52 Weeks Down - Week 14 - Halve It!

Sharon July 31st, 2007

If you are just getting comfortable with environmentalism, it can be helpful to think in terms not of giving things up, but of halving them - using a combination of techniques to stretch things out a bit, and let you use or need only half as much. Because everything you halve, means half as much pollution, half as much waste, half as much money. Sometimes we think too quickly in terms of all or nothing - start in the middle.

Now one can’t cut everything in half, but if you use what the manufacturer recommends or what fits in those little convenient measure containers products give you, you almost always can cut it in half, or at least get more out of it. For example, I use an environmentally friendly dish detergent. When I get a bottle, I squeeze half of it into an old bottle, and fill both the other half with water - ta da! Two times the dish detergent, and I don’t find I need any more on the container.
By washing my scalp with baking soda and rinsing with vinegar, I only need to shampoo half as often. By using old shirts as “table bibs” for my messy kids, I only need to wash half as many clothes.

If your water isn’t very hard, most dishwashers and washing machines will work fine with half the detergent called for, or even less and still get things plenty clean. Unless you have terrible allergies or are a slob like me who really needs to do these things *more* often, you could probably vacuum half as often and clean your toilet half as often as you do now.

Unless you’ve already pared down, you could probably get rid of half of the clothes in your closet without really noticing - studies suggest most of us only wear about 1/3 of what we own regularly. If you changed your style slightly, you could probably get your hair cut professionally half as often (unless you can cut it yourself, which is even better - I can’t). You could almost certainly buy half as many consumer goods as you usually do each year, and still have everything you need.

You could eat dessert half as often, and unless you are super careful about fats, you could use half as much oil, sugar and salt and be the better for it. The average American could cut their meat/dairy use in half and replace it with half again as many whole grains and fresh vegetables. You could commit to producing half as much food waste, and really work carefully on using up leftovers and making sure things don’t rot in the fridge.

If you live within a few miles of a store, you could take half of your trips by foot or bike, and feel better as well as limiting emissions. You could commit to trying to consolidate your errands and try and make only half as many trips in the car over the course of the year. You could try and cut your vacation distance travelled by half - see something local you’ve always been meaning to explore.

You could watch half as much tv, and try and use the rest of the time for trying out a new skill, catching up on sleep or volunteering. You could spend half as much money on some special luxury you care about - makeup, or trips, or something, and donate the rest to charity.

Halving it doesn’t mean giving up anything you love - it simply means extracting as much pleasure as possible from every bit of what you have, and taking the extra, and making good and wise use of it. All of us can do that. In the peculiar mathematics of good fortune, often you get more than twice as much pleasure - you feel healthier, save money, improve the environment, have more time, more peace, more quiet, a slower pace. Sometimes half as much means vastly more than double the return.


15 Responses to “52 Weeks Down - Week 14 - Halve It!”

  1. The Purloined Letteron 31 Jul 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Great post, as always. Could you explain your baking-soda-and-vinegar hair process more fully? Thanks!

    (I’m an aspiring Jewish farmer–fully Jewish but not yet anything more than a gardener….)

  2. Homebrewlibrarianon 31 Jul 2007 at 6:31 pm

    After I sat down last week and really went through my finances, I realized there were opportunities to halve my expenditures. One of the easiest ways was to limit driving since it looked like I was paying over $140 a month for gas. I’m already a dedicated bike commuter so I decided to see how long I could be petroleum free and do all errands on my bike. Looks like I’ll only need to drive once this week (and only to get a 25 lbs bag of cat litter - not something I can haul on my bike). I’m helping myself and the environment become healthier, I’m reducing my dependence on petroleum and saving money all at the same time! And, you’re right, it’s just a matter of changing slightly something I was already doing.

  3. Anonymouson 31 Jul 2007 at 7:07 pm

    I second Purloined. I’ve tried one of those pointy-tipped squeeze bottles, filled with a mixture of baking soda and water, squeezed directly onto my scalp, but had a terrible time with the drag it created. It just has negative slip, and was so hard to work with in my long, thick, curly hair, making it all “sticky” and tangly. How exactly do you make it work? I use a light conditioner now, but would, of course, like to cut out some more chemicals!


