Letting Go of Honey Hill Farm

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Our daughter was born here. It’s a 300-year-old beautifully renovated farm that is a testament to the impermeability of time, weather, and wear on a well-loved home. Our babies lived the first years of their lives swinging in their car seats from the 1705 beams, crawling on the wide pine floor boards, and sledding down through the apple orchard out behind the barn. The hill was where we kept bees and in our first year there 100 pounds of clover honey was harvested from three hives perched beyond the white pine. We sold the golden elixir on our porch to neighbors we met over time. It was an idyllic place to live, but alas it’s now time to let it go.


The truth is, we haven’t lived there for the past 10 years.

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Due to a need to move to the Pacific Northwest for work, we left our beloved New England farm and family 10 years ago, just before the market crashed. When housing prices plummeted, we knew we had to hold on to the home, and rent it out, to wait until the situation stabilized. In 3 months’ time, if all goes as planned, our farm will change hands, and become an experiential preschool for families who want to bring their children in close contact with the Earth.

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Although we moved our primary “stuff” from the farm years ago, we’ve had to slowly get rid of the last bits and pieces that comprise a final vacating of a property.

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These are the kinds of items most people simply throw away, too hurried to mindfully find new stewards for their still-useful items.

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We travelled back to New England last summer to take 3 days to gift our stuff to members of our former community. I connected with the admin of the local Buy Nothing group and she let me temporarily join the group to post our remaining possessions to neighbors.

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Everything disappeared in a matter of hours. Paint, farm tools, antiques, old hardware, large work benches and potting tables were hauled off the property by people happy to come in their cars and trucks to reuse what we couldn’t fathom carting across the country to our home in the Northwest.

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We’re essentially masterminding a zero waste move.

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Here are our best simple tips for a low impact move for anyone trying to reduce their waste when moving out of one property and into another:

  1. Create recycle/reuse waste streams in boxes for easy-to-recycle/reuse items: i) Regular commingled recycling (plastic bottles, glass and paper); ii) Plastic bags (to recycle at grocery stores); iii) Metal (to recycle in a metal recycling facility); iv) Office supplies (pencils, pens, paper clips, etc to give to a teacher or an office somewhere); v) Batteries (take them to your nearest battery recycling facility.)
  2. Don’t buy new boxes. Ask for them on your Buy Nothing group or get them from your nearest liquor store.
  3. Create collections to give away: It’s easier to commingle all of your hardware, or garden supplies, paint supplies, pet supplies, music, etc together to give to neighbors as collections of like-items rather than randomly giving away each item individually.
  4. Don’t buy paper for wrapping fragile items: Use newspaper (ask for it in your Buy Nothing group) or plastic bags, bubble wrap, and styrofoam that you’re planning on recycling,  or napkins, t-shirts, clothing to wrap around your glasses and fragile items for shipping. It saves money and waste.
  5. Even old paint can be reused: Before taking your remaining household hazardous waste to your hazardous waste facility, do check with neighbors to see if they’ll use it. We had people come to pick up our interior and exterior paint for their own projects.

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What additional broad-strokes tips can you add to this list?

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We’ll dearly miss our Essex home on the marshes. © Liesl Clark

New Year’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Re)Solutions

New Year's Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Re(Solutions) Bring Simplicity and Joy. Photo © Liesl Clark

New Year’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (Re)Solutions Bring Simplicity and Joy. Photo © Liesl Clark

In the New Year, I believe many of us have dreams of simplicity, homes de-cluttered and made minimal yet functional. Can this be achieved in a sustainable manner? Yes!

Sustainably reducing our junk brings a sense of freedom and joy, and I can tell you from experience that it’s entirely attainable, without trashing the environment. The key is to take simple steps toward offloading your excess items. As a byproduct, you’ll find real pleasure in seeing the value in your things and the joy they can bring others, rather than just tossing them into the landfill.

Here are 9 of our favorite New Year’s (Re)Solutions to help you reduce the stuff weighing you down:

I suggest you take a week to truly de-clutter and reduce.

STEP ONE: Each day of the week choose one room to focus on, so you don’t wear yourself out on day one. Do a decluttering pass through the room, carrying a box which will hold the items you’re ready to offload.

STEP TWO: Can any of your unwanted stuff be reused? Join your local Buy Nothing group, a gift economy where people share what they have with their neighbors. Keeping our stuff in our local materials economy is one of the greatest gifts you can give your own community, connecting you to the people around you and helping us all to reduce our consumption. See if there’s a group near you or ask the founders team to start a group in your area if you’re willing to be a local admin.

You can then post each of your items in your group. Don’t be shy! Your stuff is another person’s treasure. People give cement blocks away in our group, sticks, even used bubble wrap, extra pans of homemade lasagna, chicken feed, and unwanted jewelry. There’s no such thing as “trash” in our groups as you may find an artist who could use your discarded item or a small business owner who needs bubble wrap for packaging their items for shipping. If you don’t have a Buy Nothing group in our area, then move on to step 3.

