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  • Creative Seed Storage: Save and Organize Your Garden Seeds

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (at no extra cost to you). However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. I’ve been gardening in one form or another my whole life. My parents would send me out to water the garden after school when I was little, and as I grew, so did my gardening responsibilities. I find working around plants and fresh soil to be deeply relaxing—originally a reprieve from homework, and now a kind of escape from the busyness of daily life. I guess that’s why this plant addiction followed me into adulthood: container gardens in apartments and sprouting greens on my kitchen counter, then raised beds in my backyard, and now farming our homestead—really too big to be called a garden at all. You hear many people talk about gardening, but you rarely hear about one of the side effects of gardening addiction: saving and storing seeds. I seldom use all the seeds from a packet, and all of those leftovers can pile up. Add in the seeds I’ve saved from produce I’ve grown (or even store-bought organic produce), and my seed stash rapidly gets out of hand. In this post, I’ll share a few of my favorite seed-storing tips and ideas, plus some products that will make your seed fetish more manageable. What’s the best way to store seeds? Proper seed storage is essential to ensure the best chance of germination in the following year.  Most seeds should be stored in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight. I’ve stored garden seeds in the back of the pantry, a box in the linen closet, and now in a designated seed-saving area of my basement. Seeds should not be stored where temperatures fluctuate rapidly or where they can get overly hot or freeze. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule (like if you’re intentionally freezing seeds that need to be stratified), but this is the general guideline for the majority of common vegetables and herbs. If you are saving fresh seed—harvested from your garden or other produce—let the seeds dry thoroughly to prevent mold before packing them away. I once saved a large amount of yellow dock seeds from my medicinal herb garden bed only to discover months later that a drop of moisture somehow entered the packaging, and I was left with a plastic bag of fuzzy black mold. What is the best container for storing seeds? Whether saving a tiny tomato seed or hard-shelled pumpkin seeds, you’ll get the best results using an airtight container. Your goal is to protect the seed coat (the hard outer shell nature provides around the endosperm) from pests, light, and moisture. While store-bought seeds are usually packaged in paper envelopes, long-term seed storage requires more protection to preserve germination rates and avoid disappointment during planting season. The simplest airtight long-term storage container is the ever-reliable glass Mason jar. With sizes ranging from 2-ounce spice jars to much larger gallons, Mason jars are easy to find and affordable. Try thrifting them from your local secondhand store or looking on sites such as Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. To keep your seed collection organized more compactly, try storing seed packets in photo storage cases. These stackable cases look tidy and provide a way to group similar varieties together. A similar idea to the photo storage case but with the added benefit of preventing light contamination, a light-blocking seed organizer with little round storage containers and seed-saving envelopes is best for small seeds. Think flower seeds, tomatoes, and herbs. I like to keep seed packets that I plan to use within a few months organized in a three-ring binder with clear plastic seed storage sheets. The sheets have divisions the perfect size for standard seed envelopes, and the binder tucks away nicely on my bookshelf right beside my gardening books. Because these seeds will be planted quickly, and my bookcase is in a dry area, I don’t need to worry as much about moisture. If you want to store a small quantity of seeds within easy reach, a vintage-inspired metal seed storage box might be just what you’re looking for. It reminds me of an old-fashioned recipe box my grandmother used to keep on the kitchen counter—I think it’s perfect for storing sprouting seeds since I rotate through those all year long. How can I organize my seed storage containers? Now that you have an idea of the type of containers you’d like to use to store seeds, you need to decide what to do with your neatly labeled boxes and jars. Here are a few ideas to get you started: Try converting an old dresser or nightstand into a seed storage chest. Designate a corner of a pantry for seed storage jars. Hang a cute shelving unit on a wall in a spare room or your office—and fill the shelves with jars boasting color-coordinated labels. Repurpose old-fashioned bread boxes and fill with frequently used sprouting seeds. Fill vintage suitcases with seed storage containers and stack them in a corner for visual appeal. Conclusion Whether you store a few flower seeds gathered on long walks or bulk-buy garden seeds for a large vegetable bed, keeping seeds viable and organized is key to simplifying your gardening hobby. Find a storage method that fits your personality and homestead, and have fun filling your world with colorful flowers and home-grown food! BONUS: Did you know gardening reduces stress? Check out this post to find out How Gardening Relieves Stress and Helps You Unwind! You can also check out more gardening posts from our friends at Homesteading Tips 101!

  • Winter Solstice Self-Care to Welcome the Turning of the Year

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. In the heart of the darkest night of the year, we look forward to the longer days that will slowly approach and bring us new life and birth with the spring. Winter has begun, and as we huddle together around a crackling fire or cuddle deep into our favorite comforter, we are reminded that winter's sleep is but a moment in time. We turn inward to ourselves and our community and celebrate the light within as we practice ancient rituals made modern: feasting, gathering around a Yule log, lighting candles, and singing songs that bring merriness and joy to an otherwise cold and dark time of year. Winter solstice marks the time of year when the northern hemisphere is tilted at its furthest point away from the sun. It is recognized as a time of rebirth, renewal, and the returning of the light. Cultures and religions around the world celebrate winter solstice—although they may give it their own name and attach varying customs and rituals to satisfy their community’s requirements. Whether you celebrate the winter solstice in solitude or with the gathering of friends and family, remember to make time to care for yourself during this sacred time of the year. Self-love bath I’m all for a warm, leisurely bath any time of the year. But there’s no more relaxing way to wash away winter’s chill than soaking in a steamy tub filled with fragrant flowers. Add chamomile, lavender, and rose petals to a muslin tea bag, and toss the bag into your bath to let it steep. Light a white candle surrounded with clear and rose quartz, or place a white tealight candle into a rose quartz candleholder (like this one) to create a soft, peaceful glow while you relax. Imagine the worries of the year fading away as warmth and light fill the room. Mindful walking How about taking a mindful walk early in the morning or on the evening of the winter solstice? As you quietly walk, listen to the sound of your feet on the soil or the crunching of snow under your boots. Look at the trees—have they lost their leaves, letting the sunlight through, or are you surrounded by evergreens that gather clusters of snow and drop them to the earth when the wind blows? Can you see animal tracks in the mud or snow? Are birds chirping in the branches or flying overhead to a warmer clime? Journaling How about creating a solstice journal? Unlike a daily journal, a solstice journal is something you only add to during the turnings of the year: the summer and winter solstices, and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Looking back on your year a quarter at a time can give you a broader perspective on changes that have occurred or that need to be made as you move forward. You can use the same journal for decades, adding to it and watching the shaping of your beautiful life as you build upon it year after year. Pour a cup of dream tea Settle in for a dream-filled sleep on the longest night of the year by brewing a cup of dream tea with herbs reputed to encourage creative and lucid dreams. Dreaming allows the subconscious mind to work through challenges and overcome stress. Why not help the process along by adding a teaspoon of mugwort and ½ teaspoon of passionflower* to a cup of hot water and steeping for 5–10 minutes? Sip the infusion before bedtime, and remember to keep your dream journal close by so you can write down any dreams you remember as soon as you wake up! Set intentional moments Too much time is wasted worrying about the future or despairing over the past. Bring yourself into the now by sitting quietly in a safe, comfortable location and focusing on the present moment. Think of all the things you are grateful for—no matter how large or small—and allow yourself to truly feel the gratitude in your heart. Look back on the past year while only allowing yourself to visualize the people and things you are grateful for, and set an intention to regularly practice moments of gratitude in the coming year. Like water off a duck’s back If you’re ready to shake off the past year and start the new year on higher ground, try this visualization technique to give yourself a fresh start. When you wake up in the morning, rub your hands over each part of your body in short, downward strokes as if you were a duck oiling your feathers. Imagine all of the negativity that has clung to you in the past dripping off and fading away. Visualize yourself coating your shiny new feathers with a beautiful, sleek gloss that will repel any negativity that comes your way (just like water running off a duck’s back). You can repeat this visualization daily upon waking if you find it helpful. New beginnings However you choose to celebrate the winter solstice, remember to set intentional goals for self-care in the coming year, practice kindness, and feel gratitude for the gifts in your life. May you and yours be blessed always! *Consult a medical provider if you are taking any medications or sedatives that these herbs could interfere with.

