Spring Cleaning Sustainably

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 4.32.56 PMSpring Cleaning Sustainably (Week #16)

“Spring breeze—

the pine on the ridge

whispers it”

Haiku by Kobayashi Issa (1804)

After Earth Day and around Arbor Day I begin an annual ritual I have enjoyed for many decades, “Spring Cleaning”. It’s origins can be traced back to the Persian practice of khooneh tekouni, which literally means ”shaking the house”.

In the midst of “the rebirth of nature”, our Midwestern family in the late 50’s, were recruited for a full weekend of running mattresses outside, hanging Persian rugs and draperies for a day of sunshine (and a good batting), dusting, sweeping, floor and window-washing. That was followed by the next weekend’s cleaning of the garage and a yard sale. Visions of our Scandanavian ancestors stuffing hay into their beds comes to mind.

We had a family of six, whose sports, camping and collecting recquired my mother’s diligent Army commando style direction to keep us focused on our respective cleaning and purging tasks. I recall, the pungent smell of cedar oil, ammonia, bleach, Fels-Naftha and trisodium phosphate. There was ample time for hijinks and fun. Driving our parent’s crazy was the objective of four creatively active offspring who reluctantly gave up a weekend of teenage activities. We had pillow fights, water hose competitions and attic theatricals to relieve the tedium of our chores. A spotless home with clean air and more space after a Minnesotan winter was appreciated by all.

I remember it as a pleasantly cathartic opportunity for humor and prankdom that required increased inspiration, as we grew older. Let us know what your family tradition of “Spring Cleaning” was by commenting below.


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This week, your challenge is to practice the 6 R’s while we “Spring Clean” in a sustainable way to create the space to move forward towards a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle!

The HOW:

  1. Toss out the toxins in your life. Whether it’s old food, toys, clothes, or other mental or physical clutter. Self-improvement and advancement need room to grow. Utilize decluttr, craigs list, free cycle, thredup and sports gift to donate, recycle and sell all your “stuff”. Have a yard sale!
  2. Look at the pattern to your clutter. Are there too many dead plants, paintings, books, magazines or toys? Is there some emotional programming you need to rewire?
  3. Learn to be selective. We absorb the energy of the people and objects with whom we associate. Be proactive about your daily choices after you consider their full impact.
  4. Liberate your true identity. Look at what you own versus who you are. Liberating yourself from the past possessions and unsustainable habits, diets and practices will maximize your present lifestyle and “spring it forward”.
  5. Make room for the new sustainable you to emerge. With the new “space” in your environment, you will have the room to be creative and make smarter choices.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 5.36.27 AMNote:

The EPA suggests the following five guiding principles when purchasing sustainable cleaning products:

1.  Include environmental considerations as part of the normal purchasing process.

Emphasize pollution prevention as part of the purchasing process.

3. Examine multiple environmental attributes throughout the product and service’s life cycle.

4. Compare environmental impacts when selecting products and services.

5. Collect accurate and meaningful environmental information about environmental performance of products and services.

The Deep Dive:

Complete listing of each type of spring cleaning checklists, schedules, seasonal chores can be found here.

Try either of these DIY laundry solutions. They work well, are inexpensive and keep your clothes fresh and soft: Hippychick’s recipe for 4 gallons of your own laundry soap here. Getting Raw’s DIY laundry detergent & softener here.

Try commercial green cleaning products such as MethodSeventh GenerationSimple GreenGreenWorksMrs. Meyer’sEcoverDr. Bronner’sBiokleenOptionsForLife or other manufacturers.

Earth Week Gardening and Composting

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 4.03.40 PMEarth Week Gardening and Composting (Week #15)

Weeks ago we encouraged you to plan your celebration of Earth Day as we approach this 45th Anniversary!

As I prepare for one of the Boston University Earth Day Festivals tomorrow at their Medical Campus on Talbot Green I am preparing our garden and composting shed. Over the last week we have graded the soil, planned our composting and designed our sustainable garden. Our travelling and hiking have always nurtured our visual hunger with images of exotic plants, vegetables and flowers that grow in uncanny spaces on very little water. This year it will be a raised xeriscaped horizontal vegetable garden; next year, a vertical wonder!

You can garden as small or as large as you want. With a little planning you can save a whole lot of later tending, weeding and watering.

The WHY:

Fewer inputs – outputs create a more sustainable garden:

Less water – Less water

Less fertilizer – Less water pollution

Less Pesticide – Less air and water pollution

Less peat – Less rubbish

Less electricity – Less heat, less CO2 emission, less air pollution


This week join us by adding some green to your life and diet; plant a vegetable garden in the yard, on your deck or in your apartment. Start hydroponics in recycled bottles at Petomato, your children will love watching them grow.

Try some new inventive vertical gardeningxeriscapinghydroponics or the tried and true, victory garden.

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Vertical hydroponics from WindowFarms

Get that compost pile started, either inside, on a balcony with vermi-composting or outside.

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The HOW:

According to Times columnist, Alice Bowe, the “Eight-fold path” to gardening is:

Make compost unceasingly. Making compost should be part of the routine in every garden, even if it is no larger than a window box.

Use home-made composts in place of artificial fertilizers, peat and other organic additives.

Practice rainwater harvesting. Water should be collected from roofs and pavements, stored in gardens and infiltrated into the soil, slowly.

Use physical and biological pest controls instead of chemicals.

Return to nineteenth century methods of soil warming, based on the use of compost.

Use a hand-powered grass-cutter instead of a fossil-fuel mower. This will also save you the cost of an exercise machine.

Use solar power for garden lighting and garden pumps.

Use lime mortar (not cement mortar) for garden construction, so that hard landscape materials can be re-cycled.

