Posts Tagged ‘Consumption’

Compost Fun


I realize I haven’t written on some of our homesteading activities in a while. We’ve been continuing along with our homesteading fun, including Robert’s latest love….pickling. But pickling will have to wait for another time. Today I want to talk a little bit about our adventures in composting. It’s easier than you think!

Above you see a picture of Rob holding a handful of our compost. This rich soil is pretty much the best thing you could put in your garden. All you need to create compost is some fruit and vegetable waste, some dried leaves or shredded newspaper, a little arm strength, and some time.

I suppose it’s a little more involved than that, but not much. We start by gathering together our vegetable and fruit scraps in a tightly sealed container in the kitchen. This includes things like apple cores, carrot peels, even coffee grounds. Egg shells are also compostable. No meat, oil, or dairy, however; you don’t want anything that would go rancid or attract vermin.

After a few days, we have enough scraps and we go outside to add to our compost pile. It’s not anything fancy. Here’s a picture:


 After we add the vegetable scraps (“green matter”), we must also add an equal amount of “brown matter”–dried leaves, grass clippings, even newspaper. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have soy based ink, which is safe for composting, so we use a lot of newspaper in our composting. Getting this ratio is important, however; if you don’t have enough brown matter, the compost will attract flies and smell pretty bad. It also won’t decompose quickly. Often when you hear about smelly compost, this is the problem. Some people even say the ratio should be as high as 8:1 (brown to green) but I don’t think you have to be this precise. Play with it and see what works. If you need more brown matter, you’ll know.

After you’ve added the brown matter to the pile, sprinkle it with a good dose of water. This will help work oxygen into that chemical equation. You’ll also want to use a pitchfork to turn your compost every day. This will aid in the breakdown process and things will go much more quickly.

There are other ways to compost as well–using worms and some types of manure–but these are a little more complicated. Our compost works just fine without the intentional aid of either of those. I say “intentional” because we have noticed that quite a few earthworms have naturally come to our compost. This is great because it helps the compost break down faster….especially since our pile is not in the sun. That’s another thing–being in the sun will make it compost faster, but it’s not necessary. Our pile is in the shade full time, and is doing just fine.

One last interesting aspect of our composting. When we first started, we thought our pile was going to quickly grow to 2 or 3 feet high. It never did. Even though we are always piling more on there (it’s been about 7 months now) it never gets taller than the picture above. Why? It’s constantly breaking down! So you don’t have to worry about a 6 foot tall pile of compost in your backyard. It just won’t get there if you’re doing it right.

Hope this helps anyone out there who has been thinking about composting but has been afraid to try. It’s really easy, and it’s a good way to help reduce waste. A lot of the things we compost would not break down as easily in a garbage dump because the circumstances are far less than ideal. So it’s also a great way to help the environment.

Happy composting!


Stuff Diet in Review

From September 17, 2008 until September 17, 2009, Robert and I decided to go on a self-entitled “Stuff Diet.” Here is a quick overview of what that “diet” entailed (taken straight from the document) and some of our reflections on how we did.

The Stuff Diet Explained

Our Intent: An attempt to exercise our preferential option for the poor by recognizing the role of consumerism in our lives, our participation in it, and our attachment to it. This is our attempt at lessening that attachment.

Actions Involved: 

  • Restrict purchases of new items
  • Avoid products from corporations that do not have an ethical focus or operate locally
  • Simplify our living space by recycling, selling, or donating items that we don’t use or use and feel called to share with others
  • Anything purchased outside of textbooks and/or food needs (and items necessary for safety), to be discussed with the other person before purchase
  • Develop a budget that allows us to: (1) live within our means; (2) save money to pay down debt, and (3) donate to worthy causes
  • Take inventory of our entire home, identifying items that can be sold at a garage sale, donated, etc.
  • Commit to taking an inventory of at least one room a month
  • Limit eating out to special occasions (family birthday, etc)
  • Require a one day waiting period on all purchases (other than food, household necessities, or time-critical items)

Category Specifics


  • purchase locally produced food
  • make weekly menu/shopping list to avoid over-shopping
  • waste as little as possible
  • clean out pantry of things not used/unusable
  • donate unnecessary cans in pantry
  • once all donate-able items are gone, buy 1 food item per shopping trip for food donation


  • No new clothes purchases with the following exceptions:
  • underwear
  • socks
  • walking shoes
  • clothes bought with gift cards (see below)
  • necessary clothing items, as appropriate (worn out belt, etc.)
    • Thrift shop/fair trade/ethically produced clothes may be an exception if discussed with other and 1 day rule applied
    • Material for sewing clothes okay


