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About the Author
Madeleine Somerville adores writing in all its incarnations -- dramatic exclamation-filled diary entries, pseudo-journalistic endeavors for small town weeklies, and the disfigured, bastard child of the above, blogging. She has a B.A. in sociology and is addicted to commas and soft cheeses. She became an unrepentant, tree-hugging hippie after moving to British Columbia eight years ago, and daughter and dog suffer the effects of this metamorphosis on a daily basis. This is her first book.Billee Sharp runs an eco cleaning business and is the author of the bestselling Lemons & Lavender:The Eco Guide to Better Homekeeping. She lives with her family in San Francisco, CA.
Read an Excerpt
Home Sweet Home
Do you know what the average home size was in 1950?
Nine hundred and fifty three feet for an entire family! That’s like the size of one of those fake IKEA apartments where they show you how easy it is to live in a tiny space when you only own three tee-shirts four forks and two books. 953 sq feet. That seems absolutely incomprehensible to us now, even to me who has lived in sweet, tiny houses for years. Contrast that statistic to a few years ago in 2011, where the average family home ballooned up to 2480 feet and almost tripling the square footage. These numbers reveal something other than our penchant for bigger floor plans however, because it’s not just that our houses are triple the size, but also that our family sizes have shrunk - from 3.37 people in 1950, to 2.6 people today.
Not only are our houses larger, but our families are smaller. With less people than ever occupying our homes, what exactly do we need with all of this extra space? Well, the $22 billion dollar a year home storage and organization industry may just be able to provide an answer for you: We need that extra 1527 feet for all of our stuff. The availability of easily acquired consumer goods means that we have more possessions than ever before and what we own is quickly beginning to own us.
The same study that gave us the statistics above, also reported finding that almost a third of women’s stress levels peaked right during the times when they were dealing with their belongings. This means that most stressful part of their day was not when they were working, refereeing World War III between their children or stuck in rush hour traffic, but simply dealing with all of their stuff.
This isn’t exactly what we envisioned, is it?
I’ve wracked my brains for a way to approach this without sounding like either a sanctimonious know it all, or a holier-than-thou minimalist, but I don’t know that there’s any way around it there’s no way to tell people that they need to stop buying so much crap, without sounding like kind of a jerk.
If someone said that to me I’d probably become incensed, “That turquoise ceramic Buddha figurine isn’t crap! And neither are those tiny succulents that decorate my windowsill (fake, of course, because I kill any live plants within a week or two.) And if you think these eight throw pillows are junk, you are out of your MIND!”
There would be some huffing and some puffing, perhaps I’d even storm off and slam the door, depending on how dramatic I felt that day. But then - and here’s the rub- then I would sit there in my bedroom feeling like a petulant thirteen year old girl and I would think to myself, “Wow, jerk. You’re right.”
Imagine your home with 25% -or if you like to live on the edge, 50%- less stuff. Imagine having an empty shelf (or even two); imagine having free space in your closet. Imagine having room to move and play and live, without stubbing your toe on that console table you found on sale. Imagine being able to actually park your car in your garage, and find a muffin pan without getting buried under an avalanche of cookware.
Why “Beg, Barter, Borrow” should be the new “Eat, Pray, Love”
The availability of credit cards and proliferation of easily-acquired consumer goods means that we very rarely have to do without, and usually find ourselves asking, “Why borrow something when we could own our own?” because owning is always assumed to be the best option.
But in owning each and every single thing that we could ever need at any point in the conceivable future, we lose out on precisely those connections we would form by doing without. We don’t get to know our neighbours; we don’t build the web of small kindnesses that is formed by lending and borrowing, or by exchanging one service for another.
If two households pooled their resources they could potentially cut their possessions, their expenses and the space needed to store those possessions in half. We teach our children to share; we constantly espouse the values of cooperation and collaboration and helping others, so why not put our money where our mouths are?
This could work with a neighbor or a friend or even a family member who lives close by. And we don’t have to get all crazy and litigious about it, either.
