Category Archives: sustainability

Redefining our Homes


Saturday I took a trip down to Huntsville, Texas, to visit Pheonix Commotion, Dan Phillips construction company that specializes in building small homes from reclaimed and leftover building materials (which I mentioned in a previous post). Basically stuff that was either headed for the dumpster because of  botched orders (“Oh, you wanted 10 ft boards, not 8 ft boards), leftover inventory or just general waste (bottle caps, wine corks, bone).

I like Dan’s philosophy in making use of these materials to build housing for artists and single moms. The construction industry has tons of waste and using it keeps it out of the landfill and costs down. Not to mention that many new building materials are treated with chemicals that out gas and cause health issues for many people. Reclaimed or recycled materials (like using old barn wood or salvaging stuff from buildings that will be torn down) don’t have that problem because they are old enough that the chemicals have already leached out.

On the tour ($10 per person – very reasonable) we got to see the inside of only 3 of the houses (as the other’s are private residences) – the Bone House, the Tree House and I don’t know if the third house had a name but the front fencing had wine bottles as part of the fence, so I’ll call it the Wine House.

Some of these homes had artist’s studios with them as separate buildings. Personally, I could never live in any of the houses. I found them too confining and with the multitude of patterns on practically every surface, too busy. I like a cleaner aesthetic. Also, I want a flat counter top surface (the counters in the bone house where done in a bone mosaic – as in actual bone). I can’t imagine trying to cut something and having my cutting board bouncing all over the place. Plus keeping it clean would not be fun. The floor in that kitchen was absolutely beautiful but impractical, from a cleaning standpoint, in my opinion. 

I found the artist’s studios much more to my liking, which were mostly one big rectangle with a bathroom. I’m thinking I need about 800 square feet and properly planned will seem spacious and be very comfortable. And most important – paid for. I don’t plan on using bottle caps for flooring (I’m going to go with a stained cement – way cheaper and less time-consuming) but I will be looking in unusual places for my materials rather than hitting up the big box stores.  

It’ll be at least a year before I can even move and probably longer than that before I get another house as I decide on where I eventually want to settle down. Being an empty-nester will free me to go anywhere I want so I am going to explore my options. But Dan’s opened my eyes to lots of options so that when I am ready to build or remodel, I can do it without taking on a mortgage and customized just for me as long as I am willing to put in some time sourcing cheap/free materials and doing some of the jobs.


Houses from Reclaimed Materials


Say goodbye to cookie cutter houses!

I just viewed this TED talk by Dan Phillips. He is a builder from Texas. I love these little houses and how much personality they have. This is a great talk and Mr. Phillips is entertaining and truly an artist.

I want one of his houses.

Check out his website

Is sustainability the key to mental health?


When people talk about sustainability, often the conversation revolves around things like solar energy, alternative fuel sources, recycling, composting, using your own bags instead of plastic bags, etc. These are all very valid discussion to have and certainly anything that you can do is helpful. But for me, sustainability is more about lifestyle choices, values, quality of life and mindfullness.

Once I started delving deeper into the subject, what really got my attention and started turning me around wasn’t necessarily saving the planet (although I am all for that) but ridding myself of the extraneous crap from my life. Not only the physical but also the mental crap. Much of what got us on this trajectory has been external pressures, usually from advertisers, but they aren’t the only ones, that our lives our not enough unless we have the right car, bigger house, ivy league education, brand name jeans. It seems that we are constantly bombarded with messages that we aren’t enough as is. This is a very Western problem.

I came across this post and I think it is very pertinent for our journey inward. I don’t know if we can ever fully deflect the barrage of messages telling us we are not enough, but it’s worth trying, certainly for our planet, but more important for the sake of peace of mind.

Around the Web


Here are some interesting stories I have come across on the internet:

Why you should pay more for your clothes:

Crafty, eco-friendly (and cheap!) business cards:

An innovative business concept that uses garbage and helps build a local economy (love the floor cushions):

Tom’s – A closer look


In the course of my “real” job, I ran across this post about Tom’s – the famous shoe company that promotes buy one, give one away.

I had a pretty high regard for Tom’s. I thought that it was a socially responsible company, but after reading the above post and this one, coupled with the book I am reading, Naked Fashion, I realize that while their intentions may be good, they really are going all about it the wrong way. The best way for me to sum it up is this:

Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.

Tom’s is giving the fish away, and the sad part is that there are already plenty of fish. The people in these countries aren’t looking for fish, they are looking for a way to build a viable economy that can sustain them. When foreign aid comes in the manner of free goods, it undermines the local economy.

I guess I won’t be buying those Tom’s shoes after all. Instead, I am eyeing the shoes made by Nisolo. I’m digging their Bolivar Wedge.

Downsizing – steps to simplifying my life


I am 15 months away from downsizing. That’s when my son graduates from high school and I will be able to sell my 3000 square foot house. I’ve been ready for this for a while but it’s important to stay put so my son can graduate with his friends.

There is not a lot in my house that I plan on bringing with me, a few pieces of furniture, kitchen essentials and small appliances and the contents of my sewing rooms will make the cut. The rest is either: too big (I anticipate cutting my living space in half), not my taste anymore or just decorative knickknacks that fill space. In my next home I only want the things I need or absolutely love.