    Shana in Missouri

  4. lorettaon 31 Jul 2007 at 7:55 pm

    Love your weekly tips, Sharon!

    Like “homebrewlibrarian” I decided to run all my local errands on bike. I was off for three weeks and figured now was the time. I only used our family car twice during that three week period. Now I’m mostly using the car to commute to work, three times a week. Thanks, as this blog gave me the subtle butt-kicking necessary to make this, and other, good decisions.

    The only downside was my surprise at how hostile the world is to bikers. I biked to Walgreen’s to pick up a prescription and got in line at the drive-thru window (I didn’t want to lock up my bike or tempt myself to buy unnecessary items). The pharmacist gave me a very stern warning never to take my bike to the pick-up window again–cars only. Same basic scenario at the drive-up ATM–the driver waiting behind me honked like crazy. My neighbor even made a snide comment about someone my age carrying groceries home on a bike (I’m in my mid-thirties). I’m not making this up, though I wish I was!

    The changes you are presenting are, for the most part, not super difficult, but sticking to them and making them a permanant lifestyle change can be a challenge. Thank you for your other posts, which remind us why we must make these choices.

  5. Benon 31 Jul 2007 at 9:43 pm

    If you changed your style slightly, you could probably get your hair cut professionally half as often

    As a guy with short hair, I realize this isn’t true for a lot of people, but when I get my hair cut professionally, the time and labor of someone local to my community is pretty much the sole resource involved.

  6. chileon 01 Aug 2007 at 3:36 am

    I think about halving things all the time, Sharon. It’s a great tip!

    homebrewlibrarian, check out Xtracycle for one way to carry more groceries. You can also get panniers; mine could hold your cat litter although I’d get two bags to be balanced. Or a trailer. You can build one yourself for under $80. Stop by my blog for inspiration and photos.

  7. Alanon 01 Aug 2007 at 5:11 am

    There’s a corollary to using only half as much of stuff. Thirty-five years ago, when I was operating the first recycling program in Austin, Texas, we had a piece of advice for people. If everything that is now used only once (water bottles, mayonnaise jars, plastic bags, beer bottles…) were used just *one* more time, the amount of resources (materials and energy) used for those purposes would be reduced by 50% (*cut*in*half*!!). And every subsequent re-use would lower the amount of resources used even further.

    This is part of why refillable beer, soda, and milk bottles were (and are) so superior in terms of energy and material use to single-use (”throwaway”) containers.

    Ideally, pretty much everything that must be sold in containers would be sold in refillable containers carrying a substantial deposit (at least equal to their replacement cost).

    Everyone would buy their “canned” green beans and tomato sauce in pint and quart Mason jars, their mustard in half-pint jars, their party dip in the flat, wide-mouth canning jars, and so on. All food processors would use the same standardized jars (only two lid sizes with the same threads), so collecting them from the stores or collection centers where they are returned for their deposits and re-distributing them would be simple.

    The costs of shipping the glass jars and bottles around is substantial, owing to their weight, so there would be a strong incentive to keep food processing local or, at worst, regional. Back when soft drinks were only sold in refillable glass bottles, soda was produced and distributed pretty much on a county level. And before that, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small breweries produced and distributed beer on a local or regional scale. And most used one of only a very few standardized bottles.

    Much beer was sold across the counter in pails that customers brought in and carried home to have with their meals. A local microbrew pub chain here in Portland, has from its beginnings over 20 years ago, sold their fresh beer in refillable jars. They sell the jars (half-gallon Ball Mason jars) at their pubs or folks bring their own.

  8. Leilaon 01 Aug 2007 at 11:36 am

    I can do this. In fact I am doing it by quarters… as in, reducing consumption by a quarter. Using cloth shopping bags; walking to shopping more often; bringing clean jars to the natural food place to buy peanut butter; etc. Oh yes, and I now pay close attention to the little line measurement on the laundry soap; and I buy powder in a recyclable box rather than liquid in a plastic bottle.

    All of this is no trouble at all. So reducing by half could be done.

