Procrastination and productivity

As much as I like to make things, there have been some things that I’ve been putting off doing recently.  Although I’ve been getting everything done that’s needed for work, I’ve been putting off what feel like more non-essential things, even though these are often the tasks that are important to building a more resilient and sustainable life.  By and large these are relatively small things, but I put them off all the same.  I think I often convince myself that whatever I want to do will take a long time or be otherwise inconvenient, and so I let things sit.

In most cases, however, this is far from the truth.  To combat my procrastination I’ve been trying to do things that I would normally put off just as a matter of routine.  This means they get done quickly – usually the same day, if not as soon as I think of them – and often I find they don’t take anywhere near as long as I think they will.  In turn, this makes it more likely that I’ll keep up with the things that I want to or need to do.  It’s been a bit surprising to me how easy it is to fit in these smaller tasks.

This past week, I changed a flat tire on my bicycle, made sauerkraut, started ginger beer and sourdough starters, soaked beans for sprouting, and put together a sugar scrub and face masque for my sensitive and currently very unhappy skin.  The thing that took the longest was easily the sauerkraut, but even with the chopping and pounding down it took only around a half hour, perhaps a bit more with cleanup (cabbage everywhere).  Everything else took well under 15 minutes.

My recent schedule hasn’t left much time for anything other than work, but as things slow down and settle in a bit, it’s good to know that I can fit in some of the activities that I’ve been holding off on.  It’s important to me to know that I’m being at least a bit productive in ways that don’t involve work, and it’s felt really, really good to be able to accomplish some of these tasks in the free time that I have.

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Home for a rest

In this busy time of the year, and with major ongoing life changes happening, it’s become increasingly important for me to have some serious downtime on a regular basis.  By serious, though, I’m really referring to quality, not so much to quantity.  I find that so long as it’s quality rest, I can get by with one full day off per week.  More is better, if I can swing it, but a solid day of quiet downtime is fairly necessary for me to continue to function at a reasonable level.

Since I teach on Monday, Sundays are usually devoted to work prep, although I try to keep them as low-key as possible.  Fridays are usually devoted to errands and anything that needs to get done.  This leaves Saturdays as my day off, and I’ve been trying to make the most of them, and to get into some restful habits that will be easy to keep up.

On Sundays, I usually don’t go out, unless it’s for a bike ride or a walk.  I don’t shop or run any errands.  I don’t turn on my email, read the news, or check social media.  In fact, my only media use on Saturdays is listening to music or watching a movie, or occasionally drafting a blog post if the mood to write strikes me.  Instead, I do quiet things like read, bake, cook, nap, sew, or knit.

Today, I slept in a bit longer than usual, then got up and went for a long bike ride – I’m trying to spend as much time enjoying the last of the nice weather outside while I can.  I came home, made some lunch, and spent some time tidying and then reading on the couch, which also just happens to be where I dozed off for a bit later in the afternoon.  When I got up again, I started the process of making sauerkraut and a ginger beer starter.  With that finished, I made pizza and a berry smoothie for dinner, and ate while watching The Lord of The Rings.

It’s hardly exciting, but hardly exciting is exactly what I need.  Having a day off with little contact with outside world and quiet, restful pursuits is vital to my well-being.  At the end of these days, I feel rejuvenated in a way that no other activity or approach has managed.  This may not be possible every weekend, but as much as possible I’ll be keeping my Saturdays quiet, low key, and restful so I can continue to do the other things in my life that are so important to me.

Style and substance

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  – William Morris

 

For a long time, I swore that I was someone who values substance over style and function over form.  I still don’t think this is necessarily untrue.  I’d much rather have something functional but not so nice to look at than something pretty but useless.  But I’ve recently realized fairly acutely that valuing practicality and utility doesn’t mean that I don’t like nice things, or that I don’t want a home that’s somewhat aesthetically pleasing and relaxing to be in.

One of my recent projects has been revamping my apartment.  I suspect that at least part of the reason I told myself that I preferred form to function for so long was because it excused the fact that my apartment was an ill thought out, overstuffed, poorly arranged mess.  The remedy?  Getting rid of some things, replacing others, and spending a bit of time just making the place look and feel nice.  I spend a lot of time here, and the truth is that making it into a nicer place to be does me a world of good.

I was, however, not really willing to spend all that much on style just for the sake of style.  On top of that, I needed to watch my budget.  I put a good bit of money towards a new bed and it was important to not spend a lot on other things.  I didn’t want to wind up buying whatever was available simply because it was there and it was cheap, though.  As I keep shopping the secondhand market, it’s become clear that it’s important to be selective and to not just buy things that are sort of what I want or need.  It’s easy to justify “close enough” when something only costs five dollars, but it’s not worth it in the long run, so I tried to hold out for things that were both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Most of my shopping was done through August, when I had the loan of a car from a friend.  Since thrift stores have such highly variable stock, I simply showed up a lot in the hopes that some good stuff would show up. Other than some basic bookcases, I didn’t buy anything that didn’t make me think, “yes, that’s lovely and exactly what I need!”

