simplicity


self-portrait with compost, recycle, trash signsat solar living instituteA famous amphibial puppet speaking of the color of his felt famously sang, “It’s not easy bein’ green; It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.” “Green” has seeped into so many things – far too many – that the word has been overused to the point of being meaningless. This is precisely why, two years ago, a group of professional organizers decided to redefine their specialty from green organizing to the more ecologically- and holistically-infused environmentally-conscious organizing.

Steeped in the traditions of voluntary simplicity and sustainable living, this work stems from the values and ethics associated with helping others adapt simple lifestyle changes that support them wherever they are on the environmentally-conscious path. It’s about building awareness and engaging in dialogues to guide clients to a place where they can observe and effect change in the choices they are making each and every day.

Most of us are already working to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible, and environmentally-conscious organizers encourage these practices and more. What will create more impactful and lasting change is exceeding these foundational R’s and allowing ourselves to go deeper.

Take, for example, the multi-faceted practice of reducing. Choosing the path of less packaging, reduces the need to recycle or throw away resources. This is especially powerful when you consider that 25% of landfill contents in the U.S. is product packaging. By reducing consumption of single-use disposable plastics (i.e. packaged and bottled water), we reduce the need for more fossil fuels while reducing the risk to ecosystems from oil drilling and transport of these resources. Reducing the need to store cases of plastic bottles creates more physical space while having the added health benefit of reducing your family’s exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor found in certain plastics. The effects of our choices can be cascading.

When we begin to make time and allow ourselves to rethink our choices, refuse what we don’t need, repair what needs fixing, and let food waste rot into nutritious compost, we’re moving closer to what’s most important in our lives. That’s often the end goal of organizing for many of our clients: creating the time and space to do what matters most.

Each of us has the power, through small acts each day, to make ripples of change in the places where we will see and feel those shifts most directly – in our homes and communities. As Kendra Pierre-Louis wrote in her book, Green Washed, Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet, “…consciousness is a starting point, not an end point.” As we stand on the precipice of Earth Day 2014 (April 22), where are you going to start? Hint: It takes one small step.

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This piece was originally written for and posted on NAPO’s Get Organized Blog.
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jalapeño pepper“Oh darn,” I remember saying out loud as I stood before the cutting board while the sharp aroma of freshly grated horseradish and ginger danced in the air. I was preparing a batch of fire cider, when I realized an ingredient was missing: the jalapeño pepper.

After getting everything else chopped, zested, squeezed and assembled in the jar, I set out for the store. There’s a little corner market of great convenience a block away, but I opted for a grocery destination that’s a bit further afield.

Because the co-op where we do the majority of our grocery shopping doesn’t stock all the basics – like sustainably raised meats (the co-op has no meat unless you want pet food) and breads from a favorite bakery that no other retailer carries –  it’s not uncommon for me to swing by this particular neighborhood market on a somewhat regular basis. The walk over the hill, down the other side, and back again has become part of the weekly grocery  ritual and easily happens more than once or twice a week. The sidewalks on my route are practically empty and that makes it the preferred option over the very flat and far less strenuous alternative along a busy retail corridor just one block away.

On this particular morning, I decided there was no time like the present to squeeze in a morning constitutional while also getting a necessary errand off the list. I admired the changing light of the season and the way it highlighted features and details of the historic Victorians along the way. Blooming flowers in the trees overhead begged passersby like myself for a little nod to their beauty. (Remember, I live in San Francisco and plants are blooming year-round.) At the market I chose a little pepper, paid with exact change (I love when that happens!), slipped said pepper in my pocket, and headed back home.

By the time I unlocked the front door, I had logged 1.6 miles. To some, it may seem absurd to walk so far and take so much time for one little thing. But you know what? This is my kind of multitasking. How often does grocery shopping truly invigorate your body and soul?

More than four weeks after the fact, I can tell you that the results are most invigorating. We are sipping and breathing fire over here!

jalapeno pepper and fire cider

The countdown to the year-end ritual of flocking to malls and online stores is upon us. Care to guess where you’ll find me? Dashing (as usual) in the opposite direction.

When the holiday freneticism is unavoidable at every turn, there’s something wonderfully delightful and perhaps a little bit deviant about choosing to swim against the mainstream current. I actually manage to avoid stress and languishing in long lines, all while fully embracing the season’s spirit of generosity on my own terms.

