Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Zone 0 - Small Home - Big Changes

It’s a lovely rainy day today – rain barrels are filling and the garden is growing. I am home to tackle a few projects that seem to have taken over the house.

I have been thinking and reading about three topics that today come together for me:  reducing our carbon footprint, living in a tiny/small home, and the Permaculture idea of Zones. Zones are areas of your property that are designated for certain purposes, and because this post is getting really long, I will post separately about what our zones include and represent for us.

When we bought our home 10 years ago – the appeal was price, it is in the area my husband grew up in, the fact that it was in “move in” condition.  We were sharing a home with our in-laws at that time to save for our own place, so we had money saved when the opportunity presented itself. When we walked into the house for the first time, I knew I wanted to live here. The process of buying was so smooth and problem free and we love our home. At that time, however, we were not aware of the level of consumption we were at, the level of energy we needed to keep the house functioning and the cost of a few repairs that would eventually be needed.

You could say that our life focus was just to do what everyone does – work hard, pay our mortgage and other bills and enjoy the evenings and weekends with our family and friends.  It doesn’t sound like a bad plan, but, it did not take the future into account at all, and now the future is here. At that time, I never thought about Peak Oil, grocery prices going up 30%, that one of us at any time could lose our job, that our children would probably live with us until they were into their late 20’s – because of the slow collapse of our economy and raising of prices for everything we need to live. We are happy to still have a home to share with our children and friends, and fortunate to weather the last few years when so many have lost so much.

When we moved in, people said things like “this is a good starter home” or “this is a good first home” and I would just smile because I know we will probably never leave Worcester, or this house. I am sure that the size is one of the main reasons people thought we would eventually move. It is only 900 sq. ft.  Sure, I dream of vacations in a cabin in the woods of Vermont, (in a yet smaller building) but I really and truly love this city and being around neighbors, and having access to community that I think is very important when times are tough, and let’s face it – times are rough now for many people!!

Now, one of my favorite topics to research is the Tiny House/ Small Home movement. For instance:  Tiny House Blog. People all over the world are living in much smaller spaces and require much less of a footprint, and when I think of all we do in our home, I know now that their lives can be full and complete without a huge house. Over time, especially in the past couple of years, we have made an effort to cut back our expenses and consumption of resources. We recycled extra appliances, bought a couple of new energy efficient (and smaller) appliances – like our refrigerator. We have replaced all the light bulbs with energy efficient, replaced the roof (new insulation, etc.), purchased an Elmira cook top wood stove for cooking and heat, and energy efficient replacement windows. We tackled each of these things one at a time and paid it off and started the next.

So, with these things all in place, our heating is reduced, our cooling isn’t necessary (no more air conditioning needed with the new windows) and we have learned to unplug, turn off, and require less energy in general.  For our “night light” I have solar charged lights in the house, for the yard – solar lights lighting the walk and back yard.  We are not opposed to using energy when needed…we put our outside lights on motion detectors and use lights if the solar don’t charge – because we live in the city and we also have to consider security and safety. But I am always looking for ways to do these things with less power. One of the best ways I have found to cut unnecessary use of electricity is to put everything into surge protectors that can be switched off when not in use and turned back on when we need to use something.

With the functional and energy issues being addressed, there is a major consumption issue inside our home – of space. In the day to day of living, we accumulate so much. Gifts, junk mail, regular mail, catalogues, holiday d├ęcor, recreational equipment, gaming and games, clothing, school paperwork, pieces and parts of crafts and projects and general living projects that we have taken on, such as canning, food storage, wood working, gardening, music, etc. etc.

After reading many blogs, websites and books, I see that living in a small home, it is necessary to consider each item individually – pick it up, think about it’s value and either find a practical use or storage, or pass it on to someone else.

Today I am starting that process (again) at a deeper level than I have in the past. If we do this periodically, I find (for myself) that I need less and less. When there is less stuff crowding me – I feel like room opens up inside creatively and I can write, sing, etc. But, when I am cluttered around me, it clutters up my mind and consumes too much time – finding things, and recently injuring myself and ended up in the emergency room because this clutter creates a frenzy of searching and distraction that results in injury.

Why we do this to ourselves, I will never understand.

So, today is about this process of picking up each item and figuring out what has a genuine meaning to me, or a practical function and how it can be stored in a way that we have as much space as possible available to us when these things are not in use. And the rest will be passed on.

I have decided to tackle this a room at a time. Front Hall and Closet, Bedroom, Living Room, Kitchens, Baths, Back Hall, Basement Storage. I am using the space in our basement to sort the things I need to donate, store or throw away.

The plan is to give myself an hour for each room – to gather the quick decision things like trash/recycling/laundry, etc. and deal with them, and then to take the not so quick decision things and bring them downstairs. Every hour I will take one rooms “clutter” downstairs and sort by use, project, donate, storage, seasonal, etc. I also will designate an area for each person in the family so they have the opportunity to sort through their own things.

Okay – I am 2 hours into this and just finishing one hall  - there is a huge misconception that 900 sq. ft. is small.  It just sounds small until you have to clean it. I would say the same about our property…100x50 doesn’t sound big at all until you look at the list of 50+ plants we have growing so far. (not including weeds and volunteers). And I would say that we are only using about ½ of the available space in the yard, as well as the house.  The house I want to pare down and create beauty and space, and the yard I want to fill with beauty and food.

Adaptation is probably the most important thing about this process. Clearly the halls are the storage for the other rooms – so I really am cleaning two halls of clutter and just straightening the rest of the house.  Scrap the hour in each room – today is about cleaning the clutter out of two halls and then sorting through storage in the basement. Most likely, and realistically, it will just mean cleaning out halls and sorting another day. This is better than any gym!

So the front hall is transformed from a dumping zone to a dressing room/closet and hallway for coats when people visit. This is just the first step, I can think of many different uses for the hall and am leaning toward a bench window seat for reading and storage. Ideally, I would like to find or make a coat rack, window seat/bench and find a good storage system for office supplies and crafts, but keep the crafts downstairs. It would be most beneficial to find them at a yard sale or consignment. But, first, we’re going to live with the space and see if we even need to put anything else there. 

A small note of importance is the flow of air that was blocked by clutter in front of the windows. Without air conditioning - the flow of air in the house becomes very important and right away I could feel the change. When I could get to the windows easily and open them, it creates a flow of air from the back of the house that is refreshing and can quickly air out the house and cool it. 

Piles accumulated

A place for shoes and clothing


  1. hey, nice blanket :)

  2. I figured the blanket you made & the afghan my Mom made. Good place for them - and now you can see them! :)