Eco-friendly Painting? Part 1

Painting and the flow state.

During the last NSW school holidays and while Greater Sydney was into its fourth month of COVID Lockdown 2.0, I painted the interior walls of my home. Coupled with some good podcasts it was a marvellous way to pass a week in home-bound productive mess-making!

Some of you may find painting a chore, but I like it! It requires my attention, but not too much. While it’s within my skill set, I need to concentrate on the tricky bits like cutting in the edges around windows, door frames and cornices. I can do it all day and lose track of time. Some days, I get a sudden pang of hunger only to realise I haven’t had lunch and it’s nearly dinner time.  I know what I have to do and how long it will take so it’s an activity with a clear goal. The new paint job looks fresh and bright and my home is looking good.  You may recognise that these parameters offer a wonderful opportunity to enter a state of flow

The idea of flow is not a new one and the concept was developed by psychology professor and happiness researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the mid-1970s. If you are not familiar with flow, this TED Talk will get you up to speed. (And help you pronounce his name! Chick-sent-me-high!) 

Preparing the walls

My steps to Eco-friendly painting

Finding flow is a bit like finding the Holy Grail for happiness seekers like me but is not really what this post is meant to be about! My goal was to write about eco-friendly painting.

Before I started, I considered the best way to reduce the impact my painting would have on the environment. Even so, I seemed to be using an awful lot of plastic!! The steps I took included:

  • wrapping my brushes and rollers in plastic bags at the end of each session rather than washing them out to save water and save all that paint going down the drain. 
  • using the same plastic wrappers each time to reduce plastic use.
  • using plastic roller tray liners rather than washing the trays out each time,  again to stop water contamination. Mind you I stood in the aisle in the hardware store for a long while debating this point with myself! 
  • using more expensive paper-backed plastic drop sheets that I could re-use next time I paint rather than single-use ones. 
  • Buying wooden-handled brushes (win!) but they had synthetic bristles (lose!). A win-lose rather than a win-win
  • Using old cloth rags to wipe my hands and drips rather than “new wipes” although I still did use a whole roll of paper towel because I am not a very neat painter.

On the whole, I thought I was doing ok! High five to me!

It’s a bit smelly in here! 

With the painting finished and the mess cleared away it struck me (a little late in the piece)  that I had missed an eco-warrior opportunity.  After all, I had essentially just coated my walls with a thin film of plastic, the very thing I was trying to avoid. 

And then there was the smell!   It took the next three days, even with all the windows and doors open, to vent the fumes that lingered. Thankfully the weather was perfect; a light breeze swished through the house to chase that painty odour away. 

Although I deliberately bought a low fume, water-based paint, it still stank! I mulled over a barrage of questions. Were those fumes bad for me? Was there a more environmentally friendly non-plastic paint? Would a non-plastic based paint also be smelly?  Would it work as well? Would it be in the colour I wanted? Would I have been able to buy it in my area? Would I be able to afford it? So many questions!

Google was invented for questions such as these!

After a few hours down the painted internet rabbit hole, I came away with some answers and even more questions. The answers to the seven questions in the paragraph above are: yes, yes, yes, maybe, perhaps, no and probably not! 

The desk was too heavy for me to move, so I painted around it!

So what did I find out? Stay tuned for the answers in Part 2 in two weeks time! 

Old Habits Die Hard!

We’ve all heard the saying “old habits die hard”. Some habits take longer to kill off than others. For example, I have a kitchen broom which I keep in the space between the fridge and the cupboard. There must be thousands of households who put their broom in exactly the same convenient place. Nothing unusual there! However, in my kitchen, there is also a small railing which I use to hang up my oven gloves. Every time I get the broom out, I invariably knock the gloves off the rail and have to pick them up from the floor. 

Maybe not every time but eighty per cent of the time and it’s been like that since I moved in eight years ago! Talk about a habit being hard to kill off! 

In a bolt of problem-solving wizardry, I realised the fridge had two sides and there was a broom-sized-glove-free gap on the other side of the fridge.

Problem solving at its best!

I moved the broom.  

EUREKA! 

What a groundbreaking change!

Mind you when it’s time to sweep, I still automatically look on the glove side. D’OH! Eventually I’ll become habituated to the new habit and look on the other side as a matter of course. 

This may be a tongue in cheek look at my reluctance to change a simple process in my life that was not functioning well. A simple change that was glaringly obvious but not executed. 

I am very certain there would be many more things like this in the world that suffer from the “that’s just the way we do it around here” syndrome. Things that could be changed with little effort but pay big dividends, like working from home

Numbers of people WFH skyrockets!

The number of people working from home has increased dramatically during COVID lockdowns. Once COVID is under control and most of us are vaccinated the necessity for working from home will be removed. But there are plenty of good reasons for it to continue. 

Less commuting is one such reason with a triple win pay off. The employee gets more time in their day, the environment wins especially if it’s car commutes that are reduced and the employer wins because they could rent smaller spaces and hence save money. Not all jobs are of course suitable for working from home, but many “office” jobs are very much suited to it and employees are expressing their preferences.

