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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My New Earthing Shoes

Yes, I meant earthing, Earthling.

Since first learning about earthing in the book Head Strong, I’ve become a fan of going barefoot outside. Earthing – also known as grounding – promotes the idea that being in direct contact with the earth’s surface allows the planet’s negative charge to impact the body. Restoring this connection, which is often interrupted by our modern nature-free lifestyles, can supposedly bring about a wide array of health benefits.

If you do an internet search on the term “earthing”, the first search results are all for fancy gadgets to simulate that electric charge: while sleeping, while working on your computing, even while relaxing on your couch in front of the TV.

What about just, you know, being in direct contact with the earth?

I’m not going to spend a ton of money on a fancy earthing mat or any of the other “trending” earthing products, because that is not aligned with my values. I go barefoot primarily in my own yard, where I know exactly what has been sprayed on the grass (nothing for at least a year) and it’s relatively easy to dodge any “presents” from the neighbor’s dogs. Gardening barefoot has been my major source of earthing time. I have no evidence either way if earthing has impacted my health or mental well-being, but there are a lot of things we do (like taking vitamins) without *really* knowing if they make a difference.

Until it nearly killed me.

Well, I am exaggerating. Slightly. But it could have. You see, I got stung when I stepped on a honey bee.

In previous years, we’ve had few, if any, honey bees in our yard. But since we stopped spraying the grass to kill the “weeds”, and persistent wet weather had prevented mowing, clover was EVERYWHERE. Plus, I suspect someone in our area got a hive, because it went from ZERO honey bees last year, to honey bees everywhere this year. (Thank you, neighbor, whoever you are.)

Honey bee with clover

Mmmm, Clover!

It was great, all those extra pollinators buzzing around my yard. Until it wasn’t. I hadn’t been stung in over 30 years, and I’d completely forgotten how much it hurt. Plus when the sting is on the bottom of your foot, how do you hobble the 100+ feet back to your house to get help? I finally reached the house; my husband removed the stinger and applied ice, no big deal.

Then two days later, my foot swelled to the point where I couldn’t wear any shoes but flip-flops. As a result, I learned that you can in fact be allergic to bee stings without experiencing anaphylaxis. I thought those were the only two options – just a sting, or slow suffocating death as your airways swell shut. Nope, somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum is me. Although if it had been multiple stings, or it had been near my face or neck, the story might have had a different ending. And apparently allergic reactions can worsen over time with repeated exposures, eventually reaching the anaphylaxis level.

Can you tell which foot was stung?

Can you tell which foot was stung?

Needless to say, I don’t garden barefoot anymore. Flip-flops or sloggers – and their thick rubber soles – protect me from wanton insects. And the static charge of the earth.

Enter: my new gardening shoes.

My New Earthing Shoes

My New Earthing Shoes

I had scoured the internet for ‘earthing shoes’ previously, without much luck. I wanted a shoe that didn’t keep the earth’s charge from reaching the wearer. This could be accomplished with an entirely leather shoe, perhaps, or with capacitive materials running through the sole to allow the charge to pass from earth to shoe to person. With a few exceptions, every shoe out there anymore has rubber or plastic soles. (Some men’s dress shoes for example … not gonna wear those while gardening though. Same for the “Dash Runamoc” shoe from softstarshoes.com – I am NOT wearing anything that pricey to garden!)

So I did what I always do when the marketplace fails to provide the product I want to buy. I made it myself. And by “I”, I mean myself with a lot of support from my husband who is better at leatherworking than I am. And by “a lot of support”, I mean he basically made them according to my instructions!

Apparently “barefoot running” is a thing, and provided a good starting point to fashion my own sandal. I used this site and this site as my main sources of inspiration. I thought I would be clever and use my favorite sandal to cut the pattern. After a shoe isn’t “really” the shape of a foot, it’s the shape of an object encasing a foot. Not so much – look at that weird shape.

Sandal tracing - terrible idea!

Sandal tracing – terrible idea!

So I stood on the paper and my husband traced around my actual foot. You can see the difference in the sandal shape (right) and my actual foot shape (left).

Tracings Compared (Foot, left; Sandal, right)

Tracings Compared (Foot, left; Sandal, right)

We (he) free-handed the holes between the toes, and the tabs on the sides to lace through. The leather is 4/5 ounce vegetable tanned cow. Yes, we are the kind of family that has hides laying around the house waiting to be fashioned into crafts!

Completed Earthing Shoe Pattern

Completed Earthing Shoe Pattern

The first attempt worked ok, only needing minor adjustments to better follow the shape of my toes. The second attempt was a substantial improvement, but you can see from the photo they are stiff and flat. The side flaps jut out awkwardly to the sides.

Shoes 1.0 ... Still Pretty Stiff

Shoes 1.0 … Still Pretty Stiff

The next step is getting the leather wet so it can mold to your feet. The challenge is, since this is untreated leather, it will always get floppy any time it gets wet, like in the dewy early morning (the only reasonable time to garden in the summer months), or following rain. Any time the shoes get wet from gardening, I just wear them until completely dry so they can re-mold to my feet. Once they are dry, they fit perfectly again!

Mmmm, Sexy Shoes!

Mmmm, Sexy Shoes!

An extra tab of leather behind the heel allows for a nice, snug fit that stays tight throughout my various gardening activities.

My only complaint is that the front of the sandal tends to fold under while I’m walking, especially if they have gotten wet. I might try a thicker leather in the future, or moving the lacing holes forward for more support. But that is a very minor issue, compared to being almost barefoot in my garden again. These shoes are super lightweight and easy to replace as they go through wear and tear. They are biodegradable too – no landfills for them once they do reach the end of their useful life.