By applying the 12 principles of permaculture to our lives, we can increase productivity, cut down on waste, and boost the health of our own, personal ecosystem.
Permaculture is just about sustainably growing your own food, isn’t it? That is a common perception but, for committed permaculturists, it’s much more than that.
How to Live a Productive and Sustainable Permaculture Lifestyle
Permaculture is a way of life that encourages humans to coexist harmoniously with their environment. Rather than forcing ourselves to live in a specific manner, permaculture teaches us to observe the natural way of life and then adapt our lifestyles to align with that organic system.
Using the principles of permaculture, you can assess where you are now and identify areas in your life that could be adapted to align with those principles. We don’t have time to explore each of the 12 principles here, so we’ll start with the first five – these should start you on your permaculture journey nicely.
Table of contents
- How to Live a Productive and Sustainable Permaculture Lifestyle
- How to Design a Permaculture Lifestyle
- Principle 1: Observe and Interact
- Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy
- Principle 3: Obtain a Yield
- Principle 4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
- Principle 5: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
- Creating a Productive and Sustainable Permaculture Lifestyle
- 1. Grow Your Own Food
- 2. Reduce Waste
- 3. Save Your Rainwater
- 4. Reconsider Your Energy Use
- 5. Diversify Your Employment
How to Design a Permaculture Lifestyle
Principle 1: Observe and Interact
Before designing a permaculture garden, we first observe the land so we can create sustainable solutions that complement its natural rhythms.
The same thing applies to a permaculture lifestyle. Observe and assess your current lifestyle, identifying those aspects that already work effectively and work out which areas could be redesigned or improved.
Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy
A permaculture lifestyle should reflect the way the natural world uses energy.
For example, if you don’t look after yourself by providing your body with healthy foods and regular exercise, you won’t be as productive nor as beneficial for those around you.
Plan your lifestyle to work as effectively as possible, with as little energy expended as possible. Plant kitchen gardens as close to your house as you can. Plant things you use every day on the path to the garbage bins or the chicken coop – paths you walk every day.
Principle 3: Obtain a Yield
Everything in a permaculture garden has at least one purpose, as should everything in our lives.
Does the amount of time you spend working justify the yield, or is there something else you could use that time for that would be more productive in the long run?
Similarly, does the food you eat give you the vitamins and nutrients you need to live an energetic and engaged lifestyle? Does the exercise you do give you optimal results, or could you choose a different type of fitness training that would give you a greater yield in exchange for a smaller investment of both time and energy?
Choose plants and materials with multiple purposes. A tree can be a windbreak, chicken fodder, shade for the chicken coop, and a source of timber in the future. A picking bed can be a place to grow a kitchen garden and it can also house an in-ground worm farm for your scraps, as well as provide a space for beneficial insects.
Principle 4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback
The natural world self-regulates to maintain balance and adjust to external pressures, such as climatic changes. Living a permaculture-inspired lifestyle means finding a balance and applying self-regulation to realign our lives with the natural order.
By becoming more self-reliant, we can more easily adjust to change. Similarly, by accepting feedback about what isn’t working or what areas of our lives are out of balance, we can find solutions to those problems and adjust our lifestyles accordingly.
Observe how nature does things. How does a garden grow? How does an insect pollinate? How does a tree self-seed? Watch and learn.
Principle 5: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services
Think of your body as a renewable resource and think of time, food, and exercise as a means of topping up it.
Just as you wouldn’t deplete a particular resource in your garden, so you should guard against draining your personal resources, in terms of energy and productivity.
Healthy food, regular exercise, and an awareness of our bodies’ needs help us to maintain the renewable resource that is our physical energy, creating a healthier and more productive version of ourselves.
Creating a Productive and Sustainable Permaculture Lifestyle
By applying the principles of permaculture to the way we live, we can create a more productive and sustainable lifestyle that doesn’t deplete our physical resources.
As we are part of our home ecosystem, if we are healthier and living a more balanced life, then the whole system will benefit, becoming more robust while maintaining its equilibrium.
