Sharon August 22nd, 2011
As we move into the Riot for Austerity, a lot of us are thinking about life changes. But how do you decide what makes sense and what doesn’t? How do you decide whether to put limited time into hand-mowing your lawn or making pickles, to spend that dollar on cloth bags or on rechargeable batteries? In a perfect world, of course, we’d do all of it, all at once. But the reality is that particularly as we’re making behavioral changes, we have to pick and choose. Once putting the cloth bag into your purse and using the cloth diapers and hand mowing the lawn get to be normal, you’ll find you have more time for other changes – but there is a learning curve to habituation, and it is hard to do more than a few changes at a time.
If you wanted to organize your energy reductions, you might take two approaches. The first one is the “Pick the Low Hanging Fruit” plan. That is, you look and see what the easiest changes to make are. For example, you’ve been running to the library on Thursday and the grocery store on Friday. But suddenly, you realize you can combine those choices if you go to the other library branch, and do it on Friday – and without any major effort, you’ve cut out 9 miles of round trip driving. Or you suddenly realize that you’ve had the computer on all the time, but don’t use it on Mondays because you don’t have time – so you start disconnecting the computer on Sunday night and leaving it off until Tuesdays. The low hanging fruit is simply a matter of applying your mind to the obvious, and picking up things as they seem easiest.
Another way of approaching this to decide to make your cuts in your biggest expenditures. That is, you might look at where your energy usage is and see that your electric use is way above average. So you might concentrate on electric usage – removing some bulbs, replacing others with Compact Flourescent or LEDs, turning off your computer, cutting phantom loads, maybe saving up for a more efficient fridge or getting rid of the fridge all together. You could divide your energy consumption up into categories, much as we have in the Riot for Austerity, and decide to focus on that – water this month, heat next.
One of my favorite ways of sorting these out is economically and temporally. If I’m trying to decide between two choices, I tend to prioritize those things that give me either the gift of time or money, and a large number of choices do. For example, in October, I will buy 10 bushels of local apples for 140 dollars. My local Walmart would sell me 10 bushels of apples for 400 dollars. No contest. Not only does it save me money, but time as well – because I can buy all the apples we’ll use for the winter over a week, and save myself several trips to the store.
We tend to assume that labor-saving devices save time – but this is not always the case. Sometimes they do – my washer saves me considerable time over hand washing. A dryer, however, doesn’t – when you add in the time I would have to work to purchase and maintain the appliance and to run it, the three minutes daily longer that it takes me to hang a load of laundry than stuff it in the dryer is not a significant time savings. It takes me longer to wash the food processor in many cases than it would to simply chop something myself without power. These things must be tested – sometimes labor and money saving projects really save, sometimes they don’t.
Or there’s the pleasure sorting method – what gets you the most fun? I love to cook and hate to sew, and if I have to choose between a method of energy reduction that involves cooking something or sewing sometihng, let’s just say it isn’t always that much trouble to decide. So while I make my own crackers, granola, popsicles and yogurt, I’m still buying my underwear and bras. I like hanging laundry – I enjoy the time outside in the quiet. I love the pleasure of cooking with the sun in our solar oven and the coolth in the house.
However you approach it, the best trick is simply to do it. In many ways, it is the breaking of old habits, automatic consumption and assumption that is hard, more than the practices themselves. All of us worry that we don’t have time to do things – but when ordinary things are part of our routines, we find that they fit – it is the process of making them fit that can be challenging.