  • What Is a Septic Perc Test, and Why Do You Need One?

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. In an earlier article, I discussed waste. Waste is one of the things you need to manage on your own when living an off grid lifestyle, and installing a septic system is a common management method. But installing an onsite sewage disposal system isn’t as simple as digging a hole and attaching a septic tank to your home’s plumbing. First, you’ll need a permit. And before you can get a permit, you’ll need a perc test. What is a perc test? A septic perc test (or percolation test) checks how well your soil allows water to drain. This test is usually required before a septic system is placed and installed to ensure the soil can support a drain field and allow the proper functioning of your septic system. After all, if your septic tank can’t drain, you’ll end up with costly (and smelly!) consequences in the future. A septic tank works by separating the solid and liquid waste into layers: scum (floats on top of the other layers), effluent (the liquid layer in the middle), and sludge (solid matter that settles at the bottom of the tank). Beneficial bacteria help break down the solid matter so that it can liquefy and drain from the tank. The liquid that drains from the septic tank goes into an underground leach field or drain field (the soil absorption system). The drain field must allow the fluids to quickly soak into the earth or risk oversaturation and backing up the entire septic system. Perc testing is vital to ensure proper sewage disposal and protect environmental health. (If you'd like a book to have handy, try The Septic System Owner's Manual.) Septic jargon People in every field of business have their own jargon, and if you’re not sure what they’re talking about, you can get lost in the barrage of new words. Here are some key words and phrases you might hear from your soil engineer or perc test team. Percolation rate: This measures the rate at which water moves through the soil. You want a rate between 10 and 60 minutes per inch. (It takes about 21 or so hours for your soil engineer to test the soil.) Soil condition: This is the capacity of the native soil to function for its desired purpose (in this case, for perc tests). Water table: The water table is the boundary under the soil where water saturates the cracks and crevices in the rock and soil layers. Your soil engineer will look for mottling and moisture in the perc test hole to determine the seasonal high water table. Septic permit: This is the permit you need before installing a septic system. You’ll need the report from the perc test when you apply for your septic permit. Leach field: The leach field, or drain field, is where the liquid from your septic system drains into a designated area, thereby protecting the surrounding soil and properly disposing of waste without contaminating groundwater or areas where food is grown for human consumption. What to expect on perc test day I wasn’t sure what to expect on our perc test day. I knew we were meeting with our excavator and soil engineer, and I knew they needed to dig a hole, but that was about it. The whole process was fascinating and went by more quickly than I expected. We talked to our excavator about where we plan to build our house, the GPS coordinates we provided to the county for our water well permit, and where we envision a future barn, livestock pens, and pasture. From that information, he suggested the best location to place a septic system for optimal downhill flow and (hopefully) the installation of a gravity-fed system instead of using a pump. (We won’t have the final thumbs up on a gravity-fed system until the soil tests come back, but we’re crossing our fingers!) The location he suggested wasn’t at all where we had initially imagined it would be, but we listened to his reasoning and decided to take his advice. After all, we’re paying for his expertise! After we agreed on the best location to place the septic system, our excavator unloaded his backhoe and started digging. In our county, two holes are required, and they have to be 100 feet apart. The first hole was eight feet deep, as wide as the bucket on the backhoe, and long enough that the soil engineer could walk down a steep slope to get to the bottom of the hole. He scooped out a few handfuls of dirt, placed the soil into plastic bags, and then signaled for the excavator to fill in the void. In a matter of minutes, you could barely tell where the hole had been. They repeated the process about 100 feet away, and before we knew it, it was time to go. What happens if you fail your soil test? A failed soil test means you can’t install a standard septic system. If you plan to build your home in a rural location without access to a city sewer system, you need a septic system to dispose of sewage and other unsanitary waste. If you live in an area that allows gray water systems (a.k.a. greywater systems) and composting toilets, you may still be able to figure out how to build your off grid home. If your lot is large enough, you may be able to request a new test at another dig site and reimagine where your house will sit. And in some cases, a soil engineer can design an alternative engineered system customized for your location and soil type. But if a standard septic system design is your only option, a failed test may mean using the land for some other purpose or selling it to purchase land where you can build. The waiting game … Our soil test will be back in a few weeks. It could be done sooner, but our soil engineer will run all of our tests simultaneously. (We need a soil test for the building permit, too, and that one requires a core drill.) Check back in a few weeks for our update! UPDATE: Our test came back not-so-great. We have highly expansive soil, so we will need additional support under our foundation. Called "caissons," these concrete piers will reach bedrock around 14' deep and extend a minimum of 12 more feet into the bedrock to support our Quonset hut home!

  • What Does Living Off the Grid Really Mean?

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. What do you think of when you hear someone say they’re going off the grid? What about if someone says they are living off grid? Depending on the context and who’s saying it, there are a few different meanings behind the phrase. Off grid (or off-grid) is defined by Merriam-Webster as “not connected to or served by publicly or privately managed utilities (such as electricity, gas, or water).” But you’re also likely to hear people referring to getting off the grid whenever they are out of reach of cell phone service or when doing a digital detox. For our purposes, we’re using the dictionary definition of living an off grid lifestyle: having your own sources of electricity, gas, and water without being connected to a public utility. Living off grid doesn’t mean going without modern conveniences or communication methods. For many who have taken up the off grid lifestyle, having a high-speed internet connection and reliable cell phone service are necessities for their remote occupations. You might be living a hybrid lifestyle—maybe you have a well and a solar system, but you’re connected to a landline telephone—or you may have taken the plunge to go completely without public utilities for your off grid home. Either way, let’s look at some alternatives to public (or private) utility systems. Water Water is necessary for life. You’ll need an off grid water source to provide for the needs of your family, your animals, and your garden. Here are a few alternatives to public water utilities. Haul water to your home and store it in a cistern. Dig a well and install a solar pump. Set up a rainwater catchment system to supplement your water supply from a well or from hauling water. Hydropanels: another supplementary water source that can provide clean drinking water from the atmosphere. Electricity Although it is possible to live without electricity, it isn’t necessary to forgo all modern conveniences when living off the grid. With your own renewable energy sources, you can still enjoy having frozen foods (in an off grid freezer), electric lights, and have power to pump water into your home from your well or cistern. Here are the most common alternatives to public electric systems. Solar panels with battery storage. Wind power including turbines or a windmill. Hydropower systems rely on a natural source of moving water to turn a wheel and generate electricity. A generator (gas or diesel) can be used intermittently to provide electricity only when needed or can be used as a backup power source when your battery bank runs low. (We like our Champion generator.) Waste disposal When connected to a city sewer system, you don’t have to worry about where things go when you flush the toilet or use the garbage disposal in your kitchen sink. However, when you’re off grid, you need to carefully manage your waste systems to avoid creating an environmental hazard or just ending up with a bunch of garbage that you can’t get rid of. Here are some options: Septic tank systems can either rely on electricity (from your chosen power source) or be gravity-fed. Composting is a great way to turn biodegradable household waste and kitchen scraps into a nutrient-rich soil enhancer for the garden. A composting barrel makes stirring your compost pile easy! Hauling trash to a recycling center or landfill may be necessary if you have nonbiodegradable waste, like plastics, that you need to dispose of. Communication methods and internet Who says sustainable living means you can't have a phone? Living off grid doesn’t mean being disconnected from society. Whether you’re trying to keep in touch with family or work from home, you’ll want a way to communicate with others and access the internet. Some of the following suggestions are obvious, and others might require a bit of a learning curve. Choose the ones that work best for you! Cell phones can be used for multiple communication methods: talking, texting, and email are the most common. Not all cell phone providers reach remote areas. Check a cell phone tower map, like CellMapper, to find out which providers serve your area. Wireless hotspots can provide a portable Wi-Fi data connection for you to access the internet as well as Wi-Fi calling with some phones. We have a Verizon Jetpack MiFi mobile hotspot to use as a backup internet connection at home and when we travel. Satellite internet is available in many remote areas. Yes, you’ll still be connected to a public or private company that provides the service, but as far as I know, there isn’t a way to harvest free internet from the atmosphere. Find providers like HughesNet and other satellite internet providers by searching sites like StarLink has a satellite constellation specifically designed to provide internet service to remote locations. You can check their availability map to see if StarLink is available near you. As a backup or for emergency use, you can try one of the following systems. Ham radio requires taking a test and acquiring a license, but the license is low cost, and the technician’s (beginner level) test has been passed by adults and children alike. Depending on your license, you can talk to people a few miles away or on the International Space Station. General Mobile Radio Service, or GMRS, is a licensed two-way radio communication service for short-distance communications (several miles or more). There is no testing required to get licensed. Family Radio Service (FRS) is a two-way communication system that works over short distances and uses ultra-high frequency radio waves. FRS radios are limited to a range of around a mile or so. FRS is licensed by rule, meaning that you do not need to take a test or purchase a license—but you do need to obey the FCC rules. Send text over GPS with some newer GPS models (like the Garmin inReach GPS with satellite text messaging). CB (Citizen Band) radios can communicate when you are out of range of cell phone service and even when conditions are poor. CBs are useful during emergencies, although they are not as popular as they were in the past. What does living off the grid mean to you? If you're disconnected from the electrical grid and using a renewable energy source such as solar panels or wind energy, heating your home with wood or propane instead of natural gas, and providing for your family’s water needs with a well or private water source, then you are living off the grid. Since off-grid systems can take time to set up, you might first need to start with less expensive options or live a hybrid lifestyle. But with time, patience, resources, and the willingness to learn new skills, self-sufficient living is within reach! Want more off-grid lifestyle information? Check out all our posts in Unplug!

