Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Last year we didn't have a christmas tree. This year we thought it would be fun to have one, but didn't want to kill a tree or purchase anything new.
So here it is !!!
Our uplight transformed into a tree, using only stuff that was lying around the house:
- the structure is made of reed, jute string and white paper tape
- the ornaments are made mostly of draft paper and used giftwraps (tissue paper, cardboard & ribbons) that we have been keeping over the years; the ties are made with cotton thread from our sewing kit.
It was so much fun to make - pinterest was great to research origami and celtic knots tutorials.
The rest was just imagination, memories from childhood crafts, and making do with what was there.
Happy Holidays !!!


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Finally finally I took the step of purchasing small reusable bags for fruits and vegetables.
(found them at this store - they are supposed to be tool bags (?), according to the owner)

These are the bag-within-a-bag kind: they are replacing the thin plastic bags that are offered to pack fresh produce in the supermarket - we were getting absolutely overwhelmed with their number (as opposed to the thicker ones, which we had already managed to reduce by bringing in reusable shopping bags).

I got 5 of them to start with. They are 8 x 10 inches (20 x 25 cm), which comfortably fits 5-6 oranges / apples at the time - the amount I usually get when grocery shopping.
So excited about this.
However mine seem made of 100% cotton with a cotton string, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were imported from faraway (cost was around $2 each).

Advantages over plastic:
- no noise
- soft to the touch
- can be washed with all your other clothes in the laundry
- super strong
- lasts for years and years and years
- no pollution / waste during its use time

If you wish to have a really sustainable version of these, I recommend making your own out of hemp or linen muslin. Cotton is just too much of a pesticide and water intensive crop (unless you get it organic, from non-irrigated fields), whereas hemp is truly good (grows without any chemicals and cleans the soil naturally).

I was too lazy and impatient to make them myself, but that's really not an excuse (a lot of the ugly state of the environment today is directly linked to the fact that we're lazy and impatient). Apologies.

UPS will take your packing peanuts

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It seems that UPS stores will gladly take off your hands:

- packing peanuts 
- air-filled plastic pillows
- cardboard boxes

I just dropped off a bag full of polystyrene peanuts (which I couldn't have disposed of properly at all - polystyrene foam is a bitch, and even specialized recycling places will not take peanuts) and air-filled bags, along with the big cardboard box that contained them. They were all taken in with a smile.

I suppose they will get reused directly to pack things again. 

I heard of this tip while browsing the web,
made a quick phone call to the closest UPS store to confirm that was true,
et voila!

ps: do make that phone call beforehand though, to make sure your local store does that as well.

A Pattern Language

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I cannot thank my friend Charlie enough for showing me this book.

It is THE BIBLE for anyone interested in real space-making, architecture design & urban planning (which is all one thing stretched at different scales).

By real, I mean with the principal purpose of creating a sense of place for human beings, as opposed to a lot of design nowadays which is preoccupied with other things (the market, fashionable gestures, editorial potential, expression of ego / money, etc.).

How does it work? Very simply, it's made of 253 chapters, each describing a pattern of human space-making that has been observed accross time & civilizations, occurring frequently enough that it seemed worthwhile saying: "hum, this has been working for hundreds of years, maybe it's a successful move worth learning about." A lot of them link back to human behavior and the human body - in terms of scale but also our 5 senses (makes sense, right?).
The 253 patterns are ordered from the biggest scale (metropolitan regions) to the smallest scale (your personal belongings), and rated with degrees of certainty (some patterns are unquestionnable, some are more tentative).
Each is illustrated with one or more photographs, as well as sketches.

It's not a book you read in one go, but more like a reference which you leaf through whenever you have a question (how long should I make my kitchen counters, what is successful outdoor seating, etc.)

It was written by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa & Murray Silverstein, and published in 1977. After all these years it is still the same treasure trove of knowledge and founding principles that will allow you to start your own thinking / experimenting. Its only drawback would be that the book is all black and white, and some photographs are pretty old - although what they illustrate isn't obsolete at all.

SO, as New Year gift to the good people of this world, The Bare Necessities has undertaken the task of creating A Pattern Language pinterest album illustrating all 253 patterns, with contemporary examples in full color. Under each photo you'll find a short quote summarizing the essence of the pattern.
Happy space-making!

how to get rid of stuff

Saturday, November 29, 2014

It's shocking how quick & easy it is to buy something,
and how awfully difficult it is to get rid of anything.

