Monday, July 13, 2015

Beyond "Sustainability," Beyond Laundry

One of the things that living off-grid changed the most in me was my attitude toward and experience of water. Living with a 14-gallon water supply that was replenished from a community well over a mile of bumpy dirt road away shook me out of my previous unconsciousness about water - how much you really need (not near as much as you think), what it's for (it keeps you alive, yo), how much it weighs (that sh*t is HEAVY), etc.

The most valuable thing, though, was what I learned and experienced in dealing with greywater. When you live in the high desert with that little water, you learn not to waste any of it, and I discovered the great satisfaction of taking the dishwater in the 5-gallon bucket under my sink out to the plants and trees to water them. (Posted about that here, back in the day.)

It's been almost three years since I've been back on the grid, and it's been almost two years since I even posted on this blog. In this time, a lot has changed, and I have no current plans to go off-grid again or try to work on building my house out there. That doesn't mean I never will, and I definitely still think about it, but my time out there showed me that for several reasons, it was a project that needed to be shelved, perhaps for a long while.

Which is really okay, except that it didn't take long after getting back on the grid before I started losing that sharp, vivid intimacy with water and earth that I developed out there. I stopped focusing so much on sustainability because it wasn't as intense of a lived experience anymore. I mean, I still dutifully bought compact fluorescent lightbulbs and turned the water off while I was brushing my teeth and bought organic food when it was available and within my budget, but that's obviously not the same level of sustainable living as, say, using a bucket-and-sawdust toilet that you empty into a compost bin when it gets full (although, that was always my son's job, ha).

A few months ago, for a variety of reasons, it became unacceptable to me that I was not doing more to create a truly sustainable life and world. And let's just pause here and talk a little more about the over-used word "sustainable," shall we? When I use that word, I mean it in the most complete and simplest sense possible: to be sustainable means to have the ability to continue. And it's just life that we're talking about sustaining, no less and no more. So when I think about sustainability, what I'm really thinking about is integration: for life to keep going, it has to be as integrated as possible. My life is connected to the life of other creatures, plants, watersheds, ecosystems, you. So for something to be truly good for my life, it also has to be good for all of life.

Too idealistic? Too simplistic? Perhaps. But it's the only thing that makes sense to me as an organizing principle for living. I fail and will continue to, I imagine, in practice, but if I make this my true north, I can keep correcting myself when I wander in a different direction.

What I came to in all my rumination about this is that when applied to my own decision-making process, if I want to do something sustainable it needs to be environmentally, socially, AND personally sustainable; and that includes being financially sustainable. Not so simplistic when you factor all that in.

I then used this framework to analyze the way I was living, and it suddenly became ridiculously easy to see what wasn't working in my life, and this ultimately led me back to an idea I'd had since 2009, shortly after I moved to Taos:  to open a sustainable laundry center involving solar power, rainwater harvesting, and greywater irrigation of a community food garden on the premises. It would be good for the planet, it would build community (in fact, the goal is to create it as a community center), it would be personally fulfilling for many reasons, and it would create a level of financial stability for me that I've never known before. (Which, among many other things, means I could eventually return to the building of my earthbag house.)

In an integrated way, it encompasses each of the aspects of sustainability I included in my definition. So, I'm doing it. And since I made that decision things have been unfolding in a serendipitous manner, including getting connected with an international team to eventually replicate the project in developing countries.

This is perhaps not the best graphic the world has ever seen, but it gives a very basic model of what this business is about:

Beyond Laundry: A Community Laundry Center

On Tuesday, July 21st, we'll be launching a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to fund the purchase of land for this project, and I'll share that link here that day. In the meantime, if you're interested in knowing more, you can visit our brand spanking new website.


  1. Oh, Susan. What an eloquent, inspiring post - thank you! So excited for you and this new venture, which feels exactly right for you, for Taos, and beyond. :) Can't wait to support you and watch and it grow.

    1. Thanks, Deonne! Your support means more than I can say :)