Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Compost is Life

There is an old saying, "You can't fit 100 pounds of fertilizer in a 50-pound sack."

No, but you can fit 100 pounds of kitchen scraps in a 50-pound compost sack. If you have ever witnessed the miracle of compost, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you have not, please allow me to expound.

When a person places fresh organic material in direct contact with the earth, the earth begins slowly decomposing the material by mechanical and biological means. The earthworms and grub worms that enter the pile chew, swallow, digest, and excrete the material. The result is what is known as "worm castings" or, in street lingo, worm poop. In addition, microbial organisms also begin to consume and digest the material, but only certain elements of it. The chemical reactions the microbes initiate release heat, which is why you may see steam rising from the pile. Or, if you've ever dumped out your lawn clippings in a pile and come back to work with them several hours later, you'll notice the middle of the pile is very warm. That is because of the composting action of the microbes. All of this happens within the pile probably in a different order than I've described, but I know these processes do occur in the pile because I have pictorial proof.

When organic material is finished breaking down, the result is compost. The result is also a much smaller pile than the one you started with. This is because as the pile breaks down the material compacts very neatly. This phenomenon is very interesting because many times I have gone to add new material to a compost pile and stacked it up to the very top of the bin. Then within a few days, the pile has sunk down to just a few inches higher than it was before I added the new material.

Compost, I have found, is a wonderful analogy for life, both in terms of how we manage our space and how we manage our time. Allow me once again to rehearse.

First, in one of my previous posts I discussed time management as a possible solution to the problem of whether to return to college and still be able to manage my household. Current theory holds that if I take a major portion of one day per week to complete the bulk of my work for the week, I will have more time later in the week to work on home improvement and family time. For this theory to work in practice, I would have to identify and eliminate time wasters and start really packing every minute of my day with a meaningful activity.

The second example I have comes from my experience in rearranging things in my house for my new child. I am most proud of what I have done in my bedroom. Before we had a king sized loft bed, under which we kept our dresser and some shelves for food storage and linens, etc. That took up probably 80% of our floor space, and we couldn't use the rest of the room for anything worthwhile except stuffing a baby crib in the corner by the closet.

We decided to move our son out of the one room in our house that was being used as a kids' room and open up the office to become his bedroom. The first thing we knew had to go from our room was our bed. So we went to Ikea to get some ideas. MAN was I blown away by the ideas they had for utilizing space effectively. We found a futon mattress we both loved, and our original plan was to just place it on the floor at night and lay it against the wall during the day to use the extra floor space. We were amazed to find how comfortable we really were on this mattress, which is between full and queen sizes. When we got married, we got a king bed as soon as we could, thinking it was going to be the most pleasant, most comfortable, etc. Typical American excess. This mattress is probably 60% as big and provides 100% of the same comfort. What's more is that we were able to fit a small desk and bookshelf in our room--a two-piece set we also bought from Ikea.

We bought some cloth-covered fiberboard boxes that were designed to be drawer inserts for another bookshelf and moved all our clothing into these boxes. I built some shelves for the boxes in the closet. We both have four boxes now. These boxes provide way more clothing storage space than our dresser did, even though they take up less space in our bedroom. We put all the clothes from our dresser in the boxes along with some clothing that was previously hung up, and we still have room left over in the boxes. Because our clothing boxes are sitting on the floor in the closet, we hung our shoes on the newly created space on the clothing bar using two five-dollar shoe organizers--also compliments of Ikea.

Finally, I hung some hooks and a single shelf on the wall right inside our bedroom door so that we now have a place to hang up our bags and purses and place our keys out of the way of the children and out of our closet.

So...we axed the dresser and the loft bed. All our clothing is now efficiently stored in our closet, AND we added a desk and a bookshelf. The result is that our room feels so much more open and roomy. We are even able to leave the mattress lying on the floor all the time without feeling crowded. It is a combination office and bedroom, and it's only a 14'x10' room!

When I saw what I was able to do with a 140 sq ft bedroom simply by not desiring excessive stuff and making use of all available space, I was shocked! I immediately began to think of the compost pile and how, despite the fact that I keep adding buckets and buckets of material to it, it never seems to fill up the bin after it's all done decomposing. I think of my house now like a compost pile. It may seem full now, but when I get done dejunking and compacting my stuff, I will find a lot more room opened up.

I've been really transferring this thinking to every room in the house. Our bathtub is a huge waste of space. Luckily it's broken, so I removed it today, and sometime in the future I am going to build a standup shower only and use the remaining space to store linens. The bathtub in the hall will one day become two shower stalls, and the four-foot wide sink countertop will become two sinks. Our kitchen is hardly big enough for us to walk around in with the dining table in it--that is with all the chairs we have surrounding it. If I build benches for all four sides of the 4'x3' table, we could fit ten people at that table, and it wouldn't be so hard to walk from the counter to the fridge to prepare dinner.

With the way all this is going, I really believe I could raise up to eight kids in this house before we really had to move. This is a 900 sq ft house, mind you. It's a 70'x14' mobile home. Now, I'm not saying I'm going to force fit all those people here if it really doesn't work...but that's just IT! I think it really CAN! I mean, just a couple weeks ago I really believed there wasn't any more room in my house for one more child. Now I'm thinking of doubling the usable facilities in my bathroom. We found a cot mattress at Ikea that would sleep an adult comfortably even though it is smaller than a twin mattress. Hey--it's no different than asking two adults to sleep in a queen bed--do the math! So we could build bed frames for these mattresses, and our kids could sleep on these beds into their maturity. If we put six bunks in one room and three in the other, we could even fit NINE kids in here!

Now I know it all sounds crazy. Emily and I do want a big family. We want to have ten kids. We talk about that number regularly. We may even have more. Or we may have less, depending on what God has in store for us. What I'm getting really excited about is that there seem to be limitless possibilities for me here in this house. I was really worried about having to add on rooms or move sometime in the near future, and in a few years when we're financially able, we will probably do just that. But for now, it is so exciting and reassuring to know that we can invest in some minimal furniture and alterations and still be able to live comfortably here. Our philosophy is that the kitchen and the living room are where families spend their time at home. The bedrooms are for sleeping and dressing, and that's it. Later when our kids will need a place to study or just have a quiet place, we may build a small office in the back yard. But again--all this is exciting because I know I have a lot of time left before I have to do something major. And, I must admit, meeting the challenge of figuring this out and making it work is a lot of fun.

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