  • Walking Meditation

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. I learned to walk before my first birthday. As my earliest mode of self-transportation, walking allowed me to seek out the curiosities of the world on my own. This desire to seek has led me on walks of varying lengths in some of nature’s most beautiful locations. My parents fueled my love of mindful walking in nature. We spent my childhood summer weekends at our cabin in northern Arizona. My dad would quietly wake me as soon as the sun came up on those pine-scented mornings. Together, we would sneak out of the cabin and explore the forest, allowing my mom a chance to sleep in while we hunted for mushrooms and wild animal tracks. I was acutely aware of the scents, sounds, and scenes around me--the squawking of Stellar’s jays, the buzzing wings of ruby-throated hummingbirds, and the chattering of squirrels as they leaped from branch to branch. Although these things were a part of my summertime daily life, they were more vibrant during those early morning walks. We spoke in hushed voices, careful not to frighten the deer and other woodland creatures. My dad would point out tracks or scat or broken twigs and always reminded me to get my bearings by looking up to see where the sun sat in the sky and which side of the trees grew moss. These mornings became my earliest introduction to a form of walking meditation—a practice that would teach me an awareness of my breath and give me a way to reduce stress. I would pay attention to each footstep, carefully lifting and placing each foot as quietly as possible and listening as each gentle step resulted in the increasingly quieter crunching of pine needles. My focus improved as I listened to my breathing. Anxiety dwindled away with each deep breath. It was truly amazing that an action as simple as walking—something that was part of my everyday life—could become a moving meditation and bring stillness to such an adventurous and active little girl. I no longer have access to that cabin in the pines, but I still practice the things my dad taught me. In adulthood, I learned that what came so naturally to me through years of childhood exploration was similar to what many call walking meditation. Although there are many forms of meditation, walking meditation is my favorite. I have trouble sitting still—I get fidgety and must at least be doing something with my hands. Because of this, walking meditation gives me a balanced release of energy while creating a sense of inner calm and connection to nature. Walking meditation—or a meditative walk—is not the same as simply “going for a walk.” There is no destination; a walking meditation is truly about the journey. To begin, find a location where you can walk slowly and deliberately, where you will not be concerned about drawing attention to yourself, and where you do not have to pay close attention to traffic or other hazards. You can use a path in nature or a hallway in your home. The point isn’t to get somewhere but to find stillness through movement. Mindful walking brings you into the present moment. Stand still, soften your gaze, and take several slow, deep breaths. As you move forward, put your awareness into each step: the lifting of your right foot, how the foot swings slowly forward, and how it feels as it once again connects to the ground. Maintain your attentiveness as you lift, swing, and lower your left foot. Take another deep breath and pay close attention to the physical sensations in your body. Mindful walking can help you reconnect with your body and ease physical stress through awareness. Unlike guided meditation, a walking meditation does not need a soundtrack. It becomes a mindfulness meditation on its own as you learn to focus on the movement of your body and let go of the thoughts buzzing in your mind. As you practice, you will find that taking a mindful walk becomes easier with experience, and you may grow to truly enjoy the gentle exercise. This practice is especially benefitted by walking barefoot so that you can intimately feel the sensations of grass or sand or even a plush rug underneath your feet. If your walking path is in a limited location—such as an indoor hall—or when you have finished walking in one direction, turn and repeat the practice as you return to your starting place. When you become skilled at sensing and hearing each footstep, allow yourself to listen to the sounds around you as you advance your walking meditation practice. Pay attention to the air and the colors around you. Allow yourself to be in the moment. Birdsong will become clearer, you will become more aware of the feeling of the breeze brushing lightly against your cheek, and you may even notice the fragrance of blossoms wafting through the air. Did you ever notice before that those roses were such a soft shade of pink? Has the sunset ever had so many variations of pastel hues? When was the last time you heard the leaves rustling in the trees? Note: If you have an injury or are unable to walk, you can adapt this meditation to your level of ability. Instead of listening to your footsteps, you might choose to listen to the sounds of the wheels on your chair or the tap of your cane on the sidewalk. You can also try a sitting meditation if walking just isn’t your thing. Try to make this mindful walking meditation part of your regular routine. As you learn to slow down and turn your attention to the little things we often overlook, you will find yourself looking forward to these moments of stillness and the secrets they reveal. Want an indoor stress-relieving activity for rainy days? Click here to learn how journaling can help relieve stress.

