How to be an Extreme Eco Housewife in Just a Few Hours a Week

Or something like that.

First things first: what’s the hurry, anyways? What’s up with all the short cuts and schemes that allow us to live our hectic, busy lives while getting even more done? In truth, slowing down, making room, spending more time off-line, and taking the time for these things is its own reward and its own path to being a super eco-groovy human being.

Still, some of us work. Some of us want to make art or take walks or go to school. Some of us have children that are tired of a mother whose idea of playtime is rolling tortillas.

I’m writing this post in response to folks that mistakenly think that living the way we do is a full time job…for me, the housewife. I do think of it as my work–my bread labor. But I’ve found that it doesn’t take much extra time to do the basic sustenance part of life. In fact, sometimes I feel like a hunter gatherer with plentiful leisure time. Even when I worked outside the home I cooked pretty wholesome meals everyday.  I don’t spend much more time at it now. It’s taken practice, surely, to get to the point where so much cooking from scratch is just part of the rhythm of our days, so go slow if just starting out. In fact, go slow no matter what.

Anyways, for what it’s worth and off the top of my head–

Beginning

::Choose one or two of the things that you currently purchase to try your hand at making. This might be bread, yogurt, crackers or tortillas, granola, cheese, body care items, or any infinite number of ordinary items from greeting cards to sweaters. Start with one and as it becomes familiar and effortless, add the next one. These are all pretty much way easier than I ever imagined back when I was convinced they had to be store-bought.

::Don’t go it alone. Combat isolation and fragmented communities by inviting a friend to teach you a new skill, to learn one you’ve mastered, or to fumble your way to success together when both figuring something out for the first time.

Maintaining

:: Dedicate a morning each week to prepare the staples needed for that week. After the busyness of the weekend, I love spending Mondays at home, messing around the kitchen doing whatever needs doing.

::Invite your girlfriend and her brood over to share that kitchen morning with you–talk and talk, and before you know it everything’s done, including clean up. Remember to make enough for both families. Alternatively, each of you could choose an item or two to make at home, and then swap yogurt for bread for sauerkraut.

:: Make double or triple batches of everything. You knew that! Make yogurt two quarts a time. Freeze cracker and cookie dough and pie crust. I often make extra brown rice and beans, two slightly more time intensive staples around here, and freeze them in meal sized portions in a tiffin. We don’t rely on them regularly, but when we need a quick meal, they are infinitely helpful.

::Don’t ever, ever, run out of flour. Everything else you can live without, but keep that sack handy and half full! In fact, try to keep ingredients on hand, but don’t run to the store until you really need to. Amaze yourself and your family by what can be made out of cabbage, frozen chicken stock, and an onion.

Bread

::The popular no-knead / 5 minutes a day bread making method isn’t for everyone. But if you have some kind of thing against buying bread products in plastic bags, as we seem to, you might consider putting a picture of it’s creators up on your kitchen altar. I always double the recipe. It keeps fine for two weeks in the fridge, though no matter what I do ours runs out after a week. It is lovely to have the dough on hand for bread, rolls, naan, english muffins, or whatever the occasion calls for. All it takes is a little time to rise before cooking, and for naan not even that. This might seem like one of those short cuts that deprives us of the simple pleasure of kneading, and the flow of traditional bread making, but it is, frankly, awesome.

Dinner

::I’m not the most sophisticated menu planner, though I see how helpful it is to plan ahead just a little when it comes time for the grocery store. I think more in terms of two major meals each week, and aim for ones that will provide versatile leftovers that can become either a repeat or a whole new thing. The roasted chicken is a great one for that–come the end of the week there’s soup to make from the carcass. Alternatively, I also do a pot of beans or dal most weeks, and that provides a good basis for lunches or simple week night meals that I can doll up in minutes. I’ll make the tortillas for the week while the rice and lentils are cooking, and call it dinner.

::Cook a little bit all throughout the day rather than saving everything for 5:00. If you’re making quiche, do the pie dough in the morning. If you’re making enchiladas, make the sauce or tortillas in advance.

