Saturday, 26 February 2011

Somethings sprung

The last few weeks, compared with the Februarys of recent years, have been positively balmy. The extra warmth means that things are happening out in the garden:

A few loads of laundry have even made it out onto the whirligig to dry in the breeze and sunshine. Windows have been opened to let in some fresh air. In turn, I am in spring cleaning mood; and for once I seem to actually have the wherewithal to get on and do it. Carpets and furnishings are being cleaned, woodwork is being dusted, and tiles are being scrubbed. All of which is so absorbing for once, I haven't had the time or energy to do much else.

All of this is cheering. I think that I have found this last winter the most depressing in memory, for reasons that I can't quite put my finger on. I grew up in a part of the country that looked utterly beautiful through more severe winters and (very slightly) shorter days than this city ever experiences. Portsmouth doesn't have the ability to transmute stark winter skies, bare earth and bone chilling cold into anything I find particularly inspiring. The few days of snow that turned this part of town into a snowy village scene turned just as quickly to a month of slush and road grit.

This dissatisfaction is partly my own fault of course - winter doesn't have to be so depressing, even in a city. I think that I  have massively underestimated the importance of colour and beauty in my life in recent years. A puritanical streak has been given free rein, which has resulted in a life of utilitarian objects, dark colours and not enough walks in the more picturesque parts of my locality. This year one of my projects will be to reverse all that and introduce a little more colour into our days, that next winter might be a little less galling.

For now the sun is shining, the days are lengthening and life is good.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Ode to the black stuff

This week my decluttering attentions turned to the back yard. It is a job I have been dreading. Firstly it means lugging heavy pots and heaps of stuff around and secondly, in February, it means lugging wet and cold heavy pots and heaps around, usually across slippery patio stones in dank weather. Last year the yard was an experimental jungle, with far too many pots, plants and other projects crammed into a tiny space, most of which are still waiting to be cleared up. This year most of those experiments will move up to the allotment; and the yard will be transformed into an oasis of calm and morning sunshine. There will still be greenery - salads, fruit bushes and herbs - and an absolute riot of flowers and colour and perfumes and butterflies and all pretty things.

Okay, I am probably getting a little ahead of myself again, but what is a life without vision : ) ? Truth be told, the summer of 2011 will be declared a success if drying laundry doesn't have to compete with a forest of tomatoes or next door's privet hedge; I get one Dahlia to flower; and if there is just a tiny bit of room to sit and soak it all up for a few minutes in the sunshine. The fruit bushes and salads and riots can come a little later.

One of the projects that is moving up to the allotment is the compost bin. I started the bin three years ago when we first moved in. It was an virtuous move, recycling an old dustbin to in turn recycle some of our household waste on site. The bin was small and filled very quickly. Since then it has sat waiting for the fauna to do their thing, whilst most of our household green waste made its way to landfill. As the allotment is where we need most of our organic matter from now on, this small bin is on its way out. So I set out to bag up the contents of the bin for easy transport to the allotment.

On removing the bin from the pile, I was delighted to be  confronted with this:

A dark black friable heap of earthy-smelling beauty. No bag of garden centre bought compost will ever compare. This is the first time in my poor sheltered life I have seen homemade compost; which is probably why I am positively rhapsodic about it now; but I am truly in awe of the processes that took a heap of dying waste matter and turned it into a substance from which new life will spring. Instead of moving it up to the allotment as planned, I skimmed off the top uncomposted layer and spread the lush dark stuff around the large containers and bed that were intensively cropped last year. If I can't grow big showy Dahlias in this, summer 2011 will indeed have been a failure.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Not binning it

My decluttering over recent weeks has turned my attention not only to how much 'stuff' we store permanently in our home, but also to the transient stuff - packaging, junk mail, food waste, personal care items, that sort of thing. Obvious sound ecological reasons aside, there are some pressing personal reasons for wanting to cut down our waste tally. Firstly, I live in a small house with a small yard; and I can think of better things to do with that space than fill it with rubbish and recycling receptacles. So why we insist on producing two or three black refuse sacks and 2 boxes worth of recycling every week is any one's guess - although I would place good money on laziness and inertia as being the main culprits.

A large proportion of the waste we produce is kitchen waste in the form of vegetable scraps, egg shells, egg boxes and teabags, around 1/2 a refuse sack per week. The other half of that sack comprises bedding, wood shavings and guinea pig poo (which just happens to be an excellent compost activator or even direct manure) from our two guinea pigs. Our new compost bin is now installed on our allotment and is already eating prodigious quantities of kitchen and hutch waste.

So, now for the rest of our bin. Our biggest guilty secret is our sons disposable nappies - we gave up on terry cloths after he turned a year old. I had plans to get him completely potty trained early, but he wasn't buying it; and now 14 months on he uses an average of 2 pairs of pull up pants a day. That amounts to about half a refuse sack per week. Which means that the rest of our bin consists of plastic food packaging; and I suspect quite a few recyclables that neither of us can be bothered to fit into/balance on top of the overflowing recycling box. Part of the reason the box overflows is Nick's absolute refusal to crush tins and bottles down to size, despite weekly promises to begin doing so. The contents of our overflowing recycling box consists of plastic milk cartons, tomato and cat food tins, paper and card.

The ultimate solution of course is to redesign our lives to consume less, full stop. In the UK, there has been quite a lot of complaining about 'waste rationing', with local councils moving to fortnightly collections or even contemplating the introduction of charging schemes. I can see that this would be a concern for many, but most of that concern once again comes from the inconvenience of having to stop and examine your habits - and possibly find them to be improvable - which very few people relish. I feel a twinge of guilt when I put our rubbish out and look at our elderly neighbours half-full recycling box, with a small carrier bag of rubbish perched on top; and I know that I could do better.

By the beginning of March I want to have scaled our waste tally down to an average of 1 refuse sack and 1 (contained!) recycling box per week. This is a workable goal, but requires some life redesign and new habits. We have to start carrying reusable shopping bags without a second thought, a habit we have gradually fallen out of. We need to stop buying over packaged snacks and sweet things on a whim and instaed need to start a regular baking schedule. We need to take lunch to work every day, because the waste we dispose of away from home counts as ours too. We need to investigate reusable pull up pants, which is what we should have done all those months ago. We need to put up another 'no junk mail sign' on our door, something we should have done the moment the first one began to fade.

We need to stop buying so much stuff.


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