  • Use the Colors in Nature to Relieve Stress and Improve Mood

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. As I’m writing this post, I can see the leaves on my maple tree beginning to turn red for autumn. There’s a small, yellow aspen leaf tucked between the pages of a book on the table beside me—I’m pressing it to use for a bookmark craft project in the near future. I picked up that little aspen leaf last weekend when we drove to look at the fall colors in the mountains. Green pine trees and golden aspens covered the mountainsides, and plump red rosehips dotted the bushes on each side of the trail we were on. It was gorgeous. Watching nature as the seasons change always makes me feel like everything is right with the world. It’s a lovely escape from the news and social media, and it reminds me of the importance of taking time to reconnect with the natural world in all its beauty. I truly feel like it’s good for my mental health. As we drove home, I saw a rainbow in the distance, and I smiled. Another amazing display of color in nature. What is color? Colors are what we see when wavelengths of light are reflected. Warm colors (red, orange, yellow) have longer wavelengths than cool colors (green, blue, indigo, violet). Objects reflect these wavelengths, and we perceive them as various hues and saturations. We know that the amount of light we receive affects our circadian rhythm (our internal clock) and that people tend to suffer more from depression during the short days of winter (ever heard of the “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder | SAD?). But do the colors we see in nature affect our moods, too? Or is it really just about daylight? Ultraviolet (UV) levels from the sun are lower during the winter. We can’t see UV rays, but they still affect our energy levels and our mood by altering how much vitamin D and serotonin our bodies produce. Can we also affect our energy levels, lighten our mood, increase positivity, and create calmness in our lives simply by surrounding ourselves with the right colors? For many people, the answer is yes. Let’s examine the colors that we associate with certain times of the year or places in nature and how that might affect the way we feel. Spring Green is the color most often associated with spring. It’s what we see peeking through the melting snow when the first blades of grass begin reaching up toward the sun. Tiny green leaf buds begin to unfold on the tips of tree branches that were previously barren and gray, and we know that warmer days are coming. In the spring, we feel like the world is fresh, new, and invigorating. We feel our energy increase, and many of us engage in spring cleaning to freshen our homes. The soft greens and gentle hues of spring help us come back into the present moment and live mindfully. In “Green is Good for You,” the American Psychological Association points out a study conducted in the 1970s that led to decades of research about how the color green affects people in nature, at home, and in the workplace. What they discovered is that looking at green, natural surroundings improved the way people felt about their jobs: “... office workers with a view of nature liked their jobs more, enjoyed better health and reported greater life satisfaction.” Cool colors, like blue and green, have a calming effect. Blue is a calming color, and green is often thought of as a healing color, representing renewal and balance. Many people think of healthy eating when they see green associated with food—think about fresh salads or a green smoothie. Maybe that’s why spring detoxes are such a trendy way to help shed extra pounds gained from the comfort foods of winter. Summer Summer is associated with brightness, crisp colors, and carefree days. Think of red rose petals and watermelon, bright blue skies, and vibrant meadows filled with flowers in every color. We bring these bright colors into our clothing and accessories during the summer, too. Children play with beach balls in primary colors. We grab red-checked picnic blankets for backyard barbecues and float on yellow rafts in pools of crystal-clear water. In summer, the days are longer, and we are exposed to more light. Our energy levels increase, and we crave outdoor adventures, like hiking, camping, and spending time surrounded by nature. During the summer months, the bright colors in nature help lighten our mood, increase our activity levels, and encourage us to spend time doing things we enjoy. Fall As autumn approaches, the bright colors of summer fade into warm, dark shades of gold, orange, and red. The changing leaves remind me of a flickering flame, and I imagine that nature uses these warm hues to signal that it is time to gather firewood and prepare for the cold winter months ahead. The color orange is associated with friendship, warmth, and creativity. Orange also stimulates the appetite—many restaurants use yellow and orange in their color schemes—and may trigger us to start craving warming comfort foods. The muted, darker colors of fall and shorter daylight hours can sometimes contribute to feelings of sadness or a longing for easier times or the comfort of friendship. We try to stretch our days out by participating in evening activities, like picking pumpkins or snuggling with loved ones under a warm blanket on a hayride. Winter Gray and brown—like wintry skies and the bark of trees that have lost their leaves—are considered to evoke wistfulness, sadness, and negative feelings. Perhaps that’s why we use these colors as neutral bases in our homes and add bright pops of cheerful colors to lift the mood when we decorate. With its short days and the abundance of dull colors in nature, winter encourages us to stay inside, rest, and enjoy the bounty we harvested in warmer months. But in our busy society, we tend to do the opposite of what nature is telling us to do. We fill our cold winter months with holiday shopping, decorating (adding bright holiday colors to our homes and offices), and hosting dinner parties and gift exchanges with friends and family. We lengthen our days by staying up late instead of getting the extra rest winter’s long nights instruct us to do. As a result, we exhaust ourselves and may overeat (animals eat less in the winter because of hibernation or scarcity of resources … but we often eat more!). By the time spring arrives, we can hardly wait to find ways to cleanse our homes and bodies and find renewed energy. Use color to your advantage So how can we take advantage of the colors of nature and use them to relieve stress, lift our mood, and improve our energy levels? Take advantage of natural light When we open our curtains or blinds and allow natural light to fill our homes, we can become more in tune with the rising and setting sun and restore our natural circadian rhythm. Use a sun lamp Okay, this isn’t exactly natural light, but it can bring more healthy light into your home during the fall and winter months. Sun lamps that mimic outdoor light have been shown to help people who suffer from SAD. Take time to look at the changing seasons The seasons change whether we’re looking at them or not. But setting aside time every day to reconnect with nature and take in the changing seasonal colors can help us feel a sense of renewal and connection to the land. Take a walk outside for stress relief Whether you live off the grid in a remote location or spend your weekdays inside an office building in a busy city, try to find a few minutes to go for a walk outside every day and just breathe. Look at the sky—what color is it today? Look at the landscape—are the trees or grasses changing, growing, or going to seed? Are there flowers nearby, and if so, what colors are they blessing your life with today? Visit a green space Many cities and towns have dedicated green spaces or parks where you can catch a glimpse of nature in between out-of-town excursions. Sit under a tree or on a bench, and reduce your stress level as you listen to the natural sounds and gaze at the greenery. Participate in outdoor activities I’ve never been skiing. There’s something terrifying about the idea of crashing into a tree while sliding down a mountain on a narrow board. But I love walking in nature no matter what time of year it is. Get involved with a physical activity you can do outside: play frisbee, make a snowman, join a sport, or plan a picnic. Let the sunlight and breeze remind you what season it is and boost your mental health. Bring nature inside Indoor plants can change with the seasons, too. Plants placed near a sunny window are more likely to have seasonal variations than houseplants that rely on artificial light. Decorate your home or office with blooming plants and decor that matches what nature is displaying outside. Drape a pumpkin-colored throw over the arm of your sofa, or place a vase filled with spring flowers on your desk or table. Watch the sun rise and set Did you know exposure to blue light can lower your blood pressure? During the day, when blue light is scattered the most, the sky appears blue. But the sky turns vibrant shades when the sun rises and sets each day. Help yourself reset your internal clock by taking a few minutes at dusk and dawn to bask in the pinks, oranges, and purples of the hours between day and night. Listen to the early morning or late evening natural soundscapes, and fill yourself with positive emotion. Want more color in your life? Click here to see how coloring reduces stress.

