In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


1 Comment

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.


1 Comment

Resistance Is Utile

(No, that’s not a typo. Here, let me Google that for you.)

I recently finished listening to The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. His writing style is challenging for me to follow on audio, because each section is only loosely connected to its neighbors – like a sitcom where the episodes are only generally related the others, by the same characters and place setting. It was especially difficult for me to keep up since I was navigating my commute as well.

But I am glad I stuck with it, because he makes several excellent points throughout the book. The one which struck me most is that “resistance has meaning”. Which should have been a refresher for me rather than a revelation, because I did read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which was the foil for this particular idea.

To sum it up rather poorly: the most important work you have to do (“art” as Godin calls it) is what your lizard brain least wants you to do. Creating art makes you vulnerable. Opening up to connections with others through you art also opens you up to the possibility of rejection. Maybe as bad or worse: the possibility of realizing no one cares about your art.

So when you realize you are procrastinating on taking action, it’s helpful to inspect the underlying motives. Maybe it’s truly something you don’t want to do. (Me when I have to make phone calls. Always.) But maybe it’s the voice of the resistance, the lizard brain trying to protect you from the ultimate terror, a fate worse even than death: public humiliation. At least death (in this world) is final; shame hovers over you for the rest of your life, even if only in your own scarred, tattered memories.

If you listen intently, you’ll recognize the voice of the resistance trembles like a frightened child on the brink of tears.

Instead of resisting resistance, we should strive to recognize it and embrace it as a sign we are on the verge of creating art.

When I don’t have (make) the time to write… when my to-do list is SO LONG it even includes folding laundry… that is the voice of resistance. Rather than fight it, I should embrace it, maybe offer it a cup of tea, and go write, origami-folded laundry be damned. (I’m sorry, KonMari!)

When I stick to the safe topics – recipes, plant identification, garden updates – that is the voice of resistance.

When I have to read just a few more articles or blog posts or books, so I really know my stuff before I write – that is the voice of the resistance.

When I feel like there is no point because no one reads my blog anyway (except my three regulars – thank you!) – that is not only resistance, but evidence that I need to write more so I get better. Because as Godin explains, if your art isn’t connecting, you don’t give up – you make better art.

What art are you resisting?


3 Comments

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!


Leave a comment

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.


2 Comments

Meditations on Myths

Lately on my evening commute, I’ve been listening to a book called Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Though not immediately clear from the title, this book covers marketing communications and advertising, and the role advertising has played in shaping our society – how, in the vacuum of relevant cultural myths to help us cope with our ever-changing world, advertising has stepped in to fill that gap by creating new myths.

I’m not done with the book yet, but it has already inspired a lot of navel gazing on my part.

As he explains the history of advertising in the US over the past century, the author, Jonas Sachs, breaks the “traditional” advertising model down into its most basic two components: cause anxiety in the consumer – aimed at our shortcomings in status, sex, and safety – and then show how all our fears are assuaged by buying the right product.

Oh, I’m smarter than that, says I. No silly magazine or TV ad is going to scare me into spending my hard-earned money!

And yet… and yet… in quiet moments, in alone moments, I am starting to realize the anxiety which advertisers count on has become part of the fabric of my very being.

I’m not smart enough. Not witty or funny enough.

The anxiety is everywhere

See, isn’t this scary? No, that’s not a real link!

I like to think of myself as a well-adjusted, high functioning, productive adult. But on any given day, the anxiety hums on in the back of my mind, like a soundtrack to my life played so softly in the background you can barely make out the tune.  Everything is great!  …but if I could just earn more …accomplish more … BE more…. all thoughts trickling from my subconscious like a persistent drip, drip, drip of self doubt.

Not talented enough.  Not successful enough. Not popular enough.

Even links to blogs follow the anxiety model!

Not “in the know” enough.

The anxiety is everywhere!

And how do we deal with the constant undercurrent of anxiety that’s not inspired by a single, specific ad?

Retail therapy, of course!

