Meet Tammy Strobel

A new series of ‘Meet….’ articles focussing on a diverse range of individuals, who are all currently working in their own way to try and make a positive difference in the world.

Tammy is a writer, photographer and simple living enthusiast, and along with her husband Logan and their two cats, she recently continued her journey towards simpler, more minimal living by moving first into a minimally furnished apartment, and then into a ‘tiny house’.

Now a keen advocate for small space living, she blogs about her journey towards a simpler, more sustainable and debt free life on her blog Rowdy Kittens, and can also be found on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Seven years before, they were living a typical middle class lifestyle, but after a period doing voluntary work in Mexico, she came to realise how trivial most of her problems were. Inspired to transform their lives they sold their cars, gave away a lot of their ‘stuff’, cleared their debt and changed their work. Their new home is a mere 128 square feet in size.

Tammy writes:

“Once we sold our one remaining car, life became even better because we saved money and worked less. It sounds like a cliche, but without the car and the TV we had the time, money and energy to prioritize our health, happiness and life goals. For instance, I quit my day job in early 2010, started my own small business and moved to Portland, Oregon. Without simplicity, I would still be stuck in my cubicle.

I hope our personal story will help you remove clutter from your life, one step at a time.

Good luck in your own simple living quest. Above all, pursue happiness and not more stuff.”

 

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Photo from Rowdy Kittens

View from the Desk

I often update Next Starfish sat in my home office, which is a converted shed in my garden.

Building a home office was one of the first few DIY projects we did after moving in, as the house itself isn’t that big and it quickly became clear we’d need some kind of quiet bolthole if we wanted to escape the noise of family life from time to time to get some work done.

Luckily the shed was already there and with a little bit of brickwork, some stud-partitioning and plasterboard and an extension to the electrics it was easy to divide off an area for use as a home office. Inside the shed panels I fixed a breather membrane, and then insulated using sheep wool based insulation -it isn’t quite as efficient as many synthetic products, but it has several other advantages that I think made it a good choice for an occasionally-used home office. The insulation is fixed in place with a polythene damp-proof membrane, and plasterboard fitted over it. I’ve also used thermal curtains over the door and windows, and draft proofing to improve insulation, while retaining sufficient ventilation.

Overall I’m pleased I’ve been able to convert an existing structure rather than build something new.

As well as providing a pleasant place to work, the key advantage of having a home office is that I can work from home. I work four days a week for my employer (downshifting from full time a couple of years ago), and generally try to work one of these from home. This is a great benefit for myself: as I save two hours a day commuting to work and back and the cost of the petrol, for my family: as I can take the children to school in the morning, and for the environment: as I now use 25% less petrol in commuting. I’m also lucky that my employer thinks it’s an advantage for them: in promoting work life balance for their staff.

Obviously not all jobs have the possibility of home working, but if your’s does, or you manage staff who might benefit from home working, I’d certainly recommend exploring all the options. Most technical issues are straightforward to resolve, and the key concern both for staff and their employers is often accountability and ensuring productivity, but there’s no shortage of good advice on how to achieve this to be found around the internet.

There are also thousands of interesting and sometimes inspirational photos of other people’s home office set-ups, as well as the odd photo of a well known individual’s work space . . . neither Al Gore or Steve Jobs’s desks were as organised as you might think !

Pretty much all the furniture and fittings I sued were second hand, the side desk and drawers were from a local charity shop, and cost £10, while the chair was a gift from my parents, who picked it up at their local recycling center for the same amount. The quality of what can generally be found in second hand furniture stores usually far exceeds similarly priced new items, though they might sometimes need a little bit of varnish, paint or minor attention. In many cases items can be restored and improved to a condition better than they were originally; so called upcycling.

Obviously in making use of second hand goods you not only avoid the energy and resources of creating something new, but also reduce the volume of waste that needs to be disposed of. I also believe having older, pre-used items around, also helps counteract the prevailing sense of disposability and consumerism in modern life.

The only real issue is that you can’t be sure in advance what might be available from second hand sources, so it’s probably worth calling in to various stores over a period of time to see what they have, rather than deciding ‘today is the day to buy a new table’, when your choice might be quite limited. Places like Freecycle and Ebay are other possibilities.

I’m particularly pleased with my desk, which I brought recently from Emmaus in Gloucester, as my old worktop style desk had ‘sagged’ a bit. Emmaus are a federation of stores and organisations that are run by communities of former homeless people, developing their skills and self-respect, and supporting their communities in the process.