As someone who is trying to be more mindful of her own as well as the companies I deal with,  ecological impact, I could be considered a hypocrite for getting rid of perfectly good (old) stuff in exchange for new stuff. However, I feel that I am handling it in a responsible manner. Here’s how:

1. I intend to sell or give-away whatever doesn’t make the cut. It’s not going into a landfill, but getting a second life in someone else’s home.

2. Not everything is getting replaced. So much of what I have is just stuff to fill space. Letting go of it frees up my time,  (from cleaning and caring for it), my budget and my space so I need less. I don’t want to be a slave to my stuff.

3. The majority of what I do replace will be with second-hand finds. I love the thrill of the hunt of finding a bargain at the thrift store or garage sales. One dresser that will be coming with me was a $30 buy at Goodwill. It was an ugly green but I stripped it and in its natural state it is beautiful and well made. The drawers are put together with dove tails, not nails, a sign of quality.

4. For the things that I buy new I intend to first try to buy it from a local manufacturer. If that isn’t possible, then I will look to quality American manufacturers – I want it to last. It’s important that we support manufacturing in this country. You may think you are better off shopping at the big box stores but those low prices are an illusion. They don’t take into account how they are eroding all of our earning power. It’s not just the menial jobs that no one wants that are shipped overseas where cheap labor markets are exploited to make all that cheap stuff we buy. As we’ve seen with the economy, any of us can be affected. Well, trades people are safe. You aren’t going to call India when your toilet is backed up.

Then there is the hidden environmental costs of all those cheap goods – on the manufacturing and the disposal end. Dyes from jeans are leached into drinking water. Stores like Ikea are cutting down forests for furniture that ends up in the dumpster because it is so cheap that people would rather throw it  out and buy new stuff rather than deal with the hassle of moving it.

I have 15 months to do my research. I expect to pay more for these goods but then I expect that for some, it will be the last time that I need to buy them. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve blown $400 at one time at Sephora, not to mention all the little nickel and dime purchases (meaning under $100) I’ve made over my lifetime for stuff I didn’t need. This time around I am willing to pay a fair price for a quality good that I need, love and will serve me well for hopefully the rest of my life. Everything that I keep or buy will now be evaluated on a strict criteria. My time and money are precious. I don’t want to be a slave to jobs that don’t feed my soul. Adapting this mindset will allow me to pursue my dreams without worrying about how I’m going to pay my bills.

Time is not the problem


About 3 months ago I cancelled my cable. I don’t watch T.V. anymore. For a long time now I have realized that the idiot box was taking up way too much of my time and energy and I got tired of the paying for the privilege of watching the same 90’s movies and “reality” (or as I like to call it AWDQ – attention whore drama queens) T.V. I freed up $1200 a year.

Everyone complains about not having enough time. Now that my TV is gone (physically the TV is still here, my son plays video games on it and we do check out movies from the library) what I have discovered is a wealth of time. And I think many more people would find more time if they gave up their mind-numbing bad habits (mine was TV and I bet for the majority of others, it is also TV, but your’s could be different). I know that there are people out there that are really strapped for time, working 2 jobs, taking care of small children, etc. I get it. But for most of us it’s not that we don’t have enough time (though that’s our excuse), it’s that we aren’t mindful of how we are spending our time (mindfulness is a word that keeps popping up for me). You sit down for just a minute to relax, catch the news and then you’ll be productive. Problem is, you get sucked into the meaningless garbage and become unaware that 4 hours just flew by and it’s time to go to bed. So the problem isn’t really time, or lack of.

I read somewhere that people who watch a lot of TV enter into a sort of low-grade depression. I don’t find this hard to believe. Most shows are not upbeat. And even if they are, watching them is a passive activity and I don’t think a fulfilling, meaningful life comes from being passive. Life is about doing – doing things that challenge you, that make you move, that are fun, that contribute to the well-being of others – in others words, being involved

Sure, when the TV first went blank on that fateful day, I did spend my fair share of time on the internet. But then I started getting more involved with my life, asking myself the big questions like how do I really want to spend my days, what is really important to me and what can I do without. It’s led me to two very big changes. The first is that while working a full-time job I have decided to start a small business. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I have tried before but I let my fears get in the way. I’m taking baby steps but I am moving forward. The books by Robert Fritz (The Path of Least Resistance and You’re Life as Art are two good ones) have really helped me frame it – it’s not about me, it’s about bringing something that I love into being.

The other change is I spend more time cooking. I’ve always loved to bake, but cooking, especially in the days when I was catering to very different tastes and having my own preferences mocked, didn’t bring me joy. Now I am having fun trying different flavors and creating nutritious meals from scratch, watching my freezer fill up with the fruits of my labor. I am excited for spring to come so I can buy my produce in season from local businesspeople at the Farmer’s Market. I will learn how to preserve what I can’t use right away. My first experiment will be in making my own yogurt using a crock pot. Maybe this winter I’ll be eating my own yogurt sweetened with fruit that I have preserved from summer’s harvest. How sweet will that be? 

Very sweet, indeed.