Tiny Bohemian Universe

Part of what prompted my post yesterday about electronic decluttering, was stumbling on a bunch of photos I’d totally forgotten about, stashed in dusty corners of my computer hard drive. This one is a photo-collage “excerpt” of a line of jewelry I made a few years back. I dubbed the pic “Tiny Bohemian Universe.” I love the bright colors and the sense of entering a sweet minuscule world, and thought you might enjoy it too.

One major advantage of the low-footprint lifestyle is that it frees up enormous amounts of time and energy. It can also radically reduce one’s income requirements. For me, those benefits add up to things like being able to create a line of jewelry and have that be part of my livelihood.

Electronic Decluttering: Hard Drive

Although it doesn’t take up physical space, clutter on a computer can be a major drain on one’s time and energy! I’m not a huge picture-taker, but I do have a fair number of photos, and am not that great about naming the files and putting them into folders. Today I got the idea of making one file that’s like an electronic photo album.

I could do one for my whole life; or do different albums for different periods of my life. Deleting the photos from my hard drive after making the album would be an option. Or copying the photos onto a memory stick and then deleting them off the hard drive.

Here’s a page from “Starshine,” a little 2-page album of my favorite photos of my cat. She lived just about 16 years, and was such a sweet and joyful part of my life. She came to me as an abandoned stray in Austin, and made the move with me to Florida. She always was a good traveler.

Making the album brought back happy memories. My mind feels cleared and energized just knowing all my favorite photos of her are gathered in one file, with the very easy-to-find title “Starshine Album.”

I created the file in Pages for Mac, but it would be easy to export as a PDF to make it more shareable if I wanted to.

Best Dustpan Ever

I made this dustpan a few years back, from a detergent container I got out of a recycling bin. I think I saw the idea online; I don’t remember thinking of it myself. In any case, this has been my favorite dustpan ever, and the little caddy for daily household goods or toiletries was a nice bonus. Goes nicely under the kitchen sink or bathroom sink, and keeps those jars and bottles organized.

When the dustpan isn’t in use, it stows neatly right on the broom.

Low-Footprint Living Hints from LoLo-Ease

No doubt most if not all of you are familiar with Hints from Heloise, that beloved newspaper column offering household thrift tips. Heloise has been around for almost 60 years now! (Actually the column was taken over by Heloise’s daughter in the 1970s.) The tips are as good as ever, and of course, what’s thrifty is oftentimes also green so it’s a double bonus.

Today I offer you my own version, Low-Footprint Living Hints from LoLo-Ease. Domestic Science for the New Green Millennium! Eco Home Ec!

• When a jar of jelly or honey is used up, put water in the empty jar and shake it vigorously to clean out those very last bits of honey or jelly. The jelly-water or honey-water is a nice sweet treat, and the jar will be cleaner for the recycling bin. Sometimes I chill the jar of sweetened water in the fridge for an extra cool treat.

• Peanut butter and oatmeal is a filling and affordable breakfast. When the peanut butter jar is just about empty, instead of having your oatmeal in a bowl as usual, put that day’s oatmeal and hot water in the peanut-butter jar, stir or shake, and eat your PB&O right out of the jar! For us green cheapskates, failing to use up that very very last bit of peanut butter would just be wrong! Also the oatmeal and spoon serve as a nice scouring material to get the jar clean for the recycling bin.

• Instant cover for the compost bin: flattened cardboard box. It makes a nice additional cover, besides the dried leaves and grass that you use to cover the food scraps to keep odors down and make the material break down properly. Over time as the cardboard gets broken down by rain, you can mush it into the bin with the rest of the compost and then replace it with another flattened box. By the way, earthworms love cardboard. And it’s always good to steadily use up cardboard boxes rather than keeping too many around your house and garage, as they are attractive to rodents.

