out, is not as close to east-west as we thought, so we will only get about a 15% reduction in efficiency.

The Mr worked out that the person he spoke to on the phone (from another company), probably didn’t mean being east-west was .08% less efficient, but .08 less efficient, ie 8%. That’s still significantly different to the advice from this fellow though.

The person we spoke to today is local, from a Canberra company, and the other company was a national one (and the office was in Sydney), right there I am more inclined to trust him. Plus the fact that they send someone out to talk to you. He is going to give us a quote which will include estimated annual electicity generated, annual income (based on the feed-in tariff rate we’d be set with for the next 20 years), estimate payback time, and estimate income over 20 years. He said most solar panels will have dropped about 20% efficiency by 25 years, 10% by 8-10 years.

He also said that you can get a bigger inverter than you need, just so long as it’s not too much bigger (eg get a 1.5 kw system and a 2 kw inverter, but not with a 5 kw inverter).

PS My baby just took her first crawling ‘step’ and just taught herself to go from lying down to sitting, all while I’ve been sitting here typing!

Solar power in 2011 update

So the Mr has been talking to people about getting solar power installed, and the advice we’ve got so far is that it’s not a good idea to get a smaller system now (just to get in while the feed-in tariff is high) and add to it later when we have north facing roof. But that it is a good idea to get a system now.

There were two issues: firstly the person he spoke to yesterday said you can’t really add more panels later (no explanation for this at the moment), and secondly, apparently if we got a inverter now that would do for a larger array, it would be make the system significantly less efficient than if we have an inverter matched to the output of the array. The advice that you can’t expand a system later is contrary to what I have read elsewhere, so I will be following that up.

The other thing he was told by this same company was that they don’t put the tilted brackets (to balance out not being north facing) on tiled roofs (which we have), but that putting the solar panels on our west facing roof would only be be 0.08% less effective than if we had a north facing roof. I can’t really believe that, so I’ll be interested to hear what other people say. We have an installer coming out to give us some advice on Wednesday.

In my research into solar power systems I think I’ve established that, with the amount of sunlight we have here and the current rebate and feed-in tariff available, it shouldn’t take more than five years for it to pay itself off, whatever size system we get, whether it’s because it’s reducing our electricity bills or because it’s paying us an income. So if the advice we’ve got so far is right, it seems like we should get the maximum size we can possibly afford right now. Of course, with me on (unpaid) maternity leave right now, finances are a little tight, but… I am going to speak to my friend next, the one who is getting interest free finance to pay for hers. If we could pay it off over three years, and it’s paying itself off almost that quickly, well – that might be quite feasible.

I’m going to blog this whole process (assuming we do go ahead), partly just to keep a record of what the various different people tell us. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to remember everything in your head the way people were trained to do in the bad old days before paper was abundant?

PS Update on loss of efficiency from being East-West facing and having a bigger inverter than you need (initially) on the next post.

My word for 2011

Tricia from Little eco footprints is talking about what word to focus on for 2011. For 2010 she picked wellbeing. For 2011 she’s undecided yet (or was when she posted this post a few days ago). But she asks what about you (me, you, us)? So I thought about commenting but then I realised it’s not an off the cuff thing. If I just say – oh, simplify is the one for me. Or, sustainability (of course) is going to be mine – well, that’ll be all very well but actually I’ll forget about it by tomorrow.

The idea of having one word to focus on, to ruminate and mediate and act on – that’s actually very powerful I’m thinking. But only if I really do ruminate and mediate and act. So I need to think about it some more. I am thinking it’s inevitably going to be Sustainability, but maybe that’s too big. Maybe it needs to be simplify, or declutter.

Either way, I definitely like the idea of a word, a theme, as opposed to a set of resolutions that just ask to be broken thereby creating more guilt (and who needs more guilt) and not else. I mean, hey, I’m not knocking resolutions if they work for you. But for me, I’m going to pick a word. And then I’m going to ruminate. And hopefully, action will follow naturally.

The bounty of the backyard food forest

Lush vegie garden

The vegie garden in better times

There is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own food.

I hadn’t harvested any rhubarb since I made the rhubarb pies in November, and we’ve had an incredible amount of rain here this summer, which rhubarb evidently likes, so when I went to pick some t’other day there was a huge harvest to be had. Meanwhile my Mum has just come by to collect some of our lemons – we have a prolific lemon tree – to use with the six or so kilos of apricots she’s picked off their apricot tree to make some apricot jam and stewed apricots.