The Deep Dive:

Find out more about Earth Day here.

In our area, Earth Day events can also be found in Boston here.

Easy container gardening from recycling a wood palette to repurposing your old shoe containers here.

DIY hydroponic vertical towers video-11 minutes.

Follow Shawna Coronado’s easy front yard drought tolerant living wall design.

Or consider planting a vertical garden design inside your home, apartment or office.

Check out world renowned Vertical Sustainable Gardener (without soil), Patrick Blanc, in his 7-minute interview about his Parisian projects.

Hydroponics for the apartment, tiny house or home.

Sustainability and Taxes

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 12.15.06 PMSustainability and Taxes (Week #14)

The What and Why:

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1789. It is now 226 years later and for most of us, our tax records, data and narratives have gone digital. We are in a paperless world. And perhaps even our bodies will be recycled; see Jae Lee’s mushroom burial suit (A TED talk).

It’s that time of year when those of us in the USA populate our excel spreadsheets, drop totals into online tax softwares and await refunds. This is our annual financial accountability to our country.

If you are looking for those on again, off again Federal, State and local environmental tax incentives and rebates for solar, wind, clean cars, geothermal, bio-mass, discretionary environmental grants for clean tech, clean energy, consult your CPA, or DIY it by starting with IRS Form 5695 and its instructions.

As a former CPA in my twenties I was a tax, trust and estate consultant. I’ve seen all kinds of strange records, especially when a person passes unexpectedly. Part of this career is to help clients prepare. Technology has made that much easier for us; although not perfect, most voice recognition and scanning software has saved us time, energy, file cabinets and warehouses full of paper. Forests in particular.

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I have to confess, it was far more interesting to meet client’s in person and sort through boxes of ledgers, receipts, inventories, coins, stamps, rare books, etc. than just digitally receiving their data and e-filing as it is today.

The heavy lifting has moved from physical to digital; our data is in the clouds. As a “Fledgling Digital Nomad” (see my blog on this) I have a MacBook Pro, an iphone6+, and 10 Seagate portable drives (6 of those store old tax records, 30 years of artwork digitized, photos/videos/16mm movies from 1959 to now). My work and personal history basically is now data stored on 10 devices 3x4x.5 inches that fit in my bank’s safe deposit box or a small purse. Normally, that takes up 5 storage rooms 10 x 10, or a basement or attic.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.05.55 AMI know, because I have been digitizing it all for 6 months in preparation for moving into the Silver Bullet Tiny House with my remaining 400 possessions of dishes, clothing, some preserved food and a few books. (Downsizing in a sustainably responsible way from a 3 bedroom house w/rental unit including my commercial art studio took five years, 3 moves, and whole lot of patience!)

Going digital and getting your data in the cloud can be scary. Keep your intellectual property separately and other precious private documents (wills, proxies, photos, etc.) on a portable drive, make a copy for your safe deposit box; you never know who may copy, grab or delete parts of the “cloud”. Keep precious photos in a movie format for your smartphone, computer or projected viewing.

Gleefully be free of boxes of records, photo albums and paper; saving forests and reducing your GHG emissions. The rest can be on the cloud, (which costs fewer GHG emissions) shared between all your portable devices saving you time, energy and contributing to you making smarter choices for a sustainable lifestyle.


This week, your challenge is to reduce your energy output by doing your taxes online AND reducing any remaining paper records by scanning your documents year round: go digital, if you haven’t already. This could be your annual opportunity to examine what ways your financial accountability can become more sustainable.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 11.33.39 AMAnd after you are finished completing your taxes, reward yourself and head over to Amherst, MA. to the Sustainable Living Festival, April 25 (Saturday 10-4PM). Come and meet us. Win some free sustainable products.  As an author of the soon to be released Living the Sustainable Tiny Life, a reclamation artist and sustainability consultant, I will be talking about the sustainable Silver Bullet Tiny House.


The HOW:

1. Use your smartphone and get an app (GeniusScanCamScannerDocScannerScannableFinescanner) that you can use at point of purchase or weekly for other invoices/documents. 

Then shred them for your renewable energy source, a wood stove, fire pit or fireplace. (Make sure you separate toxic printing materials first, before shredding.)

The scanned documents will always be available on your smartphone during the year for your reference. Then at tax time get them archived and off your phone by transferring them to the cloud or your portable drive.

2. Use more powerful portable scanners for larger scanning projects. These cost a bit ($350-$500), but they are worth it when scanning reams of old documents. If you have over 100 reams and many photographs, films and video, you may want to hire a digitizing service provider to archive them (Be careful – cost varies with type of original documents $.60-$7. a page!)

3. Going digital with all your monthly bills is a no-brainer, if you are not doing it already! Many banks offer auto payments and can generate checks to others with a click on your device.

4. Make use of the following Federal, State and Local Business and Individual Deductions (check your state for customized incentives, these tax laws are complex, consult a professional CPA if necessary):

  1. Federal incentives (New Energy Efficient Home Credit (IRC Section 45L), Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Deduction (IRC Section 179D, Residential Energy Credit Form 5695 , Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit (IRC 30 and IRC 30D), Federal Brownfields Tax Deduction
  2. Gifts in Cash or Kind to Non-profit organizations, places of worship, foundations, land trusts and charitable institutions.
  3. Retro-fitting, building, renewable energy and appliance incentives, deductions and credits
  4. Statutory Incentives (investment credits, jobs/ employment credits, R&D credits, and energy credits)
  5. Negotiated Incentives (training grants, sales/use tax incentives, property tax abatements, utility rate reductions, Tax increment financing (TIFs))

The Deep Dive:

The Top 7 Income tax software’s compared here.

Energy Star’s 2015 Environmental Tax Credit Advice

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

US Water-harvesting incentives