• Buy the toilet paper that has a paper wrapping rather than the one wrapped in plastic. It’s one less piece of plastic in landfill, and the paper wrapping is really good for cleaning the stubborn gunk out of your coffee cup (or for a greasy pan or plate, etc.). And you can toss it in the compost afterwards.

Those are just a few of my personal favorites that I can think of off the top of my head right now. I’ll write more on other occasions as I remember them. If you’d like to share your favorite household green thrift tips with your fellow readers of this blog, feel free to email them to me. Be sure and let me know if you want me to include your name or initials, and city/state.

Have a thrifty green day, and remember, the millions and millions of little choices we make each day have the power to change the world!

I realize that some of you might feel that the tone and content of this post is inappropriately light. We’re dealing with a deadly serious subject here, after all: the impending collapse of our living environment; the possible imminent demise of human civilization, because of what boils down to human thoughtlessness and selfishness.

The light tone of some of my posts might seem offensive to some of you. For those who prefer a more serious approach, I assure you I’m living it. But keep in mind that I’m trying to reach and motivate as many people as I can. And stay motivated myself!

For those of you who’d like a bit more substance to balance out the light tone of today’s post, I offer you this article by Ron Meador in MinnPost, New outlook on global warming: Best prepare for social collapse, and soon.

I’m here to help you prepare for the possibility of societal collapse. Ideally, best case scenario, to prepare ourselves so we AVOID societal collapse. And much of the preparation involves boosting our inner resilience. Humor and the ability to take pleasure in small things are valuable qualities to cultivate as we move forward into uncharted terrain.

A Tale of Two Yards

The two houses in these photos are located just a couple doors down from one another. Both houses are right on the beach. They literally have the beach in their backyards! The owners of the home in the top photo have a typical lawn. The owners of the home in the bottom photo chose to leave the existing trees and shrubs in place rather than clear the lot.

These houses front onto a busy highway. The house with the trees gets a free privacy buffer and noise buffer. Interestingly enough, although the lawn obviously has a much lower volume of vegetation, the lawn people probably have to water their yard more than the tree people do. The tree people might not have to water at all! (Actually this lawn doesn’t look too extremely green, like those you see sometimes whose uncannily green color is maintained by massive inputs of water and fertilizer and weed-killer. It looks fairly low-maintenance as lawns go. Still, the trees win hands-down in terms of beauty and functionality!)

Another benefit: The trees to the west shield the house from the fierce afternoon sun, which probably means the tree people don’t need to spend as much money to cool their house as the lawn people do.

Smart people, those tree folks! So much else to do with their time other than maintain a clipped lawn. After all, the beach beckons! … Or the library, or the fishing pier, or the art museum …

They may or may not realize it, but the tree people aren’t just benefiting personally from their landscaping choices; they are also helping to reduce the load on the stormwater infrastructure and protect the land from wind and water erosion. And they are creating a cool moist microclimate which provides habitat for beneficial wildlife as well as making life more comfortable for humans.

A fine example of stacking functions, as we say in permaculture design.

More On Water Woes, and Simple Solutions

In my town (and possibly yours too), we’ve got a water crisis. Sometimes our stormwater infrastructure is overloaded by flooding. Other times we’ve got drought. Interesting how everywhere I’ve lived, from deserts to rainy subtropical areas, the situation seems to be pretty much the same, alternating between these extremes.

If that’s not bad enough, our waterways here in Florida are polluted by toxic bacteria and algae which is killing the wildlife and even in some places making it difficult for humans to breathe.

Some of the best solutions to our big water woes are the simplest.

One, conservation. Quite simply, use less water and encourage others by your positive example. When friends and neighbors hear how low your water bill is, or see your pretty yard that requires no fuss because it’s all locally adapted, hardy, drought-tolerant plants, they will take notice.

Two, harvest rainwater. Rainwater harvesting is not just cisterns; it’s also doing things that help the soil hold onto water longer, and help trees and other plants sustain themselves through periods without rain so they don’t need constant daily watering. Examples include mulching (fallen leaves aren’t trash; they’re treasure!); adding compost to the soil; planting (or allowing to remain in place) coastal grasses and shrubs that help reduce runoff from a site; creating berms and swales to do the same. And of course, rainwater collection does include rainbarrels too.

