Low Input Projects

It is easy to get fixated on the big things that you need to do to have an impact.  You need to build a barn, buy a higher-mileage vehicle, pay down the mortgage, build a three month stash of food.  These are big or biggish projects, and often they depend on you finding time and energy and money in a world where those resources are limited.

I notice that when I'm fixated on big projects I can't get done, I tend to ignore smaller ones that would be really useful.  If I don't have time or energy or money for the big things on my list, I can forget the other kinds of projects - low input, high impact projects.

What's a low-input project?  Something that doesn't cost much in terms of time and energy, but returns pleasure, comfort, greater security or preparedness.  It could be as simple as caulking the doors in the winter - and saving money on your heating bill and being more comfortable.  You may want sheep, but don't realize that a pair of bunnies could get you started in the fiber or meat animal business where you are - before you can afford acreage.  Maybe you've been putting off a minor project.  Maybe you picked up something a while ago that you could use - but you've never really practiced with it.  Maybe you've been too shy to bring up with your neighbor the possibility you might share resources to cut down on your impact or expand your garden.  Maybe you've always sort of known a community resource was there, but never checked it out.

I always ask my AIP students to make a list of low-input, high impact projects they might work on, but I had a great reminder of how important that is to us the other day.  We had a short term power outage due to a thunderstorm (sadly, not much rain), and while I was sitting at dinner in the semi-darkness I remembered something.  Last fall, at a yard sale I'd picked up four beautiful mirrored wall sconces, complete with candles, for just this situation - candles are a little iffy with so many children and cats, but attached to the wall, they are safer.  But did I run out and put them up on the wall (a 10 minute project, using tools I own) when I bought them?  Nope, those sconces have been helpfully lying in a box for 10 months, through four power outages.

They aren't the only thing like that - when I clear out, declutter or take a look at my own underused resources, I find that there are plenty of things I could be doing right now to make my life work better with less energy - that don't require money (or much) or large chunks of time.  I make a list and there are 30 items on it, and I could easily come up with more.  My excuse for not doing them - well, the usual time sucks.  But now they are at the forefront of my mind.

I don't think I'm the only one - it is great to have the big projects in mind, but it is worthwhile to remember that it isn't jut the devil that is in the details, and often we can be doing much more than we have been.  I'm going to put those sconces up now.  What's your next low-input, high-output project?


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Once again, I'm loving the juxaposition of "low input projects" with scienceblogs ad choice, GMC SUV lease.

By Susan in NJ (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Porsche Boxster for me :-)

Thanks, Sharon, for the reminder to think of the high-value, low-effort projects. That's pretty much all I have energy for these days, anyway.

A battery-powered LED mason jar chandellier for every day use is next in the project queue, I think.

By BlissfulBee (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

It’s winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, and it has been an unusually cold one. I have been focussing on small projects that will help the house retain heat. I’ve been fitting plastic film insulation to the wooden frame windows room by room. It has definitely decreased the amount of condensation by a significant amount, and the rooms are noticeably warmer. Unfortunately it is not cat proof ;-)
Next project is to get a door I bought at a salvage yard installed – my kitchen/dining area has no door, and gets very cold. Having a door will mean I can heat the area without all the heat going straight out the back door.
I also got some shelves made for an internal cupboard that wasn’t being used much, so now I have a large pantry and my stored food is out from under the bed, where the cans were inclined to rust.

By sealander (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Sealander, you are so right about plastic window film not being cat proof! Our cat shredded it into long strips!

We have a list of things we've been given or purchased 2nd hand that would be good to practice now:
- set up the metal can rocket stove
- set up the car window reflector solar oven
- set up 3 compost bins and worm bin
- assemble mason jar vegetable oil lamps
- set up all the rain barrels
- try out crank radio and flashlights

Lisa H.

