Archive for August 20th, 2009

The Permaculture of Domesticity Part II: Practice

Sharon August 20th, 2009

Now, on from the theory (which is, after all, the easy part), to the practice. Here are some strategies of mine, complete with the stupid things I’ve done to learn them (always the best part).

-1. Attitude adjustment is probably the first alteration any of us can make. We can choose how we think about domestic labor, and in some measure, how we respond to the activity, at least in a purely mental and emotional sense, and often in a physical one as well. I can think of 2 kinds of attitude adjustment that apply to domestic work. First, there’s lowering or altering your standards. Most of us can do this (in my case, further lowering might not be such a good idea), and it can be a considerable time-saver. For example, if you ordinarily wash sheets and towels every week, try stretching it to two weeks or three, and see if there is a significant reduction in quality of life. Clothes can be worn more often before washing, floors can go longer between washings as well. While some jobs (laundry for example) get bigger and less manageable by ignoring them, many things can be put aside for a while.  You will probably be happier if the things you blow off are mostly the ones that don’t get dramatically worse by lack of attention.

Only you can say where your quality of life is unacceptably diminished. This should not be used, however, for any household work that involves basic hygiene, health issues and safety. So while you could choose to let your floors get grubby in many cases, if you have an infant eating crud off of them, that may not be wise.

The second attitude adjustment can be choosing to enjoy or find satisfaction in work you have previously not enjoyed. People can change their preferences, and can choose to find pleasure in most activities. You might consider taking a chore you particularly dislike and attempting to find a way to enjoy it, either by trying to take pleasure in the process, altering the process to make it more pleasurable, or by deriving satisfaction from the accomplishment. Obviously, there may be some chores that simply can’t be readjusted to, either because the activity is in some way stressful or painful, or because no matter how hard you try, you can’t come to like it. Some people with physical limitations will have fewer options in this department. But it is worth trying.

A third way of adjusting your own attitude is to think seriously about the requirements of your life, and distinguish carefullybetween wants and needs. The classic example of this is the parent in a two parent-household who works full time, but when commute, wardrobe, meals, daycare,etc… are calculated in has a household net loss, or only a tiny gain. (Please note, this is not to say that parents should stay home – this is merely an example, so don’t get your kidneys in an uproar, as DH’s grandmother liked to say). For example, if you dislike dusting, perhaps you could choose to have fewer dustable objects, or to keep them in closed boxes, even if there was some slight inconvenience.

2. After attitude adjustment, the next lowest input thing to do about household work is to find ways to either do chores with others, or to get others to help with difficult or distasteful projects. The most obvious such method, if you have kids, is to train them to help out. The difficulty with this is that teaching children to do things is, in the short term, inevitably much more time consuming (although it can be fun) than just doing it yourself. After a while this ceases to be so, but many parents find it difficult to build time into their daily lives to teach their kids the necessary skills. Planning for this, accepting the short-term reduction in efficiency, and adapting to it is usually worth the hassle. Even very small kids can help out if you give them time to learn how.

The same is true of getting a spouse or other family member to take on an job they have traditionally not done. It is worth noting, however, that it helps not to be over-committed to a single technique. Many people who would willingly take over X job are turned off by someone insisting that it be done exactly X way and to X’s standards. Women are, I think, particularly guilty of the sin of over-management.

For large scale chores, involving other members of your community, or friends and extended family might improve the experience. For example, my extended family on one side has at times had an annual “work-weekend” where once per year, the entire family descended upon one of the members who owns a home and devotes a long weekend to making repairs or completing major projects. The whole thing is considered enjoyable by everyone – the homeowner provides accommodations, food and materials, and everyone enjoys being together. Everyone eventually gets a turn. We’re working on build a neighborhood coop, which functions in the same way, volunteering once per month to help each family get a big work project done.

Also, the simple act of working together can provide a tremendous degree of satisfaction. Cooking can be an unpleasant job if it takes you away from your family and isolates the cook in the kitchen. The same job is quite enjoyable when done with a partner, a friend, or even a child helping. Simple proximity to one another makes big jobs much more manageable in many cases. Finding ways to bring people into the kitchen when you have guests, or to make whatever job you are doing part of the life of your household can make an enormous difference. One neighbor I know has her children read aloud to her while she does dishes - they get practice reading, the family hears a story together, and everyone has a good time.

