Movement ecology

It’s been a while since I’ve written in the blog. Life has engulfed my family with many changes and challenges: we are expecting an addition this spring, my oldest has started school, my youngest has gotten really involved in dance and painting. I’ve gone through an emergency surgery during the first trimester. The garden beckoned with its bounty to be harvested and structures being prepared for winter. Two children’s birthdays and Halloween have been celebrated, and now I have a craft fair to prepare for. Boredom does not get a foothold.

I’ve just listened to a thought-provoking podcast by Katy Bowman, and realized I  have to write about it. Katy takes the discussion on nutritious movement further to the concept of movement ecology. The core idea is that if you don’t have to move to achieve something, someone else does/did/will have to. As an example, Katy uses making tea with tea bags versus tea leaves: it takes more effort to steep tea leaves and strain the tea than it does to throw a tea bag into a cup and pour water on it. Someone had to put the leaves in the bag (whether that it was done by people or machinery) and package them in order for us not to have to. Someone had to invent, test, and manufacture the first tea bag. We can take that example further to the need to grow and harvest the tea leaves. The fact that we don’t have to means that someone else did.

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The movement required to achieve a task may involve people, animals, machinery, inventions. It can span years or even centuries — something that has been invented over a 100 years ago is simplifying our lives today, sparing us the movements needed to achieve the same task without the helpful invention. Before we could take a train, thousands of people had to move to invent, perfect, and build the engines, the stations and the railroads. Without their movements, we would have to ride horses and carriages. Without people who moved to build carriages and raise horses, we would have to walk.

If we look at movement from this standpoint, we can see what movements we are NOT doing. If you are using a stroller, you are not carrying your baby. If you are using a baby carrier, you are engaging your body differently than if you were carrying your baby in your arms. The baby gets a different load on their tissues and bones based on how they are carried. In the modern Western society and its nuclear families, we have to resort to carriers or strollers, as we cannot possibly be holding the baby 24/7 in our arms — we need to eat, sleep, take care of ourselves and other family members. In other societies, multiple adults might be holding the baby letting the mother take care of other needs, or the baby might be riding on a mother’s hip in a carrier all through the day as she goes about her work, or the baby might be stuck in a crib for a large part of the day. In every case, the loads on the mother’s body and the baby’s body are affected by various devices, family structure and needs, work and home requirements. In every case, the movement our bodies go through are affected by movement done or not done by someone or something else. Someone had to invent a stroller, create it, test it, package and market it, ship it to a store, thus allowing us to use it to avoid the need to hold the baby in our arms for long periods of time.

We can buy food at a grocery store or we can grow our own in a garden. First task would involve driving/walking/cycling to a store, picking out food, paying for it, and getting back home. Second task would involve multiple activities of tilling, mulching, weeding, bending, squatting, seeding, planting, watering, harvesting. Both ways work to get the end product. The movement involved in either is different. In order for us to be able to get food at the store, someone else had to do all the movement involved in growing food and getting it into the store for us to find. They might have done it by hand, with tools or machines. There was movement done by someone else involved in creating, building, and selling the machines or tools. If we are not walking to the store, we’d take into account the movements needed to create our vehicle, infrastructure to support it, activities needed to maintain and fuel it, all done by other people throughout many years.

Once we realize what movements ultimately need to be done to achieve any task and realize how much of those movements we are outsourcing, we can consciously choose which tasks we still want outsourced and which we’d rather perform ourselves. Getting food from a store requires certain movements. Growing food provides a variety of different movements that shape our bodies differently and provide a different life experience. Which is more important to you — saving time needed to acquire food for other movements or fully embracing all the movements that come with growing food?

Cooking is another good example — there is a wide range of acquiring a meal: takeout, warming up a packaged meal, eating a raw meal, cooking from partially-ready ingredients, or preparing your ingredients by hand from raw materials (think grinding your own flour). If you don’t need to grind your flour or milk a cow to acquire milk, someone else had to perform those movements. Are you willing to grind the spices by hand and make curry from scratch? It takes varied movement, creates a more flavourful meal and engages the body in seldom-used motions. It does, however, take more time. Do you really want something? Are you willing to maximize the movement required to get it? Are you willing to walk to a store to get raw foods, then prepare the ingredients, then create a meal? Do you want that meal bad enough? All these questions we can consider within the framework of movement ecology.

