Monday, 25 February 2008

Slow Down and Green Up with Tracey Smith

Today's guest post is by Tracey Smith, the writer and broadcaster who has launched the successful awareness campaign National Downshifting Week. Since submitting this article, it's even been supersized to INTERnational Downshifting week, as Tracey inspires people all over the world to take things a little easier.

Of course, you can make efforts to slim your bin whatever your pace of life, but in Tracey's words, there are times when it's easier to slow down. Tracey tells us how she started and how her slowing down helped her to reduce household waste. So while I sit and relax, it's over to Tracey...

"Some 30-years after Tom and Barbara first graced our screens in “The Good Life”, we’re still glued to repeats of this BBC classic and looking to the radical ‘Surbiton Two’ for advice on greenfly and for a jolly good belly laugh.

For some however, a deeper motive lurks behind this façade – they’re watching for inspiration as they plan their escape from the dirty ‘Rat Race’.

My husband and I spent about a year preparing for our downshift. We cut up the credit cards, got rid of the second car, started buying all (yes, all) our clothes and household goods from the charity shops and cooking meals from fresh, ditching the pre-packed options and take-aways.

These progressive adjustments presented us with their own challenges, but because we were eager to ‘positively embrace’ living with less, the overall effect was rather pleasing and certainly not spiked by feelings of missing out, to the obvious shock and horror of some of our friends and family.

We tried earnestly to grow our favourite fruit and veg but mostly it was a crash-course in cultivating chaos and we learned more by our trials and errors.

Thankfully, we ended up with bountiful crops of the things we loved and the joy of working out what to do with that abundance was almost indescribable.

It fuelled our passion to do better the following season, growing organically of course. That itself is a huge challenge, particularly when there’s not a handily placed, green-fingered parent to hand, to advise on coping with inevitable pests without adopting a chemical stance. One of the other amazing bonuses came in the form of reduced packaging and waste, which had predominantly come from our groceries.

Last year, I discovered a fantastic book called ‘Organic Gardening, the Natural No-Dig Way’, by Charles Dowding - I only wish it had been my trusty companion when I started out, as there’s been many a hot-water bottle placed on my achy bits as a result of excessive and unnecessary spade-action.

As a writer, it was fantastic to focus my attention on journaling and uncovering the secrets of simple living. I pulled in a few commissions and before I knew it, there was a column, then the odd bit of radio, even a bit of telly, all probing and undressing the very broad subject of downshifting.

Emails came from all over the world and it seemed there was an enormous collective of people who had ‘stuff’, money, houses and cars, but no work/life balance or contentment. They were looking for a way to explore downshifting, generally cutting back and embracing living with less and needed reassurance they weren’t the only ones with these mad ideas.

One extremely cold November afternoon (we had no central heating), I sat typing an article on how to downshift abroad (my general advice being, downshift in your own 4 walls in England and see how you feel about it long before you reach for a map and your wellies), two of our kids had chicken pox, money was frighteningly low, the septic tank was giving us untimely gip, one of my ex-battery hens had just committed suicide by getting her neck jammed in the gate and I had the light-bulb in my desk lamp perched directly over the keyboard to keep my fingers warm, so I could continue typing.

Then suddenly, I had a brainwave about putting together an awareness campaign called National Downshifting Week. It hit me like a smack on the rear end and I could see, this would be the way to give people a ‘hook’ to hang their (not so) crazy ideas about pulling back from a super-consumer society and getting more enjoyment from life by spending less!

My husband passed by me in the hall and I blurted out the news….he smiled, laughed gently and said something like, “Oh yea! Great! Will it pay the bills honey (small though they were, we still had bills) – can’t you just focus on getting a few more articles out there instead?”

Naturally, his worked like the proverbial red rag to a bull and I steamed ahead, fiddling around haplessly, trying so hard to get all my thoughts into tidy boxes on a website I proudly called

When it was finished, it looked like a dogs dinner in terms of layout, but the content was bloody brilliant! And so National Downshifting Week and her simple suggestions were born.

Tonight, I’m still sitting in a house with no central heating, a jumper and a scarf, but no lamp over the keyboard, I’ve just got used to it and I’ve put many more hours of work into this labour of love I call NDW.

It’s like a 4th baby and needs more attention than my kids ever did!

She (of course it’s a ‘she’) exists purely to encourage participants to slow down their pace and lean towards the green and I still love getting emails that say, “Where on earth do I begin?”

I am full of admiration for projects like Karen's (aka Almost Mrs Average) 'Rubbish Diet' and my hat goes off to her for getting this simple topic between her teeth and shaking it to an upbeat conclusion. Another shining example is the Zero Waste Programme being run by St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which is set to inspire folks up and down the country to trim back on their superfluous waste!

I think the most effective campaigns are the ones that are the easiest to get involved with and this one couldn't be simpler. It's shocking when we sit back and actually take stock of the crud that surrounds us and we must be mindful of the fact that 'most' of it could be avoided with a few savvy changes to our shopping decisions."

To find out more about National Downshifting Week,which runs from 19th-25th April visit Also, for some great music and top advice, tune in to Tracey's regular weekly slot, 10am-1pm on Wednesdays at Apple AM.



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