3. The next most significant way to reduce labor sustainably is to experiment with time and energy costs. Most of us have a built in set of assumptions about what constitutes labor, and what constitutes labor savings, what is efficient, what is easy and what is difficult, andwhat the best uses of one’s time and energy are. But these assumptions may not be correct, and can only be verified by experimentation. It is not at all uncommon to assume that that one thing is faster than another, only to realize that it is quite the opposite – our own perceptions are shaped by what we expect to find.

Want to know how much time it takes you to do a load of laundry by hand, compared to the washing machine? Try it. But not just once – try it three or four different times, in as many ways as you can think of. Think about ways in which you can make the process more efficient. The next time you chop an onion, do it a different way than you usually do. Don’t take for granted that labor-saving devices actually are. Some are. Some aren’t.

For example, my husband and I were given an electric citrus juicer as a wedding gift, and we rather unthinkingly used it for a while, until one day my husband got frustrated and said, “I could do this faster with a lemon reamer.” Well, what do you know – he could. The same is true for me of the dryer – I can just as easily hang laundry as transfer it over, clean the lint filter and earn the money to pay for the electricity.

When you calculate labor-savings, make sure that all labor required to buy, maintain, use, clean, repair, store and tend to the item is included. For example, my husband and I don’t drink coffee, but keep a coffee maker around for guests. Because the coffee maker is stored in an inconvenient place (which makes sense since the convenient ones are for things we actually use regularly), the time spent climbing upon the step-ladder and pulling the box down, cleaning the parts which get dusty between uses, etc…. make it a surprisingly time-consuming project. I suspect a press-style glass coffee maker which could also be used for tea (which we drink a lot of) would be more efficient (although I’ve not done anything about it), even if making coffee that way were slightly more work.

When you calculate the cost of an item, do a full life-cycle analysis – how often do you have to upgrade or replace?  Are there plastic parts that might break and be irreplaceable?  Are materials to fix it available?  What are the costs of disposal? 

4. Design your infrastructure to accommodate *your* needs. If you are going to spend money and energy on your domestic life, try and reduce labor by adapting your home and work space to the way you actually live, rather than based on the assumptions builders and the consumer culture make about how people ought to live. A one-time investment of non-renewable energy that makes things easier, or quicker, or enables you to consume less is always probably worth while. Looking carefully at how you actually use things can make things more efficient – for example, if you use one set of bowls for mixing bread, it might make sense to also keep other bread-related materials right next to them. If you can’t stand for very long, setting up your kitchen so that you can sit while working there simply makes sense.

Most kitchens are designed for women, whose average height is about5′5. At 6′ and with a 6′2 husband, and children who promise to be quite tall (9 year old oldest is already nearly 5′), one of my dreams was a kitchen with counters properly designed for tall people.  Finally, we did shift the counter height, but for years we added several heavy butcher blocks to make high counter tops, which worked great. For a shorter than average person, lower counters, or a lower work area (a simple butcher block, for example) might makesense.

My children get dressed downstairs, under the supervision of their father every morning, but for quite a while I was washing their clothes downstairs, hanging them outside, then carrying the clothing upstairs to be put away, because upstairs was where we had room for the dressers. But that meant that laundry had to be carried upstairs to be stored, and then down again to be worn. We put up a long set ofopen shelves in our largest downstairs closet, and now all the children’s clothing is out on those open shelves, and I no longer carry their clothes up and down stairs (I haven’t yet adapted this system to my husband and I, but I’m thinking about it, since we can perfectly well get dressed downstairs too. This is, frankly, one of the best things I’ve done – it is an enormous time saver, and it cuts the mess, since I often had laundry baskets sitting at the bottom of the stairs waiting to go up.

5. Use tools well. Learn how to use and maintain your tools correctly. Before using non-renewables, try developing skill at using renewable techniques and human-powered tools. Do what you need to develop the physical skills needed to do things well and easily. Everyone finds unfamiliar work time consuming and stressful – it takes time to become quick and comfortable with any kind of work. Anyone who has ever seen a professional chef chop a clove of garlic and someone without the same skills laboriously peel and slice the same clove knows that there are a lot of bad ways to do domestic chores. But there are few domestic skills that truly require talent – they mostly need practice. So practice, practice, practice. Learn to handle a knife, to do laundry by hand efficiently (ie, to get most of the cleaning done by soaking, rather than scrubbing), how to use a hammer well, or wash dishes quickly. Watch other people do these chores. Think about ways to increase your own comfort and efficiency. And do them the hard way enough times that you find yourself looking for ways to make things easier.