This post is barely scratching the surface — there are so many implications to consider, and I’m looking forward to Katy’s new book Movement Matters (coming out in mid-November) that talks about movement ecology in more depth. The more we think about sustainability, natural movement, the way our lifestyles affect our movement and thus our health, the more obvious it is that these questions need to be considered on more than a personal level. We need to think of movements within groups of people and their impact on the world.

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Unpacking Tips

I have been unfolding after the move – I feel like a wound spiral that is finally let go. I have my own place, where my decisions will be long-lived and I am free to make them, independent of any landlord. There are so many things I’d like to improve and touch up. But first I need to unpack everything and organize the necessities without significant impact to daily routines on which the children depend. So here is what worked for me:

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Unpacking tips

Unpack essentials first:

  1. Soap and towels need to be there even during the move, so that people can wash and dry their hands.
  2. Kitchen – food, freezer food, cutlery, plates, pots, openers, storage containers. It helps to cook and freeze a few meals in advance.
  3. Napkins, tissues, and toilet paper stashed in abundance everywhere they are likely to be needed, so you don’t have to go through boxes to find a roll of toilet paper or a napkin with a messy baby in your arms.
  4. Daily care essentials: toothpaste and toothbrushes, shampoo, combs.
  5. A few toys and children’s books
  6. Bedding

Easy way to determine essentials: go through your typical weekday and your typical weekend day, list everything each family member will definitely or likely need. Ensure to unpack those things first (ideally you’d pack them last and they are in an easily accessible location). Keys, wallet, documents, diapers, wipes, changes of clothes for the kids and adults, medication/supplements, lunch boxes, water bottles and whatever else will be needed on a daily basis.

On the day of the move, make beds and set out changes of clothes and bath supplies/toys — bath time and bed time are not going to wait. In our case, this meant setting up two change tables (one upstairs and one downstairs) for the baby with diapers, cloth wipes, spray bottle with wipe solution and clothing. For the older child, we put a dresser into his wardrobe and filled it with several pairs of pants, t-shirts, underwear and socks.

Determine where the large pieces of furniture, appliances and electronics will be and set them up as soon as you can. Until that’s done, tackling boxes is hard, since you have nowhere to unpack them into. It also helps to not be tripping over the furniture haphazardly strewn throughout the house.

Once essentials are unpacked, determine your priorities, taking into account any timelines. For example:

I work from home, so I needed my desk with the computer, printer, phone, and the Internet connection set up.

I run a handmade jewellery business from home, so I needed my beading and packaging supplies unpacked and set out for easy access in the first couple of days, to not disrupt filling Etsy orders. (Curiously enough, after a week with no orders prior to our move, the only day we did not have an Internet connection, 3 orders have come in and had to be filled right away.)

We have two busy children, so we needed to ensure the play room is one of the first things to be arranged and unpacked, letting them play. To be fair, the most enjoyment they seem to have is helping us open the boxes of books, but they are also engaged with their own space and the forgotten toys to explore in the play room.

I had a large area of my kitchen floor taken up by plant seedlings that needed to be transplanted (and the floor needed to be freed up for the dinner table), so getting the soil, building the permaculture garden towers and the permaculture herb spiral, creating beds for the remaining seedlings, and hardening off the plants have been a priority from the start. So shaping up the garden had to be done while the house was still in boxes. I did quite enjoy the process though — it made for a nice break from unpacking, letting us play outside in the fresh air and come back in with new energy to tackle more boxes.

Freeing up enough space in the living room to maneuver the furniture and fasten the book cases to walls gave us freedom to unpack our knowledge cube of over 60 boxes of books and the fragile china and glasses that occupied a large part of what shall be the zen room — a small den on the ground floor that got filled to the brim with all sorts of boxes. Kids got their books too, which made for a fun unpacking experience interrupted by lots of quiet time engrossed in whatever book their eyes happened to fall upon.

Once the big pieces and daily necessities are set up, the organization can take place with less stress.

Do laundry as you go — when you have piles of clothes to deal with, it’s easier to split things into whites, brights, woolens, etc. They’ll be easier to sort once they are clean as well. Don’t bother about ironing at this point. What matters is that things in your wardrobe are clean and can easily be found.