I’ve never understood why, as a society, we collectively wait to the last minute – or in this case, the last month of the year – to squeeze in all the big-heartedness and giving we possibly can that could have been applied liberally throughout the previous eleven months of the year. (more…)

An internal dance of joy leapt within me when I read the following line in Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet by Kendra Pierre-Louis:

While we need to be more conscious about what and how much we choose to consume, that consciousness is a starting point, not an end point.

This quote was the perfect finale for my presentation on a panel about environmentally conscious organizing at this year’s NAPO2013 conference. I was thrilled to be one of three ECO organizers speaking on a topic so near and dear but more so about spreading ideas that I hope will help create ripples of awareness and change in an industry of individuals who routinely find themselves on the front lines of communicating with people about stuff and the choices we make as consumers.

My talk focused on conscious consumption and addressed how we can begin to make more mindful decisions because our choices and habits as consumers ultimately affect our actions when we’re standing in front of our trash and recycling bins. (more…)

reusable cloth bag; sf environmentDid you ever have one of those mornings when you woke up to find that one of your habits came home with you? It happened to me the other day. As I wiped the sleep from my eyes and put the water on for tea, there it was, languishing over the back of a kitchen chair: another reusable bag.

Most bags are easy to refuse, but this one certainly had its charm. There was the allure of the soft  blue recycled fabric, not to mention the colorful webbing of the handles (also made of recycled materials) that flirted with me and Sven when we first saw it. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment purchased 7,000 of these bags in a variety of colors for distribution for free free as part of the educational campaign for the City’s Checkout Bag Ordinance which went into effect on October 1.

The purpose of this legislation is to encourage customers to bring their own checkout bags, in order to reduce the impact of disposable bags to the City and the environment. (more…)

It may come as a refreshing surprise to learn that I am not immune to impulsive purchases. The most common are farmer-generated and occur at outdoor markets year-round (at least here in the San Francisco Bay Area). Visually inspiring and delicious, veggies and fruits often lead to impromptu desires. That’s me (right) communing with a bundle of scapes at a friend’s farm stand at the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market in Seattle last month. The temptation was strong, but I resisted them despite the lure of their curls!

But here’s a first for me: while leaving the Mission Community Market last night, I got side-tracked not by produce, but by a towel. (more…)

I love simplicity. I seek it out and it seeks me. Summertime seems to bring it to the surface: the non-essentials are stripped away and longer warmer days slow me down and invite me to savor whatever inspires and comes my way.

So what is simplicity?

Simplicity is about finding magic in the mundane. It’s about an unlikely pair – a garden hose and a shoe rack – becoming friends. It’s a backyard garden party with a “cup rinsing region.”

(more…)

I’ve always wondered what it was like to have my clothes clipped to a line outdoors in the sun and the breeze, to bring ‘em in when the clouds threaten, and to experience the real  springtime-fresh scent that laundry and fabric softener manufacturers add in a chemical-laden attempt to connect consumers with nature and simple living.

The only clothespins I recall from my childhood were in my father’s darkroom, and they were used to hang freshly processed rolls of film for drying. (more…)

A long ago discarded pair of pants are hanging over my desk. Well, that’s partially true. To be precise, parts of my pants and parts of two other peoples’ pants are hanging over my desk in a wall warming creation called The Traveling Elephant Quilt.

quilt hanging on office wall

detail of elephant quiltdetail of pants in quilt

The elephants are parading through space to an unknown destination, but the “traveling” part of the piece hails from my insanely talented, creative, and silly friend, Sharon. Throughout the earlier part of this year, I received sporadic emails from her that read, “Now where? Hee hee,” and “Elephants in Orleans, CA?” (more…)

Once upon a time, I decided it’d be cool to learn how to make a gigantic flat of luscious tomatoey goodness last a long long time. I would purchase San Marzanos from my friends at Mariquita Farm and turn them into sauce that I would stow in the freezer for the winter months. Freezing was great, but longevity was limited.

I’d always wanted to try my hand at canning, but the risk of accidentally creating a lethal stockpile of botulism kept any attempts at bay. I wanted professional guidance and in 2009, I stumbled upon classes offered by a the folks of Happy Girl Kitchen Co., a local independent producer of yummy things in jars. (Trust me, try the okra sometime!)

I signed up without hesitation and took a class…

tomatoes!chopping tomatoes

tomatoes and basil ready for canningjars of tomatoes in the canning pots

(more…)

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