40 Bags – 40 Days


Last year I posted about wanting to get rid of half of my house and though I’ve made progress I’m nowhere near that goal. Laura/art2snow came over a few weeks ago and helped me clean out “my” room. I got rid of boxes of scrapbooking supplies (I brought them and organized them in my classroom for kids to use), about two boxes of demo babycarriers went to the new Anchorage babywearing group, and lots of old business supplies were given to charity or pitched into the recycling bin.

But momentum is difficult to maintain. Somehow my FlyLady emails restarted and I kept randomly reading decluttering testimonials. Neighbors have been moving and I’ve been marveling at what it would take to move 12+ years of accumulation out of this house if we ever needed to. And then I ran across a post and free PDF on a new-to-me blog, Sugar Tot Designs, that finally got me motivated to get back to work on my initial goal.

A quick Google search tells me that 40 Bags in 40 Days is a “thing” that people do as a decluttering challenge. It looks like a lot of people have done it for Lent and others are like me, just trying to have less stuff. So I set last Monday as my official start date and then promptly did… nothing. It’s Spring Break! We had tons of fun this last week, going out with friends, snow tubing, jumpy places, the library, skating, rock climbing, etc. But I did get back to work today and more than caught up. I’ve got seven bags ready and already filled out the online form from The Arc of Anchorage so they can come pick things up this week. I’m a bag ahead of where I want to be but want to pack up a few more tomorrow. It’s very cathartic to be able to just let go of the clutter and the emotional attachment to clothes, toys, purses, etc. that just aren’t needed here anymore. Someone else can use them and we can free up space and peace of mind.

I put some goals in a Google spreadsheet. Since “42” is the meaning of life and the age I’ll be this summer, I set my sights a little higher than the challenge.


Green Christmas – Ten Ways to Refashion a Sweater

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We are practicing the recommendation on Simple Kids for a simpler gift-giving this year, especially since the boys and I are going to Florida for a week and most of our money has been spent on that. But in the meantime I thought we’d highlight some great upcycled projects from around our homes and around the net.

Ten Ways to Refashion a Sweater.

via Ten Ways to Refashion a Sweater.

Kinda sorta herb spiral


Herb spirals are a permaculture technique to grow herbs with different environmental needs (full sun, moist, dry, shade, etc.), in a minimal amount of space. You also conserve water since each watering flows from the top down to the plants at the bottom, water reaching each of them. The one I made is not nearly as cool as the one in this video or in the links below.

Welcome to Voluntary Simplicity

Herb spiral Flick photoset

I read about herb spirals in one of my books (Urban Homesteading) and decided to make one, decluttering my yard of extra plants and mulch at the same time. I’d used newspaper (to suppress weeds) and bark mulch around the two other trees in the front yard and they looked really nice and neat – it was very difficult to mow or weed whack around them. around the last tree I spread newspaper, added mulch that followed the angle of the ground around the tree already, used some river rocks to lay out a spiral pattern, added rich soil, and then chose the plants and herbs. It’s not really near the kitchen of our house but I think it will be pretty convenient and interesting looking once it all fills in. I used plants that do well in shade and mixed in leftover kale and chard starts with herb seeds that I am hoping will be decent looking within a month.20120611-134644.jpg



You can see that I adjusted the spiral once I starting adding in more rocks. I realized I wasn’t really leaving enough room for plants and the effect was leaving me a little dizzy.



This is the west side of the tree. From the top of the spiral down we have: cilantro seeds (probably not enough sun for it, honestly), lots of arugula seeds, chard, chives, kale, mint, more chives, and a Creeping Jenny.

Hugelkultur experiment


Hugelkultur is a method of building a garden bed that is consistent with permaculture principles in that it uses natural materials that you may have around your yard and will hold in moisture so less watering is needed.

At my gardening class the teacher has a large hugelkultur bed that was built last year. When Saskia first mentioned it I looked it up and wanted to make one, at least a small one, just to test it out. This one is about sixteen by twelve or so, just enough room for two plants if I squish them in a little.

Since I haven’t officially “learned” this method in a class yet I tried searching around online for some good step-by-step instructions online but didn’t find much. Basically, it’s like sheet mulching except uses wood waste as the primary component of the bed. From walks through the woods most of us have noticed that rotting wood creates rich soil. I found a fun post from Northwest Edible Life that pretty much assured me I didn’t need to stress out about the components.

I added a little cardboard to help suppress the grass. This area is just to the right of a couple of new blueberry plants, hence the straw mulch to the left.


Then, I piled up some rotting logs that have been sitting around the yard for, oh 10+ years.


Then I decided to clean up the lilac branches I had just left on the grass last week by folding them and stuffing them in the cracks between the logs.