Although sometimes retail therapy opens our eyes in ways no one could have predicted.  We sometimes see just how bad the situation has deteriorated.

A year ago, I stood in a department store changing room, sobbing as I beheld my bikini-clad self in a full length mirror. I wasn’t overweight. Well, I was carrying a few extra pounds but isn’t everyone? But that day, I had to admit that I hated how I looked in that bikini. That I hated my body for failing my self image.

As much as I decry how the mass media has damaged women’s ability to love themselves and their bodies – resist the false image of the perfect figure on the magazine covers, cries I – I was just as much a victim as anyone else.

Not thin enough. Not pretty enough.

But I didn’t turn to retail therapy, an erstwhile gym membership and diet pills for a quick fix. (And I certainly didn’t buy the bikini hoping I’d “get there” someday!)

I did what I do best: I researched!  I uncovered a set of lifestyle changes that made sense to me, particularly in the context of human evolution, which I thought would work for me.  While there were a few purchases along the way – a few books, a blank calendar for tracking, and my ever present FitBit – those were driven by my own interest, not marketing. (Well, ok, except for the FitBit!)

And even if I can (allow myself to) wear a bikini in public now (without tears), I won’t. Because it’s not me that cares how I feel about myself in a bikini, it’s the advertisers who hope I feel inadequate doing so. It’s my itsy bitsy teensy weensy act of defiance!


Leave a comment

Skinny Bitch: The Aftermath

I recently wrapped up listening to Skinny BitchTechnically, it was the “deluxe” edition that included Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, complete with recipes.  Well, annoyingly enough, the Digital eLibrary Consortium version of the audiobook did not actually have any way to get to the recipes.  There should have been a DRM PDF that went with the audiobook, but, oh well.

But I digress. 

Skinny Bitch is a sassy, no-holds-barred exposé on every reason imaginable as to why you shouldn’t consume animal products.   Even if you don’t agree with their argument, you’ll probably keep listening (reading) just to hear what they say next: these ladies have foul mouths the likes of which you rarely encounter in books!

I found the book particularly compelling because I’ve been down this road before.   I was vegetarian for a while in high school and college, primarily for health reasons but also because of how animals were treated in factory farms.  As I grew older, vegetarianism became more a force of habit than anything I truly believed in.  Then I realized that just because my diet was “vegetarian” didn’t make it healthy. So at that point, I went back to the omnivorous ways of my youth.

Yet some things you never really forget.

I have been mostly vegetarian for about a week now.   It was like flipping a switch.  One minute I ate meat, the next I didn’t.  I nibbled a piece of chicken at a Memorial Day cookout, but even that grossed me out.  That’s the biggest difference so far between vegetarian-as-a-teen and vegetarian-as-a-grown-up – as a kid it was very abstract, so while I “knew” why I didn’t want to eat meat, I didn’t feel it.  Now I feel it. 

I am also eating vegan more meals than not.   Another difference between now and then, when I didn’t object so strongly to dairy. 

I’m taking a more moderate approach with husband and kids.  While he listened to the companion book, Skinny Bastard, he doesn’t want to give up meat & dairy – although he acknowledges the health benefits of cutting back.  We are currently researching local sources of pesticide-, growth-hormone- and antibiotic-free critters. As for the kids, I don’t plan on forcing them to follow this lifestyle.  Although who knows, maybe Rory and Kim will come out with Skinny Brat next.


Leave a comment

Truth and Consequences

As a (alleged) grown-up, my only regret about my education is that I didn’t make more effort to learn about economics. It was just so boring. But I wish I understood more of the underpinnings of the current financial crisis, and it’s possible outcomes, both here and abroad. So I am currently trying to redress my ignorance by reading And Then the Roof Caved In: How Wall Street’s Greed and Stupidity Brought Capitalism to its Knees, by David Faber. The title is a bit sensationalist for my tastes – though it did its job by attracting my interest! – we’ll see how the book as a whole turns out.