I've found that the biggest hurdles to feeling comfortable participating in the second-hand economy are lack of information and lack of habit. So let's get rid of these first obstacles right now with a little how-to guide.

0. Know that getting rid of objects will likely make you a little bit of money, be it in cash or tax-deductions (most donations are tax-deductible). It will also free up storage space in your life, physically and mentally, which is great.

1. Dedicate a place for all the objects you feel are irrelevant in your life (depending on size, it can be a bag, a box or a corner in a room).

2. Pile up these objects there until their volume or quantity calls for action.

3. Meanwhile, do the research part (a one-time ordeal):

     - do a web search to locate the closest thrift stores that accepts donations.
The most well-known in the US are Goodwill and The Salvation Army, but your city might also have a local chain of thrift stores. Some of these chains offer pick-up services, either for free or a small fee, if you schedule it enough in advance - which is great if you cannot do the drop-off yourself!

     - also keep an eye out for donation boxes when you're in town. Sometimes they are located close to supermarkets, which is convenient on your way to grocery shopping. They usually are made for clothes, shoes or books (make sure to check beforehand).
     - also check-out your city's website, or call city hall to learn about their donations / recycling programs (for example, our town has a page that links to all the local places that accept book donations)

     - additionally, you can register at your local Freecycle chapter. It's a non-profit network of people who give stuff out for free. Super easy, basically a list of OFFER / WANTED from folks in the same town.

     - if there are universities near you, chances are they have a student furniture exchange program or a swap fest at the beginning & end of the academic year. Call the schools or look online for such possibilities.

     - last but not least, you might wish to sell some of your objects, in which case your first 2 options would probably be your local craiglist and then ebay. (note: craigslist also has a free category). Oh, and of course local vintage stores for clothing & accessories. And lastly, your very own garage sale if you feel so enclined.

4. Decide which of these options are the most convenient and/or interesting to you.

5. Get your objects ready, i.e. put them in the state of cleanliness in which YOU would like to receive them.

6. ACT !!! Do the drop-off / set up your meetings / go bargain at the vintage store / set up that selling table in your driveway. On your way to work, or as a weekend routine, or however it pleases you. As long as it gets DONE.

7. Rejoice for the good deed done, and also know that this effort will eventually dwindle and stop if you reach your own equilibrium at home - i.e. at some point, hopefully, you won't need to declutter anymore (I'm not there yet). The good news is, getting rid of stuff the right way is work - which makes you think real hard next time you consider an impulse purchase.

8. Now that you know all the tricks, it becomes easy as pie to shop second-hand yourself for future needs.

Note: tax-deductions linked to donations are not based on their retail price, but on their current value as objects. (ie: a very expensive pair of shoes might be valued just a little bit more than a cheap pair of shoes) The amounts might seem surprisingly low, which can be disappointing but also a good reminder of how relative the value of things is. (hey, all of them are shoes - actually I don't totally agree with that, but that's a long conversation for later).

UPDATE: Building materials get re-used too! A lot of places have centers where you / your contractor can drop off materials and fixtures in good working order (old kitchen tiles, washbasins, etc). Just search "building material recycling center" + the name of your city on the web to locate the closest one.

the book book

Friday, September 5, 2014

The way one could describe most low tech  :D

12 objects to stay clean

Thursday, August 28, 2014

This is the result of my trying to reduce to the max when it comes to the realm of keeping a clean body.
Remember the object diagram

Each circle represents a realm of objects, from the most necessary to the least - a very personal ordering of course, for other people this might be different.

I am starting with CLEAN, just because. ('Begin anywhere', John Cage said)

Here are the 12 object types which I still need and use today in order to be clean.
1. soap
2. toothpaste
3. toothbrush
4. dental floss
5. big towel
6. small towel
7. cotton swab
8. toilet paper
9. tissues
10. pads
11. liners
12. nail file
I say 'object types' because some of these come in numbers (alternate towels, hundreds of cotton swabs, etc).

It's neither perfect nor totally frugal, nor waste free yet. But I am happy about the absence of plastic bottles (hurray bar soap).
Details in upcoming post!

magical hands

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Just saw this exhibition about mexican clothing designer Carla Fernández.