When I first began writing this chapter I thought of suggesting that you draw up a contract or make an agreement, something with rules and guidelines and clauses and consequences. I thought of creating safeguards to prevent anyone from getting burned. But honestly, I think that is making things far more complicated than it needs to be—guys, just use your best judgment. Try approaching a friend or neighbour and offering them the use of something of yours. Be generous, be open. And then when you need something, feel okay about asking to borrow it. The worst they can say is no. If you know them well enough or if you feel comfortable, you could even work out an exchange of services (e.g. You can borrow her lawn mower if you do her lawn, too).
Make sure you lend to those who take care of their things, make sure you treat that which you borrow the same you would your own. Say please, say thank you, be kind and smile.
And perhaps, just perhaps, Ms. Jones owns a lawn mower, while Mr. Smith owns a carpet cleaner machine. They work out an agreement where each is used as needed and returned when not. Together their lawns are manicured and their carpets spotless, and maybe in this sweet little exchange of lawn-maintenance tools and floor cleaning devices, maybe they begin to fall in love.
Hands touch while opening a garage door; eyes meet over a half-empty container of rug shampoo. Over time their excuses for mowing their lawns and cleaning their carpets become more and more outlandish. They begin to share more than just their possessions; they begin to share their hearts.
True love found through a mutual distaste of overconsumption. Now that’s a book I’d read.
[QUICK TIP: Some ideas for things that are great to beg, barter and borrow
o A large set of inexpensive dishes and cutlery used for parties and outdoor soirees
o Yard maintenance equipment (lawn tractors, chain saws , snow blowers, etc.)
o Space in your greenhouse in exchange for a cut of the vegetables grown
o Child care o Dog walking
o Terracycle recycling brigades (more info on page XX)
o Dehydrators, food processors, mixers or other rarely-used kitchen appliances
o Carpet cleaners
o Books, children’s toys, board games, movies, video games etc.
o Air mattresses/blow up guest beds ]
Table of Contents
the ugly duckling of the green movement
the true cost of consumption
why buy secondhand?
o laundry soap o all-purpose cleaner o tub scrub
o shower soaker
o silver polish
o floor cleaner
o hardwood floor polish
o window spray
o floor duster
o stainless steel cleaner
o ceramic stovetop cleaner
alternatives to dryer sheets
a word about plastic
basic hygiene boot camp
how to choose cosmetics
o eye makeup remover
o body oil
o whipped body oil
o simple body scrubs
o shampoo and conditioner o toothpaste
o skin toner
how being green is good for the waistline
home, sweet home
why beg, barter, borrow should be the new eat, pray, love
remembering your reusable bags
o rain barrel
FOOD & DRINK
reducing waste in the grocery store
taking on take-out
o punch yourself in the face salsa
o delicious tzatziki
o zero-electricity, cold brewed, basically-the-solution-to-global-warming, coffee
o jar travel mug
o boho table settings
all about organics
simple food storage
a word from the gardening guru imposter
o herb garden
o raised garden beds
o pesticide free gardening
o compost bin
o worm compost
o weed killer
o weed barrier
what to do when your partner is a soul-sucking planet killer
quiz: are you an insufferable enviro-nag?
how living green can save your relationship
giving the gift
o personal lubricant
o massage oil
HEALTH & WELLNESS
apple cider vinegar cures everything
how (and why) to stick a small ceramic teapot up your nose
o magic tea for cold and flu season
o epsom salt aromatherapy bath
your dog does not need a sweater (or a stroller)(or boots)
o stinky dog spray
o upcycled pet bed
o flea spray
o pet toothpaste
o litterbox tips for sexy cat ladies
welcoming your adorable little waste machine
why craigslist should be your baby’s middle name
toys, toys, toys
keeping it neutral
baby skin care
o belly butter
o baby wipes
o wipe solution o diaper rash cream
how to curb holiday excess without becoming a Scrooge
o wrapping paper
o recycled paper bow
o a difference