Take this opportunity to donate the items you no longer need. Sometimes it’s hard to do that before you move because you don’t know whether you might need something at your new house. For instance, until you spend a few nights there, you won’t know whether you would need to keep your small space heater (not so relevant in the summer, but you get the point) or whether it’s made obsolete by an excellent furnace (which will never break down, right?).

Make use of organizational aids such as baskets, bins, shoe and wardrobe containers, shelves, and whatever else will make sorting, storing, and finding things easier. We’ve taken a couple trips to Ikea and I’ve found a few of their closet organizing items very handy. All of my children’s shoes, from size 4 to size 10, have filled one and a half shoe organizer, whereas it took 3 boxes to move all of them. Here’s what I’ve done to organize all the children’s clothing, in about 3 hours.

Remember what needs to be done daily — watering indoor plants (and the garden), food preparation, laundry. Take care of those things first and follow with unpacking a few boxes at a time when you have a few minutes. Before you know it, you’ll be through.

Take time to consider the big picture as well. Do you need to change locks to ensure no one you don’t know has access to your house? Do you want to replace light bulbs to more efficient ones to save energy? Same goes for shower heads and toilets. Perhaps consider a water filter for the house, to get rid of pharmaceuticals and other unwanted chemicals in your drinking and bathing water. Check the furnace filter and replace it if needed. If the air quality is not great, consider cleaning the ducts. Figure out when garbage, recycling, and compost pick up happens in the new neighbourhood. Change your address by contacting all the relevant organizations. Get to know the place and its quirks. Ensure there is sufficient lighting. Hang up curtains to get some privacy. Replace batteries in fire and carbon monoxide alarms…

There is so much to do. Take it one room and one day at a time. Remember to step outside and breathe. You have lots of time to make this place yours. Be gentle to it and yourself in the process.

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Unpacking after a move

From the time I’ve first mentioned to people that we were moving, I got inundated with an intake of breath and some variation of “Oh, you’ll be living from boxes for the next year”. It’s like getting an exclamation to any issue you might bring up about your children to the effect of “Oh, that’s nothing — wait until X happens!”. Besides not really being helpful, such a response creates a sense of doom (as if somehow you are not in control of when this “living out of boxes” stage will be over), ramping up stress and seeming to suggest that you might as well give up and accept any lack of organization for months on end. As if making an effort to sort through your belongings in an efficient manner is way too stressful, whereas tripping over them and spending hours trying to find essentials is less so.

Well, I refuse to give in to this attitude. Some people are skeptical when I say it won’t take me longer than a month, but after 2 weeks at the new place, unpacking in the evenings and on weekends, I have organized most of the clothes, books, dishes, and toys. I have a functional kitchen which needs re-organization but is usable, I have a completely functional and organized master bedroom with the wardrobe, all the bathrooms, my studio workspace and beading desk, the library/living room with the book shelves, and the play room for the kids.

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Now I am working towards tidying up the studio, re-organizing the kitchen, making my son’s room more cozy, and putting up pictures and mirrors. The house is functional already. The garden is almost completed as well. We have welcomed guests from out of town during this time, and I have already hosted a Pathways Connect meeting and a Blessingway in my living room. The most of the remaining work is in the basement and the garage, but those items are not essential and they are starting to clear out already.

Don’t get fixated with organizing everything perfectly from the start. You are in a new home and your usage of various items might change as you adjust to the new environment. My kitchen is bigger than before and, after cooking in it for a few days, I have different ideas of where items would be more conveniently placed. The house will shape yourself around you, so focus first on sorting things out into different rooms. The activities you perform in each room will guide you. For example, all my beading, photography equipment, sewing machine and fabrics, various art and craft supplies have been taken to the studio and stashed in a corner, until I’m ready to unpack and sort them. All the musical instruments, yoga mat, singing bowl, contemplation books and art are going into the zen room. Pantry items and food preparation supplies belong in the kitchen, most of the books — in the living room, clothes — in appropriate bedroom closets. Once the generic sorting is done, it’s easy to tackle a box or two when you have a spare few minutes, making a visible dent in what might have seemed a mountain.

Don’t give in to the despair brought on by the sheer amount of things that need organizing. Instead, think logically, divide and conquer, and take it as an opportunity to arrange things the way you like them. Here are some more unpacking tips.

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