I was fortunate there was quite a lot of “yes!” happening on these trips.  For furniture, my trips yielded two bookcases ($8 and $10), two chairs with solid walnut frames ($5 each), a metal filing unit ($5), two brass floor lamps ($5 and $7), a brass table lamp ($3), a pottery table lamp ($3), and a pine side table ($3).  I also picked up four down throw pillows ($3 each), a couple of baskets ($1 and $5), linen napkins and placemats (8 for $1), crystal glasses ($1.80 each), candles (25 for $4), and a few pieces of pottery (from $1 to $4).  All told, as of the end of August my apartment revamp cost around $100, excluding the bed.

 

I’ve been thinking of this style as some kind of hybrid of modern, industrial, vintage, and rustic.  It’s probably really just eclectic, but I like it and it leaves me feeling comfortable and relaxed.  Do I need an aesthetic or style?  No, not really.  I’d be fine without it and would function just as well.  If I didn’t have the resources I wouldn’t have done it and would have been just fine.  But, given the choice, it’s nice to be able to have a little bit of form along with my function.  It’s a pleasure to turn on lamps that cast softer light, to appreciate the design and materials of a chair, and to light candles and look around at an apartment that feels much more like home than it has in awhile now.

More retail therapy

Although most of my extravagantly excessive shopping of late has been secondhand, there have also been a few new purchases, which is a rarity for me.  After using the same rapidly deteriorating foam mattress for well over a decade and a possibly starting to mildew futon for the last four years, I bought a new queen sized mattress.  True to form, though, I bought it on super sale ($500 instead of $1700) and used $150 in gift cards to pay for it.

To go with the new mattress in a different size I also got a bed frame and bedding.  The latter was at the insistence of my mother who actually sent me a cheque to cover the cost of new sheets, pillows, and blankets because she wanted me to have a fresh place to sleep.  She’s long been a proponent of clearing stuff out to clear your mind and has seen the separation as a major opportunity for growth and changing around my life, starting with the bedroom (have I mentioned that my parents are fantastic and have been utterly and absolutely wonderful over the past few months?  I am very, very lucky.)

The final result is, in short, glorious.  I’m usually pretty hard on myself about new purchases, but not so much with these ones.  Although what I spent on the bed is probably the most amount of money that I’ve spent on anything in years, it’s been completely worth it.  I anticipate it will last for many, many years.  But even more importantly, I sleep so, so much better and it’s made such a huge difference to my mood, my focus, and my work.

Decluttering

I’ve been swearing – for years now, it seems – that I need to do a big clean out of the apartment.  Living here for over eight years and frequenting thrift stores as I do has led to the accumulation of a lot of stuff – piles of books, clothing, cookware, dishes, and all manner of other bits and pieces.  Since the apartment isn’t huge, this has meant that not everything really has a place of its own, and things get messy and disorganized really quickly.

Although I’m going slowly, I’ve already started the purging process.  At the end of April, I took 14 bags of donations to the thrift store – two of clothes, two of housewares, and ten of books.  (I didn’t think to take pictures, which I now kind of regret – the pile was impressive.)  While I’m a little embarrassed to have had so much to get rid of and that it barely made a dent in the stuff around here, I’m also really pleased to have it gone and moved on to a charity that will benefit from it and other people who will use it.

This is, however, just the start of the process.  One of my summer goals is to do a good bit of the decluttering that I keep saying that I need and want to do, but never really get around to.  My starting goal is to get rid of a quarter of what I own.  It feels a bit ambitious, particularly for someone who has a tendency to hang onto things, but I suspect that aiming high is the best bet.  Even if I fall short, I still get something accomplished.  On top of that, I find that as I get going the process becomes a good deal easier.

The other side of the coin is that I’m also bringing in less.  I got into a bit of a thrift store habit last year and I’m consciously avoiding that now.  Being out on my bike a lot meant that I was passing thrift stores pretty regularly.  Stopping for a bit of a browse became a common thing.  Admittedly, I got some pretty lovely and useful stuff – handmade pottery, wool blankets, a tomato sauce maker, and many great books – but I have enough and I certainly don’t need any more right now.  While I haven’t stopped going entirely – there are still a few specific things on my wish list – I’m being a lot more selective about what I choose to spend money on and bring home.

My ideal is simply to have a home that is a good deal tidier and more organized and that functions better, particularly in light of some of the projects I’d like to work on this summer.  I have a lot of things that I want to get to work on and having a space where there’s actually some room to work and that’s easy to tidy up would be a real boon.  On top of that, the nicer home is to be, the more time I spend here and the more relaxed and productive I am.  I spend so much time here that putting the time and effort into making it a good place to live is very well-spent.

