The giant, blue abomination to the left has been the monkey on my back for the past 5 months of Frugally Green. I first got the idea to start this website after deciding to build a compost tumbler to reduce our kitchen and garden waste. It was going to be awesome. The only problem was that I wasn’t really interested in food or gardening, but I sure was interested in a hands-on project. So, I found a way to make the whole idea more exciting by making it more complex than it ever needed to be.
The beginnings of a frugally green failure
I scoured the internet for the most interesting composter designs, I sat down and drew up my super-awesome-and-improved plan in AutoCAD, making a detailed materials list and then headed to the hardware store to pick up the materials.
I came home and set to work, taking pictures at every step. I just knew that millions of people were going to want to know how to build this thing and have the most fun of their lives spinning their rotten food around. It was going to be a how-to of the century.
5 months later, I have yet to write a single word or share a single picture of this contraption. Why? Because I never should have built it in the first place.
Sure, I do use it every day. Yes, it does work (as far as I can tell). But, the truth is, there is nothing frugal or green about this thing beside the fact that it is, indeed, a compost bin. It’s a giant, plastic barrel that carried soy sauce half-way around the world propped up by an unnecessary chunk of metal that’s supported by more wood than needed to remain sturdy. Failure!
I took on this project for all the wrong reasons. At the time, I didn’t actually care about the function of the composter, I just wanted a green project to busy myself with and I wanted to flex my mental muscle and do something complex. As a result, I ended up with a less than perfectly functional product that used a ton more material and cost more money than what was ever necessary to get the job done.
If I had actually cared about compost at the time, I would have done a little research and found out that turning it is not very important. I would have also learned a number of other things about it that would have influenced my design to a simpler and more effective result.
What I failed to realize while dreaming up this contraption was that anyone can take a simple idea and make it complicated. Real innovation occurs by taking something complicated and making it simple.
So here’s my new how-to article for building a truly frugally green compost bin:
- Step 1: Make a pile.
Yep, that’s it. That is all you really need to make good, useful compost. You don’t even have to spend a dime. Don’t feel guilty that your composter isn’t as nice as your neighbor’s (if your neighbor even has one). Just revel in the fact that it works just as well.
If, you have pets or nocturnal visitors that will make a mess of your compost pile, we can add just 3 more steps to solve that problem as well:
- Step 1: Screw a few scraps of dimensional lumber together to make a box.
- Step 2: Find a piece of scrap plywood and mount it to the top with a couple hinges. Add a latch to the front if you have raccoons with he-man strength.
- Step 3 (Optional): Paint the entire assembly to satisfy your aesthetic needs.
- Step 4: Fill with compostable materials.
Now, we’ve added 300% more complication to the process and if I were one of those sleazy marketers, I’d substitute the word ‘complication’ for something sexier and make it sound like the greatest thing since tumbled compost, but I won’t, and composting really is as simple as making a pile.
There is nothing fancy required. I wish I’d realized that before I spent a whole weekend driving around town buying all these things I didn’t need.
The real lesson learned
There seems to be a common perception these days that the more complicated an idea or product is, the better it must be because it’s had more thought and effort invested in it. This is patently false. The best ideas in life are almost always the most simple. Think back to the most enjoyable, memorable, or even productive times in your life. Were you doing something complicated or something relatively simple?
Many times we overcomplicate things because we want to impress others or feel like we have to prove to ourselves that we can do something we’re not sure we’re capable of. Testing your limits is the fastest way to grow, but don’t take the wrong approach. If you really want to stand out and prove something to yourself, take your most complicated ideas and simplify them. Anyone can do the opposite.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends, leave a comment, or subscribe to get free updates.