Sustainably Yours: Pinterested in Sustainable Living

It’s interesting to observe Tiny Houses trending in sustainability circles. The romance of radical simplification and downsizing is accentuated by the “Pinterization” of society. This is where today’s visually-oriented, short attention spanned, oh let’s say it, Millennial generation revels in an endless supply of pretty pictures. Maybe it’s an Airstream wreathed in lilac garlands and Tibetan flags. Maybe it’s a baby angora rabbit in a tea cup where the source supposedly weaves their organic baby diapers with its fiber. Whatever. But with Tiny Houses especially they are always perfect, with no sign of occupancy and have all the elegant precision of fine Japanese carpentry.

There is a romance to extremes, much like the age old fascination with mansions. Perhaps the population has traditionally gravitated towards grandeur because they were dwelling in Tiny Houses by default and didn’t know they were being ‘sustainable’ or ‘fashionably rustic’.

While developing the patch of land where we live and ultimately our house, our family was up close and personal with Tiny House Living. And by tiny house I mean a ’77 Shasta camper towed down. If you Millennials don’t recognize what a Shasta is, it’s because you WON’T find it on Pinterest! This experience was like a 4 year college education in Cramped Quarters 101. We named our house “The Panini Maker”.

A lot of folks dream of living offgrid but the dream remains a dream because they never quite make the leap from ‘town living’ to ‘country living’. Maybe they think they can use town as a base while picking away at their rural paradise, but it never quite works out that way. They are two comfortable where they are. It is too easy looking at the pictures on Pinterest, mug of cocoa in hand. And that comfort forever delays real progress on their ‘Pinterest Fantasy’ in the real world.

Well, I’ll tell you a secret on how to make your fantasy manifest: just do it. You’ll be as uncomfortable as all hell and that discomfort will propel you into making it happen like a Boeing engine. If this process, for you, involves camper living with a family, believe me, you will never look at those Tiny House pictures the same way again. You will have a whole new comprehension of “right sizing” your lifestyle – not too big but also not too small. I used to joke that my office was only 8×11…meaning the 8” x 11” stack of papers on the countertop. Although this memory now has the rosy glow of a joke, back in the day the joke was not funny at all.

Perhaps this is a musing on today’s visual society. I’ve read that never before in history have people logged more hours watching food being prepared (think: cake shows and foodie blogs!) and never less time actually preparing food themselves. We so often substitute direct personal experience with being spectators. Because of this our understanding of sustainable living is limited to pictures of violet jam and ducklings.

I have a book that presents “organic living” in this exact manner: little ‘how to’ blurbs and lavish photos. How to flavor vinegars, choose goat breeds, how to make lavender sachets, how to shop local – all in a paragraph or less. There is nothing about keeping flies out of that sullied cloth diaper collection or how to extricate the endangered gila monster gnawing on your chicken’s neck without killing either of them at one in the morning in the rain. Forget the lavender sachets, how do I sun dry laundry when its 100% humidity, a storm is rolling in (again!), I remember that the loaf of bread is just ready for the solar oven but I’m missing the solar part and the toddler starts wailing?

Anyway, I will never look at pictures of sustainable living or Tiny Houses the same way again. But I’ve had authentic experiences with both and wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

At the end of the day, the modern human of the developed world is on a quest for the Holy Authentic: an authentic sense of place, authentic experience, authentic nature, authentic materials, authentic techniques, authentic food, authentic culture, terror, etc. But many want authenticity without discomfort. Well I got news for you: authenticity sometimes means unpleasantness. Having spent 4 years living “uncomfortably” on a patch of rural land in Mexico, I feel connected to it in a deeper way. It’s not a honeymoon, fairweather relationship; it’s a marriage with history, warts and all, minus the air conditioning. That’s love and authenticity. It’s sustainable living beyond Pinterest.

Emily Majewski
Emily Majewski is Co-Founder of PHYTOSTONE, a small firm based in Nayarit dedicated to creating advanced natural materials for home and garden.