Some companies are adjusting to a hybrid model where you can combine both working from home days with office days. Another bonus being the “extra” time now available to employees can be used for family or community-based activities enriching our lives. 

On the other hand, all those coffee shops and cafes in the city will have no customers unless they move out to the suburbs and then hey! Guess what? They don’t have to commute either. 

Let’s hope we keep these positive new habits of COVID in play. It will take some adjustment just like me searching for my broom, but it will be worth it in the long run!

a train station with empty platforms
Empty platforms are a part of Lockdown!

Slow Living 2.0

Mudbrick house

This post is the first in a new series about slow living

While on my blog sabbatical over the last month, I  have been doing a lot of reading, podcast listening and Youtubing about slow living only to realise I had been down that path before. A path I chose with my Ex in better times. It’s a way of life I’d like to return to and by chance it looks like that may well happen. 

I’m planning on moving to Armidale in northern NSW in the next 12 months, once I get the ducks of life in a row. This time it was not my idea but one I’m happy to embrace. I’m following my family as they move to the region. I don’t want to be away from them, especially my grandson. An added bonus being that the move and the preparations provide a wonderful theme to write about here!

This week a back story about Slow Living 1.0.

Fast Living – Setting the Scene

In the years from 1991 – 1994  my (then) husband and I decided we needed to change our life and slow things down.  We had a one year old baby. He was working for a large Australian bank. (Which bank? Not that one, the other one) I was on maternity leave from an even bigger multinational oil company.  (The one that smashed an oil tanker against Alaska). 

My job involved a lot of travel. It was high speed and had long hours. His job was also high speed, with long hours but without the travel, unless you count the 4 hour daily commute. Interest rates were close to 20% and the Sydney housing market was booming.  

We had lots of money, no time and plenty of stress.  Sounds familiar heh? 

Internal frames go up.

The first slow steps

Before our baby was born we had decided it was important that one of us be the primary carer. We didn’t want our baby to spend most of their time with strangers, no matter how well trained and caring. We were ahead of our time because that one person did not have to be me. The Ex was open to staying at home so he could combine parenting with part-time study and fulfil his long term desire to get a uni degree. 

Serendipitously, our tree change journey was made possible because at this time we were living at my grandparents’ house paying well below market rent. We were renting our own house at a higher market rate.  Living there, much closer to the centre of Sydney,  cut the Ex’s commute by half and although we had less money on one wage, we managed comfortably. 

At first our goal was simply to change our occupations to something less frantic and more meaningful. A contributing factor for me was the Oil Company’s response to the Exxon Valdez incident. It left me cold and disgusted. The disaster was swept under the carpet with disturbing rapidity. I felt that their response did not align with my values and wanted to leave. A restructure of their business model meant I was able to take a generous redundancy package so I had an unexpected windfall on top of my maternity leave. 

Step 1 saw me heading back to Uni to do a Diploma of Education so I could teach. A much more meaningful and family friendly occupation. I was able to do my Diploma part time and on a campus not far from home. Besides taking Bub with me when they were very little, we relied on a combination of friends and neighbours to babysit. The Ex stayed with his work for the time being.

Hand built mudbricks

Green shoots start sprouting

As part of the Diploma, I did a subject on sustainability and became very wrapped up in environmentalism. My enthusiasm no doubt boosted by the oil spill. I became obsessive about the impending doom that climate change would bring. I wanted to be greener. A lot greener.  This desire to live a greener life led us to the next steps. After the baby was weaned and I started working as a teacher, the Ex quit his job and stayed at home to be the primary carer. This was a very courageous step. Back in 1992 there weren’t many stay at home dads around and he bravely continued to take Bub to playgroup.

He copped an enormous amount of flack for our decision, especially from his dad. I was really proud of our trail blazing lifestyle. Splitting up with rampant consumerism gave me a sense of power. It excited me to be with someone who was challenging gender stereotypes, and pushing back against the toxic norms. 

You’ll see echoes of this in my way of life now. My Year of Zero, my Eco Hacks and my desire to be more sustainable are throwbacks to this time. My decision to have only one child was deeply rooted in the desire to reduce my environmental footprint.

Plans become reality

Once we recognised the need for change, we started planning the move. Dreams and big talk turned into reality. The journey was incremental and multifaceted. In recounting it here it’s hard to remember the ins and outs and the exact chronology. One decision was layered over another. Ideas became blended and bent. This post can’t capture the whole convoluted story, only the overall result.

We sold our house, bought a two hectare patch(~5 acres). By January 1994 we had moved in with my mum in Bellingen on the mid north coast of NSW. In July that same year we were living in a half built mud brick house and by 1996 we had chickens, a veggie patch, a cranky old cat and a Labrador puppy.

By 2000, we were back in the city, trying to patch a broken relationship and pursuing a different dream. I’m at pains to point out that the slow living wasn’t the cause of the unhappiness. That unhappiness was for many other reasons, some of them a direct result of the previous fast living.

In hindsight, the journey was smoother than you’d think and while things eventually went sour between myself and the Ex, I really have to thank him for following my dreams and making this first tilt at slow living a reality.

We never did finish our mud brick house!

More about my plans for Slow Living Version 2.0 in the coming weeks.