Losing Weight

This is not what you think it’s going to be about.

This weekend, I read an article about San Fransisco considering a drop in the minimum square footage for apartment units to 220.  No, not a drop *of* 220 square feet.  A drop *to* 220 square feet.

Now, most of you here have no idea that I had my blossoming architecture career smashed under the housing market crash.  Alas, I had to move on, but my love of house design never left me.  Going nostalgic for a moment, I knew I was in the right line of work when after an 8 hour day at the office drawing house plans, I’d come home and play Sims.  Only I wouldn’t actually play the Sims, I just designed neighborhoods of houses.  Yep, I’d design houses at work, then come home and design them for fun.  Some people called me sick, but I just liked to think of myself in my perfect career.

Okay so obviously I’m not getting paid for it anymore, but I still love designing houses!  (and ooh look, I have AutoCAD on my computer now. mwahaha!)

One thing I love about small house designs (or apartment, or whatever.  Small *living* space designs) is it requires so much more creative use of space.  The article shows a very narrow apartment with a wall bed that converts to the dining area when not being slept in.

It also makes me think about my mom who, to this day, insists she loves Japanese design.  Because it’s so uncluttered.  (Mom, it’s uncluttered because they have *less stuff* not because they were just *that good* at design.)  But it is interesting how much even house designs can vary between cultures, and what’s considered normal.

I saw another house design where the bedroom was really just an enclosed bed with a sliding door.  There wasn’t any ‘floor’ area, just the bed (looked to be on a platform but not what you’d consider a typical western bed frame).

Got me really thinking about small house plans and reduced floor spaces.  There have been many books written about small houses, lots of people blogging about small houses, much building of small houses, and now tiny apartments are the latest place we’re cutting space and living smaller here in the US.

My house is 1,800 square feet, if memory serves.  That means if we’re talking about apartments being 220 sf, I could fit just over 8 apartments in my house.  Since my house is 4 bedroom, and if you assume parents and three children, my house could (and has) uncomfortably fit 5 people (the discomfort chiefly caused by there being but a single bathroom).  Compare that with the same square footage could comfortably fit 8 people, even if in a very tiny space.

It also made me realize there was no way I could ever fit all my ‘stuff’ into 220 square feet.  I probably couldn’t fit it into 440 square feet.  I might have a hard time squeezing down into 900 square feet – half the size of my house.

Maybe this shouldn’t bug me, but it does.  Terribly.  Welcome to America: our people are fat, our houses are fat, our closets are fat, our heads are empty, and our wallets are dry.

Yes, I have my crafts and fabric and paints and the like, but really, even with hobbies, I shouldn’t be incapable of living at half my square footage if people can live in 1/8th of it.

So part of the weekend was spent on thinking about the fact I need to do a major ‘stuff’ purge in my life, both for my sanity and for the general tidiness of my house, but part of the weekend was also spent on designing very small houses.

220 sq. ft. single bedroom floor plan by Eliza Murdock

440 sq. ft. two bedroom floor plan by Eliza Murdock

I remember several  years ago sitting down to design 1,000 sq. ft. houses and thinking how difficult it was.  I don’t deny these plans offer very little in the way of indoor space, but that will hopefully help get people outdoors more often.

Now, if I was a college student or recent grad and was looking to move into my own place, I’d have been delighted with either of these options (especially since I’d have turned the second bedroom into an office or craft room).  However, being well established in my house, I think I’d find it very hard to squeeze back into such a small floor plan.

But I am going to embark onto an epic purge and get rid of all the stuff I haven’t seen for years, clothes I haven’t worn for years, furniture whose only use is to hold stuff I don’t use… it’s time to lose weight! – haul it to Goodwill, maybe hold a big garage sale, or throw stuff on ebay and see what happens.  Maybe I can purge my life and grow my wallet a tad?

Also, if anyone wants a very small house designed for them… 😉

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Mother Earth

nrhatch‘s suggestion:

Challenge: Take one of these paintings:
https://creativemetaphor.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/weekend-watercolor/

And write a short essay about it ~ include at least one quote for us to ponder and mull over.

