What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Almost the lowest tech washing machine

We’ve settled into the routine of making the house livable here at sustliving central in Hickory NC. There is much cleaning to be done, some painting will be required after the eventual necessary renovation work, and the mammoth task of converting the suburban lawn to raised beds, fruit orchards, chicken habitat, ponds and biomass plantings has begun.

But while all this is going on we must take care of basic needs, food shopping (the fridge was filthy but functional), cooking (the cooker was covered in grime but still works), bathing (again, dirty but serviceable), and doing laundry (unfortunately our laundry room is shot, mold in the walls, broken taps, torn lino, peeling paint, and moldy blinds). The washer dryer unit is stored in the walk-in crawlspace below and we haven’t had the man power to move it, nor would we want to install it without redoing the laundry room, a task that will have to wait. This left us with a dilemma, how to wash clothes without spending too much time, and as we seem to be heading into the now normal summer drought, too much water in the process. I thought I would employ a method I heard about when I lived aboard a boat that utilizes two simple common items, a 5 gallon bucket and a toilet plunger. I found the bucket down in the crawlspace but couldn’t find one of the 2 plungers I had left with the house. Pondering my options, I moved on to other jobs.

The first major job to be done in the yard is to cut back some of the southern magnolia grove. The main trunk of the tree is a good 18” in diameter and it is surrounded by upwards of 30 leaders varying in size from 1/2” to 10” in diameter. I’ll cut about a quarter of these out including some of the largest ones which will give me timber for the raised beds as well as lots of poles and sticks and tons of leaves. The lowest boughs of this magnolia community sweep the ground in a circle probably 20’ across forming a closed space within. I’m taking out a small bit facing into my garden giving me a view of the interior of this green room, and creating a small overhung shady cove to place a garden bench. As I cut into the first branches and got a look inside I spied various bits of trash; bottles, boxes, beer cans, and lo and behold a plunger! A very strange thing to find deep within a magnolia grove  but I didn’t give it much thought and marched straight to the hose and washed it off. I half filled the bucket with cold water, added a touch of Seventh Generation eco soap, dropped in the clothes, and plunged away. I figured I’d leave the bucket on the porch and instructed Jacqui to give it a go whenever she passed the bucket, I would do the same. I now returned to my tree trimming.

I cut a few more leaders and found a few more bits of trash and whaddya know, another plunger! So now both plungers were accounted for. I must admit I was quite perplexed as to how these two ended up in the leaf litter in this private little space but I didn’t take time to cogitate on this until I spied a third plunger! Now this was getting weird.

Over the preceding 8 years the house had been rented by 3 families with every age of child. Some of the parents had various issues; unemployment, drink, drugs, divorce. Now I got up to some goofy stuff when I was a kid but I really can’t imagine what would spark someone to take a serious of toilet plungers into the trees. I don’t think I want to think about it anymore. Let’s get back to my almost lowest tech washing machine.

I say “almost” because I have washed my clothes in a less labour intensive way before. When I lived on the boat I would sometimes put my dirty clothes in a stout mesh bag, tie them securely to a long line and toss them overboard when I went sailing. The constant action of being pulled through the briny waves around Bermuda usually did the trick, it was important to rinse thoroughly, however, with fresh water.

This new method involves about 23 hours of soaking in weak soapy water with the occasional plunging from passersby (I even enlisted my quizzical young niece and nephew), then I pour the water on my shrubs and toss the clothes in the shower. When I join the clothes in the tub I push them away from me and the drain and rinse myself thoroughly (this was especially important today as I spent a good portion of it shovelling very dry well composted horse manure in a fairly high wind, I ended up with horse shit powder all over me), when I soap up I pull the clothes under my feet at which point I begin a little shower dance on them to pound out the dirt. I push them over the drain as I rinse and pound them some more in the soapy water. After a good rinsing I wring them out and hang them on the line (as we are in the suburbs I am careful to get dressed first). This shower stage is something I have practiced in various situations for many years and it has been just barely passable, I find that the bucket, plunger and soak stage makes all the difference, today as Jacqui took the clothes off the line she commented on how they smelled “spring fresh”.

So I’m chuffed about this simple machine; low tech, practically free, and water saving to boot, but I still can’t stop wondering about those 3 toilet plungers abandoned in the trees...

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