If there is an Emmaus project in your area it’s well worth a visit, and, I believe, they’re a very worthy organisation to offer your support to.

 

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Fight Vampires with OWLs

Got any vampires in your home you want to get rid of this Halloween ?

Probably.

Lately I’ve been using an OWL to fight vampires in my house, and bit by bit I’m winning.

Still with me ? No ?

The vampires in question are slowly draining electricity around my house, and take the earthly form of TVs on standby, mobile phone and electric toothbrush chargers, wi-fi equipment and computers . . . you get the idea.

The OWL is just a brand name of a home energy monitor – other brands of vampire combating energy monitor are available.

The idea is, of course, that if you can measure something, then you can have a go at managing it, and by making us aware of our electricity consumption in real-time, it makes us much more inclined to take simple steps to reduce it. For me at least this has definitely worked, I’ve become a bit energy obsessed – turning off lights, and removing things from standby at every opportunity.

The problem is that even though all our various appliances are getting more and more efficient, from our AAA rated fridge-freezers and dishwashers, to fan heaters and PCs, we’re also filling our lives with more and more gadgets, many of which we have a tendency to leave charging over night, even though they might only need a couple of hours. To be sure a mobile phone, and electric toothbrush, an ebook reader, a touch screen tablet and an mp3 player don’t use a lot of power individually, but when everyone in the country has or wants one of each, energy planners start to get worried !

In the short term the ‘solution’ is two fold: make gadgets (and their charging systems) as efficient as possible, and also nudge us towards reducing our energy consumption by turning things off as much as possible.

Electricity companies in the UK will shortly be rolling our smart meters similar to my OWL, providing real-time usage data both to the homeowner and the electricity company, so the homeowner can see that they’ve left something on, and get some immediate positive feedback for turning it off, and the electricity company can identify wider trends and patterns in consumption, and manage the grid more efficiently.

Wasting less electricity is great, and obviously saves us money, but in the longer term though, we need to move towards decoupling electricity supply from carbon and fossil fuels. ‘Decarbonising the grid’ is going to take many years to achieve, as we install renewable capacity to replace existing fossil fuel sources.

If you want your energy payments to help support this process, and also want to feel good about significantly reducing your household’s carbon footprint, you could switch your electricity supplier to a green one. We switched to Ecotricity a while ago, and for a while I did consider titling this post ‘Fight Wind Power Vampires with Smart OWLs’ . . . but a little bit too ridiculous don’t you think !

Photo by Martin SoulStealer, via Flickr

Green Roofs

Covering a building’s roof with grass or vegetation to create a Green Roof isn’t a new idea, the so called sod churches and farms of Iceland and Norway, used peat and turf as roofing materials as far back as the 18th Century.

Modern greenroofs have been incorporated onto everything from domestic housing to high rise office blocks, and confer many advantages – including absorbing water to reduce storm water run-off and flash flooding risk, providing good insulation properties, reducing urban heat island effects, and providing a much needed addition to ecological habitat in many urban settings.

In addition they also look nice !

More and more designers and architects are using greenroofs, in both traditional and non-traditional structures. The world’s largest can currently be found on the Ford factory in Michigan.

Small build, or even DIY, installations of greenroofs on domestic homes, garages and sheds is becoming more and more popular, and a wide array of advice and support is available, as are a number of ready made kits !

 

Similar articles – The Vertical Farm, The Brighton Earthship

Photo by Renate Oberinger, via Wikicommons

The Vertical Farm

Is there enough land area on the planet for 7 – 11 billion people to live, grow enough food and still retain natural habitats and spaces ?

You might have heard the term ecological footprint – an expression of how much of the Earth’s surface it takes to provide your lifestyle in a sustainable way. The sustainable ecological capacity of the planet is estimated to be around 1.8 global hectares per person – unfortunately across the globe we now average more than 2.7 global hectares per person, with the average Britain requiring 4.89 global hectares, the average Australian 6.84 global hectares and American 8.00 global hectares. This compares with the average Chinese requiring 2.21 global hectares, the average Indian 0.91 global hectares, and the average Afghan only 0.62 global hectares ! [data].

The idea of vertical farming is one possible way to help overcome this problem – by effectively creating more productive land area for the cultivation of food, and in a sustainable way.

Several architects and designers have developed ideas, and several authors, notably Professor Dickson Despommier, have written extensively about the concept in recent years and many now believe the world’s first vertical farms will shortly be built.

 

Photo by Gordon Graff, via Wikicommons