Thursday, February 28, 2013

What is making shift?

Using materials at hand to make something we need. Those materials can be reclaimed, recycled, or simply something we already own that were originally for another use. Examples: I once watched my husband fix a speaker in his car with a twig and a twist tie. I also saw him cut down a large tree using only a garden hose and a 16-inch handsaw (because that’s what we had). Our chicken coop and compost bin were made with almost entirely salvaged materials.

makeshift- “something one turns to in the absence of the usual means or source of supply”

Little Sister painting the makeshift chicken coop

Challenging our consumer culture. American consumer culture dictates that if we want something we should have it. And that we can (indeed, we should) go into debt getting it. No waiting. No careful consideration of our actual needs. Our consumer culture even tells us that we deserve it. When we stop thinking about material goods as things we deserve, things we need (when we truly don’t), things we can’t live without, we can really break free.  When we start making shift we don’t have to run out to the store and pay full price for the next thing we need. We can use something we already have, or borrow it from a friend, or trade for it, or put it on a list of what to look for at the thrift store, a garage sale, or the curb. Example: I want to raise some chickens for meat this spring and I need a second coop. I decided to build a hoop house made of PVC pipe. There was no way I was going to go out and buy new PVC pipe. So I put PVC pipe on my mental scavenging list and found a bunch in the trash across from my children’s preschool just a couple of days later.

Resourcefulness- “able to meet situations: capable of devising ways and means”

Turning the household unit into a productive unit (instead of a strictly consumptive unit). I have no illusions about making my household into a completely self-sufficient island. My personal goal is not self-sufficiency. But it feels good to make more of what we need. I think that as humans we are wired to create things- physical, tangible things- but often our daily lives do not include such production. In our homes, in our homemaking and husbandry, we can enjoy the act of creating useful, tangible goods for our own consumption. Creating a more productive household can be as simple as cooking a homemade meal or as complicated as raising pigs for meat. Making homemade greeting cards, baking bread, and keeping a vegetable garden are all small ways to produce things we need.

Make- “to cause to happen”, “to cause to exist, occur, or appear”

Homegrown carrots from our backyard garden

Letting go of how we think things should look or be. This would include things like not keeping up with the Joneses.  It also includes letting go of things our society considers to be “truths” but are really just cultural norms. For example, if you live in the United States and you have a yard, our culture dictates that it should have a grass lawn. Americans really believe in that grass lawn. But what if you tore out all the ornamental plants and killed your grass to make room for something like this front yard over at Food Renegade?

Maybe murdering the front lawn seems like a big step. There are many ways we can give up preconceived notions of how things should be. When we had our first baby we thought that we needed a crib. A nursery always has a crib, right? Our daughter hated the crib and we struggled to figure out sleeping arrangements. It took us until we had our third baby to realize that a mattress on the floor worked far better for us and for the baby. I had to let go of how things should be before I could figure out what would actually work best for us.

Shift- “to change direction”, “to assume responsibility”, “a change in emphasis, judgment, or attitude”

When we find ourselves engaged in any of these activities on a regular basis, then we are making shift. Making shift is low-consumption. I think that when we make shift we give ourselves opportunities to be creative and productive and resourceful. It can even open us up to a more intentional way of living.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chicken Coop Made From Scavenged Materials

Have you ever met a chicken? Now those are some resourceful animals. They can turn a few green weeds and your yard bugs into the most delicious golden-yolked eggs you’ve ever tasted. We’ve had chickens for about 6 years and, honestly, I can’t imagine not having them anymore. In addition to providing the best breakfast in town (and sometimes dinner, too) they are full of personality and quirky character.

In addition to being productive and entertaining they are good with kids. (The hens are, anyway. Roosters are another story.) The ones that don’t like kids generally can’t be caught by them anyway. The tamer, gentler ones put up with a lot.

Exhibit A (How to Hold a Chicken)
Exhibit B (How NOT to Hold a Chicken)
Let me reassure you that that chicken was promptly rescued and was quite fine.

Early last spring my long-suffering husband built our chicken coop and run from almost entirely scavenged materials. He busted out his circular saw, a cap with ear flaps, a pencil, and a lot of recycled lumber (aka Other People’s Trash).

Prepping scavenged plywood for the chicken coop
Constructing the perimeter of the run with stakes from the trash

Our coop is a testament to resourcefulness. We didn't really have any building experience but you can do anything if you read a book about it, right? Mr. Chanclas built a 3’x5’ coop with an attached 12’ x 12’ run. The plywood for the coop came from two great trash-picking scores. (Some of it is riddled with termite tunnels but that’s another story for another day.) The lumber that goes around the edges of the run was also trash, the chicken wire is leftover from two households, I bought the coop hinges for 99 cents at the Habitat Restore, and the center pole is a fallen tree from our property. The tin roof pieces were saved from the old coop at our old house.  Alas, the deer netting that will cover the run was bought at Home Depot. The kids helped paint the finished coop, which has helped it to resist warping due to moisture. 

