Fresh off of the Taproot gathering I saw so many amazingly talented and passionate homesteaders sharing their love and knowledge of things like raising chickens, dying your own yarn and fabrics, making herbal remedies, carving your own wooden spoons and the like. While the idea of living a low impact, close-to-the-earth kind of life surely has a romantic pull, I know in my own everyday it's not something that totally translates. I'd love to learn to carve spoons (they were to-die-for gorgeous!), but I live closer to the in-between. I'm not the kind of girl who loves the big box store and homogenized commerce, but I do shop on Amazon and love me some Target every once and a while. I do what I can, and I try not to feel guilty about it.
Here's a bit of the suburban homesteading that goes on at my house, a round-up of little projects and efforts to create a space that feels lower impact and supports my natural passion for using up and getting rid of things.
Small-scale gardening. You'd be surprised what you can grow in a small space, and you don't have to have a huge plot of land to have a fruitful harvest. We grew quite a bit this year, though if you asked my husband he would give you a dismayed eye roll and tell you how crappy the gardening went this year, but really there was quite an abundance... zucchini, tomatoes, cilantro, basil, green beans, cucumbers, kale, jalapeño peppers, and watermelons that the bunnies ate and loved (much to Alex's chagrin). I made some really amazing dishes with what we grew, and the kids always love picking what ripens.
Upcycled clothing and furniture. I'd say that about 75% of my wardrobe and our household furniture is recycled. Except for a few basics that I wear and wear out, or a really special and unique piece, I thrift most of my clothing and furnishings. Part of it is I've always enjoyed hunting down great unique finds, and part of it is there is just an abundance of beautiful things in the plethora of upscale resale shops and vintage stores these days. I just got a whole bag of cool clothes at the Veggie Art Girl clothing swap at Squam for $5! I also always sell back or donate what I no longer wear or use. I can't bear to put things in the garbage. Hands down, my favorite shop for clothes is Found, but The Buffalo Exchange (in Somerville), ReNew Revolution and Flukes and Finds are also favorites here in Newburyport. If I need a piece of furniture, the first place I will always look is Craigslist. I got our sons loft canopy bed (pictured here) for next to nothing, and a Melissa and Doug Kitchen usually over $300, for $35. I'm currently on the hunt for a long vintage farmers bench and some funky mis-matched chairs for my antique table.
Using my wedding dishes. I knew when I registered for our wedding that I would never use fancy china, and not knowing I would only have boys it was a bit of a crap shoot to not register for any as that would have been my only reason to get a set, so I could pass it down to a daughter. As it turns out it all worked out, and the everyday stonewear and simple flat wear with a swirly pattern I chose is something we use every single day. Knock on wood... the sturdy design has held up and I have not lost a single dish in almost 15 years of daily use. We make an effort to rarely use paper plates, napkins or disposable silver wear.
De-stashing my craft supplies. As far as crafters go, I think I'm on the moderate end of all the mad stashers. I do have my fair share of art journals and rubber stamps, but nothing too over the top. I do try to always use what I have and only buy what I need, and as with clothes I always love to give away what I don't use. I just donated a huge box of trims and appliqués I have had around to a fabulous girl's art camp run by a friend of mine. It feels so good to know things are being used and loved.
No wrapping paper policy. One of the things I challenge myself to do every year is to not buy any wrapping paper. It's lovely, but so so wasteful. I do believe in pretty packaging and there are so many ways to wrap things nicely. With all the holidays and birthdays I probably only buy 2 or 3 rolls per year when I am desperate and on the fly or sending my kid to a party not wanting him to be "the kid with the gift wrapped in newspaper" (back when that wasn't chic, I remember that kid and always felt bad for her!), but otherwise I find some other way to wrap things up. The same with cards. While I love today's designs, there are so many indie artists making beautiful cards and so I try to buy handmade or make my own. Admittedly, I will often look a things and think "I can make that" and never do, and sometimes it is just more cost effective and timely to buy it in a store, but I try my best to make more and consume less, as well as support things like Etsy and artist's markets. On the receiving end, I try to save as much of the trimmings I receive. Ribbons go in a big glass vase and get re-used, cards and wrapping paper are used for collaging, and you'll often find me folding up tissue paper and tucking it quietly away.
I dream of buying and owning less and less every year which is insanely hard with kids, but we do a pretty good job of reigning in the purchase of clothes and toys without making them feel deprived and like paupers. They too appreciate the handmade love, which makes me so so happy. Luckily I have husband who is on the same page. If it's not nailed down, it might disappear! If we can re-use it in another way, we will. Being eclectic and artsy is part of who I am, but it is also a conscious lifestyle choice. I may not weave my own baskets, but I love the earth in my own doable and meaningful way.