Creating and Maintaining a Sustainable Household

Creating and Maintaining a Sustainable Household
With more than a whiff of nostalgia, images of communes and free-living, with different generations living in harmony and at-one with nature, have stirred up in us a desire to create a sustainable household.  Photos of children running care-free through wild meadows, whilst parents enjoy the connection that comes from a simple life are powerful motivators for wanting to create something of the There-and-Then in the Here-and-Now.  Current climate concerns mean that more and more of us are looking to return to a more sustainable way of living and enjoy the off-grid benefits of tuning in and dropping out of consumerism and consumption.  Yet, it turns out that creating and maintaining a sustainable household requires more than just whimsical musings of freedom. 


Living the Dream

My significant other and I have a plan in place to eventually raise our family in a sustainable home that is unconnected to urban centers.  We’ve quickly discovered that creating a lifestyle that feels in tune with our values and with the environment comes with plenty of challenges that feel anything but free and easy.  In the process, we’ve leant plenty along the way about how to combine the dream and vision of creating and managing a sustainable household whilst finding practical ways to make this reality.   We’ve found it requires a lot more than the desire to live in harmony with nature, but also a great level of commitment and resourcefulness.


Finding our Balance

One of the first challenges we faced was how to manage our own expectations about what we meant by off-grid, sustainable living.  It was tempting to visualize a remote wilderness location as the place to establish our home, and the place to raise our family.  Yet, the reality is that wilderness and amenities rarely go hand in hand.  How much remoteness did we really want, long-term?  Could we really live without connection to a public utility power grid, water, or sewer system?  As with so many things in life, we learnt to find our balance.  To combine, in a delicate dance, our wants and our needs – our creative value driven vision and the more pragmatic reality.   Finding the middle ground of somewhere between the two extremes of remote wilderness and concrete jungle felt a happy compromise. 

Small Steps Towards Sustainability

Small steps became our motto. As we reflected and planned for the perfect location, we took literal steps, seeking to rely less on gas-driven vehicles and more on amenities that were within walking (or cycling) distance.  That seemed to be an embodied way to commit to the vision and gave us the motivation to think about how we could implement metaphorical small steps towards our goal of a sustainable household.  We began to implement one day a week as a “no purchase” day, to reduce our reliance (some might say, addiction) on consumption.  Small changes were made to our menu plans, so that we incorporated more local produce and less carbon greedy meat and dairy produce.  We began to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle – focusing on need rather than want.  Also, we began to get our hands dirty as began to grow an ever increasing number of vegetables and fruits, as well as repair a whole host of items, rather than buying new.  YouTube tutorials became our friend, and we leant the art of make-do-and-mend.   Each one of these actions were an important small step towards our ultimate goal of making the dream of creating a sustainable household a reality. 


Making the Dream a Reality

Doing our homework has been important.  Whilst the idyllic dream of living at one with nature seems almost at odds with detailed planning and research, we quickly learnt that it we were to make the vision happen, we needed more than spontaneity.  A family home that is sustainable in the long-term takes careful thought.  That’s meant a deep dive into building materials and techniques. Insulation, roofing options, energy sourcing and waste disposal are not glamorous topics, but they each contribute to the overall vision of a home where, as a family we can be free to live a life in harmony with our values and with nature.  We have needed to learn about the thermal insulation properties of a range of materials.  We’ve also begun to consider the people involved in the supply chain of products, to ensure that our drive for a sustainable home does not adversely impact others who don’t necessarily have the degree of choice that we do.  At a basic level, that has meant asking questions about the origin of materials and products and opting for Fairtrade products whenever possible. We have also begun to look at the ethical credentials of finance products and institutions that we are using to help fund our dream for sustainable living. 


Monique – a Container Living Hero

Along the way, we’ve met and learnt from pioneers – those who have taken the plunge towards a more sustainable home.  We saw firsthand how Monique and her tribe of beautiful children lived amidst a series of converted shipping containers, welded together to form a metallic sculpture like home.  Recycled and repurposed interiors, and carefully thought-out storage options to make the most of the limited square footage was an inspiration.  The children seemed oblivious to our endless questions for Monique as they explored the nearby woodlands and constructed their own dens and hideouts.  The compost toilet was not a point of curiosity for them, as it was for us!


Ade – a Utopian Allotment Pioneer

We also had the pleasure of meeting Ade and his family who were making sustainable living work for them in a more urban environment.   Living in a basic home in the suburbs, they’d found ways to reduce their carbon footprint to practically zero.  Thought and care went into every aspect of home life.  The family had shunned all reliance on plastic or on fossil fuels.  The compost heaps in the yard had become their secret weapon against waste, as they transformed a huge array of “waste” products into nutritious compost for their shared allotment garden, which had evolved into a meeting place for a range of residents who came together to work the land and build community as they did so.   Listening to their laughter and chat was priceless and reminded us of those vintage photos from 1960s kibbutz, with volunteers working the land and living in harmony with nature’s bounty and with one another.


Inspiration for a Sustainable Household

So, whilst creating and maintaining a sustainable household in which we can raise our family is still a work in progress – it is more than just a dream.    The dream is integral to helping us towards where we are heading.  That vision of free-living, harmony and creativity is what inspires us and keeps us taking those small steps towards a hopeful future. 

written by Jade Piper 



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