In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Tiny Steps

You might’ve noticed, I’m a bit of a self-help junkie.
While I haven’t read any self-help books recently – so I can use the time spent “fixing” myself through exercises to write instead – I’m still getting emails from a few self-help guru-types, and well, they’re just emails so they don’t take that long to read. And they usually don’t include exercises. (I might’ve snuck in an audiobook or two, but shhhhhhhh don’t tell.)
Recently there was an email from Courtney at Be More with Less about toasting “tiny steps”. She discussed her own life experiences, the tiny steps she’s taken, and how long it took to transition from where she started to where she is today. I found the article particularly inspiring because so often it feels like we’re not doing enough. Like we’ll never get to wherever it is we want to be. Like you feel as though you’re getting nowhere, so why even bother? Particularly if your tiny steps are focused on transitioning to a lower energy lifestyle, consuming less, and eating more naturally. The overwhelming majority of your friends and neighbors aren’t bothering, and you find yourself wondering what’s the point.
Well, here is a list of tiny steps I’ve taken over the last year(ish). As I was trying to recall exactly how long it has been, I remembered … I have written about tiny steps before! It’s fascinating to see what I meant to do, compared to what I have actually done. This list may have to become an annual tradition!
Consuming stuff:
  • Using fewer single-use disposable items. We rarely use paper plates anymore; I reach for a sponge or cloth towel before a paper towel. Not always successful, but again, this is about tiny steps.
  • Not using plastic produce bags at the grocery store for fruits or veggies that have their own wrapping (sweet potatoes, lemons, limes, etc … although the cashiers hate finding that one extra lime in my order because they weren’t all bagged together)
  • Reusing single-use disposable items wherever feasible. For instance, when I do end up with plastic produce bags, I save them to store veggies I harvest from my garden. The plastic containers that hold deli meat get reused to pack lunches.
  • Compost what paper napkins and paper towels we do use, so at least they aren’t cluttering up landfills.
  • Started a ‘deep pantry’ so I can buy food staples when they are on sale, rather than when we run out.
  • Figuring out ways to use possessions we already have in new ways to solve problems, rather than immediately purchasing a solution.
  • Reading books through the library and free ebook services rather than purchasing books. Not always 100% successful … trying to buy used books when I simply can no longer resist.
  • Mending clothing, which says a lot because I hate mending.
  • Simplifying my wardrobe… I even tried Project 333, but it really didn’t work for me. (Sorry, Courtney!)
Still working on…
  • Phasing out paper napkins… even though they are teens, my kids are still really messy
  • Shopping less. I’ve tried, but the results are inconsistent at best.
  • Watching less TV.
  • Spending less time on my cell phone.
Eating:
  • Reducing food waste through ninja meal planning skillz.
  • Eating out less often, particularly at fast food restaurants.
  • Eating more produce from my own garden. I had wanted to join a CSA, but I can’t even properly use everything from my own garden before it rots. It didn’t seem responsible to buy even more produce I would struggle to use.
  • Incorporating more wild foods into our diet.
  • Eating more food in season and local to the area. I mean, there is nothing sadder than a grocery store tomato in Maryland in February!
  • Using more permaculture techniques (like intercropping and polyculture) in my garden to improve overall health and reduce the need for energy-intensive human interventions.
Still working on…
  • Preparing at least one vegetarian meal per week
  • Preserving or sharing garden produce rather than letting it go to waste
  • Finding innovative ways to feed my family whatever I can harvest yes, really, one more time. Ask my kids how sick they are of green beans!
  • Actually listening to my body and putting the fork down when I’m full even if it’s wasteful to stop, or so delicious I don’t want to.
Energy Consumption:
  • Sewed light-blocking curtains for the full-length windows flanking our front door. The summer sun streaming into the foyer made the whole house an oven, and the AC worked overtime. In the winter, cold radiated from them. The curtains let us control the temperature better on the main level of our house.
  • Installed a new attic fan and skylight. OK these were big steps, but we needed to redo our roof anyway so both attic fan and skylight got upgraded as well. The skylight has a remote control which allows you to open and close the curtain to allow or block the sun as needed, or open the skylight to allow hot air to escape. The attic fan has also kept the temperature upstairs more comfortable.
  • Trying to combine errands to use less gas… or better yet, just not go out!
Still working on…
  • Finding and completing more projects to insulate and weatherproof our home. For example, I bought foam to insulate hot water pipes after reading Green Wizardry last year, and they are still just piled all over our basement floor.
  • Line drying more clothing.
Friends and Family:
  • Making time to actually listen to the kids.
  • Spending time with friends and family, sharing a home-cooked meal rather than going out to a restaurant.
  • Sharing experiences instead of exchanging store-bought gifts.
Still working on…
  • Working to connect with other people locally who share my interests and values.
  • Learning to enjoy what the local environment has to offer rather than going on fancy vacations; there’s lots of local opportunities for hiking and camping, for instance.
I am sure to many people these tiny steps seem like self-deprivation and misery. (Although people who feel that way probably aren’t reading my blog in the first place.)
But putting one more plate in the dishwasher is no more work than throwing out the paper plate.
Cooking at home from scratch is more work, but allows my husband and I time together while we prep the meal; we enjoy the meal together as a family, and we’re all healthier as well.
Instead of shopping as a past-time with the kids, we’re actually having conversations and trying to cook together, while the money saved has helped us better cope with a few financial crises.
Hanging laundry up to dry is actually better for the clothes as well as the environment.
And even though I still abhor mending, it brings with it the quiet satisfaction of fixing a problem myself, and returning a loved garment to my wardrobe rather than scouring the malls or internet hoping I can find *and* afford its replacement.
Last but not least, I find joy in knowing that in even small ways I am cutting back on waste and reducing the degree of variation between my values and the life I’m actually living. And that’s worth more to me than any minor inconvenience which may be caused by these tiny steps.