::While I love preparing complex meals from scratch, simplicity is so, so delicious. Save the fancy stuff for Sunday dinner. And then go all out.

::When you run the oven, pack it. On my baking day, I make sure to have as many of the following as I can reasonably do: bread, crackers, pies, chicken, potatoes, squash, etc.

::When putting away clean dishes, set the table, even if dinner’s hours away. I used to wonder what napkin rings were for, but love Soulemama’s idea of having a different one for each member of the family so that napkins can be used repeatedly by the same person until truly in need of a wash. I suppose if you don’t have napkin rings, a mismatched set of napkins would work, too.

Laundry

::When Adrie started washing her family’s laundry by hand I was blown away. I have no desire to follow in her footsteps, but I am much, much more aware of whether something is really dirty before throwing it in the hamper. Like, I have to see/smell it and it’s bad before I wash it.

::Always hang laundry on the line. This is a time saver because it gets you outside, twice, and from there it’s no trouble to just keep on walking.

Childcare

::If you have just one little one, stick her in the shower with you. Yes, this does eliminate the eco-friendly possibility of shaving with a straight razor, but saves water and time. Unless you savor the time to knit beside the bathtub while someone splashes water all over. Then do a bath everyday.

::Hair brushing: I think once a day is plenty. Do it five minutes before being seen in public.

Houeskeeping

::Unless there is no alternative, avoid using nap time for housework or cooking. That time is for you alone, Mama. Don’t give it up to the endless tides of sweeping the floor and washing dishes.

::When the house is clean, leave. Go away. Go make a mess somewhere else. Come back only when you can’t stay away any longer.

How do you run your household without letting it run you?

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37 thoughts on “How to be an Extreme Eco Housewife in Just a Few Hours a Week

  1. wow, lots of great tips here! i’ve been thinking about getting a group of mamas together for a summertime rhythm of picking berries or harvesting other edibles, and preserving them together the next day or the next. wouldn’t that be fun? : )

  2. Hi Kyce,

    Nice to see you and Cora the other day! and thank you for sharing about your blog..very inspiring and REAL

    I wanted to share is some info on a local company (o-gelato) whose plastic packaging I notice in one of your plastic tally photos. I met with these folks and shared your blog with them. He spoke of their environmental concerns and packaging of course was way up there (along with finding organic local dairy, eggs etc). He explained to me that the paper packaging is now using a plastic coating which essentially makes it non-recycling and went on further to explain the levels of recycle-ability of plastic packaging. He is going to post something about all of this and all of their research today or tomorrow and I though you would like to know.
    http://www.o-gelato.com/

    Also, they are going to open a retail store here at DeVargas. Fresh, handmade gelato and italian espresso right where I work….I am so excited.

    now an avid reader of oldrecipe,
    Alania

    • So glad to have you join in the recipe making. That’s funny you mention the gelato guy, because I met him on Earth Day and was super impressed by his level of awareness and commitment to optimal packaging. He said when they run out of the plastic #2 containers, which they intended to be recyclable but aren’t b/c they aren’t bottles (!) they are switching to a paper with wax lining. In the meantime we’ll have to stop by the store for their goodies, and visit you while we are at it. Love, Kyce

  3. – super eco-groovy human being – i love this!

    – bread labor – into B.C. I see… Hear you on that. Homemaking is definitely my bread labor also. And I do have other creative pursuits I like to explore.

    – I like your one step at a time approach, so sensible.

    – we don’t eat much flour products but I agree about the staples potatoes, onions, cabbage & rice

    – agree about laundry, can’t imagine hand washing my family of 5’s clothing but hang drying – absolute must for beauty and function.
    – how about showering with 2 not so little ones. I shower with my 11 & 7 year old, is this weird – don’t answer that!
    – Absolutely agree about nap time -that is NOT for housework. That is for mama to rest or drink tea or read or maybe putter in the garden. Now I use my afternoon down time for writing. The kids are old enough for me to boot them outdoors or play inside quietly.