This next lovely scene shows the addition of the food and straw waste from the chickens. There’s not much manure in this so the nitrogen content won’t be too high.


I turned a little bit of loose sod upside down on the top. I may regret this later.


I added clean straw to the top. The straw will definitely help retain moisture.


To the very top I added finished compost mixed with a little bit of extra potting soil.


I planted two broccoli plants (and some more in the ground in front of the blueberries) and then covered the whole mess with some row cover. The row cover edges are buried using bark mulch to prevent bugs from getting in. The row cover will help with pests and keep the little seedlings warm since it is still pretty cool up here.


More resources? Sure!
raised garden beds: hugelkultur instead of irrigation

Hugelkultur: Using Woody Waste in Composting

This site is an artsy version of city planning, architectural design and sustainable living

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Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to the future of design, tracking the innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future.

Inhabitat was started by NYC designer Jill Fehrenbacher as a forum for investigating emerging trends in product, interior, and architectural design. Managing Editor Mike Chino and Senior EditorYuka Yoneda lead the editorial team, while Rebecca Paul steers business operations. The rest of the team is made up of the best design editors and writers from all over the world: Diane Pham(Architecture and Design Editor), Jessica Dailey (New York Editor), Bridgette Meinhold(Architecture Editor), Jasmin Malik Chua (copy editor + fashion editor at Ecouterre) and Julie Seguss (kids & wellness editor).

Graduate School Journey

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I grew up camping and hiking with my family. Thus it was only natural for us to camp and hike with our three children. I found that I love camping, hiking, and exploring with my kids. They see things differently and their enthusiasm for nature is contagious. As an added bonus, when they spend time outside playing freely in nature, they get exercise, they sleep well, their sense of curiosity improves, and they’re overall just happier. After watching the healing power nature has on my own children, I decided to begin my Masters in Environmental Education and Interpretation through UW Stevens Point.  My goal for my masters is to create resources to assist both parents and educators in getting kids outside in nature (I’ve already been compiling a list of our favorite parks and trails in Wisconsin).

I began my first two classes this spring: Environmental Health and Ecological Lifestyles. Both classes have sent me down paths that I was not expecting. I’m reading books on everything from toxins in everyday household items (Slow Death by Rubber Duck) to pesticides in our food,  as well as GMOs. Each book would bring new questions and would send me to the library for more books. My stack of books to read (based on my own curiosity) is growing exponentially and is beginning to become overwhelming.

Books I have read, am reading, or want to read.

As I sit here, I am staring at quite the pile of books and am not quite sure where to begin. In front of me are many winding paths–many intersect, and all seem equally important. Where do I begin? Detoxifying my home? Going back to my original focus of simply getting my kids outside as much as possible? Switching to a local and organic diet? How about simplifying our lives so we use less stuff? What do I do about my goal to supplement my kids’ education due to budget cuts and increased class sizes? To be honest, I can’t decide where to begin and have actually started reading about 10 books at once. Which is not very productive and hasn’t gotten me very far.

Thus, after much contemplation, I have decided to expand my initial goal of helping kids get outside. First, it’s hard to make time to get outside if life is too hectic and busy (thus my interest in simplicity parenting). Plus, what’s the benefit of enjoying fresh air outside if we’re ingesting produce that is full of pesticides and harmful chemicals? I have decided to give myself two years to read through the materials and pull out the most important nuggets of information–stuff I can use and share with those who don’t have the time (or interest) to read through all research and books. I do plan to apply what I’m learning on my own family, so I can share what worked and what did not work so well.  I’m not entirely sure how I’ll pull this all together for my masters project yet, but I’m sure it’ll come to me. In the meanwhile, I created a sister site for my Masters work called “Winding Trails.” Let the journey begin!

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” –Edward Abbey

Wage slave exit strategy


Wage slave exit strategy.

via Wage slave exit strategy.

To exit wage slave 9-5 you need few things sorted out.

First, you have to arrange some emotional space to not be time-poor. You can do so through downsizing and unsandboxing your life. Revisit all of the issues that hold you back and with which you can do something about. The change is to get away from doing crappy stuff for a few weeks of release/freedom. Change into being more in charge of own life and doing what you feel.

Getting some diet changes also helps since you don’t have to worry about lengthy preparations when you’re following simple vegan or raw (uncooked) vegan diet.

Next you have to re-examine your money sourcing part of life.

Being in a stressful situation where you work all year for few weeks of release is far from healthy. Many choose to get away from their corpo-jobs as a part of a gap year experience, no matter how early or late in their lives.