I reorganized our bug-out bags into a large plastic tub in the back of the coat closet. There is a rope from the tub to a hook on the closet door. In an emergency, you pull the rope to haul the bucket out - and it can be done in the dark by touch. The whole tub can go right out the front door in a moment, so the bags can be handed around outside in a dire emergency like a fire. I also switched to a reel mower this summer, and that has worked out well. We got used to it and it uses no non-renewable resources. I am going to look for another backup mower at yard sales - the one we are using is antique and will wear out one day.

Sealander and Lisa...that is so odd...we have four cats and not one has even touched the plastic film. And we have a couple who love to shred furniture. Maybe it';s because our sills are so deep (12 to 18 inches, depending on the window).

My cat does tend to attack anything that he feels is interfering with his view from the windowsill, including curtains :)
I have placed large decorative jars in front of the most vulnerable windows now so that he can't sit directly in front of the window frame and that seems to be working so far.

By sealander (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Decluttering to make more organized space for the useful items I have been collecting, such as canning supplies is next up. There are a number of space management-type projects needed soon, such as setting up a sturdy, level place for rocket stoves outside and setting up a space outdoors for washing laundry.

I tend to get caught up in big projects - starting a garden, decluttering and reorganizing the apartment - so this is a good reminder to focus on some of the smaller things. Right now, my list includes setting up tubs for growing "micro-greens" indoors this winter and going through my many cookbooks to find some new recipes to start using up and rotating some of my food storage.

By Wayfinder (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

I'm setting up to do most of my laundry at home, by hand, bypassing the laundromat (and the drive there). I'll probably still need to use the laundromat for sheets - no outside drying space - but we'll see.

I'm learning more about fermenting foods, so that I can preserve food with minimal energy inputs.

Biking more. I've arranged my life and schedule so that I only have to drive three days a week - I walk or take the bus the rest of the time. And with further effort, I might be able to eliminate two of those.

Next I want to learn to use the rocket stove I bought a while back. And find a place to set up my solar oven where it won't make the neighbors complain (I live in an apartment with no patio/balcony. But I do have a small "front lawn" of sorts.)

Man, Sharon, I SO desperately need you to come here (bring your family) and kick some butt.

Your point with this post is exactly our problem. I've got a whole squad of people focused on global projects- but... um... it starts out with doing little piddly stuff. Which they call "little piddly stuff". Which is, I point out, how it starts...


Getting little stuff GOING, then automatic, is where money comes from, for one thing. But getting it from zero to auto is like pulling teeth. Particularly around here.

I understand you need to take a break? :-) You guys really need a good camping trip, right?

I did a couple of such projects already this summer, inspired by the need and opportunity put in front of me by the heat and drought we are experiencing

One was using our solar oven much more often to heat water for tea and for other cooking/baking tasks. With all the sunshine and so little rain I can use the solar oven almost every day, so this has been easy to do. Doing it has me in the habit, so I will be more likely to do so should we get into a more typical weather pattern (does such a thing exist in the Midwest?) in the future.

The other is reusing the graywater from doing dishes and washing clothes. A siphon tube and 5 gallon bucket, already on hand, were all that was required to siphon out the used wash and rinse water from the kitchen sinks and dump them onto shrubs and trees needing water. Reusing the washing machine water needed the antique washtub we already own (bought cheap at a garage sale), but it took more experimentation to figure out how to attach the outlet hose from the washer to the washtub (a three inch C clamp did the trick). I couldn't find a plug to fit the washtub drain, but luckily I saw a photo of a new washtub in Lehman's catalog showing the drain hose hooked over the edge of the tub so a plug isn't needed. The drain hose on our tub is a little too short to reach the top of the tub, but I improvised a hook with a curtain hook placed over the tub edge and a rubber band looped around the end of the hose and hooked onto the curtain hook. Then I dipped the bucket into the washtub when it was pretty full or unhooked the drain hose and directed it into the bucket to empty the washtub of its accumulated water. Contents of said bucket were then dumped onto said shrubs/trees.

Next project: learning to make my own salves.

Sealander, At first I thought you said "car" proof.....