Sewing My Shorts

and other tales of learning to conserve more during a crisis

“Well, SHIT.

My right index finger jabbed through a brand new hole just under the waistband of a pair of my favorite gym shorts. I don’t have many left. The bulk of what I own is boxed up in a storage unit well east of here in Aurora. My duds and all the rest of my stuff were supposed to be well on their way to Oregon about now.


What I have in the house isn’t much. Most of it, barring a few pieces of staging furniture, is what I had in my backpack from five weeks in Africa. A few other pieces were for my house-hunting trip. I have a bed, my dining room table and chairs, and not much else. At least, my computers, and thank god, my exercise gear. Some of it anyway.

And of course, scuba gear. Which is precisely what you and I need in high desert country. Of course it is. So many places to go spear-fishing. View high-altitude stag-horn coral.

Lately I have had to make a number of trips to my local Goodwill. There I bought back some previously-donated-but-never-read books, a bunch of old DVDs, and some badly-battered cooking equipment. And a fork.

It is really, really hard to eat fried eggs with a spoon, especially a plastic one. I had a few utensils in my car from takeout. You learn to deal. You eat with your fingers if you need to. Get over it. Besides it’s really fun to get messy. Billions eat that way.

Yesterday I was going to make my big one-pot dish of summer squash, ground turkey, mushrooms and spag sauce.

However, I didn’t have a pot.

Back to Goodwill. What a superb lesson in what we take for granted.

Given the scarcity of toilet paper, I’ve learned to use one or two sheets at a time. I’ve always been one of those idiots who whips off half a roll for two drops of pee. Don’t ask why. I think I got that from my mother. Sometimes we just do stupid shit.

Until we can’t do that stupid shit any more, which is why I agree with many Medium writers that there are indeed silver linings. We can learn a great deal about our habits by being housebound, and being forced to be mindful of what and how much we consume.

I thought I was doing a fair job of conserving. Actually, not as much as I could have done, and am now doing. You learn.

You’d be surprised how many times you can re-use a clean but damp paper towel. Long before conservation became a thing, an old family friend used to do that. The gesture struck me, and I’ve been doing it since. Saves a lot of paper. Rags are also good. While adventuring, the ubiquitous bandana is the undisputed Ruler of Most Useful Things.

My bandana has protected my breathing, dried my dishes, dried my body, kept me from bleeding to death, washed my body, removed spots. That is one hell of a useful piece of cloth. It’s even covered my face while robbing my local Wells Fargo, but please don’t tell anyone. I took their toilet paper. They can keep the money.

I don’t have a single plastic bottle of water in the house or the garage. I am beyond understanding why there was such a run on water, which does little more than guarantee billions of extra plastic dumped into the environment. Alternatively, and this is a lot easier, I am using the Steri-pen that I’ve had for nearly ten years. NatGeo loves them, and so do I. It doesn’t make your water clear or taste better. But you can drink anything it sterilizes even if it does taste crappy. You do have to have a supply of the right batteries- but to me, that’s a lot smarter and more thoughtful than billions of empty plastic bottles which does little more than make Nestle richer and our environment poorer. Besides, for now my tap water is just fine.

I have chipped plates, one bowl, one cup, one of everything. Granted, I live alone, but you can see the advantage. These take me seconds to hand wash, which is what we’re supposed to be doing anyway, and seconds to dry. The process is meditative. So is hand-sewing. It won’t be pretty but it will be functional, and that’s all I care about.

I like fixing things. Makes me feel useful. Of course since I packed away my thimble (oldsters will know the reference) I am making plenty of holes in my left thumb.

Enter: bandana. See?

Some many weeks ago I cancelled my trash pickup, because I was to be gone by now. That really pushes me to limit my garbage. Paper, plastic, etc. The containers I can re-use, like big yogurt tubs, are currently in play. I don’t have a garden to compost for, but if I’m going to be here a good long time, I’ll be starting one. Some of you have been doing that for a long time. Since most of my plants have learned to lean as far away from me as possible when I show up in the yard with a pair of pruning shears, having rich compost in hand might repair that relationship.

Maybe. My flowers found out years ago that I had no idea that a milkweed was indeed a weed, and that some of the later-blooming flowers were not. (Here comes that mindless moron with the shears again. Lean over and look dead)

You learn. Well, sort of. In my family, Mom was the gardener. I tended the animals. Both the plants and animals survived and thrived. Reverse the roles and not only would we not have had horses and cows, there would have been no vegetables or flowers.

I have learned to use far less detergent in my wash. Far fewer washes. And since I do adventure travel, hand-washing my duds comes naturally. Again, keeps the hands clean. Besides, here in Colorado, stuff dries really fast. We also have high winds this time of year so if you put it outside, put a rock on it.