STEP THREE: Have a few spare boxes ready to hold your leftover unwanted and unused items in your garage, basement, attic or spare room where you can then separate the pile into distinct categories:

1) Stuff to Donate to an Animal Shelter: Do you have old blankets, towels, or extra pens and pencils hanging about? You’d be surprised to learn what items most animal shelters could use. Here’s a typical wish list for a local shelter.

To find an animal shelter near you, click to The Humane Society‘s website where they have links to the best resources for locating local animal shelters. All you need to do is input your zip code to find a local shelter. Most have a wish list online, but you can call to find out their specific needs.

2) Stuff to Donate to a Charity That Will Come and Pick Things Up: There’s nothing better than people who come to you and take away your unwanted stuff. Donationtown has a website where you can input your zip code a find a charity that will come to your home and pick reusable household items up. But if you have a local charity, like GoodWill where you can drop off your items, that’s another great option.

Are you seeing the forest through the trees? Ridding of your excess stuff sustainably isn't so hard. Photo © Liesl Clark

Are you seeing the forest through the trees? Ridding of your excess stuff, sustainably, isn’t so hard. Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Electronics Recycling: Take stock of your e-waste — your electronics that no longer work or that you haven’t used in a year or 2, and take them to Best Buy! Best Buy is one of North America’s top e-waste recyclers and you can easily find one near you. This task is a simple one: load up a cart with your old TV, computers, vacuum cleaner, and wheel it through the front door and there will be a place by the front door to leave your electronics for recycling. Done.

You Can Recycle 3 Electronic Items Per Visit to Best Buy

You Can Recycle 3 Electronic Items Per Visit to Best Buy

4) Metals can go to a nearby scrap metal facility: We save our metals in a special box to be taken periodically to our scrap metal bin found at the local transfer station. Metals of all types have value and can be repurposed into new items made of metal. Saving things that are primarily made of metal can benefit your scrap metal facility greatly and keep those precious materials out of the landfill and in our materials economy for years to come.

5) Do you have a cupboard filled with plastic containers? Reduce it by half and you probably won’t miss what you’ve removed. Save your favorite ones for storing dry goods in and then go through your jars and do the same thing. If you have extra lids, recycle them. Or if you’re missing lids, recycle the jars or containers themselves. The new year is a time to take stock and simplify! I reduced my jars by half and passed the good ones with lids on to our local senior center that collects them for projects. Check with your senior center to see if they can use them or post your jars on your Buy Nothing group. Someone will have a use for them.

6) If you’re trying to reduce old stockpiled boxes of random stuff, make a pledge to go through one box at a time. Give yourself time to go through it and separate the items into recyclable items and those that can be given away and reused. I try to remind myself that we’re stewards of our stuff on this planet and our job is to, at the end of your stuff’s usefulness to you, dispense with it responsibly.

Stockpiled Boxes in the Attic: Emptying Them Out One Per Week is Do-able.

Stockpiled Boxes in the Attic: Emptying Them Out One at a Time, Even One a Day Makes the Task Do-able.

7) If you have old family photos you want to reduce, you can always check with family members to see if they want them. By scanning them digitally, you can save them on a small thumb drive and then you have the photo paper waste to think of. There are some great ideas out there for photo reuse, like turning them into tile coasters or donating them to a scrap art store. Remember, your old family photos do have potential value, especially for your family’s future generations.

8) Books: If there were ever an easy item to help you get rid of, it’s books! Most libraries want your books as do many non-profits worldwide.  We have a local “Books and Beer” get-together every few months in our Buy Nothing group where we can meet neighbors and share our books.

9) Make a promise to yourself to be mindful of what you acquire. Promise that all new things going into your home this year will be used and loved extensively, not squirreled away in yet another box to be offloaded at the end of the year. If you don’t take my advice, you might want to listen to a slightly different perspective on reducing. It all results in the same thing, however, less waste and less unnecessary clutter in your life for stepping out into a new year.

There is an elegance to beginnings and endings of years. Make yours a stuff-free one by following our simple steps. Photo © Liesl Clark

There is an elegance to beginnings and endings of years. Make yours a stuff-free one by following our simple steps. Photo© Liesl Clark

Mapping Plastic: A Circumnavigation of Bainbridge Island

Many have done it by sailboat, motorboat, even kayaks. One person recently swam it. But how many people have hiked around Bainbridge Island? I mean all the way around, skirting its shores, circling the entire landmass like a May pole?

Circumnavigating Bainbridge Island To Map Plastics, Photo © Liesl Clark

The 53-mile circumnavigation is precisely the journey we’re embarking upon, but it’s not just a walk in the rock-strewn, slimy, barnacle-laden park, nor is it a pristine walk on the beach. This journey has a critical element: We’re picking up all the man-made trash we see on the shoreline along the way. What sorts of debris are washing up on this 36-square-mile island, 8 miles off the coast of Seattle in the middle of Puget Sound?