If you are going to invest in a tool for whatever job you want to do, get a good one. Cheap shovels are not worth the cost. In many cases, a non-electric tool of high quality will be much cheaper than a powered one of low quality, and the difference may not be as great as you think. In fact, the non-electric tool is often better. If the powered tool is superior, get as much use out of it as possible, while using it as efficiently as possible – for example, wash your clothes whenever possible in cold water. You can’t really do this as easily with a wringer washer, and it is one of the virtues of the electric washing machine – clothes will get clean without water heating. On the other hand, the wringer might make sense for able bodied people who do only a few laundry loads a week, or during the winter if you can heat water as part of radiant floor or wood heat.

6. Integrate the waste products. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to re-route your pipes so that your grey water (ie, water used in showers and sinks, but not toilets) goes for irrigation or toilet flushing, and yet it makes a dramatic difference in water usage. If you have food scraps, feed something with them (garden,worms, chickens, rabbits, goats, whatever). Even apartment dwellers can have worms or a pet rabbit. Compost your humanure if possible – it doesn’t take a fancy composting toilet in most places, just a commode, two buckets and a place to do it. It really isn’t gross at all, and the product doesn’t smell. Read John Jenkins’s _The Humanure Handbook_ before you run away. Or, if you grow things, at least pee in a bucket during the growing season and dilute it 10-1 to feed your plants. Seriously – people pay a lot of money for dehydrated pee for their gardens in the form of urea – you make it for free! Why waste it?

As much as possible, do things that create heat when you want to be warmer, whether chopping wood or canning tomatoes.  As much as possible retain the good stuff – the extra warmth from that tub of water, the coolth from hanging the damp sheets by your bed, the good feeling from doing your work with your kids or your spouse.

Most parts of food plants commonly wasted have potential uses – as dyes, animal feeds, fiber, extra food for your plate, etc… Use them up. Make your own non-toxic cleaners if you don’t already, as well as beauty products. I know that sounds overwhelming, but it is as simple as putting vinegar in a jar in many cases. Only put into your system (your body, your household system, your town, your nation, your world) the things you want to take out of them.

7. If you don’t love it or need it, there is no reason to own it. We’re all storing things for the future, and it can be hard to distinguish between necessity and junk. But every possession takes energy to manage – it has to be cleaned, dusted, stored, serviced,attended to. You pay rent or a mortgage or taxes on a house big enough for the stuff. Things demand energy we don’t have. So unless you are sure you’ll need it, or you care about it, get rid of it. That goes double for things like wall to wall carpeting that not only need maintenance, but need *powered* maintenance.

I have a problem here – I often dither about whether something is truly needed or not. But it is worth making these distinctions to have less to do. I’m trying to reduce our possessions by ¼ over the next year, and I’m finding it an interesting exercise.

8. Hire people rather than buy stuff. If you can, hire help rather than buying a tool. The money for local help goes into the local economy. Or barter for labor you can’t or won’t do yourself. Whenever possible, give your resources to someone local, or someone who needs it. So if you need more time to get work or family things done, perhaps you could hire help with the chores, or a mother’s helper to play with the kids, or trade labor with a neighbor – you do her most hated job and she’ll do yours. Only buy a device or tool if you really need it.

The corollary of this is that most neighborhoods do not need one of everything. You may need a washing machine, and so may your neighbor, but you might not need two between you. Try sharing whenever possible. It took us a while after we moved here to get into the sharing mode with neighbors – sharing is scary, because it involves asking people for things, and trusting them to say “no” or “yes” and building relationships. Now we barter or share quite a few things (at times we’ve had a shared car with our neighbors, among other things), and we try always to offer more than we take. It is worth the risk, but it does take time and practice and a kind of courage, I think.