Irish Mother Earth by Eliza Murdock

Mother Earth

There are several cultures who view or viewed Earth as being a goddess, a mother, a living thing which gave us life.  I would say it is a shame that we’ve lost this wonder and see the world instead as merely a rocky planet with an iron/nickle core and accidentally capable of sustaining life.  We take, use, exploit – in the most graphic of terms, we rape the earth for our own needs in seeming ignorance that we have no where else to go when we’ve ruined this home.

I am fully convinced that mankind was happier 5,000 years ago.  I don’t like all the documentaries that show imagined scenes of our ancestors as being fearful, dreary, bent over from hard labor and strained from a life of struggle.  Do I believe their lives were hard?  Undoubtedly they were in many ways.  But what every single one of those re-enactments failed to remember was they were still human!  They laughed, they played games, they were probably happy!

How could I know that?  Surely I have some romanticized view of ancient peoples based on a general disillusionment with modern society and if only I could really experience the hardship of blah blah blah I can’t even finish that train of thought.  No, this isn’t just wistful speculation, I know.  I know, because of tribes of people who live in Amazonian jungles whose lives are probably unchanged since 5,000 years ago, and they are happy!

They are happy in a way we never can be, because they don’t have mortgages and alcoholism and the stresses of modern expectations – a complete disassociation with the world around us beyond what we can take from it or build on it.  Do they sometimes die from what we consider preventable causes?  Yes.  I’m quite sure they don’t have advanced heart surgery techniques – though I would argue they also have less need of them.  Do they sometimes die from conflicts within or between tribes?  Yes.  Do they sometimes die because we are destroying their way of life, their cultures, the environment upon which they depend?  Sadly, yes.

Do I want to run off into the jungle and live like them?  No.  I admit it, there are things that, having been born into a world where they exist, I would not want to now leave.  I like my computer, all my friends live there!  I like traveling to see other places, I love learning about things that I would never have even known about had I no access to modern technologies and scientific discoveries.

But I do fear that we have placed such a moral superiority upon what we call the modern western way of life that we don’t just try to impose it on others, we think that those who don’t follow it are actually less intelligent, less advanced, and in a way we consider them less human.  But they are the ones who have lived for thousands of years, and we are the ones fast-tracking ourselves to destruction.

Intelligence isn’t what we know, it’s our capacity to understand.  Ancient man was just as intelligent as we are, they were just as human, they had the same emotions, the same desires, the same drives; and they lived in a far greater balance with their world.  Not perfect balance, but far closer than we.

Ancient man remembered who their mother was.

Yo momma so fat, she is capable of sustaining all the life that she has produced, if only we would humble ourselves, denounce the greed of money and power, and act in the best interest of all our brothers and sisters.  White, yellow, red, brown, black: we all have the same mother.

Sure, this may all seem like idealistic drivel, but if we can’t aim for the ideal, how ever will we reach it?

PS: I used “we” because chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re part of the ‘we’.

Recycling’s Forgotten Elder Siblings

Recycling is awesome.  It reduces waste going into our landfills, it reduces demand for the raw materials, it reduces – to some degree – manufacturing pollution (though bear in mind, recycling produces a small amount of its own pollution) and it makes you feel all holy to help the environment, right?

I’m here to tell you: stop recycling.

Okay, that’s a lie, I’m not actually going to tell you that.  But I want to get your attention so I can tell you that recycling is only one step in reducing waste and pollution, and that it should be the last step, not the first, and certainly not the only.

Recycling has two older siblings called Reduce and Reuse.  These are far, far more mature than Recycling, and should always be courted first.

Recycling is sort of the easy-way-out of caring about the environment, and is a cop-out in many ways.  It still takes 100% of the energy to produce the first time, and then it takes additional energy to recycle it.  Oh sure, the energy to recycle is significantly reduced from the initial process, but why not save the whole mess?

Plastic, especially, can be tricky to recycle if you don’t know what the number codes mean, and some plastics aren’t recyclable at all.

Reduce: this should be the first step in saving the environment.  Stop the cycle at the very beginning – use less.  Don’t buy disposable items when non-disposables are available.  Don’t buy small sizes when bulk is available.   Don’t buy individual packaged items if you can repackage these yourself into smaller portions.  You’ll save the package from its very first use, reducing the initial impact on the environment to gather and process these materials the first time.