Outfitting a village

I’m generally against rampant consumerism, but these days I find myself thinking about buying things a good deal more than I usually do.  Apart from periods where I put myself on no spend challenges, I do tend to accumulate stuff.  I bring in books, canning jars, kitchen gadgets, yarn, clothing, tools, bedding, and quite a few other things that have proven to be useful as I try to live a bit more sustainably.  However, I also have a wish list as long as my arm that includes a variety of far more expensive items that are not so easily found secondhand: garden tools, clothes drying rack, pressure canner, grain mill, dehydrator, water filter, camp stove, and sun oven.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that I should use the resources that I have to go ahead and make these kind of purchases. The biggest one on my list is still some land – this is feeling like an increasingly pressing concern, but I’m not yet sure where or how given that my job status is somewhat up in the air and we’re not exactly settled.  But for now, I also feel as though I should purchase some of the tools that will hopefully help to make life a bit more sustainable and a bit more secure both here in our little apartment and hopefully in the future when we have our own place.

The real driving thought, though, is that I don’t just want this for me.  I see what I’m doing as acquiring resources at least for my family, if not for a village (as it were).  My parents don’t really share many of my fears about where the world is headed, and my mother actively seeks to get rid of as much as possible.  My husband is more understanding of my concerns, although doesn’t necessarily share them to the same degree.  Many of my friends share similar concerns, but very few are actively making changes in their own lives.  So when I buy reference books, canning jars, garden tools, or a pressure canner, I feel like I’m doing it not just for me, but for them as well.  Knowing that they aren’t taking any steps on their own makes me feel that one of the most important things I can do is plan to help take care of them as best I can.

To be clear, I don’t think stuff is going to save us, and its certainly not going to do so on its own.  I think we need community and knowledge far more than we need more things, but tools can help a lot, and good quality tools can be shared and used to do a lot of good for quite a few people.  While there are certainly times when I just want to save every bit of money I possibly can, it seems to me that if I have the resources to buy tools that may prove to be helpful to a range of people it might just be worth spending a bit of money after all and taking up some of the space in my apartment to store them.

I also see these purchases as a way to hopefully become more self-reliant and to save a bit of money.  A well-made clothes drying rack may be $100, but will save me $2.50 a load, plus the environmental costs.  A pressure canner may approach $400, but if I can buy and can food when it’s inexpensive and have easy meals ready to go, that saves a lot of money on food and possibly even some time at dinner time.  Good gardening tools aren’t that cheap, but they open up more opportunities for feeding ourselves and cutting down on grocery bills.  And, the more money I save, the more there will be left to purchase more tools, or just to help others.  While I want to do as much as possible for myself, I also want to be sure that I can take care of those I care about the most and help to foster the community and resilience that I suspect will become even more important in the future.

What should I do with my life?

A few days ago, Eric at Root Simple wrote a post called How to Answer the Question, “What Should I Do With My Life?” talking about looking at our bookshelves to figure out what it is that we really want to do.  A few other blogs seem to have picked it up as well, so I decided to have a look at my own shelves to see what they say about my current values and priorities.

Most of my book purchases over the last few years have been focused on greater self reliance and, in particular, food.  Even my academic books – once focused largely on technology and assorted digital things – have made way for more books critiquing consumerism and looking at modern food issues in our society (there are actually some rather compelling links between the two, which is what I’m currently working on).

Books 2Apart from my academic life, I’ve also bought a large number of books that are focused on food in a few different ways.  Some of them deal with the social and cultural implications of food and the issues with our current food system.  I’m interested in everything from critical perspectives on what’s not working through to books about the history of food.  On top of this, I’ve also acquired quite a lot of books on producing, cooking, and preserving food – everything from seed saving and gardening to cooking dinner from scratch and making jam.  Beyond food, I also have a selection of books on skills including knitting, crochet, sewing, weaving, bush craft, basket making, natural dyeing, soap making, root cellaring, house construction, bee keeping, livestock care and feeding, and herbalism.

Books 3As for the rest of them, I have a bookcase devoted to fiction and another with sections devoted to a range of topics: folklore, naturalism, graphic novels, communication and cultural theory, children’s literature, poetry, music, fitness, history, anthropology, finances, and social issues.  I suppose it’s also worth noting that I have a fairly large selection of books on things like happiness, mindfulness meditation, and compassion.  These are fairly recent additions to the shelf, and I think they illustrate my desire for a life that is not only more resilient, but hopefully also happier and more mindful.

Books 1Here’s a selection of a few of my current favourites:

  • The Urban Homestead
  • Living Seasonally
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
  • Forgotten Skills of Cooking
  • The River Cottage Cookbook
  • The Art of Simple Food
  • Tassajara Bread Book
  • Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
  • The Art of Fermentation
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved
  • Square Foot Gardening
  • The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
  • Four-Season Harvest
  • The Year Round Vegetable Gardener
  • The One Straw Revolution
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft
  • Your Money or Your Life
  • Less if More: The Art of Voluntary Poverty
  • Living More With Less
  • Mindfulness in Plain English
  • The Places that Scare You

I’ve always had varied interests, which are pretty well represented here.  But the large selection of books that are focused on skills makes it pretty clear to me that I’m looking to do more with my life than just think.  I want to be active and productive and find ways to be more self-reliant.  With that in mind, I’m going to get up from looking at my books and actually get down to making something this afternoon – I’m thinking some whole wheat bread might be in order, and perhaps a bit of knitting.