9. Keep records! Keep lots of records. Organize. You save time by tracking what you use and what you need, by noting the best way to do things (if you are the forgetful type like me). By sorting and organizing and writing down what is stored where. It always seems like keeping notes adds in time, but the time spent *not* trying to figure something out for the 7th time is well worth it.

One trick that works well for me is to have multiple calendars. I buy them cheap at our dollar store, or after we’re a few days into the new year. We have one for religious events and family stuff (birthdays, etc…), another is for the garden – what to start, what to harvest, what the temperature was, the first time we saw a blackbird, how many eggs we got. Another calender is for every little daily event – playdates, when the compost guy is coming, travels, etc.. the usual stuff. Then there are the lists in my notebooks – lists of books to find cheaply, things we need to look for at grocery stores, things to do, articles to write, how much of each food we’ve got in storage – I save a considerable bit of time and money by knowing what I have and what I need.

Related to this, find ways to store and sort so that you don’t have to waste time hunting for things. Figure out a system and make yourself stick to it. I’m not always good about this, but when it works, it is glorious. Think about the last time you needed to do a project and couldn’t find the right tool or materials. You know you just had it…make sure you know where things are, so you don’t waste time and energy.

10. Have a place for everything. Try and mostly put things in their places. One of our biggest problems in keeping clean is the stuff that doesn’t really live anywhere. Mail we might want to look at eventually. The books that don’t really fit on the shelves. The clothes that don’t fit in the drawer, or on our bodies anymore. Instant mess. The more you can either get rid of things or make an appropriate place, the easier this all is. Make workspace for yourself, if you need it – accepting the realities of your life (ie, “I’m never going to dump all the junk mail, I like looking in the catalogs too much.” And make a space for the catalogs). If you are going to be canning, for example, make room for it if possible, and plan that room into at least the times when you are canning – ie, take the microwave down off the counter, or whatever. Have a place to put the mending, the knitting needles, a chair to sew in, a useful and comfortable space to do necessary mobile (ie, can be done in more than one place) chores.

11. Look at your schedule for time and space that might go unused (although remember, down time is good too) . Try new stuff and see if you can multi-task. For example, I learned to knit and breastfeed, to type and breastfeed, etc… out of sheer desperation to get things done. Otherwise, I never got to knit or write. I find that I can get a surprising amount of cleaning done if I set a timer for 15 minutes and say, “ok, I’m going to do what I can in the next 15 minutes”. Knowing the time is short increases my efficiency. Remember, nothing has to be all or nothing. Can’t hang all your laundry? Hang as much as you can, and the next dryer load will be that much shorter and use that much less energy. Don’t have time to mend all your own clothes? Do as many as you can while sitting in your carpool or waiting for the bus.  Most of us have a few 10 minute increments now and then we could spend doing some simple chore.

12. Strive for peace.  Conflict takes time and energy – whether conflicts of resources or personal conflicts.  If you and a partner or a child are having the same battles over chores and duties over and over again, make finding a way to keep the peace a priority.   Maybe it doesn’t matter what their room looks like, or maybe they can diaper the baby their way after all. Or maybe you can make a deal – you’ll do X their way if they’ll do Y yours.  But whenever possible, prioritize making peace at home.

Make at least some space that is peaceful to you – that isn’t always buzzing with media noise, where you can be quiet and read a story or fold laundry and think about things, or meditate, or pray.  If you can’t keep your life perfectly together, try keeping one small spot together enough to retreat there.

Emphasize the skills that make good and peaceful community as well – adding more water to the soup so that you can seat your neighbors to at dinnner, making room for friends who need  a place to stay, making sure there are blankets enough to keep everyone warm, making a place to get together to talk about conflicts.

13. When in doubt, drink beer ;-) . Permaculture works from the principle that theoretically, yields are unlimited – you can optimize so much you get more out of a system than you ever put into it. That violates the laws of physics, of course, but it is fun to try. Beer works kind of like magic – you ferment it, people get to drink the beer ,and the grain is nearly as good for animal feed (and more digestible) as it was nutritionally before. So drink locally made, sustainable beer before doing household chores, and you’ll find them much easier to bear.

As you strive to get more out of it than you put into it, strive also to relax and enjoy yourself. Really, no one is going to remember whether the tile was grouted and the towels were clean when bad times come. But they will remember whether there was food, basic hygeine, a place to sleep, hospitality, good things to drink, and peace in the home. These are things worth having, and worth making time for. The rest is gravy.

