The Permaculture of Domesticity (Part I - Theory)

Sharon August 20th, 2006

It struck me that since for many people the biggest problem in their domestic life is time, and thus the most compelling argument for using high-energy consumptive appliances like dishwashers and dryers is the time spent on chores, it might be worth strategizing on ways to manage domestic labor with the fewest possible inputs and the greatest degree of productivity and pleasure. (Of course, the first trick to increased productivity at my house would be to actually go do the domestic labor instead ofwriting about it - say, to go fold the laundry and put it away, rather than nattering on about the best ways to get it done. But*that’s* not going to happen, is it ;-)?

I’m calling this the Permaculture of domestic life. For those not in the know, permaculture is “permanent culture” and it is one of the ways to get the most out of everything in life. And whether you do this because you have to (ie, the rolling blackouts in your area make it necessary) or because you want to, IMHO, all of us need to figure out ways to makeour domestic work manageable alongside our other work in the coming years. I’m by no means an expert here, and would welcome suggestions for more and better techniques.

First, the theory (even the sorting of underwear requires a good grounding in theory, or so I try to convince myself, as I merrily ignore the actual underwear in favor of the meta-under things and their philosophical grounding.) So here are the broad points of a Permaculture philosophy of domesticity (much of it stolen wholesale from various other, smarter people).

-1. “In Chaos lies unparalleled opportunity for imposing creative order.” (Bill Mollison). Given that housekeeping is the act of imposing order, the key term here is “creative” - old ways may not do, traditional assumptions may be flawed. The first thing we needto do with housekeeping is look at the project with new eyes. We may find that there are better ways to do things, our what seems efficient, isn’t.

-2. “There is no such thing as a free lunch” (Robert Heinlein, articulating the second law of thermodynamics). Energy must be used as wisely and efficiently as possible, and we must make as much effort as possible to use ambient energy before it escapes our reach. Human energy, fossil fuel energy, mental energy, renewable resource energy - all have end points. Those that are most limited must be used with the most care and attention to avoid waste.

-3. “Every object must responsibly provide for its replacement; society must, as a condition of use, replace an equal or greater resource than the one used up.” (Mollison) When energy is consumed, it should be gainful, and provide the maximum benefit with the fewest possible consequences both for the user and for others affected. If we use labor saving devices, the uses we turn our saved time to should be valuable, since our use of them cost others and the environment something. If we use fossil fuel energies, we should store or conserve more energy than it cost us.

-4. “The problem is the solution. Everything works both ways. It is only how we see things that makes them advantageous or not.”(Mollison) We can choose actively to see domestic labor however we want, and we can choose to make use of things we’ve often viewed as a problem. Wastes and involuntary outputs should be reintegrated into the system. Our attitude, and our creative adaptability are perhaps the most important tools we have.

-5. “That Which is Hateful to You, Do Not Do to the Other.” (TheTalmud). If you are not willing to absorb all the consequences of your actions personally, in your own immediate environment, you should reconsider your actions. There is no such place as “away” - we cannot throw things “away” or waste things without doing harm to others. Thus, we cannot conceive environmental consequences, or consequences to people we cannot see as not part of our practice. Preserving what we have is virtually always the most energy, time and money efficient way of acting for the earth and people as awhole.

-6 “Make the Least Change for the Greatest Possible effect”(Mollison) Don’t make more work for yourself than you need to. Evaluate carefully what you already have, and what resources(and “problems”) you can make use of. Domestic life, like any other part of life, can be an optimization exercise.

Ok, now that we’re done talking theory, how does that play out in actual life, when you’ve got dirty dishes to wash, laundry to do, things to get done, meals to cook, plus your job, your internet life, your family, and all the other stuff you’ve taken on. How do you get things done?

That’ll be the subject of Part II.


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