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Ode to Self-Help Books

You may be wondering why my blog posts consist of a random mix of self-help / self-improvement / lifehacks and gardening / foraging. No, it’s not a symptom of multiple personality disorder, I promise! (Or is it?)

I am struggling to find (make) time to write. My weekly foraging series (while mostly unread) has created a firm commitment that I will post something, however short, at least once a week. But I have so much more to share.

I keep thinking… just one more technique from one more self-help book, and I will at last discover the ultimate trick to unlock my true gifts and unleash my creativity on the world. I will finally overcome (or embrace) the resistance, and be able to write.

Just as soon as I am done getting things done, papers filed, inbox to zero, boxes checked – then I will finally be have all the time I need to write.

Maybe I can change my life by tidying up, which will help me cultivate an uncluttered mind, and then I will finally be able to write.

You know, I need to manage my budget better, and when I am less concerned about finances, then I will have the spare brain cells to be able to write.

I must exercise, and eat healthy (including cooking meals from scratch), and take all the nutritional supplements because when I am at my peak, physically speaking, my mind will be as well and then I will be able to write.

If I could just lifehack a little more free time into my day, then, well … you know.

If I could only perfect my sleep so I could survive on less thanks to the amazing quality of the sleep I did get, then … sigh.

…are we noticing a theme here?

“Is there any chance that the healing you seek is just another form of resistance?”

–Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

My friend Kristen at The Sojourning Spinner recently suggest that for at least a month I try – get this – rather than spending time on lifehacks to free up time to write, I just (gasp!) write.

It’s a great idea. And I’m going to give it a serious try. But first, I need to find my “Flow Pattern” on the Flow Genome Project so I know I can really maximize those precious few moments to write.

…. oh wait. Oops.


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And Now for Something Completely Different

This is not a foraging blog.

Yes, I have recently written many foraging posts. In fact, mostly foraging posts. I discovered that committing to a “weekly series” helps motivate me to post more regularly. And there are always new developments in the realm of wild edibles, particularly this time of year.