The Permaculture of Domesticity, Part I: Theory

Sharon August 20th, 2009

As long as I’m reposting stuff ;-) , I thought I’d throw up a couple of old favorites from when almost no one read the blog.  Maybe that will keep everyone happy until I get my head out of the pressure canner (no, not literally, stop laughing at me ;-) ).

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.

Everything You Need to Know…In Order

Sharon August 20th, 2009

Note: Ok, this is another repeat – I’m so head deep in the summer canning and stuff that my brain seems to have shut off for the duration. 

Like my title?  Never let it be said I’m not ambitious.

A student in my class asked me for a list of skills we need to get ready for peak oil, prioritized. I admit, it took me about a day after she asked to stop thinking “Holy Crap, how do I figure that all out!”  But it is an interesting question and I thought I’d take a shot at it. I will, of course, be relying on my fearless readership to point out gaps in my thinking.

 Now I’m not going to get everything, but it did occur to me that we could break it down a bit, and then subcategorize.  So what the heck, here goes.  In order of priority – the main categories are numbered, and the skills in each category are lettered.  I’m going to do this in several posts, so that I don’t go mad.  But here’s the beginnings of my list. 

 1. How not to panic. 

- This is probably the most important skill set – when stuff gets hard, you need to focus and do what needs doing.  In order to do this, you need:

a. To feel like you are able to handle things, because you have mental contigency plans and you have built trust in your own competence.  The best way to get this skill is to plan, to talk and think out scenarios so you would know what you would do, and to practice doing things until you are reasonably confident that not only can you do familiar things, but you can learn new ones as you go.

b. To have the skills to control your own reactions – these may be strong.  You need to be able to put your anger, or grief or fear to the side long enough to make everyone safe and to meet immediate needs.  Meditation, biofeedback or simple compartmentalizing may help with this.  It is also extremely useful to develop the ability to accept that sometimes you will make mistakes and fail at things, and that that isn’t the end of the world.

 c.  To help other people remain calm, respond appropriately, and find a role for themselves. Some kind of leadership training, Community Reponse training or just practice organizing people. Some folks are not good at this – if you can’t be a leader, that’s ok - maybe your job is to find someone who is totally losing it and help them stabilize.  Certainly, knowing how to help your immediate family and neighbors, thinking about how they may respond and how to help them.  For children, it might be helpful to give them some training, or plan out specific jobs for them to do to help them feel powerful and useful.

2. How to learn things – and how to teach them

You are never going to learn every useful skill.  It won’t happen.  It is very helpful, though if you figure out how you and members of your family learn, and think about how you might make it easy for you and your family to learn more things as you need to – if you are a book person, get books.  If you need diagrams, get diagrams.  If you learn best from people, find out who knows what in your area.  But the basic skills of learning things are all pretty much the same – most of us can learn to do almost anything.  So learning how to learn – how to research an issue, how to pick up a physical skill, how to help another person do that, how to analyze a problem and find a solution, how to avoid major errors of logic, and what the necessary basic tools are will really help you expand your skill set.

3. How to get along with everyone else.

I sometimes get emails from people telling me that everyone around them is an asshole, and that they can’t possibly get along with their neighbors. Now once in a while that is actually true – there are horrible places and circumstances in the world.  But if someone tells me that there’s no one in their whole town who they can be friends with, that everyone is ignorant or mean or self-centered – the most likely scenario is that the person talking isn’t very good at getting along with others.  Now I don’t mean that people who are content without a large community are necessarily bad at this – some people are just introverts.  And some people who are bad at getting along in the course of things either can do better in a crisis, can find one role they can fit into, or can be protected by their families, who can get along with them.  But if you aren’t great at getting along, learning to be tolerant, learning to listen, learning to like other people even when they seem weird, and perhaps most importantly, learning to judge them gently (and I am not the natural master of any of these skills either) is really, really important.  Do it now.  This is especially important if you have trouble getting along with your relatives, and might end up with them.