I remember when I was a child, going out to the vegetable garden with my Mum to pick some vegies and bringing them in in a washing basket. Even then it always felt so satisfying, like there was just something inherently good about being able to provide for ourselves from our own garden.

Our vegetable garden this year is almost a complete right off. For a number of reasons, not least among them the presence of Ms TenMonths in our lives, it has been dreadfully neglected. Combined with being neglected at the end of last summer and the rain we had in December, this means the garden is now overrun with weeds. We had lots of lettuce and silverbeet earlier but that’s all gone to seed now. The two tomato plants I managed to get into the ground are struggling on, but they need to be fed. The corn Mr Eight planted is doing okay, but that’s about all there is. Even the parsley’s had it, a combination of too much water and then too much heat I think.

Still, the rhubarb is doing fine, the comfrey is ridiculous, the apple trees have their first fruits on them and the lemon tree is prolific as usual. And in another month when the two young chooks start laying we should have more eggs than we can eat (the one who is laying gives us nearly enough on her own). And I know that in the next season or two we’ll get the vegie garden back on track (might have to put the chooks out there to weed it for me over winter). In the meantime, I plan to focus on getting more perennials in, like the rhubarb and fruit trees. The self seeding greens are great, but plants that stay there all year – and keep the weeds at bay – are even better.

In the kitchen

A slice of Impossible Pie with a scoop of stewed Rhubarb.Yesterday: Impossible Pie (recipe to come) & stewed rhubarb
Tomorrow: Apricot custard pie from Simply in Season, my birthday present from my best friend. Because, my Mum gave me a couple of kilos of apricots yesterday, and though the kids are giving it a good go, we can’t possibly eat them all fresh (and we still have two jars of the apricot and peach jam we made last year).

We’ve already made the Greek  Tomato Salad out of Simply in Season, and after the pie I want to try Rhubarb Muffins. They’re in the Spring section, but I just harvested a stack of rhubarb out of our garden, so I think they count as summer too! I also want to try the Lemon Thyme Bread, which sounds yum, doesn’t it?

Looking at getting Solar Power in 2011

Part of a solar arrayWe have been looking into getting solar power to reduce our carbon footprint here in our suburban home. We have a West/East facing roof and we expect to extend our house in maybe three or four years and gain some North facing roof, so we’d been leaving solar panels on the back burner thinking we’d worry about them then.

But. At the moment where we live in Australia there is a very good feed-in tariff, set for 20 years from the time you sign up, and also a good (federally provided) subsidy for installation. And both of those things are set to go down this July. The feed-in tariff has already been reduced once, and is set to do so every year for the next few years.

So we’ve been considering whether it would be more cost effective to buy now, even if only a small set up, and get hooked into the grid, and then add more later when we have a North facing roof. There are brackets you can use to lift up the panels on the West facing roof, to get better efficiencies. Of course, that costs more and also takes more space, since you need to have them further apart to ensure one panel is shadowing the next one. However, to be locked into a better feed-in tariff rate for the next 20 years, not to mention having and extra three or four years of solar power, it’s probably worth it from a cost perspective.

At the moment the federal subsidy works about to be about $6200 in Canberra for a 1.5 kw system or bigger (how much it is depends on where you live, as it is based on the energy produced by your system). Also this year the ACT conservation council has organised a discount for people booking through them with a particular installer – how much depends on your system size, but it’s $150 for a 1.5 kw system. Not a huge amount when you are talking several thousand dollars, but better than nothing. Maybe it will cover the cost of one of those brackets. So for the minimum sized system we’d be paying less than $4000, plus whatever extra it costs to install with the brackets.

To get a slightly bigger system the price goes up significantly, since $6200 is the maximum subsidy. But then I have a friend who is getting a solar system installed who has managed to swing an interest free loan (through the installer I think) to be paid back over three years. By her calculations the system will have completely paid for itself in five years, so basically she’ll have a small extra expense for the next three years and then it’s all roses from there. It’s looking rather attractive really.

Of course, the cost of residential solar power systems keeps going down – which is the justification for the government reducing their subsidies – so maybe the cost difference won’t be that great whether we do it now or later. But in that case, why not get the extra few years of green energy? We’ll be calling to get some quotes this week.

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