We shall fight on the beaches…

The Zero Waste life is eyeballing me. I can’t look away.

On Sunday night our family sat down, as we always do, to watch David Attenborough. It was Blue Planet 2. If you haven’t tuned in yet, I can’t recommend the series strongly enough.

Sir David, for the first time that I can remember, drew his attention to plastic in our oceans.

This issue has been on my mind for some time now. I go walking on the beach regularly. Even though I live in southern New Zealand, about as far from the large populations of the world as you can get, I find plastic rubbish to take with me when I leave.

Every time I walk, I “take 3 for the sea”, yet there is always more than I take, much more than I can carry.

take 3 for the sea

I take 3 for the sea every time I walk, but it’s just a drop in the ocean…

The thought of what lies beneath the waves of the world disturbs me. The beach – the ocean – is a place I have always come to in my life for peace and reflection. It’s a place I visit to collect my thoughts, to meditate and relax.

The sound of the water and the smell of the salt soothes me. It’s my heart place, the place I feel safe and calm.

Sometimes tragedies grow in your mind, looming larger, until they become so personal that they engulf you and you have to act.

This is what has happened to me. The tragedy of our oceans has become my tragedy.

So over the next year, our family will reduce our waste. I will reduce our waste. I don’t know if we’ll get down to the mason jar levels I’ve seen by the Zero Waste community of the world, but we’ll do what we can. I’ll talk about it, here at this blog.

This is my call to arms, and I’ve called others in too. It’s good to know I’m not alone. We’re building a community here in Dunedin, with our first meeting next week. All of us feel the same way and want to see change happen locally. We’ll support each other, encourage each other, and hopefully bring a few more on board. Create change for the better.

I’m not a granola-eating hippie. I don’t bake my own bread, make my own clothes or smoke pot (lol). I’m just an ordinary person who loves the beach and wants the beaches to stay beautiful for her great-grandchildren. Doesn’t everyone want these things?

So I’ll dare use the great words: we shall fight on the beaches. I don’t think Churchill would have minded me using his quote, because it’s time to make changes for his great-grandchildren too.

The road goes ever on…

Minimalism is a journey. Like a road or a river, it can sweep you off your feet and carry you away with the changes it makes in your life.

I became a minimalist four years ago. Since then, I’ve been blogging here at Simple Living…With Kids. I’ve learned so much. My life has completely transformed.

In those four years, I’ve sold a farm, ended a marriage, found a new partner, and sold approximately 90% of my belongings.

I dared to ask: What makes me truly happy?

The answers I found surprised me. Nothing that makes me happy comes from stuff, from owning, or from status.

All the answers that consumerism typically gives us didn’t – don’t – work for me.

For me, happiness comes from doing my own life well.
Using my own skills well.
Being a great mother, partner and friend.
Being a truthful, diligent writer.
Being responsible, honest and caring.
Having integrity.
Being accountable for my own actions and words.
Being the best person I can be.

These are old-fashioned concepts, and I believe there’s a resurgence happening all around us just beginning.

This gives me hope.

Minimalism is a doorway

We begin with minimalism, with simple living. What then?

Once we lose the clutter, clarity begins.

I’m beginning to understand that I am just a small part of this amazing world. Life is about so much more than buying stuff and blending in to the crowd with the right fashions and a big mortgage.

Minimalism is leading me to a powerful love for the world around me, particularly the oceans. It leads me to a strong desire to protect them.

I’m developing an interest in Zero Waste living, and I’m pushing myself to reduce my footprint live sustainably.

My family are right there with me, guiding me, sharing these concerns.

I pick up plastic rubbish with my partner’s twelve year old daughter.
I watch videos on sustainability with my thirteen year old son.
I assist my partner as he sells plastic-free products at local markets, and I watch my daughter as she learns about sea animals.
Together, as a family, we’re learning to shop at the bulk store and reduce our rubbish that we put out on the kerb each week.

We’re taking small steps, but together our journey continues.

Minimalism – simple living – are first steps.

Together we’re ready to take the next ones.

The road goes ever on...

Rethinking sustainability…leaving the farm

Early this year, I sold a small organic farm on the outskirts of our city, and moved back into the suburbs.

Our farmhouse in the morning. It was idyllic, beautiful…and not sustainable.

I didn’t really have a choice, to be honest. I was divorcing, and the place needed to be sold for financial reasons anyway.

But prior to that, being on the farm for nearly a decade had made me rethink what sustainability means, and how we can move forward in a world that seems intent on, well, not moving forward much at all.

Petrol…the fly in the ointment

We were extremely car-dependent at the farm. There was no public transport. The nearest supermarket, bank, school – all of it was a drive away. There were no buses or trains. This was a huge hurdle to sustainability.

I was routinely spending $100 a week on petrol, and my partner was spending the same. Getting around drained our energy, our time, and our finances.

It was lovely living on the farm and having heaps of space – and animals! – but there was a lot of work behind the scenes that I didn’t expect and that cost a lot as well.

Did I make a mistake moving to a farm? No. But I don’t think that type of lifestyle is the way forward for humanity, as a whole.