There are countless ways that I am finding- because I am minding- to be less wasteful. Rinsing and re-using zip-lock bags, for example. In the wilderness they are a precious commodity. You don’t discard them- you clean, repair and save them. Now I’m doing it at home. I’ve got more repair tape than plastic on some of those bags, but they still work.

If you sport a hole in the only pair of pants you’ve got on a trip, you fix them. Amazon doesn’t airdrop to the middle of the Muskwa-Kechika Wilderness in Northern Canada. You fix things.

Because, kindly, holes are where bad boys can crawl in and bite. If you’ve ever had a pissed-off spider bite you in the ass crack (and I have, not recommended) you learn to sew up the holes in your jeans.

You can’t have masses of garbage in the wild. Nor do you just burn it, because that creates a different kind of pollution. You pack accordingly, and you pack out accordingly. Leave No Trace, an idea that’s been around for a very long time, has a very different meaning these days.

In fact, I might posit that what LNT teaches has long been a prophetic message for far more than just the wild country.

Spring is snow time here in Colorado, so it’s going to be a bit before I can open all my windows. I much prefer the outside air, sounds and breezes to the air conditioning. Well, until it hits about 85 degrees, at least, and gets unbearable. My electrical bill improved mightily when I cut way back some years ago. I do the same in my car. I grew up without a/c, in Florida, where people sprint from an icy car to an icy home or office. Here in Denver it’s a breeze.

I prefer the breeze.

Uses less fuel.

It intrigues me that some of the habits I have in the wild didn’t always translate to my everyday life. Now, in some ways, not only are they useful, they’re necessary. It’s not an inconvenience at all. Just small, regular actions. Multiplied by millions or billions, they sure can add up.

That, of course, is the whole point. Small daily efforts by each of us, multiplied by more of us, and over time, add up to huge improvements. Ask any Mother Jones reader. I’ll bet a whole lot of us wish we’d been reading MJ for a lot longer.

People who cannot afford luxuries like dishwashers, clothes washing machines and dryers and the conveniences that you and I might take for granted do all these things all the time. Additionally, they save all kinds of things the rest of us toss: nails, screws, bits of wire or twist wire, plastic food containers, you name it. You can’t begin to know how useful those things are when you don’t have a Wally World down the street (there are no streets) and even if you did, you wouldn’t have the money to go there.

When I am in developing countries I am always gobsmacked at how inventively people use castoffs. We’d be well-advised to learn to do the same, even in small measure.

Learning to Macgyver basics around the campfire or wilderness trip could save your life. Doing it around the house during a lock down teaches damned good skills, and saves a lot of materials and money. Besides, it’s hugely entertaining and it keeps the kids out of the cupboards where you stashed your extra chocolate supplies.

Well, look, I did. I can’t survive without chocolate almonds. A girl can only give up so much.

You and I can make a lot of the time in our homes by watching what we use, how much we use, and the waste our actions cause. Sometimes enforced containment creates a heightened awareness. Sure has for me. I’m nowhere near as conservation-savvy as I thought.

My guess is that this would apply to many of us.

However I’m fortunate that in many cases it was simply dipping more deeply into the habits I’ve built living in tents. Doesn’t matter that I could have been doing this more often. What does matter is that I am indeed doing it now.

Look. My repairs are horrible. Ugly. Obvious. I don’t give a shit. They work. I can’t go to my local TJ Maxx and buy another. None of us can right now.

Got holes? Get sewing kit. All the pharmacies stock them. Pretty useful in a pinch, when Amazon is shipping tea, not T-shirts.

Let’s teach ourselves and our kids better conservation habits. In my book, this is one of the silver linings. We will need them going forward in ways we may not yet foresee. I may very well need my scuba gear in the near future.

For a simply superb read from a remarkable young woman about how tough the wilderness really can be, and what she learned, see:

I recommend her other stuff, too. She’s a lot younger than I am, and I admire the holy shit out of her. She is my kind of badass chick.

We can all learn to be far more badass by being more outdoorsy while inside. I’m finding that so many of the lessons I’ve learned on the trail have translated to my empty house. This is just one genuinely fun way you get your kids engaged with the “adventure” of being inside, while you and the fam learning to be more environmentally conscious.

Whatever you do, get bandanas. There’s only one use for them that I don’t recommend. I’ll leave it up to you to figure that one out.

Horizon Huntress, prize-winning author, adventure traveler, boundary-pusher, wilder, veteran, aging vibrantly. I own my sh*t. Let’s play!

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