Do what you can, where you are, with what you have

In the world we live in now, space can be at a premium. Cities around the world are more and more crowded. Apartment dwellers want to ‘do’ permaculture, but feel their hands are tied. They can’t have a garden, or put in a rocket mass heater, or put a wind turbine on their roof, or use a composting toilet, or keep chickens, or so many things that are advocated in the permaculture design literature and videos we see online.

But there is always something we can do. The simple acts of using your own shopping bags, refusing to buy overly packaged goods, shopping local, and turning down the heat have an impact. And the list goes on. It isn’t as sexy as a food forest or a chicken tractor, but it is a small gentle step in the right direction. And that is enough.

Some people say that you’re not ‘doing’ permaculture if you’re not doing it ALL. I strongly and wholeheartedly disagree with that statement. I think if you are doing what you can, where you are, with what you have, you are ‘doing’ permaculture.

Permaculture design is about so much more than just growing a garden or raising chickens or going off grid. It is a mind set and a vision. You learn to see things differently, and always look for ways to arrange things so that they work together, while providing your needs with the least amount of damage to the earth.

It is a way of looking at the various parts, and putting them together in a way that makes much more sense than the way we have been doing things for far too long. There are so many things that we do every day, without even thinking about it, that just make no sense to me. And if I can stop doing some of these things, it will make a difference.

It makes no sense to me to flush perfectly good water down the toilet. It makes no sense to me that organic vegetables are wrapped in plastic. It makes no sense to me that ANY vegetables are wrapped in plastic. It makes no sense to me that certain appropriate technologies – such as rocket mass heaters, composting toilets, and greywater systems – aren’t legal and encouraged everywhere.

Learning about permaculture design gave me a vision and a dream for the life I want to live. And I am very grateful. But I have to admit, I sometimes miss the utter bliss of ignorance as to what is really happening to our world.

But now that the blinders have come off, I have no excuse for not doing what I can to help. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I still eat junk food; and I still use an electronic smoking device, and all that that entails (plastic stuff!). I buy stuff wrapped in plastic, and I don’t always recycle. But I’m trying.

I rent a (very tiny) tiny house on a half acre property that is dominated by a very large shop and a house, a couple sheds, and a few vehicles, and is surrounded by very tall trees. And it’s not flat – it’s kind of been built on a hill side, with a lot of large rocks.

But my landlord and I found space for a garden. We built an outdoor kitchen with a rocket stove, and put together a couple of composting bucket toilets. We always have piles of compost in the works, and we hang our clothes to dry instead of using the dryer.

I love to haunt the second hand stores, looking for ‘new’ clothes and useful items. And we are not too proud to scavenge things that other people have thrown out (usually in the bush somewhere).

Here are the things that we are doing on this little property.

  • Growing a food
  • Using compost bucket toilets
  • Saving our urine for the compost
  • Conserving water wherever we can
  • Experimenting with outdoor solar hot water systems
  • Cooking on the rocket stove when the weather permits
  • Gathering materials and building compost piles
  • Buying secondhand
  • Hanging laundry on the line in summer, and on a drying rack in the house in winter

And some things I’m trying to do as much as possible, and getting better all the time:

  • Minimize overly packaged purchases
  • Upcycling
  • Preserving food from the garden
  • Buying local
  • Learning to make do
  • Learning to do without
  • Reducing the power bill

It’s really not about doing it all perfectly. It’s about doing SOMETHING. Start somewhere. Get excited about something. And it will build from there.

For me it was gardening. I find growing my own food, and harvesting meals fresh from the garden, exceedingly satisfying. And after learning all I can about permaculture, all the other aspects started to interest me too: alternative energy, natural building, appropriate technology – it’s all fascinating stuff to me. I’m not in a position to start using any of it yet, but I’m learning all I can so I’ll be ready when the time comes.

So don’t feel like you have to know it all, or have property, or go off grid and live off the land in order to apply permaculture design to your life. Start doing what you can, where you are, with what you have. And watch it grow!

There are heaps of videos and blogs out there just overflowing with information about what people who only have a small space can do. Once you start reading and watching videos, your own imagination will kick in and you’ll think of more all on your own. (I’ll be writing more on this topic in the future, and will put the links here.)

You’re smart. You can do this. Just put your mind and your imagination to it, and you’ll think of lots of things you can do to work toward ‘living permaculture’.

If you have any questions for me, or advice for others on the quest, please leave a comment.

Health, Hope & Happiness


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