  • No new CDs/DVDs
  • No new downloads unless they are free and legal
  • No new magazine subscriptions/cancel unused ones
  • No non-educational software for computer unless health related
  • If we are going out for a celebration, commit to sharing a plate
  • No movies except for celebration/invitation purposes


  • No new electronics except to maintain functionality of current computers
  • Only new tools allowed are ones that are necessary to continue to sew clothes


  • Textbooks for classes okay
  • Textbooks that supplement course load okay
  • Educational software okay
  • School supplies okay provided they are not available in any form at home


  • No new cosmetics except to replace used up or unusable cosmetics
  • Any new purchases should be cruelty-free where possible


  • Trips okay under following circumstances:
    • special occasions (Congress)
    • visiting family or friends
    • school
    • spiritual nourishment


  • No restriction on prescribed drugs or vitamins
  • Commitment to go to doctor when necessary—no skimping here
  • Cat health included in allowances
  • Gym membership okay unless deemed otherwise by mutual agreement
  • No new fitness purchases

The Stuff Diet in Review

Overall, I think we did very well for a first-shot, sustained crack at something like this. One year is a long time! Although we weren’t able to do everything exactly as we had hoped, we did a heck of a lot better than if we hadn’t decided to undertake the Stuff Diet in the first place.

Not being able to buy new clothes whenever I wanted was a surprisingly hard experience for me. I didn’t realize how often I bought new clothes. Certainly not every weekend or anything, but I definitely was used to getting a new outfit or two every couple of months. More than once I had to recognize that I wanted it but didn’t need it; furthermore, it caused me to take stock and appreciate the clothes I would come home to.

Speaking of clothes, I was surprised to realize that I, like most Americans, was only wearing about a quarter of the clothes in my closet on any consistent basis. The clothes I wore, I wore a lot, and about 1/3 of my other clothes were usually “specialized” types of clothes, meaning, only for a particular season (I had a lot of jackets), or for a special occasion (I had a lot of dresses). Since my knee surgery, I didn’t wear high heels as much anymore, yet I had plenty of them in my closet. So after several trips to the Good Will and lots of honest closet scrutiny, I finally got to a place where I could say I wore most of my clothes, most of the time. Still, every time I go back to reconsider if I could take more to the Good Will, I find at least 4 or 5 pieces that I’m holding for silly reasons, so this is a constant process.

We didn’t do so well with the inventory taking, although we did do some of the house. We did the living room and the kitchen as well as our guest bedroom–I suppose that covers about half our stuff, because it leaves our bedroom, the office, and any common areas or yard stuff. Inventorying was an interesting thing, because I wrote down every single thing in the room. Every. Single. Thing. Then, on the right hand side, I had written columns about how much we want the item (on a scale of 1 – 10) and how much we need it (same scale). When we inventoried our kitchen, we ended up taking 12 boxes to the Good Will that day. So it was an important exercise, one I hope to continue.

As far as food, we followed our argeement in ways that were certainly unexpected to us. We joined a CSA, began to develop relationships at farmer’s markets, and became very good at planning our meals to reduce waste. The one thing we didn’t do very well was to buy an item with each shopping trip to donate to our church’s food pantry. We cleaned out our own pantry and donated a lot from there, but it didn’t really become a conscious part of our food shopping. It’s something we’ve both talked about and are going to try to work on as we move forward.

Electronics, health, and trips more or less followed our agreement. We did probably eat out more than we anticipated, but we started sharing a plate almost every time. This has had side benefits as well; it just feels more intimate! So in addition to appreciating the dish together and collaborating on what to choose, we also truly share the meal. It was a beautiful aspect of the agreement.

I’m going to wrap up, because it’s time to head into class. Suffice it to say the Stuff Diet was enlightening and challenging, and we are working on how to move forward with what we have learned in continuing a lifestyle of more simplicity and consciousness.

The Story of Stuff

Story of Stuff

I’ve been meaning to post this link for a while. If you want a humorous, meaningful look at consumption in America, this is a fantastic resource. I highly recommend it. I’ve also added the blog to my blogroll, so pay ’em a visit.

Running the Numbers

I deeply encourage anyone in the Los Angeles/Santa Barbara area to check out Chris Jordan’s art installation, Running the Numbers, which is at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum until 9/11/09. After that, it travels all over the country, so for those of you folks that aren’t in the Southern California area, check to see if he’s going to be near you.

In the meantime, everyone should check out his work on his website:

 Here’s Jordan’s description of his work, as quoted from his website:

Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

This is a profound expression of American consumption, and was certainly an eye-opener for my husband and me. Check it out!