People become massage therapists, artists, sculptors, organic farmers. Surprisingly when looking at this subject many top computer programmers go away from that to elderly care or  become ski instructors. After all its quality of own life that matters rather than living for a prestige, or in constant fear of some imaginary threat some use to emotionally guilt and enslave you.

The end game is about settling self on own piece of land, where you can start some clean veggie growing operation, kinda like they do.



The PhoenixHonestly, most traditional homes the size of The Phoenix Earthship would cost less. Well, the square footage is huge (my house is just under 1,800), and the rooms are huge, but 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms just doesn’t sound like a lot. But the space was pared down and tranquil, with exquisite attention to detail in layout and design. My home is not. It’s spring, even here in Alaska, and so time for some spring cleaning and purging.

My goal is to get rid of half of my house. That sounds a little ridiculous but, like most Americans, we have way more clothing, furniture, toys, craft supplies, kitchen appliances, gadgets, etc. than we could ever need or use.

Only a few more weeks until she is big enough to move to our house.

Using episodes of Hoarders to motivate me is one way I have done this in the past but there are no new episodes to motivate me! My new motivation is the impending arrival of an eight week-old beagle puppy, aptly named “Gaia,” about a month from now. Puppies pee. Puppies chew. Puppies can ruin things. So, I am going to puppy proof the house like nobody’s business.

1) toys in the boys room go in bins under the bed

2) toys in the living room LEAVE the living room

3) kid clothes in good condition go to the consignment store

4) sell desk, side table, and cabinet downstairs

5) pare down my own shoes – donate to charity

6) clean out closets – donate or trash

7) sell, gift, or donate stored baby carriers

8) pack up craft supplies and bring to school for students to use

I am going to start today with my own closet. I’ve already moved the shoes I want to donate but there seems to be some sort of weird mental hurdle in getting the shoes into a bag. I’ll go with FlyLady’s system of just decluttering for just 15 minutes at a time. I want to feel a bit more serene.

Incorporating the “green”

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Honestly, I am one of the busiest people I know. I have a husband, two little boys, one full-time job, three part-time jobs, two volunteer jobs, plus a couple of hobbies. Oh, and sometimes I like to sleep. So incorporating green lifestyle changes can be really challenging and I struggle with it often because some of the green things I can do for my home and my family take a little more time than non-green things. I don’t want to call the non-green things traditional because only a century (or less!) ago traditional ways of living and keeping house were what we consider green today. But then as time passed and people got busier convenience took over and we became a more disposable society.

As with most vacations, the Earthship let me slow down a lot. The wi-fi didn’t work as expected so I didn’t feel obligated to edit copy or grade electronic assignment submissions. I had time to sit, relax, reflect, and visit with friends. The air smells different in an Earthship because dirt, plants, and even some “wild”life are part of the decor. The air smells like nature; it smells clean and green, like it has the ability to recharge your soul. In the Earthship, all of the “green” things are incorporated into the style of the house and the lifestyle you would have if you lived in one; you are part of the ecosystem.

Earthship garden

Indoor garden

In my traditional home in a very northern climate sometimes going green isn’t convenient. We just got curbside recycling in Anchorage a year or so ago and there are some things that we still don’t recycle locally. The growing season here is short and intense; the sun is up for about 19 hours a day in the summer and we don’t start planting until Memorial Day. At the Earthship, bottles and cans could be reused as building materials. The growing season is year-round within the building. Most food scraps can go to the chickens. 🙂

fresh eggs!

I am hoping to expand on the list below and work on better integrating some of the things, teaching the kids the hows and whys of composting and getting them to be better helpers with a garden. To begin with, we are donating as much excess stuff as we can. We are getting a new puppy in the middle of May, a little beagle named Gaia (!), so we’ve also got to make sure things aren’t laying around and waiting for her to chew them up.

I created this list as a Facebook note, published in April of 2010:

I just expanded a list I started in January of 2009 – very, very far from perfect but we do quite a bit (we own too much stuff though, for real)

garden (limited success)
hard to buy local, but we do the Full Circle Farm box every other week
compact florescent bulbs
use cloth towels, not paper towels
use cloth napkins (I made them!), not paper
cloth pads and Diva Cup
use cloth diapers & wipes
use vinegar & baking soda to clean
use vinegar instead of fabric softener – now use dryer balls
making gifts instead of buying
taught myself to crochet so I can make cute stuff
use a clothesline in the summer – dry some stuff on an indoor rack year-round
buy used clothes
upcycle/freecycle/donate old things
buy little processed food (within reason because I also work full time and do other stuff)
read a lot – trying hard to not buy books
use reusable grocery bags
cloth snack/sandwich bags
drinking coffee at home or school – no paper cups (but I miss lattes)
have a solid, working budget (less money waste)
bring lunch to work