  • Top 10 Cruelty-Free Beauty Products for A Luxurious Self-Care Routine

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. As the saying goes, Il faut souffrir pour être belle (beauty is pain). But is that really the case? I think beauty routines should be gentle, loving, and make you feel great about taking care of yourself. And when you know your beauty brands are cruelty-free, you can feel good about supporting products that nourish your skin without harming animals (or the planet). Not everyone can afford top-dollar beauty products, but adding one or two to your routine will give you that extra pampering you so deserve. A skin-firming moisturizer or organic facial oil might be just the thing to provide you with a fresh, dewy look and rehydrate dry winter skin. Here are my top 10 cruelty-free luxury beauty product recommendations to get you started. Marula Beauty Organic Facial Oil Marula oil comes from the marula tree, which grows in sub-Saharan tropical Africa. The oil is cold-pressed to maintain high levels of antioxidants, amino acids, and fatty acids. Clinical studies of marula oil show improved skin elasticity with continued use. Add some to your vegan beauty routine today! REN Clean Skincare: Instant Firming Beauty Shot Ren Clean Skincare was inspired by Jane Buck, the wife of Antony Buck. While pregnant, Jane found that her skin had become more sensitive, and she was having bad reactions to her usual skincare products. Synthetic ingredients irritated her skin, and the limited natural products she could find didn’t have lasting benefits for her skin. Unable to find “clean” products on the market, Antony Buck and co-founder Rob Calcraft created the REN skincare line. REN’s Instant Firming Beauty Shot absorbs quickly and helps skin feel firmer and more resilient. Neocutis Neo Firm You know those age spots that develop from too much sun exposure on your tender neck and upper chest? The spots and thinning skin that glare out when you wear an elegant blouse with a low-cut neckline? After all, our young years were all about laying out in the sun to get a tan and naturally highlighted hair without thoughts of how we’d look in another 20 years—right? Neo Firm Neck and Décolleté Firming Cream is specifically created to help firm skin and lighten age spots on the neck and décolleté. And even better, it’s free from animal testing. Artisanal Spa Collection Paraben-free, sulfate-free, and cruelty-free beauty products make up this collection of luxury bath products. We all know that applying moisturizer to damp skin helps products work even better. So instead of taking a hot, drying shower before applying moisturizing creams, why not create a spa experience at home and give yourself the extra pampering you deserve? Specially crafted soaps, bath bombs, and bath salts comprise this beautiful kit and include fragrances such as Pomegranate Passion Fruit, Palo Santo, and Scarlet Rose. The kit is perfect for gifting to your favorite vegan, too! RevitaLash Cosmetics Volume Enhancing Foam RevitaLash Cosmetics Volume Enhancing Foam is the perfect unisex hair care solution for thinning hair. Apply this physician-created, cruelty-free product to clean hair (don’t rinse it out!) daily to give thinning locks an extra boost. And if your eyebrows are starting to get a little on the thin side, too, RevitaLash also makes RevitaBrow—an advanced serum eyebrow conditioner! Clean Skin Club Clean Towels Looking for a way to create less waste while removing vegan makeup and cleansing your skin? Instead of making more laundry or tossing another disposable wipe into the landfill, try Clean Skin Club’s biodegradable face towels for truly clean beauty. Free from chemicals, artificial fragrances, and without animal testing, these natural towels will help your face feel cleaner and cut down on landfill waste. Unicorn Fruit Whipped Body Butter by Truly The name lured me in on this one, but nourishing ingredients like shea butter, kokum butter, and jojoba seed oil locked in the deal. This thick, creamy, luxurious body butter is perfect for smoothing onto damp skin after a relaxing soak in the bath. Another benefit? The sweet, fruity fragrance is phthalate-free, and the body butter is infused with matcha, acai, chia, and rose. (You may have seen another Truly product, Buns of Glowry smoothing butt butter, on TikTok!) Pili Ani Ageless Concentrate Owned and created by mother-daughter duo Rosalina Tan and Mary Jane Ong, Pili Ani products contain two ingredients from the Chosen Tree: pili nut oil and elemi oil. These oils are like a superfood for your skin. Rich in antioxidants and vitamins A and E, pili and elemi oil nourish and enhance your skin’s barrier protecting it from harsh elements and creating a youthful glow. Pili Ani Ageless Concentrate is a moisturizer that works with all skin types and reduces fine lines, leaving skin plump and smooth. Each & Every Natural Deodorant Nobody talks about the tender skin in their armpits. Why not? Although more people are switching to aluminum-free deodorants, I don’t think people realize just how delicate and sensitive this underarm area can be. As a breast cancer survivor whose skin changed during chemo, I can attest to just how tender and delicate underarm skin is and how gentle, natural ingredient products can help you feel fresh without causing redness or irritation. If you have sensitive skin or just want to try using a product that’s aluminum-free and vegan, try Each & Every. Their deodorants come in sustainable, plant-based packaging (made from sugarcane) and are free from synthetic fragrances, alcohol, parabens, baking soda, and phthalates. Native Deodorant While we’re on the subject of deodorants, Native makes a variety of cruelty-free, vegan deodorants to suit every style. Tested on both men and women, Native products provide effective odor control without the harmful addition of aluminum or artificial ingredients. Bonus product: Dr. Squatch Men’s Soap Everyone needs a little self-care. For those who love a masculine scent and want natural, organic ingredients, try Dr. Squatch products in fragrances like Greek Yogurt, Alpine Sage, and Bay Rum. Conclusion With so many beauty and self-care products on the market, it’s hard to choose just one. Instead, try a variety of products, one at a time, and find the brand that works best for you. What’s your favorite cruelty-free brand?

  • Stressed Out and Pregnant? These Herbs Help Calm Anxiety

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (at no extra cost to you). However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. Expecting a new bundle of joy is a wonderful time filled with anticipation, excitement … and oftentimes, stress and anxiety. During pregnancy, a woman’s hormones are changing and fluctuating with the growth of her unborn child. Together, mother and child grow both physically and emotionally. Although some stress is a natural part of pregnancy, too much stress can cause physical issues for both mother and babe. From worrying about the baby’s health to stressing over upcoming financial challenges, pregnancy can cause a woman to spend too much time worrying when she could be basking in the beautiful changes happening in her life. If stress and anxiety are interfering with your joys of motherhood, these four herbs might be just the thing you’re looking for. Oh, one more thing—since the first trimester is a delicate time for your new baby, wait until after the first trimester to try the herbs listed below. (Always consult a qualified medical professional before adding herbs or other supplements to your routine.) 1. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): Lemon balm is a soothing and nurturing herb that relaxes both body and mind. Lemon balm can calm your nerves, boost your mood, and help with insomnia that naturally comes with the nighttime discomfort of a changing body shape. 2. Rosehips (Rosa canina and Rosa rubiginosa): Rosehips are the fruit of the rose plant. Usually a rich red or dark orange color when ripe, rosehips add beauty to a rose bush after the petals have faded in the fall. Rosehips are a rich source of vitamin C, and their mild flavor blends well with other earthy herbs. Rosehips assist with the absorption of iron and calcium—both necessary for the nourishment of mother and baby. 3. Oat straw (Avena sativa): Oat straw or milky oats come from the tops of unripe oat plants (the same plant that gives you your morning bowl of oatmeal). Oat straw is a nervine herb that tones and calms the nervous system. Its mild, nutty flavor is easier to drink during bouts of morning sickness than some more strongly flavored herbs, and it combines well with fruit juices such as apple and peach. Try making oat straw tea and apple juice popsicles, or use oat straw tea instead of water when you make flavored gelatin desserts. 4. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): Passionflower is an excellent anti-anxiety herb that also induces sleep and relaxation. Use it in small doses and only under professional guidance, since large doses can be a uterine stimulant. What can I do to relieve stress during the first trimester? If stress and anxiety are confronting you during the first trimester of pregnancy, or you would like options other than using herbs internally, try some of the following suggestions. 1. Yoga: Gentle prenatal yoga and restorative yoga poses and stretches can be beneficial stress relievers during pregnancy. Yoga encourages us to still the mind and relax the body while focusing on the breath. Avoid hot yoga and other strenuous practices, and make sure you drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. (Mayo Clinic, February 2021) 2. Walking meditation: Walking meditation is a form of active meditation. Walking is a wonderful exercise on its own, and when combined with mindfulness to create a walking meditation, this activity can decrease stress levels and bolster a sense of well-being. You don’t need any special equipment to do a walking meditation, and you can practice both indoors and out. 3. Eat right: Healthy eating is always important, but it can be difficult to eat normally if you have waves of nausea at odd times of the day. Try to maintain a healthy diet by eating nutrient-dense foods in frequent, small portions. Oatmeal is a stomach soother that can be lightly sweetened to make it more palatable or adorned with fresh fruit to boost its nutrient value. 4. Curl up with a good book: If you’re one of those people (like me!) who can get lost in a good book, use this opportunity to read that book you’ve been longing for. Let yourself get carried away in a fantasy world, and put your worries on the back burner. You’ll have fewer chances to read grownup books after baby arrives, so treat yourself to a little extra you time right now. Other things to remember … There is no need to feel guilty for feeling stressed or for taking extra time to pamper yourself. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious during your pregnancy, know that some stress is normal now, just as it is during other times in life. But also know that through loving self-care, you can reduce your anxiety and enjoy your pregnancy and the new life you are creating. (Please consult a medical professional or mental health practitioner if you have any physical or mental health concerns, so they can provide you with extra support and guidance during this time.)

