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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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.


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Annual Garden Update, The Third

I’m falling behind with my posts. Again. I have so much I want to write, and so little opportunity to sit still at a computer screen. Luckily (I guess?) I recently decided to make my blog more focused on content which is either informative or inspirational, because that’s what I like to read on other people’s blogs. Less of the navel-gazing, more useful content. At least, that’s my plan!

Anyway, this garden update will cover my various berries endeavors.   Starting with: blueberries!  (And a fig.)  Last year, these guys were all in containers.  Then the particularly cold winter killed them all… well, OK, truth in blogging – it was the cold winter plus the fact that the containers did not have any holes in the bottom for water to drain out. So the plants were already compromised health-wise, and then the winter basically did them in.  All but the “Farthing” blueberry in the back. The rest are replacements.

Blueberry bushes

Blueberry bushes

Same for the fig in front.  He is the only one planted in a container still, though sunken into the ground.  This helps constrain the root growth so the fig puts more energy into growing the branches, leaves and fruit. The previous fig also died from the cold winter.

Here’s a side view of my raspberries. This year I have much more aggressively pruned them and trained them in tight rows, held in place by wire. This approach has increased my harvest HUGELY because it’s so much easier to pick the fruit in the middle of the bed without getting scratched to death. I have had much fewer “raspberry kisses” this year than previously. “Raspberry kisses” is my term for those teensy splinters that you can’t see but make your flesh swell up around them so a day or so later you know exactly where they are.

Trellised Raspberries

Trellised Raspberries

I use a pruning method that produces two crops a year, described on page four of this article.  The spring/early summer crop just wrapped up, and the fall crop of  berries are already getting huge but not yet turning ripe. Any day now!

New this year: blackberries! Well, not technically new.  Last year we planted to blackberry bushes, and the instructions clearly said not to let them fruit the first year. So this is the first year with fruit. I tried training them the same as the raspberries, but blackberry canes grow in all sorts of weird directions from all sorts of unlikely places, so they became quite chaotic as the spring went on. Also, they were/are so heavily loaded with fruit that the branches often break and the fruit dies. Strangely enough, I haven’t found any sites about how to deal with too many blackberries!  Next year I may prune off the weaker canes so there isn’t as much fruit. Maybe.

Loaded blackberries

Loaded blackberries

The blackberries started ripening just as the raspberries started petering out, so the timing was impeccable.

Also: blackberries really are weeds. So wherever the canes grew so long that they bent over and touched the ground, that spot developed roots and became its own plant! So now I have two beds of blackberries, plus at least one plant in the walkway between.  So next year we’ll have as big an area producing blackberries as currently produce raspberries. Oh, and because of the chaotic nature of blackberry growth I have NO clue which plants came from the Navajo and which from the Cumberland.

New (volunteer!) blackberry plants

New (volunteer!) blackberry plants

Not pictured: my strawberries. The ones in front of the house started producing ripe fruit in mid-May; the ones in the garden, late May to early June. The crops weren’t great due to bugs and the very wet spring which created a lot of mold issues, particularly in the raised bed which never seemed to dry out.  The strawberries plants look awful this time of year – all sunburnt from hot days and chewed up by the terrible Japanese beetle infestation we’ve been suffering.  Next year we’re going to grow strawberries in elevated containers, so the fruit hangs from the side rather than sitting in dirt and ick. I need to start catching the daughter plants so we’ll have our own cuttings to help fill in the new structure.


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Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Slacker, I Learned in Grade School

What’s the first rule you learned about test-taking in grade school?

Answer the easy questions first, then go back and work on the harder ones.

For tests, this makes sense. It games the system to ensure the student gets as many points as possible, for the highest grade they can achieve.

Unfortunately, this very lesson – so valuable to good marks in school – is often still practiced well into adulthood unconsciously, with unintended consequences.

There’s a pile of mail next to the computer. We pick up the stack, go through it quickly to weed out the easy items – junk mail or other trash, usually – and then the “hard” items go back into the pile for later. When there’s time.

Difficult letters or emails? We’ll handle them later. When there’s time to get them right.

The clutter…. Hard decisions… Same deal. Take on the easy items, then focus your energy on the challenges.

Thing is, with the school tests, there was always a hard finish. When the teacher called time, the pencils went down, and that was it. Those tough problems that we put off may have affected our grade, but the questions themselves didn’t linger in our minds. On to the next subject, for the next test!

If only the pile of mail were so considerate!  By putting off the difficult decisions, you a) waste time by dealing with the same “to do” items over and over (every time you re-evaluate the comparative ease or difficulty of the items in the collection); b) you spend additional mental anguish and energy every time you look at those items you’re putting off and; c) putting off things as a grown-up can have nasty consequences, including overdue fees, lost belongings, missed opportunities, and who knows what else.

All I am saying is: we need to learn new patterns beyond those we picked up in school.  True fact.