Most people are familiar with permaculture as a style of gardening, but permaculture can extend far beyond the garden and grow into a lifestyle focused on sustainable solutions. So, how do we do this?
5 ways to live a permaculture-friendly lifestyle.
1. Grow Your Own Food
Growing your own food is a big piece of the permaculture lifestyle. Unlike traditional gardeners, permaculture devotees build gardens predominantly comprised of perennials and self-seeding annuals.
Instead of designing labor-intensive gardens that need to be fertilized, weeded, and mulched each year, permaculture gardens are strategically companion planted so that they renew themselves each year.
Over time, these gardens require less and less maintenance and become more stable as ecosystems. Learn more about how to start an edible food forest here.
Your permaculture garden won’t just provide you with a bountiful harvest. It will reduce the distance that food has to travel to your plate, benefit local pollinators, and help cut down on grocery costs.
2. Reduce Waste
A key idea in permaculture is creating a closed-loop system. Often, this means finding ways to incorporate your waste in more meaningful ways.
For example, instead of tossing vegetable trimmings and old newspapers into the garbage, add them to your compost. Over time, they will break down into nutrient-rich compost. The benefits here are two-fold: You’ve reduced the waste leaving your home, and you’ve saved yourself from needing to buy compost elsewhere.
This principle can be applied to many aspects of life. Next time, you go to throw something away, pause for a second and reimagine that object with a different purpose. You’d be surprised by how a little creativity, a little modification, and a little open-mindedness can make all the difference in how much waste leaves your home.
3. Save Your Rainwater
What happens to your rainwater? Does it roll off your roof, down your gutters, and into a storm drain by the side of the road? Or are you putting that water to use?
At my home, I have several rain barrels that collect the water off of my roof. This water is used to water my garden, and hauling water is better than any gym membership!
If rain barrels don’t appeal to you, consider rainscaping.
The basic idea behind rainscaping is to divert the flow of water from your gutters to a rain garden where the moisture can be stored in the soil. This method can involve a bit of trenching upfront, but the effects can be really beautiful. You are essentially building a small river that feeds a garden of water-loving plants.
Edible plants that thrive in rain gardens include:
- Echinacea (Eden Brothers Seeds)
- Highbush Cranberry (Amazon)
- Black Chokeberry (Amazon)
- Anise Hyssop (Amazon)
- Celery (Eden Brothers Seeds)
4. Reconsider Your Energy Use
Life takes energy. Most of us like to be able to see at night, drive to work, and prepare hot meals. But the energy we use doesn’t have to come from sources that negatively impact our surroundings.
If your climate is conducive to solar panels or wind turbines, they can be a fantastic way to generate clean energy. Having that said, they can be costly to establish.
So, if you aren’t in the position to make the leap to a fully clean energy system, consider ways that you can conserve energy.
Ways to reduce your energy needs include:
- Switching to LED light bulbs
- Using a pressure cooker to prepare meals
- Taking shorter showers
- Air drying clothes instead of putting them in the dryer (or consider a washing machine that doesn’t require power!)
- Installing low-flush toilets
5. Diversify Your Employment
Perhaps one of the most difficult permaculture ideas for people to get behind is the idea of diversifying employment. The majority of people specialize in one type of work.
You don’t have to drop your day job, but maybe you could start selling those toques you love to knit or sell your excess produce at a farmer’s market.
A side hustle can be a great opportunity to share your art, focus on your passions, market your genius, or show off your craftsmanship. It can be a chance to learn new things, develop new skills, and collaborate with like-minded people. It can be tough. Definitely, but it can also be fulfilling in ways that only difficult things are.
One thing 2020 has taught us is that employment can change in an instant. Diversifying your source of income makes you more resilient to economic fluctuations in the same way that a biodiverse garden is more resilient to seasonal storms.
Permaculture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to establish food forests and find sustainable solutions. But the more we take small steps towards sustainability, the closer we are to achieving the real meaning of permaculture: a permanent culture.
To help you on your way, here are my 3 favorite permaculture books:Amazon product