  • Secret Spaces to Stash Your Stuff (Minimalism without Loss)

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. The rule growing up was “A place for everything and everything in its place.” If we needed to look for something, we always knew right where to find it. And if it were something my mom didn’t want to have come up missing (like her favorite gardening shovel), she’d put a piece of masking tape on it with her name printed in bold letters. That didn’t mean we lived a minimalist lifestyle by any means. We had plenty of stuff. It was just neatly stacked, arranged, or organized in a certain place. Always. White statuettes lined the ornate shelves on our antique pump organ that an ancestor had brought out West in the 1800s, and each one needed to be carefully wiped and shined and put back in its spot. Our rolltop desk had cubbies assigned to stamps or envelopes or writing pens or the checkbook. Holiday dishes were tidily stacked in the china cabinet. Wooden spoons were in a holder on the butcher block, and knives were in the knife block next to the stove where little children couldn’t reach. Our house was a joy to behold with all of the knickknacks and doodads. Everywhere you looked was a delight for the eyes. Which made Saturday morning chores a hassle. We had shelves of neatly arranged ceramic and porcelain bird figurines that had to be dusted, and each bird had to be put back exactly where it had been to maintain the balanced look my mom had so carefully achieved. Every nook and cranny on that rolltop desk, which I loved and dreamed of writing at, had to be freed from its weekly collection of dust and particles. I didn’t carry that deeply-instilled weekly dusting habit into adulthood. Admittedly, I may skip dusting things for a weekend here and there or only dust what is most visible to guests if I’m in a hurry. I do love a clean house, and I adore the look of minimalist interior design. But I’m not willing to give up my stuff to achieve the look. Which leads me to today’s writing rant: Secret Hiding Places to Stash Your Stuff (or how to achieve a minimalist look without throwing anything away). What is minimalism? Let’s start by discussing what minimalism is and what it isn’t. A minimalist lifestyle is characterized by using simple design for maximum impact. It is about living intentionally and purposefully instead of filling your space (and life) with unnecessary mishmash. By cutting down clutter and providing places for your eyes to rest among neutral colors and clean lines, you can create a relaxing and inviting atmosphere. And did I mention how much easier it is to clean a room with minimalist design? I might even say it again, because that’s what truly got me started researching minimalism in the first place. Hidden cabinets Cabinets are the perfect place to store items that you don’t want to display. You can organize to your heart’s content to make the best use of your space and keep everything within easy reach but out of sight. Not all cabinets have to be disguised. If you have the luxury of designing your kitchen, add plenty of cabinets and make sure they go to the ceiling. You won’t collect dust bunnies on top, and you can use the extra storage space to keep your holiday dishes safe (although you may need a stool to reach them) . Hidden cabinets can be installed in the unused space under stairs, behind a mirror (use a wood-framed mirror for the cabinet door), or behind a picture frame. You can turn a column at the end of your kitchen island into a handy hidden cupboard, too, by removing a side panel and reattaching it with concealed hinges and a magentic latch. If you plan on building hidden cabinets, you’ll need hardware that fits the job. Here are a few of the items you might need: Concealed hinges and push latches: Use concealed hinges and magnetic push latches, so no hardware is exposed. After all, it isn’t hidden if you can clearly see it. You’ll need at least two hinges if you’re building a single cabinet. The style of hinges depends on whether you’re using a pre-built cabinet door with inset holes for the hinges or if you’re building the door yourself and need the hinges to attach to a flat surface. Of course, if you have the right tools, you can drill insets in your home-crafted doors, too, but let’s keep this simple. Use soft-close hinges like this one for doors with predrilled inset cups. If your doors are flat on the back where you plan to attach the hinges, use surface-mount hinges like these. If you don’t need a deep cabinet, framed mirrored cabinets (like a medicine cabinet but bigger) serve a dual purpose of hiding smaller (or narrower) items and reflecting light into the room. You can either cut your wall and inset your 3-inch deep framed mirror so that it is flush with the wall (you’ll need to use a magnetic push latch top to open this kind of mirrored door) or buy a ready-made mirrored cabinet to hang on the wall like this locking jewelry safe. Consider other creative options for hidden cabinet doors, like pictures and paintings with a hidden hinge (you’ll need one of these to attach the frame to the wall). Small cabinets When you’re shopping for hidden storage compartments, think outside the box and come up with other uses for an item. Often, you can remove or redesign the inside to fit your purpose. Small items can be tucked away inside of hidden mini-cabinets. Keys can fit inside the small space a hidden door reveals in a wall coat rack, like this one that’s designed for weapons but could just as easily be used to hide the keys to your recreational vehicles, guest house, or bunker. Floating shelves with hidden storage look lovely hanging on a wall in your minimalist bedroom or bath, and no one needs to know that’s where you keep your multitude of nail polish colors. If you want to build your own floating shelf, you’ll need hidden brackets to hang them with. Try these heavy-duty invisible brackets for your next project. How about building a mantel over your living room fireplace to store your Christmas stockings out of sight? Put hinges on the lower edge inside the front panel, and use a strong magnetic latch to hold it closed. You can push on the top edge to swing the front down and retrieve your holiday decor. The mantel pictured below could easily be converted into secret storage, and removing a few display items from the top would lighten the load on chore day. Shelves with baskets Combine the hanging shelf idea with a row of pretty baskets to store items without completely disguising their whereabouts. All your visitors will see is a uniform design—not the extra washcloths or travel-sized shampoo bottles you keep on hand for guests. You can go larger by using standing shelves or storage cubes and lining them with baskets or fabric cubes to store toys, craft supplies, your yarn stash, or gadgets and canned goods in the kitchen. Try this storage cabinet with six pretty baskets, or my favorite, the Better Homes and Gardens cube organizers. Under the bed You know those cube organizers I just recommended? We have several sets and even built an under-bed storage system for my daughter by laying the 5-cube organizers on their sides (back to back) and putting her twin-sized box springs and mattress on top. She used the cubes on one side of the bed for storing books and put fabric cubes filled with socks and T-shirts on the other side. If you don’t want to redesign your bed with cubes, under-bed storage boxes (like these stackable bins with lids) fit beneath a standard bed frame and protect your seasonal clothes, boots, and blankets from dust. Another option is to build a platform bed with a wood base and drawers that give the room a clean, sleek look. Put your feet up Have you seen storage ottomans? Perfect for providing extra seating or giving your feet a place to rest when you settle in for the evening, storage ottomans come in round, square, or rectangular shapes and a variety of fabrics and finishes to match your interior style. Use ottomans to hide the remote control from toddlers (they’ll probably figure it out anyway) or to store toys or extra throw blankets. Go big with hidden rooms Want to go bigger instead of smaller? How about hiding an entire room where you can store large items or a whole pantry? Of course, to hide a room, you’ll need a hidden door—and to hide a door, you’ll not only need some carpentry skills, but you’ll also need hardware. You can get Murphy Door hidden hardware here. The hinges pivot so your secret bookcase (a.k.a., door) can swing around to reveal your secret room. Pretty cool, huh? What about if you don’t have carpentry skills to build a Murphy door? The Murphy Door store has pre-built solutions. Furniture End tables with doors instead of shelves, sofas with hidden storage in the armrest, and china cabinets all hide the miscellaneous stuff that would otherwise be sitting on a table or countertop. If you have end tables with legs, consider swapping them for ones with doors or at least a drawer and shelf. Looking for a new coffee table? Get one with a top that lifts off to reveal storage space inside. And if you really want to keep stuff protected in an end table, take a look at the Longhorn Nightstand by Rhino Metals. Picture it in an industrial farmhouse-style room or a man cave. Are you thinking about getting a new side chair or redesigning the benches for your dining area? Consider chairs and benches with lifting seats and hidden storage beneath. Office space As much as I didn’t like cleaning that old rolltop desk, I loved how easy it was to close the top and hide the mess. If you have a home office—or an area where you sit to pay the bills and use the computer—consider a rolltop desk or a desk with a hutch so you can close it mid-project without exposing your work to prying eyes. Bookshelves Bookshelves might seem like an obvious place to store your stuff, but most bookshelves have a less-than-minimalist look and provide ample opportunity for dust to collect. Hide bookshelves by installing sliding barn doors in front of them. You can also use barn doors to hide your television and gaming devices, electronics, or entertainment and stereo system. Install your new barn door with a soft-closing slider kit to prevent your door from smacking against the stopper. Conclusion If you want to achieve a minimalist look with hidden storage, use space to your advantage. Incorporate shelves, cube storage, and cabinetry and hide your treasures behind doors and in baskets to show a minimalist aesthetic without giving away your family heirlooms or giving up your hoard of crafting supplies. Creating a minimalist home is easy if you have enough hidden storage space. Want more ideas for reducing the stress in your life? Click here to read my post on 17 Ultimate Stress Relieving Gifts, and follow us on social media so you’ll see all our new posts as soon as they’re published.