But foraging is just one element of what the Lean Six Life means to me. I am seeking ways to reduce waste and clutter in my life, and to reduce variation by bringing my life closer into alignment with my values. (I know, I know, I really need to update my About page.)

Health is also important to me, but historically I have neglected the “fitness” aspect of my well-being. Focusing on food is so much… well, tastier. To address this, recently I started a new workout routine loosely based on / inspired by some exercises and concepts from The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. (From my local library. I have a moratorium on book purchases until I declutter my current collection … see previous description of my Lean Six Life.) Here’s what I am doing, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays before work:

hip flexor stretches – 30 seconds per leg (p. 179)
kettlebell swings (although I hinge instead of squatting, based on independent research, aka lots of YouTube videos) – 25 reps (p. 165 & 166)
jump squats – 30 seconds (not in the book – I added this for additional toning)
flying dog – 15 per side (p. 164 & 167)
cat vomit (hey, blame Tim for the names, not me!) – 10 reps for 12 seconds each, with a 10 second rest between reps (p. 177 – 178)
kettlebell swings – 25 reps
jump squats – 30 seconds
bridge – 20 reps (p. 164 & 167)
planks – 30 seconds front and each side (p. 179)
kettlebell swings – 25 reps
jump squats – 30 seconds
myotatic crunch (or as I prefer to call it, the myotatic couch … since I don’t have a proper exercise ball) – 10 reps with a 4 second-hold at the top of the movement (p. 175 – 177)
collapse in a quivering pile

This whole routing takes less than 25 minutes, so less than 1.5 hours per week. It’s short enough that my usual cop out (“But I don’t have time!”) holds little weight. (Haha, get it?)

However, I have veered from the book’s guidance in one major way. I have NO before photos, measurements, weight, body fat measurement – no metrics at all by which I can assess my progress towards being more “fit” or “toned.” Yes, Tim emphasized repeatedly the importance of having starting measurements. I’m sorry, Tim. I didn’t listen.

See, over a year ago, I stopped tracking. Yes, really. Yes, everything. I ditched the FitBit activity tracker and the scale, and even abandoned food logging in LoseIt. After reading Yoga of Eating by Charles Eisenstein, I decided to listen to my body and be more in tune with its messages rather than blindly tracking metrics hoping that some perfect combination of macronutrients and calories would lead to some kind of physical perfection. And I don’t (often) regret it. The human body is more than the sum of its measurements, after all.

So I define “success” for this workout by my experience. How easily does it integrate into my daily routine? Can I do it at home with simple equipment? Does it wipe me out by the end of the workout, i.e., continues to challenge me physically – and when it no longer does, how easily can I increase the intensity again? Do I dread exercising or look forward to it (at least enough to haul myself out of bed)? Do I feel changes in my muscles, like a tighter core that helps support my posture?

No, it’s not scientific… but by focusing on my experience, I’m hoping establish an exercise system rather than achieve a specific goal.


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Well… Chit

If you read my post yesterday (but missed my reply to Carolee, of the Herbal Blessings Blog), you might be wondering why I would ever have planted peas last Sunday, knowing there was a snow storm in the forecast.

In a word: chit.

That’s right. I said it. In my blog, no less.

After reading (most of) Steve Solomon’s Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times, I decided to try chitting as a way of jump starting seed germination. The approach is similar to sprouting seeds to eat, except when the roots are just becoming prominent, you plant the seeds in prepared soil. If you wait too long, the fragile roots grow increasingly susceptible to damage when planting.

Chitting takes three to four days, and in the Mid-Atlantic you NEVER know what the forecast will be in a few days, much less a week.  In other words, when the seedlings are ready to plant, you plant – oncoming winter storm or no.

… or you let them fully mature into tasty pea sprouts, and try chitting a new batch in another week! (That’s probably what I’ll do next time.)


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Terrible Names for Good Ideas

I’m listening to the audiobook version of How to be Alive by Colin Beavan. So far it has been enjoyable with lots of interesting perspectives and insights. And the book is read by the author, which I definitely prefer.