4. How to deal with an immediate medical crisis in an emergency.

a. Basic hygeine, safety, self care and nutrition.  How to make a balanced meal, and to provide a balanced diet, how to make a rehydration syrup, how to wash hands, how to sterilize things, how to cook safely, how to keep water from being contaminated, how to deal with contaminated water, how nutritional needs vary by age, sex and medical condition. How to care for teeth, skin, etc.. without commercial preparations.  How to prevent pregnancy and disease.  How to use tools, including any weapons safely and keep children and others safe in their presence. Sounds obvious, will kill people if you don’t know it.

b. Basic first aid and triage of a situation – everyone needs to know these things – period, no discussion.  Maybe you’ll never use it, but you should be able to stop bleeding, do CPR, help a choking victim, evaluate whether someone can be moved, help clear an airway, and decide whether medical treatment is necessary.  This comes up all the time regardless of whether there’s a crisis on.

c. More advanced medical care, when to use it, and when not to.  This is particularly likely to come up in a localized disaster, an epidemic, or a transport crisis.  If you can’t get someone to the hospital, if the emergency rooms are overflowing with people, if the hospitals are closed or evacuated, or if there’s no way to get someone somewhere because of a gas shortage, snowstorm, ice storm, hurricane, earthquake…  You need to be able to meet emergency medical needs – to observe a concussion victim, make a temporary splint for a broken bone, birth a baby, ease the pain of a dying person, etc…  At least one person and preferrably everyone old enough should get some or all these skills per household.

5. How to feed yourself.

a. How to cook simple foods, and make them tasty and appetizing. How to adapt your cooking to changing availability of ingredients. How to deal with special diets that you might likely encounter. 

b. How to grow and forage simple, easily accessible foods.  These vary a lot by climate and culture, but generally the indigenous foods of your region will give you a good idea of what grows well.  Includes how to save seeds of these plants, what kind of soil conditions they need, teh basics of soil science, and how to harvest and preserve them, as well as how to recognize safe wild foods and how to use them.  I will discuss foraging and gardening later in this, but even if you imagine you won’t have to garden, or you have very little land, learn these very basic skills.

c. How to store your food so that you will have minimal losses from predators, mold, bacteria, theft, etc…  Includes security, hygeine, good storage practices, rotating, maintaining, checking, managing stores. 

d. How to secure your food from predators, and if you are interested, how to be a predator – how to hunt, trap, fish and butcher wild and tame livestock.  Even vegetarians may want this skill set to feed their pets, if the cost of food or its availability becomes prohibitive. Includes understanding the rules of hunting, gun, bow, dog and trap safety and humane practices, when not to take animals, and the best strategies for predator removal.

6. How to have a sense of humor about stuff, and how to shake off your distress and go on.  How to be kind when you are pissed off and grumpy, but it isn’t anyone’s fault. 

7. How to wring the most out of everything.  Extreme thrift

a. How to minimize waste and minimize expenditures – reducing need, using care and good management skills.

b. How to take care of your stuff so it won’t break, how to repair and patch it if it does

c. Repurposing of now useless things, making do, creative compensating for things you lack.

8. How to have sex well ;-) .  Or rather, how to navigate, according to your values and your community, sexual ethics.

a. How to navigate sexual dynamics and power relationships so that everyone is safe, having fun and acting consensually.  Teaching children the same – when to, when not to, what consent means, how to stay safe physically and emotionally.

b. The risks of pregnancy (for them that this applies to), how not to get pregnant when you don’t want to, and the simple fact that no strategy is perfect if it involves heterosexuals and the most commonly used orifices, so - how to be prepared to have a child.  How to protect yourself from diseases, and that no protection is perfect.

c. How to make your partner happy, if you’ve got one – this will only help in tough times.

 9. How to Grow Stuff

a. How soil works, basic botany, plant identification, a general understanding of the conditions specific plants need and how to create them, a general understanding of plants that will do well in your conditions.

b. How to use basic tools – physical skills for gardening. Hoeing, shoveling – these can be done well or badly.

c. How to recognize diseases and pests, how to recognize when things are ready to harvest, how harvest correctly.

d. Seed saving and basic plant breeding and genetics.

e. Composting and maintaining soil fertility.

10. How to Handle Water

a. How store water, use it thriftily, reuse it safely and thriftily and not contaminate it

b. capturing water for use or reuse as many times as possible, and as efficiently as possible, using swales, run off, etc…

c. Source of contamination and how to purify water.