It’s appealing, and it stirs in us a vision of an idyllic past, but it’s not practical for a sustainable future.

The present…around the corner to everything

When my new partner and I bought a home this year for our four kids (two of his, two of mine), we bought a very, very walkable home.

Our new house and garden from the rear. It’s in a lovely sunny spot, central and walkable to everything.

The bank is a two minute walk around the corner. There’s a park just across the road. The supermarket is five minutes’ walk, with shops and cafes and restaurants in-between.

Our Walkscore at our new home is 74. That translates as “Very Walkable. Most errands can be accomplished on foot.”

Our new home is very walkable, with a great “walkscore”. See https://www.walkscore.com/ to find your own walkscore!

By comparison, our Walkscore at the farm was 0. “Car-Dependent. Almost all errands require a car.”

The difference is striking. Our kids walk to school, unless the weather is bad. My partner can walk to work – and does. I can walk into the city, or a bus runs right past our door every few minutes.

Most days I don’t use the car much, if at all.

I’d been wondering how I’d possibly be able to stay at the farm should I ever stop driving. Living here, that’s never an issue, because I simply don’t need to be able to drive.

What does sustainable really mean?

There’s no point in running an organic farm if you’re using three tanks of petrol every week to get anywhere.

You’re trashing the planet, no matter how organic your veggies are!

By comparison, the suburbs can be more sustainable if you live with a large group of people together, share your energy costs, walk for a lot of your journeys, and the journeys you do need a car for are short.

Plus, from a purely financial point of view, I’m not spending massive amounts of money on petrol every month. I don’t particular want to make oil companies richer. Does anyone?

Of course there’s more to being sustainable than petrol and cars. Suburban chickens, worm farms, backyard fruit trees, and an unpackaged, locally-produced diet can all play a part.

home made chicken tractor

Suburban chickens can play a role in sustainability.

So can handing-down clothes, buying locally-manufactured clothing or secondhand, using a capsule wardrobe, and limiting imports.

A capsule wardrobe can be a part of modern sustainability.

Finally, reducing family size through access to contraception, ease of access to abortion, education, and solid welfare support all play a role, as can voting on environmental lines and social welfare concerns.

Moving forwards to a new sustainability

I’m not sure what genuine sustainability will look like in the future. But, looking back, I know what it isn’t.

I know we need to reduce car usage, and we need to make our cities more walkable, and lobby to make public transport better and easier to use.

Perhaps we need to open our minds to new ideas, and discard old dreams that don’t fit with a modern reality.

My farm was lovely, and it was organic but sustainable?

No. I can’t say that.

However, I hope our new home in the suburbs might be…one day.

Houses now, houses then: the disposable home

“We’ve invented a new disposable – the throw-away home.”

My mother grew up in a cottage that was over six hundred years old, in the south of England.

It’s gone now – demolished in a rash of new building that occurred in the 1960s, when the British Government thought it wise to get rid of as much “outdated” housing as it could, replacing it with rows and rows of tract housing made of brick.

You might be familiar with the type I’m talking about – you see British row housing in practically every episode of Doctor Who or Coronation Street.

You can just about smell the coal fires in this picture...

You can just about smell the coal fires in this picture…

The cottage Mum lived in had two rooms – a living room and a sleeping area. There was a lean-to kitchen -laundry area at the back, added roughly a hundred years ago.

Mum tells me stories of how she used to pump water from the well, and how she remembers when the electricity was added in. She talks about how a slab of ice was delivered weekly for the ice chest, and how her Dad used to poach pheasants from the nearby’s Lord’s estate.

It was a different life. And you know what – I never asked about the toilet! But I imagine it was something like this:

It might have even had an ogre! ;)

It might have even had an ogre! 😉

What I’m saying is, most of the world’s population used to live like this. A lot still do. When I visited China in 1983, before the great modernisation that happened since, I saw how families were living on the communes there.

It was pretty similar to how Mum told me she’d grown up. Most homes had one room, one big bed for the whole family (might explain that single child policy!) and a cooking area in the centre to keep the whole place warm. And the whole place wasn’t big.

Thing is, while I do agree that improving living standards for everyone has been a good thing on the whole, housing has not become more durable. Six hundred years ago in England, cottages were built to last for hundreds of years, and they did. These days, a builder’s guarantee lasts seven years, and most fittings are designed to last twenty years maximum.

Along with our throw-away lifestyles, we’ve invented a new disposable – the throw-away home.

I don’t have answers to any of this. I think tiny houses are part of the solution, and downsizing a whole lot is another part of the answer. Because one thing is certain: our homes are too big to be sustainable.

And I’ll say something else: We don’t need ensuites and guest bedrooms and studies (mostly for people who never study!) and billiard rooms for bad billiard players and family rooms for dysfunctional families.

We don’t need walk-in-robes and butler’s pantries and fish burners on our stovetops and pizza ovens in our back yards. We don’t need any of this, especially when we’re putting the whole damned lot on debt.

Yes, I think it’s time we returned to smaller homes. But we also need to think about building homes that will last a lifetime. Maybe for even six hundred years.

And yes, I think it is a damned shame that cottage was destroyed. But sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.