This means you have to get over some of your convenience, just a little bit.  And we are a nation that loves its convenience, aren’t we?  (Well, if you’re in the US.)  Individual sized things are this latest craze that makes us feel somehow special, I guess?  This little packet of crackers is *just for me*… it didn’t come out of the same bag as everyone else’s crackers…  Oy, we are a spoiled, childish culture sometimes.

Okay, so reduce prevents the initial package from even entering the cycle.  It reduces the pollution and energy at the source, which is awesome!  Instead of spending 100%+1/3 energy to recycle, we spend 0% when we don’t even use it in the first place.

But we can’t reduce 100%.  We still need some products and some packaging, because it would be awful difficult to carry 10lbs. of flour home in our bare hands.  And this is where the middle-child comes in, Reuse.

Reuse: When you’ve reduced what you can, there is still some left over.  Rather than dumping this in the recycle bin and using a bit more energy to turn it back into more packaging, reuse the package you have and save that extra bit of energy.

Especially plastics that often can not be recycled anyway, based on their number, your local recycling capabilities, and the type of plastic it was made from to begin with.

It’s a snap to clean ziplock or sandwich bags, – and takes no extra time or energy if you have a dishwasher – and you’ll save both the bag itself and the box they came in by doing so.

Take the glass jar your pasta sauce came in, clean it well, and use it to store flour bought from the bulk section of your grocery store.  Not only have you removed the jar from needing any energy added to recycle it, you’ve reduced the secondary packaging required when you buy the bulk flour.

This really is much more beneficial than buying two packages which both get recycled at additional energy expense.  Reuse one package, remove the need for the second!

I keep grocery bags in my trunk, lots of them, to reuse when I go to the store.  I keep lots of them because if I forget to put one batch back in the trunk, there’s more to reuse instead of needing new.  Of course, using cloth bags is a great way to incorporate reusable items into daily life without the initial consumption of paper or plastic bags.

You can even reuse at work, taking old paper destined for the recycle bin (if it was only printed on one side), turning it into scratch paper note pads.  An easy way is to cut or tear the paper into quarters and staple one corner, and voila!  You have a quick way to reuse office paper again before it ever needs recycling.

One of my favorite reuse items is an old teapot whose lid broke, that I now use as a watering can for indoor plants.  It has a lovely Chinese dragon motif on it, and I couldn’t bear to get rid of it being so pretty, so now it sits nestled among my plants and is both beautiful and functional!

Bulk: Bulk is the love-child of Reduce and Reuse, helping you to do both!  Find a grocery store that has an amazing bulk section if you can (and I mean a bulk section of product you dispense into a reusable container, not just bigger packaging, but that is at least better than individual packaging.)

Yes, this may mean you need to find a new or supplemental grocery store.  Again, we need to move beyond our childish convenience need and expend a touch of energy of our own to help make a difference for everyone.

While it isn’t the case that everyone has access to a good grocery store and bulk, if you do, I implore you to use it as much as you can.  I’m very fortunate to have a local cooperative where I can buy rice, flour, sugar, salt, spices, tea, coffee, peanut butter, honey, seeds, beans, olive oil, and so much more all in bulk bins which allow for greatly reduced and overwhelming reuse of packaging.

Things to consider next time you’re at the store:

Skip the bottled water.  It isn’t even as clean as your tap water, so why spend 1000% more for it?  Buy a water filter if you don’t like the taste of your tap water and buy a refillable, non-plastic water bottle to take with you (glass, or stainless steel.)

Instead of buying individually wrapped snacks, buy a larger bag and portion your own servings out of it.  Why spend more money for more packaging and create more waste when you can spend a few moments of your time and do it yourself?

Reuse containers from other products you need, such as glass jars, plastic sacks, or shopping bags, and take these back to the store with you for bagging fresh produce, bulk items and your groceries.  It may take some time to make it a habit but you’ll be saving packaging and the environment!

If there is a non-disposable option available, go for that.  You may spend a little more upfront, but you’ll save over the life of the product and you’ll reduce the impact on both ends of the manufacturing cycle.

Because seriously: this is the only planet we get.  It isn’t recyclable.  Our demand for convenience is killing us!  So it’s up to each of us to decide which we want:

This?

Or this?

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