Mindfulness and simple living, one small step at a time

Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unravelling, it’s the unravelling
And it undoes all the joy that could be.

Joni Mitchell is one of my all time favourite singers, and my favourite Joni album is Blue. That quote is from the first song, ‘All I want’. The song is about a love affair, but I was singing it as I cleaned my kitchen yesterday and thought how truly it applies to living a sustainable lifestyle.

It’s hard to reduce consumption when you are always seeing what other people have and wishing for it. It’s hard to be happy with your average size, west facing, three bedroom home when you are busy envying your mother’s lovely sunny north facing living areas, or your friend’s big north facing, fruit tree filled back yard with all its great nooks for kids, or another friend’s four bedroom home with large separate living areas and perhaps a study.

And importantly, if you are busy envying your friends, or even just lusting after the lovely homes you see (but can’t afford) in the real estate pages, it’s hard to busy yourself making the most of what you have.

I’m currently reading Buddhism for mothers of young children by Sarah Napthali, dipping into it here and there when I have a few moments. The idea of existing in the moment ties in well for me with the idea of learning to be happy with what you have and where you are. How can you live in the moment if you are constantly longing for more and better? Or to be more and better?

square baby bean worn by Eliane

Eliane modelling my first attempt at knitting a beany.

But by the same token, it’s tricky to appreciate the moment if you are constantly comparing your eco/sustainability/simple lifestyle creds with your friends or blogging mentors too (who me? would I do that?). Napthali is big on being kind to yourself. Living mindfully doesn’t mean beating yourself up everytime you notice your thoughts straying to how much happier you would be if only you had that extra bedroom, or how much better your life would be if only you could declutter your house a little quicker. It means noticing those thoughts and then moving on.

Rhonda Jean from Down to Earth says there are no simple living police checking to see how well you are doing, to take things one step at a time, just do something. Make a start. Napthali has a similar attitude to living mindfully.

I am taking simple living, living mindfully and decluttering each one tiny step at a time. When I covert my friend’s house, I notice my desire and move on. When I feel overwhelmed by the extent of the clutter, I pick up one piece of paper and file or recycle it, or put one toy back on the shelf or into the Vinnie’s box, which sits by the front door. At least, that’s my aim. Tonight I really wanted to start on a new square beanie for Eliane, since the one I knitted last year is really a bit small, but I ran out of time. So I have wound off a ball of wool to be ready to start tomorrow. One small step at a time.


Finding a balance

I’ve just been reading a bunch of interlinked year old posts about the sustainability of sustainable living, the difference between ‘sustainable’ and ‘simple’, and finding a point of balance. 

They’ve filled me with a sense of hope and determination, while drawing a resounding ‘yes!’ from my soul. And they appeared to resonate with many others too, based on the numerous comments. 

The thing is, I often feel quite inadequate and hopeless when I read the blogs of the really accomplished sustainable/simple/Eco lifestylers. I know that is never their intention, and I also know it is often the case when reading about people who’ve progressed a long way down a path you are just beginning to tread. And, I do find them inspirational too. 

I think perhaps part of my trouble is that I’m not just beginning, surely I’ve been on this path for years. There was a time, for instance, when we grew far more of our own food & bought largely organic. But then we had children, both switched to part time work, and suddenly felt we couldn’t afford so much organic produce any more. And, didn’t have the same amount of time to put into the garden, especially in those years when we’ve had babies or toddlers – this past season has been a disaster in the vegetable garden! Recently I’ve made a commitment to buy almost exclusively organic meat, and at the very minimum free range (where that is an issue) and to go back to eating more vegetarian meals. But, we are about to take a serious look at our budget, because over the past year of me not working we’ve used up all our savings. So what will give?

I think part of the struggle for me too is the feeling of wanting to do everything now, but realising we need to take things step by step, and perhaps plan out some of those steps. That way it can feel okay that we’re not doing everything yet, without fearing that we will never get there. Though in truth we probably will never get there, if ‘there’ is some sort of perfect fulfillment of everything that could be meant be sustainable living. 

There’s nothing wrong with striving towards perfection of course, unless it makes everything seem so hard that you give up. Perfection is not sustainable. 

So what are all the aspects of a sustainable lifestyle that I am striving towards, if ever so slightly? Or that I would at least like to be striving towards?

  • being carbon neutral – lots of the points below really come into this, but it’s worth identifying on it’s own, while it is certainly not the be all and end all of sustainability.  
  • Shopping ethically; supporting only sustainable practices with my dollars – now this could mean anything from not buying coffee produced with the assistance of child labour, not buying clothes made in sweatshops, to buying only free range chicken or organic produce. None of these things do I do perfectly.
  • Reducing my waste buy buying less rubbish (including packaging), and by reusing or recycling whatever I can.
  • Using recycled paper products whenever possible, eg recycled toilet paper.
  • reducing my addiction to having “stuff”.  Part of the idea of decluttering is learning to live with less stuff, while allowing some of that stuff to find a useful life somewhere else. (Another part is that having less clutter seems like it would make life easier and more pleasant, especially in a household as un-keen on housework as this one!).
  • Eating locally gown food, weather it be in my garden or from a local farm.