[Side note – the audio is free through hoopladigital.com in partnership with my local library, and it does NOT include all the “enhanced digital content” that would have been on the actual disks if I had purchased them in the store.]

Anyway, while I like a lot of Mr. Beavan’s ideas, I find his names for them, um, less than inspiring. Take for example, the “Ukulele Approach”. This is his term for small, easy actions that one can take to help bring your life more in line with your values. Even if you can’t solve big issues like world hunger or universal clean drinking water, anyone can smile more, help an elderly person carry their groceries, etc. He provides a list of 19 examples and they are all great suggestions. Just … the name for them … hmmmmm …

[Side note 2 – I finally know how to spell ukulele after writing this post.]

But the point is, Mr. Beavan’s list inspired me to compose my own. Some of the items are on his list as well, because I liked them so much. Without further ado, my own list of 19 easy small steps I can take to live a life better aligned to my values:

  1. Pick up litter while walking
  2. Eat a more plant-based diet
  3. Feed my family more locally sourced food
  4. Forage more to learn about my local ecology
  5. Drink less booze
  6. Eat less sugar
  7. Eat more fermented / cultured foods
  8. Buy more clothes used
  9. Shift what clothing I do buy to be more natural fibers rather than synthetic
  10. Improve the energy efficiency of my home through insulation foam, caulking and weather stripping
  11. Watch TV less
  12. Buy less stuff, especially things which are ‘labor saving’ gadgets or ‘convenience’ devices, or only serve one highly specialized purpose
  13. Spend my dollars at local and / or ethically and socially conscious businesses
  14. Give more complements
  15. Smile more
  16. Support my daughters’ unique personalities and individual traits and empower them to be strong women
  17. Buy seeds evolved for my climate so the garden needs less energy to support
  18. Participate in seed exchanges
  19. If given the choice, use and buy things that can be ‘returned to the soil’ at the end of their functional life

How will it go? Only time will tell, BUT I can definitely say, it has been a while since I last composed a list that made me feel excited, rather than anxious!


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Ceci N’est Pas Une Diet Blog

I know, I know, I’ve been blogging about food and diet a lot lately.

Just a reminder, this is NOT a diet blog, even though it looks like one from time to time.  Or a lot, even.

This is a personal productivity and effectiveness blog.  It’s an exploring-ways-to-be-more-awesome blog. It’s a getting the most out of the short time we have on this planet blog. Finding ways to do things smarter, not harder.

The best way to know if things are getting better, is to have metrics that you can record over time. This allows you to make small adjustments, measure results, and then change accordingly to see if the numbers are reflecting the desired change. To do this effectively, you need to have a good starting baseline.

One my consistent failings in all my year’s gardening has been tracking yield. My beloved journal/calendar/diary keeps me straight on timing, but I have no way to know if things like succession planting or different vegetable varieties is really impacting my yield.

This year, I’m committed to better tracking to establish that baseline. To that end: behold! My first measurable garden output of the year!

Asparagus fresh from the backyard

Asparagus fresh from the backyard

(Note this is not “subsistence farming” or even significantly impacting my grocery budget – this much asparagus sells right now for probably 5 USD or less.  Frankly, if it’s in season for your home garden, it’s in season for the farmers around you, and they have economies of scale which allow them to sell the same produce for WAY less than it costs you to grow it yourself. But a backyard garden is noble and worthy for other reasons… probably that will be (yet another) future blog post.)


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A Dream of One

Funny how sometimes you don’t realize you have a dream until someone else is living it.

This week, I learned that person is Daniel Markovitz.

OK, not literally.  I don’t actually know Mr. Markovitz is, or what his life is like. But I learned of his book, Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance, and I wanted to cry. With joy at finding such an awesome book, and with despair at realizing I wanted to write that book.

And it’s a good book so far. I can’t even pursue the “well I’ll do the same thing only better” angle.  Sigh.