Painting the coop with leftover latex paint

Even a toddler can help paint a chicken coop!

Here is how the whole thing looks today:

The finished chicken coop and run
It has served our chickens well. We’ve had 12-18 chickens live in there during the last year and our only casualty was the first night after we moved them in. We hadn’t finished securing the net to the top of the wire sides and a predator (probably a fox) came and killed a hen in the night. We immediately finished securing the net and have not suffered another loss since. I’ve seen coyotes, foxes, and hawks in the yard but none have found a way in. Proof that you only need a secure coop to raise chickens- not a fancy one!

How to Get Clothes For Free

I get most of my kids’ clothes for free. Not just some of them, but most of them.  And I don’t steal! I scavenge, swap, and most of all, I ask around. The asking around is how I get hand-me-downs. I have gotten hundreds of children’s clothes items (nice ones, cute ones!) for nothing. Most people (myself included) are really happy to pass along the clothes their children have outgrown. You just have to put the word out.

Last spring I was visiting with a neighbor and telling her that Little Sister was suddenly toilet training herself and I was having trouble finding tiny-size undies. My neighbor happened to have a paper grocery sack full of tiny undies to hand down at that very moment. Score! I had put the word out without even realizing it. When Little Sister outgrew the undies a few months later I passed them back to my neighbor and now her baby girl is using them.

Another nice thing about hand-me-downs (besides the fact that they are FREE) is that they are a bit of a community builder. When someone gives you a bag of clothes it gives you a connection to that person. You are thankful to that person. And it makes you feel like returning the favor, too. Sometimes you will return the favor to that same person but often it is someone else, someone with a child just the right age, and in that way the favor just gets passed along. (Hand-me-down karma?) In addition, when your child wears those hand-me-downs you will sometimes think of the child they used to belong to and think of him or her fondly.  (I have lots of sweet memories of my niece when I see Little Sister wearing her clothes.)

Hand-me-downs aren’t just for kids. I also get clothes for myself from my sister and two friends. (I give them clothes, too, so it is a mutually beneficial arrangement.) I’m planning to host a more formal clothes swap here at my house with some girlfriends this spring. A swap is a great way to pick up some clothes for free and also get rid of clothes that you no longer need. There are some good instructions on how to run a clothing swap HEREand HERE.

Great things you can find in the trash

You would be amazed at the stuff you can find in the curbside trash in this country. The city of Austin has twice-yearly bulky trash pickup, which is a great time to pick up some good trash scores. Furniture, lumber, landscaping materials, large appliances, and car tires can all be found at the curb during bulky trash pickup week. You can also find some great stuff outside student housing (in Dumpsters and at the curb) at the end of each semester. I’m not much of a Dumpster diver but I’ve been known to fish out a thing or two. Dumpster diving seems best suited for folks who walk a lot (you can just peek under the lid as you walk by). I tend to keep my eyes peeled for curbside stuff as I’m driving.

Our kitchen table (seats 8) was found in the curbside trash

Some of the things I have picked out of the trash:

A file cabinet
A Pottery Barn nightstand
2 heinous metal diner chairs I covered in oilcloth
Lots of kids’ clothes
Kids’ toys, esp. sandbox and other outdoor toys
Lumber and plywood
5 gallon buckets
PVC pipe
The Gray Chair (everyone’s favorite upholstered chair in the living room)
Plastic lawn chairs
Shelves and bookcases
Gardening pots and stands
Landscaping borders
A basketball hoop
Weights for weightlifting (Mr. Chanclas is a Crossfit dork)
Shipping pallets
A toddler potty
The kitchen table
A decorative wooden carving of two weird cherubs that I hung in the yard
A garden hose roller stand
A wooden screen door

My mom pulled two entire dining room sets out of the trash, made new cushions for the chairs, and gave the sets away to my cousin and my sister when they moved into their first apartments. My brother-in-law has rescued a ton of stuff from the trash, including bicycles, a Kettler car (cool kids’ riding toy), and a Dell netbook (which he gave to me and I use to this day). Every time we have moved I have gotten all of our cardboard moving boxes out of the trash. Liquor stores are a great place to get medium-sized cardboard boxes.
Almost every toy pictured here was scavenged from the trash.
Some folks might feel a little icky about scavenged stuff because they worry it might not be clean. A good wipe-down with bleach solution effectively cleans hard surfaces. Clothes and fabric goods can be laundered in hot water with a little bleach and dried in the clothes dryer for a heat treatment.  I rarely pick up upholstered furniture and when I do I check it for stains and weird smells. A lot of the things I pick up are for outdoor use so I don’t have to worry much about germs and pests. (I once picked up a bunch of nice, thick plywood that turned out to be tunneled by termites. Even that turned out okay because there were no longer any termites in it. And even if there had been, it was kept away from my house. And termites are EVERYWHERE in Central Texas.)

I’m always amazed at the things people throw out. And, in addition to getting stuff I need for free, it makes me feel good to keep all that useful stuff out of the landfill. Recycling is nice and all, but reuse is even better.