Few thoughts:
-  the most amazing part was to watch videos of craftswomen and craftsmen all over Mexico, most of them from various indigenous groups, each specializing in a technique of embroidery / dying / weaving / etc. The things people manage to make by hand, with the simplest tools (for example the backstrap loom made of light wooden sticks), are wonderful. I saw felt being chiselled in a way so fine (and so environmentally benign) that it would put any lasercutter to shame.

this thread is marked with a simple wooden roller dipped in color

- Carla Fernandez is a good story teller with an interesting path - even though her process is not in itself that revolutionary (- similar to the luxury goods industry in France for example, Hermes bag model, takes time & costs lots; also similar to Frida Kahlo's approach to clothing), I especially appreciated her going back to time-old mexican rectangular patterns and showcasing her co-designers / makers so prominently.

- unresolved questions:
1. when you produce 'fashion', does that imply a loss of meaning - i.e. the work of these craftsmen becomes decorative / subservient to market aesthetics, whereas traditionally it was infused with meaning? e.g. an asymetric tank top adorned with traditional pompoms

2. despite a discourse valuating crafts and ethics, is subscribing to the codes of current fashion (the exhibit showed mostly skinny, predominantly white models wearing the clothes), while preserving the good old social pyramid (white designer, indigenous labor, hip urban stores & international clientele) really that radical? In this interview Carla Fernandez manages to talk in consecutive sentences about 'a broad responsibility to our planet' and then that her collections are being sold all over the globe ('Mexico, USA, London, and Japan'. hellooo, carbon footprint?).
 photos from http://carlafernandez.com

3. what prevents us from wearing the clothes OF the indians directly? without the need to 'adapt' their patterns to something that would be called the 'fashionable' or 'contemporary' world. Historic or traditional clothing can be free and fresh and amazingly contemporary on its own. and sometimes much more functional.

the gift of trash

Thursday, August 14, 2014

 photo by Ryan Hyde

This type of situation has been happening to me a few times now and shows how FAR FAR AWAY from societal awareness we are when it comes to wasteful habits:

I was eating at a burrito chain, sitting inside the restaurant after having carefully chosen the meal that came in a paper plate only, using my own metal cutlery and fabric napkin. Realizing I had forgotten to take tortilla, I returned to the counter and asked for a single tortilla. The behind-the-counter lady threw one on the grill for re-heat, and then proceeded to grab a piece of aluminum foil to wrap it.
Swiftly I interfered and told her that I didn't need the aluminum, since I was sitting a few feet away and would eat it right away anyhow. She stopped mid-way with a question-mark look, when a behind-the-counter guy who had overheard me came forward, grabbed the tortilla and asked: 'you don't want aluminum?' I repeated 'No, I don't need it, I am going to eat it right away'. Looking at me straight in the eye, he took the tortilla, pulled out the aluminum foil, and proceeded to wrap it very intently, saying 'no, no I will wrap it for you'. He then triomphantly handed me the tortilla doubly wrapped in aluminum and paper, with a big smile on his face. During this gesture in slow motion I was caught between incredulity - at how somebody could disregard so blatantly a request I had expressed 2 or 3 times clearly - and how absurd it was, that they were thinking they were doing me a big generous favor by handing me a totally unecessary piece of one of the most polluting metals on earth.

(enter this graph, created from data found on greenspec:)

See that lonely point floating up high, waaay above all other materials? - yep, that's aluminum. and yes, this is including recycled aluminum)

I also remember the flight attendant who pushed new plastic glasses on me as I was saying I could perfectly well continue using the one I already had, 'oh but darling we have plenty here, let me give you a new one.' Oh thank you madam for your great generosity. I love plastic so much, you're making my day.

The sad thing is, these people were really trying to be nice. They were really expressing care in over-wrapping or providing something for me. And the awful fact is, our current material situation forces them to apply this ancient, timeless show of human kindness to very unhealthy objects.

Seriously. I'd rather eat cold tortilla.

paper tape

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In my country, Scotch® has sadly become a generic name for adhesive tape.
Meaning, when I learned to talk and designate objects with words, the only word I had for adhesive tape was 'scotch': 'I wish to make a gift wrap for this, where is the scotch?'

Also the only kind of 'scotch' that I was ever aware of being used by normal people was either clear, translucent, or brown for heavy-duty, and seemed made of plastic, smelled a particular smell, and you needed a blade to cut it, mostly under the form of a 'scotch holder', itself made of plastic (my parents owned a heavy one - the master scotch holder - which was filled with sand and sounded like the sea when you tilted it. But I digress.)

Then at the ripe old age of twenty-nine I happened to walk into a U-Haul store to get moving boxes.
And discovered paper tape.