There are probably more points than that, but this post as been languishing in draft form for at least a couple of weeks, so it’s high time I just hit publish and put it out there. 

These are the posts that started me off:


Simply decluttering January

Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life

Following a link from Sustainable Eats’ Simple Lives Thursday meme (from last week) to Dr. Laura’s Adventures I just discovered an ebook I am going to buy and read Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life. The first 12 pages are available free and just reading those has re-inspired me to work on our clutter. I’d add it to  my 2011 reading list there on the right but it’s not on Amazon and I don’t have time to create that list by hand right now.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for a truly minimalist life, but the line “I enjoy clean, tidy, uncluttered rooms… but don’t like to clean” is so true for me. I really am sick of living in a cluttered, messy environment where we can’t find the things we want, but on the other hand, I really don’t see us getting better at staying tidy with the amount of stuff we’ve got.

I think part of the secret is having a place for everything (which we don’t have), but the other part is just having less of everthing, to need a place for.

Two years ago I undertook to focus on decluttering in January…  And, I did do some decluttering, but no where near enough. So it’s time to try again. I declare January 2011 decluttering month. And I plan to start with my wardrobe. I’m not back to my pre-pregnancy weight yet (10 months on!), but I’m getting there, and I’m never planning to be pregnant again, so I can begin with all the clothes that are too big for me now.

But I also plan to get rid of a whole lot of clothes I’ve been hanging on to that I *might* want to wear again one day, but somehow didn’t between the last two pregnancies. With very few exceptions (my wedding outfit is the only one that comes to mind) I figure if I didn’t wear it between the last two pregnancies then it is probably years out of date and has to go!

Second up will be our overloaded filing cabinet. Perhaps we’d file things more quickly if we could fit them in there without a struggle.

First things first though, which is to empty the walk-in-robe of the boxes of kids clothes (too big for the Ms Ten Months too small for Ms Four), which are sitting in there because the studio/spareroom/storeroom got flooded in the horrid rainstorms early this month. It’s time to get organised!

Re-skilling for sustainable living

Ages ago Rhonda at Down to Earth had a post about reskilling for simple living.* The other day I came across the first post I wrote in response, and it made me think about it some more.

I’ve never been terribly handy and neither has Mr SustainableSuburbia. Over the years (we’ve been together for 16 years), we’ve gained a few home handy skills, doing a few small projects together (paving, building an above ground sandpit, building a straw-bale chook house, a few other things), but I still feel very limited. I think in recent years Mr has learned more than I have in the home handyman arena, partly because since we’ve had children there has been a more traditional division of labour, however we’ve tried to avoid it, and partly because he was just enough more handy than me in the first place, that when one of us has to do something (while the other one looks after the kids), it ends up making more sense, often, for it to be him. Not to mention he can’t breastfeed…

Rhonda writes that we can get caught up talking about food production and forget the other things we can learn to do to help us live more sustainably, but for me food production – and equally food preservation – is still a great place to start. I often think that I know a little about a lot of things, but haven’t quite mastered anything. We have apples on our apple trees this year, but are not doing anything at the moment to prevent coddling moth (should we be?); we have our moreorless organic vegie garden going (not truly organic since our compost includes our conventionally farmed food scraps and we often buy conventionally grown seedlings), but we grow fairly haphazardly and probably with far less productivity than we could have; we’ve had our own chooks for years, but don’t make nearly the use we could of their skills beyond egg production; the past couple of years I made apricot jam, but that’s pretty much the only food preservation I’ve ever done, so in winter we eat almost entirely store bought produce.

Anyway, this next year I’d really like to focus on learning some more do-it-myself skills in more depth. Whether that means food production and preservation, learning to crochet or improving my knitting, or building myself a work bench for my seedling production I’m not sure yet, but it means something!

I just have to keep reminding myself that right now I don’t have much time to do anything in depth (much less learn new things), but as Babe#3 grows I will have more (although I’m thinking that crawling/toddling period is pretty intense too…), so I just must be patient with myself. As I’m writing I’m feeling a bit discouraged and impatient, but then last night I was up with Ms 9months from 3:00-4:30 and then she woke again at 5am… and because she usually sleeps through I didn’t go to bed until nearly midnight. So yeah, I’m a little tired today. Gotta cut myself some slack.