    What a great post Kyce. Here’s my answer to your question
    http://fimby.tougas.net/homemaking-and-homeschooling

      • I have my own rest-time during afternoon naps, too. I felt really guilty about that until I realized that lots and lots of really great mamas did the same thing. Now I figure I just must be smart. 🙂

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  5. hi kyce,

    love, love, love your post today! so many good ideas! thank you soo much! i do many of the same things you do but it’s so much fun to hear some new ideas! i am always looking for new ways to simplify my life and make it as handmade and homemade as possible. your blog is inspirational and thought-provoking for me and i love that! thank you and blessing to you.

    peggy

  6. Hi Kyce!
    I think you’re so great! This is such an awesome post! I began writing a food post and then came here and you have said (so wonderfully) everything that I was trying to say. I’m going to link to this…..if that’s okay.
    Sending love,
    sara

  7. “::Unless there is no alternative, avoid using nap time for housework or cooking. That time is for you alone, Mama. Don’t give it up to the endless tides of sweeping the floor and washing dishes.”

    This is the best advice I have had given since having a baby. Done.

  8. Thank you. I just stumbled upon your blog and this post is perfectly timed to the thoughts moving around inside my mind. I am making decisions and taking slow steps towards simplifying our life in many of the ways that you describe. So, thank you for providing some perhaps unintentional support in my family’s journey towards a more whole, responsible, and deliberate way of living. Plus, my daughter’s name is Cora (she’s named after my great grandmother), so I figure that we’re connected in some important way already. Thank you for sharing.

    • Welcome, Shannon. My daughter is named after her great-great grandmother, too. And her middle name is the latin name for the herb spikenard, just in case you are a plant geek too. Many blessings on your journey!

  9. Don’t remember how I got here today, but I’m so glad I did; this is a great post! I’m looking forward to reading more, and am adding you to my reader. And tomorrow morning, I’ll be setting the table as I clear the dishwasher!

  10. wow. i am (slo-o-o-owly) trying to shift my perspectives and practices surrounding home-care to a much more zen and satisfying place. my number one shift has come from planting a veggie garden (!), but i am eager to expand my horizons *inside* the home, as well. i’m going to take to heart the “making yer own stuff” rather than purchasing it and also the setting one day a week to get a handle on the staples.
    anyone know how to make no-knead bread at high-altitude? mine always comes out hard as a rock. any tips?
    great post, kyce!

    • We live at 7,000 feet and I’ve never made adjustments for altitude and always have great results. I think it’s important to keep the dough really on the wet side…loose enough to conform completely to the bowl. This helps it to rise more easily by keeping the resistance and weight down. Good luck finding your rhythm and expanding horizons.

  11. nice post mama! saw this from sara’s blog (farmama) – I was just writing a blog about that bread book a day or so ago – it’s freakin delicious bread! and much too easy, I kind of feel like a slacker 🙂 My best tip to running my house, is to do things when I see they need to be done, which works well for my easily distracted mind. When I just keep walking by the clutter, it only gets bigger and I kind of stop noticing it. But when I pick up that pair of socks, or soak the beans right when I think of it, and get rid of the habit of putting off chores, it sure makes the house run smoother!
    Much love from Asheville, NC
    Julie

    • I feel like a slacker too, but honestly the results are so much better with this method than any traditional methods I’ve tried (and I’ve given them a good try, really.) Plus, I love having the dough on hand. I love your reminder to do what needs doing. To actually see it, to actually do it. That is really advanced housewifery, for sure.

  12. I really enjoyed this post, the tips and the humor. I particularly like how you point out the importance of doing things with a friend and combat isolation and community fragmentation. About the different napkin rings, in my country we never moved away from fabric napkins, and the rings are meant just for that function, to personalize. But I dislike napkin rings (or knitted/crocheted holders), and I do just as you suggest: we use mismatched napkins!

  13. Look at all the replies to this post! Ditto to most of this. Not all, but most. And it is stuff that we have been doing for years, which feels very good to say! Some of it we lost and regained (and that is where I would argue that it doesn’t take a chunk of time. I lost some of it when I was parenting and working outside the home full time).
    Fabulous list!
    Nicola

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