It sounds like a small thing. But you wouldn't believe the epiphany that this was.
Paper tape is strong.
Paper tape can be cut with only your fingers.
Paper tape does not make a horrible screech when pulled out of the roll.
Paper tape is friendly to the touch.
Paper tape seems made of simpler, less polluting materials than clear tape

[from what I gather, clear tape can be made of plastic film or cellophane - the latter being 100% biodegradable but involving a polluting production process. I want to read this article about the chemistry of adhesive tape. Not sure how the adhesive itself fares environmentally, need more research]

Also I was angry at having to accept that a company had managed to monopolize the very definition of what an object was/should be - up to its name, and successfully pushed its materiality onto my life without my being aware of it.

How many more ingrained habits do I have, that were created by a company to sell goods?

Oh, and the ever important question: do I even really need to use tape, any kind of tape, in my life, or could I just do away with it?

the age of low tech

Monday, August 11, 2014

Just ordered this book and very impatient to read it.
Philippe Bihouix (an engineer specializing in metals) describes so clearly the core problem with our consumption right now. Here is a summary:


Sorting our trash in the right bins does not redeem our current consumption level.  
Why? Because the idea that we'll reach a circular economy of total recycling is nothing but a myth.
- First because of dispersive use: we don't know how to salvage metals that are used in their chemical form (in colorings, inks, plastic additives). 
- Second because of downgraded use: thousands of metallic alloys get blended together during recycling, therefore can only be reused in lower quality steels. 

The highest you go on the hi-tech scale, the more you are consuming rare ressources. All these metals are used in a partially dispersive way. On most metals we are between 0 and 5% of recycling capability - not true for 'great' metals such as copper, aluminum, but on the other precious ressources we are moving towards absolute dispersion, with the ultimate phase being nano-technologies. Hi-tech goods (smartphones, computers) as well as the technologies used in renewable energy production (windmills, solar panels, hydogen powered-car) are of great concern. 

This doesn't mean we should stop recycling and go back to fossil fuels.
But we need to aknowledge that the technical solutions currently offered to us are simply beyond realistic implementation, and that we'll only get out of this through the bottom, i.e. by embracing low-tech.

Which would look something like this: reviewing and editing our needs, so that we choose the reduction of our material consumption, rather than wait until it happens against our will. Then, filling these needs with objects which prevent recycling waste: objects more simple, more monomaterial, easily disassemblable and reassemblable, more modular, more reparable, with all that this implies at a societal level.

The thesis of the book is that we are capable of reaching a level of comfort and civilization which is technically sustainable. Not going back to the stone age necessarily, but maybe to the medieval age - with the dentist.


So great to find somebody who can articulate and document a situation that you've personally been trying and struggling to express for a while. 
Hopefully this will be translated in english soon.


Friday, August 8, 2014

I don't know why it took so long for me to realize such an obvious thing: whenever possible, buy the powdered or dry form of items for which it really doesn't make much difference.
Purchasing the water content of diluted ingredients just doesn't make sense.

The density of water is about 60 lb / cubic foot (about 1000 kg / cubic meter).
1 gallon weighs about 8 lb (3.8 kg) and takes up 231 cubic inches (3,800 cubic centimeters)
Think of all the energy spent in transporting mostly water (80% of liquid laundry detergent, according to this article).


Some will argue that powder leaves unmelted residue on clothes.
That is very true and there is a very simple fix: dissolve the laundry powder yourself before adding to the wash. I use an empty yogurt container and a used plastic knife (I usually dislike those intensely but they are perfect for this use). A few stirs and voila! you're done and it was fun.

Bonus: if it's not liquid, it doesn't need to come in a plastic bottle. Your waste can be reduced to just a cardboard box. One less landfill issue to worry about.

Recently glossed over a rather scathing article about almond milk and other plant-based milks (which are my bread and butter, pun intended). They are right about the purchasing of mostly water. You know what? One can also buy powdered almond, coconut, etc. milks. The box seems expensive because it's so much at a time once dissolved, but I bet it's worth the investment.


I love Milk Paint which comes in small packages of powdered color (pigments mixed with milk protein and lime) to which you just need to add water. Seems like a safe and environmentally friendly option.

So yeah. Dry goods.

unbuilding vs. building

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Discovering this simple list, assembled by philosopher Michel Onfray, was a moving moment:
it was the first time somebody was putting words on an obscure fight (call it opposition, although I don't like the black-and-whiteness of the term) which I had been struggling with since architecture school, but couldn't really put my finger on, since nobody was clearly addressing it.

We're surrounded by SO MUCH of UNBUILDING.
And the voices of BUILDING are still so few and small. Hope we'll be able to join.