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By Jackie Hanson

September 12, 2012 (Lakeside)--Hi, I’m Jackie! I’m retired, but I keep busy tending a sizable property (that I try to coax into various gardens with mixed results) and caring for many animals (chickens, ducks, goats, horses, cats, and a dog).  I’m also an artist and aspiring interior decorator, and I have so many plans and ideas that I can only hope to live long enough to bring them to fruition!

I’ve decided to write a column to share with anyone who’s interested in getting better at living less wastefully.  I’m calling it “Becoming Green” because although I try to be a good steward of the earth, I am far from fully achieving that goal.  In fact, I’m probably a lot like you, trying to do my bit to recycle and waste less water, but fighting an uphill battle, with bad habits that are hard to break and a busy life that distracts me from doing more.

I’m trying to make habits that are easy and beneficial.  Take the compost, for example.  I’ve got a small container alongside my kitchen trash area dedicated to compost, but I seem to be the only one in my family to consistently use it.  Mostly, I transfer the errant banana peel from the trash without complaint; other times I gripe or mutter to myself.  So here’s a question: how do you get busy, distracted people to use a new system?  Organize for no-brainer use, make labels, reward good behavior.  I’m open to ideas.

And if I do get all the compost into the container, what then?  Out it eventually goes to my compost heap.  And there it sits.  Of course, I plan to turn it as recommended, but I rarely seem to get to it.  Eventually, it will break down as my previous piles have, and I can turn the spot into another flower or veggie bed.  But I need to amend my clay-laden soil, so I should get it on a fast track to breaking down.  Thus, a few weeks ago I ordered a spinning composter to quickly process the kitchen scraps (the yard waste can still go to the pile). 

How is it working, you ask?  Well, it isn’t.  It too is sitting, still in its box, on my front porch.  I was initially put off by the fact that something round and able to hold several cubic yards of material could fit in a flat box of insignificant size.  Then when I looked at the directions and it said, “you will need a helper…” I closed the box.  It’s not that I don’t have helpers, it’s that there’s so much else to do and everybody’s busy.  Excuses, excuses…I will make a more focused effort to get it built!

What has distracted me lately?  Clean up.  I must admit, I missed Spring Cleaning.  I’m a native San Diegan, but I know from having lived in a northern climate for over a decade that the fabled “spring cleaning” is about recovering from winter; it’s like “cabin fever” with a pressure valve that channels all that pent-up energy into clearing and organizing winter woolies, umbrellas, snowshoes, and such while waiting for the garden to be workable.  When the sap is rising in the far north, anticipation is high, and it can carry over into a thorough cleaning of everything it sight before you burst outside to dig up the garden. 

Here, in the Southland the weather may fluctuate, but overall it’s “spring” whenever you’re ready, no waiting required.  In January and February I am in my garden, getting things started for an early bounty before it gets too hot to work outside.  Forget the house; forget cleaning.  It’s on autopilot for a while.  Summer is a much better time for those of us in the warmer climates to come indoors, seek shade, and do some cleaning.  So if anyone else had nudgings of guilt at letting things slide while doing outdoor projects or gardening this spring, get over it; clean now. 

Some things I discovered to make cleaning easier and more fun:

• Put on music

• Start in your own space first; it’s easier to face the other clutter if you have achieved personal order or at least some sanity (plus you may start a trend and find helpers for cleaning the common spaces)

• Wear just a leotard (or less) while organizing the closet so you can easily try on things and decide what to keep or recycle

• Smile, stretch frequently, and dance a bit if the music moves you (have fun)

• Make piles or have bags and boxes to sort things into as you go

• Keep a box for small miscellaneous that you may not have time to go through now; then deal with one or two things from it every day until it’s empty (or put it away for a rainy day!)

You may be wondering what cleaning and organizing have to do with becoming green.  If you clear the clutter and put things where they belong it will free up space, recycle things to where they are more useful, and do away with the need to purchase duplicates of things you may already have.  So take a break in the heat of the day, come inside, and clean up some long overdue corner or drawer, or start on your whole house!  You won’t get it done in a day, but there are likely to be many more scorchers before we’re into cooler weather, so you’ll eventually make some progress.  Your house will be more enjoyable and your garden can be tended in the early morning or late evening when it’s cool. 

As I look to “becoming green,” I think about my daily actions and how they impact the future that I bequeath to my grandchildren and yours.  It’s easy just to continue with the status quo, the same old habits, the comfortable rut.  But I’ve seen where the status quo is headed, and I don’t want to contribute anymore to the problems.  I hope to gradually gain momentum with the earth-friendly aspect of my activities, and by sharing my insights, successes, foibles, and frustrations, I hope to gather allies and find mentors for all aspects of this quest.  I hope you will join me and feel free to contact me with your questions as well as your insights.

So, until next time, keep growing and “becoming green!”