  9. RASon 01 Aug 2007 at 1:17 pm

    I’ve actually discovered that I only need 1/3 the recommended amount of laundry powder for my loads, and that only for really dirty loads. I can get by with (you guessed it) halve that for normal loads.

    loretta, you have it better than I do as far as riding your bike. This place does NOT like bike riders. There is no place to chain your bike up practically anywhere, there are major highways (no bikes allowed) all over, and my school actually bans bikes because they want to control who comes on and off campus. (It’s not like anyone can’t just walk on, but hey, I guess people don’t walk anymore.) Grrr….

  10. Correneon 01 Aug 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Baking Soda & Vinegar in lieu of shampoo: First, I sprinkle baking soda into my hand and scrub my scalp with it. Then, I sprinkle vinegar on my head out of a squeeze-bottle. It makes the baking soda foam up, and I scrub a little more before rinsing.

    It’s working for me, and I’m only using shampoo every week or two.

  11. homebrewlibrarianon 02 Aug 2007 at 6:39 pm

    Ras - I hear you on bike negative places. When I lived in Tampa, FL for a couple years, riding a bike would have been suicidal. Almost no sidewalks, no shoulders and forget looking for bike paths. You drove or took the bus. Even walking was difficult.

    Loretta - twice within two weeks did I have car drivers yell at me to get off the road. On a section of street that was practically residential and very wide to boot. I found it interesting that these drivers were younger - they looked to be in their 20s. To date, I’ve had no elder person take verbal issue with my street riding. But I understand the hostility of trying to use drive throughs - been there, had the same reactions.

    Seems these days that driving a four wheeled vehicle is seen as an absolute right. Anything on two wheels (including motorcycles and scooters) is sneered at. I can deal with the sneering but it gets tough when someone feels they need to run me off the road. This has not happened often, thankfully, but I certainly get more of an aerobic workout because of it! I wonder how much sneering there’ll be when fuel costs become higher than folks can pay. Up here in Alaska, bigger is seen as better so the number of SUVs and large trucks is very high. Hummers are quite popular as well. I wonder how the owners of such vehicles will handle rising fuel costs? Especially when they still have to pay on their car loans?

  12. jlpicard2on 02 Aug 2007 at 11:35 pm

    “you could probably get rid of half of the clothes in your closet without really noticing”

    That may not be such a good idea. If you store those clothes instead of getting rid of them, you would have to buy less new clothes to replace the clothes you actually wore out. To put it another way, someday you may not be able to afford new clothes, so putting some away might be a really good idea.

  13. Meganon 04 Aug 2007 at 7:59 pm

    What’s the purpose of cleaning your toilet half as often? As long as your cleaning supplies aren’t toxic is there anything wrong with a clean toilet?

  14. Anonymouson 06 Aug 2007 at 5:08 pm

    - On bike hostility - For the first time 2 years ago I couldn’t walk to work (I’ve moved and do again now), so I bought a moped. I got a lot of abuse, at first, and I found out it was because everyone assumed I was a drunk-driver with a suspended liscence. After all why would anyone else ride a vehicle that doesn’t require a driver’s liscence? (One reason why mopeds and motorcycles are treated so differently here). I even heard that charge leveled against a bike rider once, they must have lost their liscence. But then everyone started asking me what gas mileage I got. Pedal bikers also get less hostility in my community than they did just 2 years ago. Our community is not yet set up to make bikes convenient or encourage them, but the hostility has really evaporated quickly and noticably. Maybe things will get better where you folks are in another year or two.

    Also, big cars can be even more fuel efficient than mopeds if you fill them with people. So I’ll add a “double” suggestion. Double your average people/trip in larger vehicles!
    -Brian M.

  15. Anonymouson 07 Aug 2007 at 2:35 am

    —-Megan said…

    What’s the purpose of cleaning your toilet half as often? As long as your cleaning supplies aren’t toxic is there anything wrong with a clean toilet?—-

    Yes, there is a purpose to cleaning half as often - you use half as many cleaning supplies. Even if they’re non-toxic, they still represent resources — and it’s always worth it to try to conserve any kind of resource. In addition, the materials that go into homemade cleaning supplies come in packaging, so cutting your cleaning in half cuts packaging in half, too.

    –Shana in Missouri

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