*Okay, I’ve just gone and re-read her post and it’s not all about reskilling, but it does mention reskilling and it is about simple living, but anyway…

keep having floods!an

My happy list

In spite of and in fact because of crazy rains and flooding, Kate from Foxs Lane has been inspiring people to write happy lists. Here’s mine:

  • Full body baby excitement
  • Caffeine free chai tea
  • Today’s beautiful sunny weather
  • Eight year old intense focus
  • Four year old best friends
  • School holidays and lazy mornings
  • My birthday 🙂
  • My wonderful husband
  • Living close to my lovely mother
  • Chocolate mud cake with cream
  • My perfect (last) baby
  • My perfect baby sleeping 🙂
  • The wonderful and disparate communities of the blogosphere that inspire and encourage me in so many different areas, from happy lists, to writing (more), to parenting (better), to living more sustainably
  • My brother having a baby on the way!
  • My brother maybe moving back to Australia soon
  • A meal made up entirely of leftovers, so no cooking tonight!
  • A (relatively) tidy house
  • A breeze coming in the front door
  • Looking out the window and discovering that the comfrey has grown to over a metre tall while I wasn’t paying attention (time to make some comfrey tea which I was reading about earlier today at Slow Living Essentials
  • Also while looking out the window discovering that the towels I thought were on the line have been brought in (and presumably put away), because something else is there
  • Biodynamic, gluten free, preservative free sausages for the BBQ tomorrow night
  • Christmas season festivities
  • Mr 8’s wonderful school
  • Chooky goodness and home grown eggs
  • Good friends to hang out with, and good friends to do child care swaps with 🙂
  • The Mr getting home from work in less than half an hour

I could go on and on but while it’s making me feel happy and grateful to write, Ms Babe-number-three is starting to get impatient with my preoccupation, besides she run out of left over roast carrot!

Thanks Kate, that was great idea.

Australian bush food rules!

Via Permaculture Pathways, I just discovered this great research into the nutritional benefits of Australian native fruits and herbs.  The research was funded by the Australian Government Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation to support industry, and basically found that a lot of native foods trump exotic foods hands down. For instance, all but two of the foods studies are higher in antioxidents than the ‘blueberry standard’, and all contained Vitamin E, some comparable with the ‘avocado benchmark’.

I’m inspired to find out which ones grow well in Canberra now and plant some. I’m guessing, for instance, that Kakadu Plums don’t, but I think Quandongs might….

The booklet is downloadable for free, or you can order a printed copy for $25.

Making Yoghurt from Scratch in an Easiyo (without the packet mixes)

A few weeks ago a friend lent me her Easiyo yoghurt maker. It’s something I’ve been thinking of trying out for about five years, but each time I consider it I end up deciding that:

a) we really don’t need another kitchen tool cluttering up our space
b) it’s not clear to me that it’s all that much better than buying yoghurt in tubs, since you still have to buy packets every time (though I’m sure that’s a little better), nor much cheaper, and
c) it’s surely not that hard to make yoghurt properly from scratch and I should probably do that instead.

However, now that we have it I’ve been using it, and I must say, I do like it quite a bit. It is at least a little better than buying disposable plastic tubs by the dozen, it’s great to be able to keep the sachets in the cupboard and make the yoghurt overnight, you can vary how tangy the yoghurt is by how long you leave it for (so far ten hours is the most popular, but I’m going to try nine next for comparison), and you don’t even need to have milk in the fridge. That part was a surprise to me, and very convenient.

On the other hand, I still think it shouldn’t be all that hard to make yoghurt from scratch, and then I’d have real control over what I put in it. Though admittedly then we would up our daily milk use even more, and we already go through  two to three litres a day in this house!

So, while the kettle was heating up to make tonight’s batch of yoghurt, I did a quick google, and here’s what I found:

Fellow Australian Inner Pickle is making yoghurt from scratch in a Breville yoghurt maker, which I think just holds it at the right temperature (it’s electric). Following her link I went off for a look at Soul Mama who makes it from scratch and doesn’t use any fancy yoghurt maker, but does use a heating pad on her bench. Now, both these techniques sound fine, but they don’t really help with my plans to reduce our household energy use. But if the Easiyo holds the packet mix stuff at temperature, it should also be fine for real from-scratch yoghurt surely?

A bit more Googling turned up this forum post at Green Living Australia, in which people seem to be saying they’ve used the Easiyo to keep from-scatch yoghurt at the right temperature, and the second post gives instructions for making yoghurt using a thermos but also says yoghurt makers can be used this way. And it has another recipe, and, it describes doing it without the mention of precise tempertures or milk thermometers! Since that’s something I’ve never managed to acquire, this is the recipe I am going to try first.

I’ll report back when I have a result. 🙂

Edited to add: linking to report and instructions on how to make yoghurt from scratch using an Easiyo.

Edited some more to add: I have now put together all my making yoghurt experience into one article on the main Sustainable Suburbia site: How to Make Yoghurt From Scratch in an Easiyo Yogurt Maker.

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