Three, composting. Keep your kitchen scraps out of your trash, and compost them. If you currently use a garbage disposal, you can save a lot of water by composting instead of throwing food down the drain. Food scraps aren’t trash; they’re treasure! Even apartment-dwellers can compost; there are many compact units on the market designed for indoor use.

And, very important, urge your local government to implement all of the above on a city-wide or county-wide level. Many cities have composting programs already. New York City is one! Here’s a municipal compost bin at my cousin’s apartment complex.

Ask your city to institute low-mow or no-mow landscaping practices, such as retaining a buffer of wild vegetation along all waterfront areas, and transitioning to a more natural mix of vegetation in road medians.

My city is on the verge of requesting the state to have its allotment of water increased. And we’re about to embark on a fancy and expensive wastewater-treatment experiment. Unless we first do a lot more in the way of conservation, this is outrageous, morally bankrupt really. We could probably cut our usage almost in half without breaking a sweat! The simplest thing is always to cut back and use less. Costs nothing, and can even put quite a bit of money in our wallets, not to mention creating a kinder and more beautiful world.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“Although the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” — Bill Mollison

Recommended Resource:
Visit this rainwater harvesting calculator to find out how much free fresh water you can collect from your roof! You input your roof’s square footage and the annual rainfall for your area, and get an instant answer. I was amazed to find I could potentially collect up to 2,500 gallons a year just from my little 10-foot-by-10-foot porch roof! Innovative Water Solutions is based in Austin, TX, a place I myself lived for many years, and a place that knows all about flooding and droughts!

Oak Tree and Palm Tree: Interdependency

Trees in a forest grow in guilds, rather than in isolation. Oftentimes their branches end up encircling one another or even intertwined. Here in Florida, a common sight is a palm tree growing up into the branches of an oak. This beautiful duo in my neighborhood offer a nice visual metaphor for human interdependency also.

So did the palm tree nurse the baby oak seedling, or was the palm tree seedling nursed by the tall leafy oak? I imagine the latter, as the oak tree looks to be of a stately age, and palm trees don’t offer much shade. But it could have been a different scenario entirely. These trees sit on an empty, mostly grass lot which at one time was probably densely forested with a much wider variety of tree and shrub species.

While googling for an answer (I haven’t found one yet), I stumbled on this article, A Miami Emblem Is Sacrificed for Shade, about how the city of Miami realized it needed to start planting oak trees again. (Truly, there should be no sacrifice required; it should not be an either-or. The palm tree growing within the branches of the oak offers a memorable reminder.)

The article was published back in 2006 but it caught my eye because my city seems to be cutting down a lot of oak trees, as well as palmettos and other native scrub, from public lands, leaving little except wide expanses of buzzcut turf grass and palm trees. A lot of homeowners seem to be doing this as well. It makes for a rather desolate, not to mention hot and relentlessly sun-scoured, landscape.

Further Reading:

Botanical Nursing: From deserts to shorelines, nurse effects are receiving renewed attention: paper in BioScience journal. Fascinating overview of the various aspects of botanical nursing, and how the benefits tend to be mutual rather than one-sided. Key takeaway: “One plant’s reliance on another for its survival and growth has clear implications for conservation: Namely, saving a species dependent on nurse plants requires saving the nurse plants and endangerment of a nurse species endangers plants that depend on it.” Something for cities (and homeowners) to keep in mind as they remove seemingly “extraneous” or “undesirable” vegetation. Also: “Just as nurse plants are important to preservation, they can also be useful in restoration. … [W]ork on denuded ski runs in the Swiss Alps has focused on creating ‘safety islands’ — patches of diverse vegetation that provide numerous sites in which seedlings can safely establish.”