Circumnavigating An Island’s Shores Bring New Light to Single Use Plastics, Photo © Liesl Clark

We’re no strangers to beach debris, more accurately described as “everyday plastics.” My friend and co-founder at The Buy Nothing Project, Rebecca Rockefeller, and I have traversed many island beaches picking up plastics. Indeed, we’ve spent months inventorying the buggers, listing them by item. We’ve created disturbing art about our beach plastics, have conducted beach pick-ups and art projects with local classrooms, and founded a social movement with an eye toward addressing that first of the 3 “R’s,” REDUCING the amount of plastics we consume in the first place. If we just shared what we already had, rather than buying new, wouldn’t that have impact?  If we’ve learned one thing in the last 5 years of research it’s this: If it’s made of plastic, it will end up in our waters.

Beachdebris, Robbins Island, MA, Photo © Liesl Clark

The obvious solution to our dependence upon plastics is to find reasonable alternatives and obvious reuse solutions and convince people to choose those over buying new plastics. We aim to show people in innovative ways how plastics will never go away and are ubiquitous in our environment. Hence, we collect those plastics we find washing up on our beaches and determine where they’re coming from. What percentage are single-use plastics like straws, syringes, and water bottles and tampons? What percentage are coming from the fishing and shipping industries, from construction projects, and from our own homes and cars? The only way to find out is to pick up a sampling from every shoreline on our island, to prove they’re on every beach, washed down our watersheds or blown ashore by the prevailing winds.

A few hundred yards’ collection of plastic, Photo © Liesl Clark

Bainbridge Island is like any landmass, encircled by the waters of Puget Sound, some beaches more exposed to currents and wind drift than others. We see this circumnavigation as a sort of metaphor for all islands, indeed all continents, with watersheds and beaches dumping and receiving debris over time.

Storm Drains Go Unfiltered and Unchecked on Bainbridge Island, Photo © Liesl Clark

My online search for the earliest pioneers to have circumnavigated our beloved island brought up a single result, and an ironic one at that: Bruce Barcott, writer and friend. We had no idea Bruce had taken on the journey, let alone that he wrote about it in Backpacker Magazine. He even self published a book about it, having also mapped his route on Google Earth in an incredible interactive tour-de-island-force worth checking out. Bruce’s map will be our baseline, a critical resource to discover interesting shoreline features as well as the ins and outs of the inlets, coves and private properties potentially off-limits to hikers like us. But if we’re doing some good (picking up pollution) will we be barred from passing? Due to tide constraints, Bruce apparently didn’t actually complete his full circumnavigation, opting for inland trails instead. We’re going to try our hand at completing a full circumambulation.

I first met Bruce Barcott in Seattle at the offices of Alpine Ascents International. My husband, Pete Athans, and I, along with our 1 and 3 year olds, had just moved to the area from north of Boston, one of the furthest points on the continent away from Seattle. Bruce and Pete were hired by Alpine Ascents International to assist them in procuring a coveted mountaineering concession on Mount Rainier. Two years later, when we were headed for a month to Nepal, Bruce and his family were looking for a home to occupy while house-hunting on the island. They house-sat for us and quickly found a home for themselves on the island. Bruce, in an effort to get to know the island first-hand, decided to hike around its shores, mapping his progress on his iphone.

We, too, will employ iphones and our trusty GPS to log in waypoints and document our progress. Other essential tools will include reusable bags, backpacks, and haul bags for collecting plastics, strapping the big pieces to our backs, and a knife for cutting marine rope and fishing line from rocks and washed-up tree trunks. Our cameras will record specific plastics that marine biologist friends are interested in documenting, and the essential iphone app, Tide Chart.

Plenty of Pens on the Beach, Photo © Liesl Clark

With a population of 23,000 and 36-square-miles of land, our island demographics prove that there are approximately 834 people per square mile on this speck of Northwest terra firma. That’s a lot denser than I would’ve thought, but significantly less than Seattle’s 7,251 people per square mile. We’re all contributing to the plastics that are making their way down from our homes, cars, and businesses to our seas. And our islandround journey is yet another means to figure out where it’s all coming from, why, and how we can stop it.

Come Help Us Inventory Bainbridge Island’s Beach Plastics, Photo © Liesl Clark

If you’re on Bainbridge and want to join us, please contact us and we’ll coordinate days and times to meet up for a leg of the journey. We’d love to have your eyes, hands, and backs for the recovery of human-made debris from the sea. We welcome classrooms, community groups, and all our island friends on this journey. And when this encircling of our island is done, we’ll welcome help in assessing the inventory of documented plastics in our island to determine where it’s coming from and come up with ideas for reducing it in the first place.

It’s winter storm season, and we expect some sobering results and strong shoreline winds but hopefully we’ll encounter some unanticipated surprises as we map our collective plastics, coming closer to uncovering the truth behind the flow of synthetic polymers into our seas.

Voyager Montessori School’s Rainbow of Puget Sound’s Beach Plastics, Photo © Liesl Clark