  • Mental Health Benefits of Living Off the Grid

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. I lived on an acreage as a child. We weren’t living off the grid, but we had a well and a garden, fruit trees, and plenty of wildlife. What we didn’t have were close neighbors or noise pollution from traffic. In the evenings, my parents and I would relax on lounge furniture in the backyard and stare up at the stars, listening to the coyotes howling in the distance. Occasionally, a great-horned owl would silently glide overhead, or a bat would dip and weave as it flew by. I recapture similar moments today by going camping to enjoy nature and for the off grid mental health benefits. My husband and I have spent most of our adult years living in the suburbs, and our weekend escapes to our rural property where we can camp and play off grid are valuable moments in time. Whether you live off the grid full time or indulge in weekend getaways, getting away from city life is good for your mental health. Here are nine reasons why off grid living is good for your well-being. Reduce stress and burnout Most people live in a constant state of stress. Between busy schedules, job demands, and traffic delays, we live in a way that keeps our cortisol levels higher than they need to be. The stress hormone, cortisol, is the body’s alarm system. When we experience danger, cortisol helps put us in motion so we can react quickly. The problem is that we are under so much stress, and so often, that our cortisol levels (which also help regulate other body functions) don’t always have a chance to return to normal. Daily or weekly stressors and repetitious or unfulfilling jobs keep us in such a state of high alert that we become burned out. Burnout occurs when we continually feel swamped and out of control, like we’re struggling to stay on top of things physically, mentally, and emotionally. Getting off the grid can reduce feelings of burnout and provide stress relief. Having less traffic, less air pollution, and less environmental noise helps return us to a state of balance—and helps us get our cortisol back to a healthy level. Find deeper meaning There is more to life than waking up, checking social media, sending the kids off to school, going to work, and coming home exhausted just to repeat it all again the next day. We need to have meaning and purpose in our lives. To find deeper meaning is to understand that there is a purpose behind all we do—a purpose that can last long after moving on to something else. This purpose should fill a place in our soul, not just be one more item to check off a list. Living off grid can help you find a deeper meaning in your life. Whether it is planting trees, watching friends and family laughing and playing together as they reconnect with nature and each other, or raising your own food—off-grid living helps you understand that you can control your place in this world. Connect with nature You don’t have to practice meditation or go forest bathing to connect with nature. Our bodies are designed to respond to natural cycles. Our sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) is influenced by light, and our bodies naturally produce more melatonin at the end of the day. Artificial lighting counteracts this and can contribute to insomnia. But when you live off grid, you are likely to spend more time outdoors in natural light than parked in front of a glowing television. Seasonal cycles influence the foods we crave. We usually crave light, cooling foods in the summer and warming, heavy meals during the cold winter months. When you live off grid and don’t have easy access to fast food, you are more likely to eat seasonally available foods. As we get in touch with ourselves through these cycles, we begin to feel connected to the natural world around us. Our natural biorhythms get in sync with nature and the seasons. We gain an understanding that we are not separate, and we can become caretakers of the land, restoring or maintaining its healthy balance. Rely on your own resources There’s something to be said for being prepared. Living off the grid and away from easily accessible shopping reminds us that we need to prepare in advance to have resources when they are needed. This means relying on the energy and resources we have produced or gathered. Our ancestors knew how to store vegetables and fruits to last throughout the winter months. They chopped wood and gathered fuel, stacking and storing it to keep them warm on cold nights and giving them fuel to cook with. When we know how to produce and store resources, we gain confidence in our ability to rely on ourselves—improving our mental health by giving us more independence and a sense of pride. Build a sustainable lifestyle A sustainable lifestyle means being able to meet your needs while reducing your environmental impact. When you build a sustainable lifestyle, you give back to the planet instead of depleting resources. Planting a garden and raising food for the table is one way to get started. You can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by growing fruits and vegetables (no plastic grocery bags needed), raising animals for milk and eggs (no more throw-away cartons), and learning to compost scraps to enrich the soil. Having a renewable energy source, like solar panels or wind energy, is another way to add to your sustainable off-grid lifestyle and reduce fossil fuel dependence. Meaningful work Creating a sustainable lifestyle and building an off grid home allows you to learn new skills and do meaningful work. As you learn new skills and achieve your goals, you develop a sense of purpose and pride in your accomplishments. Feeling good about what we do boosts our mental health and reduces harmful stress while giving us healthy stress (like exercise) to strengthen us physically and emotionally. Exercise Physical exercise is good for mental health, but not everyone enjoys sticking to an exercise routine. I’m terrible at scheduling time to walk on the treadmill or ride my exercise bike, but I’ll happily go out and work in the garden or take an evening walk at a moment’s notice. Exercise increases levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These feel-good chemicals help us gain mental clarity and restore a sense of calmness. Exercising in the fresh air instead of a stuffy gym provides us with better focus, fewer distractions, and moments of quiet contemplation. I do some of my most creative thinking while walking in nature. Remote work options If you can’t uproot from the city and move off the grid without holding down a “regular” job, perhaps working remotely is an option for you. You may be able to earn part of your living from your homestead—like selling organic vegetables or eggs—or you might find a job opportunity that allows you to work from home. If your current employer is flexible, you might be able to keep your current job and work from home. Since you won’t be using as much fuel to drive to work every day or spending hours stuck in traffic during a busy commute, you may be able to bargain with them for a slightly reduced wage in exchange for allowing you to choose your work location. Working remotely can boost your mental health by giving you a sense of independence while still having a reliable income source. Having an off grid home can also provide you with new income opportunities. If you still have internet access (yes, you can have internet without connecting to the electric grid!), you can look for online jobs and virtual positions. Social interaction Human beings crave friendship and social interaction. Even if you’re a bit of an introvert like me, it doesn’t mean you want to be a hermit and live in total isolation. Social interaction when you’re living off the grid can look different from the bustling late nights of modern city life. Living off the grid may mean your closest neighbors are several acres, or even a mile or so, away. It could also mean that your nearest town has a population of a few hundred or a few thousand residents. Small towns are known for their close-knit social gatherings, like parades, annual events, and coffee shops where everyone knows your name. Living an off grid lifestyle near a small town can create friendships based on mutual respect, shared trust, and support for your neighbors and community. What’s next? Even if you don’t currently live off grid, getting away for a weekend or extended vacation can benefit your mental health. Decreasing your use of social media, watching fewer newscasts, and spending your time in an outdoor activity can reduce negative health effects and increase your well-being. Looking for new ways to de-stress? Check out more of my posts in the Unwind category here!

  • How to Keep Your Off Grid Septic System Running Like New

    Photo credit: Robert Linder on Unsplash This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. Waste is one of the things you need to manage on your own when living an off grid lifestyle. Without access to a city sewer line, you’ll need to decide how you plan to dispose of those bathroom unmentionables no one likes to talk about. Whether your off grid septic tank system uses a solar powered pump or is a gravity fed system, you’ll need to care for it to keep it healthy and functioning properly. Types of off grid waste disposal When you’re disposing of waste off the grid, you need to consider the number of people in your household, weather conditions (it’s harder to compost in freezing weather), and your local regulations. When I was little, we had an old-fashioned outhouse back behind our cabin in the woods. It was bad enough having to use it during the daytime, but using it at night with only a flashlight to light my way was absolutely terrifying! Spiders took up residence in every corner of the foul-smelling little wooden shed, and I used to imagine what kinds of monsters lurked in the bottom of the hole. Back then, everyone had an outhouse in remote locations. At least, all of our remote neighbors did. It’s not as simple to build an outhouse on your property nowadays—composting toilets, outhouses, pit privies, and other types of off grid toilets are highly regulated and usually require a permit. If you’re like me, you’d rather use a combination of methods to dispose of different types of waste and save water at the same time. I prefer to reuse gray water for our plants (this may also require a permit depending on your state or county regulations), compost our biodegradable leftovers to rebuild the soil in our garden, and save our septic system for black water only. Gray water (or greywater) is from laundry, showers, and sinks and can be used to provide water to your landscape or to flush toilets. Black water is from the toilet (ew!) and cannot be reused. Reducing the amount of water that collects in your septic system can help keep your septic tank healthy. But did you know that the types of cleaners and chemicals you flush into your septic can either support or destroy the bacteria that break down waste inside the system? Here are some do’s and don’ts for keeping your septic system running like new. Do this ... Conserve water Wastewater that goes into your septic tank separates into three layers: greasy stuff floats to the top (scum layer), heavier solids sink to the bottom (sludge layer), and water runs in between these layers and goes out into the leach field (aka, drain field). Bacteria in the septic tank gradually break down the scum and sludge layers over time. But if too much water is continually flushing through the system, some of the scum or sludge can also get pushed out into the leach field before it’s broken down, clogging the field and backing up the system. You can reduce the amount of water that goes into your septic system by turning off the water when you brush your teeth, taking shorter showers, installing a water-efficient toilet, and using a gray water system to redirect and reuse shower and laundry water. Use your garbage disposal sparingly Remember those layers we just discussed? Excessive use of your garbage disposal can add too many solids (and too much grease) to your septic tank. Try composting kitchen scraps instead of using the garbage disposal in your sink. Keep your septic lid closed Open septic lids are a safety hazard. Keep them tightly closed to prevent people, animals, or objects from falling in. Direct rainwater (and water from your roof) away from the drain field Water can saturate the leach field, whether it comes from household use or natural rainfall. Use gutters to direct rainwater away from the drain field, and make sure your landscaping encourages water to flow away from it, too. Plant trees away from the septic system Tree roots can wreak havoc on a septic system. Large roots can puncture a septic tank, crack the pipes, and clog the drain field. To avoid this, plant trees at least 100 feet away from your septic system. Pump the tank when needed If your scum and sludge levels get too high between maintenance, you may need to have the tank pumped more frequently. If you notice an unusual odor, see new pools of water outside, or if multiple household drains become slow, it might be time to call your local septic service provider. Maintain and inspect your system regularly The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that most households should have their septic system serviced every three years. But it’s a good idea to perform septic tank maintenance yearly. The septic inspector should give you a copy of the maintenance notes so you can keep a record of how high your scum and sludge levels are. The inspector will also check for leaks, determine how well your leach field is draining, and recommend any needed repairs. Don’t do this … Don’t use bleach, drain opener, or harsh chemicals Millions of tiny little microbes break down solid waste and keep your septic system running smoothly. The health of these tiny bacteria determines how quickly and efficiently solids can be broken down and flushed out into the drain field. Harsh chemicals like drain cleaners, bleach, and chemical disinfectants can kill these healthy bacteria and put the brakes on your waste disposal. Instead, choose septic-safe products or cleaners with environmentally friendly, natural ingredients. Don’t flush toxic chemicals Hazardous waste, like paint thinner, gasoline, nail polish remover, and motor oil can pollute groundwater. Dispose of these liquids in a safe and environmentally friendly way instead of flushing them down the toilet or pouring them down the sink. Don’t park vehicles over the septic system Just because your septic system is underground doesn’t mean it’s strong enough to handle tons of weight on top of it. Driving heavy vehicles over your septic system or parking on top of it can crack the tank, break lines, and compress the layers in your drain field. Don’t flush hygiene products or other non-dissolving materials down the toilet Have you ever had to unclog a plugged toilet because someone flushed something that wasn’t flushable? Just like toilets, septic systems can get clogged, too. Don’t flush feminine hygiene products into your septic system, and use lightweight toilet paper (it dissolves easier). Don’t use your septic system as a garbage can, either—this not only wastes water but can put undue stress on the balance of your septic system. Throw those squished spiders away instead of flushing them! One final note Part of living a sustainable lifestyle means being a steward of the land. You are responsible for what you produce and the waste products you create—and how you dispose of them. If you have a healthy septic system, you can effectively dispose of organic (bodily) waste. By utilizing a variety of systems to eliminate household waste and wastewater—such as installing a gray water system, composting kitchen scraps, and conserving water—you can keep your septic tank healthy for years to come. Want more off-grid ideas and essential skills? Check out all our posts in Unplug!

  • How Gardening Relieves Stress and Helps You Unwind

    This site is supported by our audience. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend products I love and/or use. If you’ve ever experienced the pleasure of picking home-grown vegetables or creating a bouquet of flowers from your yard, you may already know how much joy comes from harvesting something you grew. But science has discovered that gardening provides benefits greater than just food on the table and pretty flowers. Gardening relieves stress. Gardening can reduce cortisol levels, help you live longer, and reduce the risk of dementia. If those aren’t enough reasons to get your hands dirty, here are eight ways gardening is good for your health. Physical exercise Gardening is a type of physical exercise. Pulling weeds, turning soil, and pushing a wheelbarrow all burn calories. In fact, gardening has been shown to burn up to 300 calories in less than an hour! Sunshine and vitamin D We all need a little vitamin D, but most of us spend so much time indoors that we don’t receive enough sunlight for our bodies to produce the vitamin D we need. Spending time in the garden can provide us with the sun exposure our skin requires to metabolize vitamin D. On top of that, sunshine helps strengthen our bones (so does exercise!) and triggers our brains to produce serotonin—a natural antidepressant. Mental health Because the sunlight exposure we get while gardening helps our brains produce serotonin, it can help alleviate depression. Sunlight is often recommended in cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Gardening also provides a healthy outlet for built-up tension, worries, and stress. Using gardening as a stress relief tool can improve your mood and give you quiet moments to relax as you watch your plants grow. Soil microbes You might not enjoy the thought of billions of tiny microbes hiding in the garden soil you’re putting your hands into, but these soil microbes can benefit your health and boost your immune system. Master gardeners know that soil health directly affects garden health. And healthy soil is teeming with friendly bacteria (like Mycobacterium vaccae) that act as a helper to plants and people alike. Sense of accomplishment There’s something wonderful about knowing you can provide for yourself. Being able to put food on the table isn’t just something our grandparents used to do, and you don’t have to be a farmer to supplement your pantry. An herb garden can be grown outside or on a kitchen windowsill and adds freshness and flavor to your meals. A flower garden adds beauty to your yard—talk about curb appeal!—and brightness to the bouquets you display in your home. Creativity If you think gardening is strictly about planting vegetables in rows, think again! Gardens are a creative outlet where you can express yourself through the vibrancy of life and color. Try planting a fairy garden, complete with fairy houses, tiny fairy furniture, and mushrooms. How about a salsa garden that includes all the ingredients you need to make your special summertime hot sauce? You can also find new ways to upscale old items in the garden. Plant a rainboot filled with succulents, or purposefully tip a broken wheelbarrow on its side and arrange colorful blooming plants in a way that looks like they’ve spilled out alongside your garden path. Mindfulness Gardening is a tactile experience. When we immerse ourselves in an activity that includes multiple senses—holding gardening tools, smelling the damp soil, seeing the colors of freshly planted flowers—it becomes easier to let go of past and future worries and live in the moment. Add beauty to your space Whether you have a large garden in the backyard or a variety of houseplants artfully arranged along an indoor windowsill, plants add beauty and interest to our living spaces. A small windowsill garden can brighten up a room without breaking the bank. And an apartment balcony is the perfect spot for a fun container garden. One more thing ... Studies show that viewing gardens (as well as working in them) helps us to relax. Gardeners of all ages and abilities have testified to the physical and mental health benefits of gardening for stress relief. Need a gift idea for your favorite gardener (or want to encourage someone to get started with their garden)? You might enjoy this gifts for gardeners post, too! Not ready to start a garden of your own? You can still benefit from being around plants. Visit a garden center and admire the beautiful colors and plants that are available for sale. You might just gather enough inspiration to start planning your ideal future gardening experience.

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