Halve It!

Sharon May 13th, 2009

Note: I’ve been without internet access now since Friday, with the occasional slip over to my local library for their wireless, so if you’re wondering why so quiet, that explains it.  With luck, I’ll be reconnected by tonight.  In the meantime, here’s an older post of mine. 

If you are new to trying to lower your impact, or just trying to save money and energy, 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 – instead, we can start in the middle, which seems much less intimidating. 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 to get things clean.

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, saving money on both their food budget and health care.

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 – nearly 30% of all the food we buy gets thrown out. 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.

12 Responses to “Halve It!”

  1. Noelleon 13 May 2009 at 11:48 am

    “you could probably vacuum half as often and clean your toilet half as often as you do now”

    So this means that by being an underachieving housekeeper, I’m actually helping the environment? Cool! :)

  2. homebrewlibrarianon 13 May 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Well, if we’re going to talk about vacuuming, why vacuum at all?

    My vacuum developed “issues” a few months ago and I haven’t had enough motivation to try to do something about it. Yeah, so the cat hair clumps are actually starting to resemble cats and I’ve probably tracked in enough dirt to plant my garden in the house, but think how I’m reducing my impact!

    Kerri in AK

  3. Heatheron 13 May 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Uncarpeted floors can be cleaned with a broom and dustpan.

    Rugs that aren’t nailed down can be taken out, hung on the line or over a porch rail and beaten.

    We also have one of those old-style carpet cleaners that you push back and forth and it works for a lot of the stuff.

    If you have rugs, they do need some taking care of because dirt and grit can wear on the fibers and make them break down faster.

    That said, we only use the vacuum about once a month… Not having too much carpeting or rugs is helpful :)

  4. jennon 13 May 2009 at 5:25 pm

    When I saw the subject line, I immediately flashed on a memory of my grandmother cutting paper napkins in half, folding them into rectangles and putting them in the napkin holder on the table.

    My stepdad always insisted on watering down dish soap – and this is actually better because it emulsifies the soap and makes it more effective.

    I usually will cut any sort of fruit juice beverage (like the Izze sodas or italian sodas from Whole Foods) with water or sparkling water… and usually water down my sparkling water by 50% with tap water. :)

  5. kerrieon 13 May 2009 at 6:20 pm

    i was wondering this a.m., as i ran water into the soap bottle, if i was going to make us all sick by having not-so-clean dishes. i’ve been doing this for about 6 months and no one has died yet, but still. glad to hear it officially sanctioned! as far as the t.v., i was hoping you’d say i could chop it in half. it is my husband’s and i despise it.

  6. John Andersenon 13 May 2009 at 6:55 pm

    As a professional carpet cleaner, I’ve found by using a powerful vacuum, and a pile lifter first, you can almost eliminate the use of cleaning chemicals. The final step in most cases is just steam. Plus, with all of that prep ahead of time
    you use less water.

    So many procedures can be improved this way if we just think them through.

  7. Mark Non 13 May 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Cutting your own hair is not that hard for us guys. You just take the clippers, set it on the closest setting, hold a mirror in your hand as you look in the bathroom mirror, and bzzzzzzzz…done.

  8. hick chickon 14 May 2009 at 6:20 am

    So I guess that means I really can ‘halve it all’, perhaps that should be the NEW american dream! (Or perhaps a new challenge?)

  9. valereeeon 14 May 2009 at 7:02 am

    I use half the ground meat/diced chicken called for in recipes on a regular basis and no one even seems to notice. I usually just add more veggies to make it up — in a baked chicken casserole last night that served six, I diced a breast, thigh, and wing and doubled the amount of sauteed celery and onions.

  10. Sarahon 14 May 2009 at 11:02 am

    I find this particularly useful if you’re the sort of person for whom things get much more appealing the minute they’re forbidden. Trying to cut out packaged snack foods entirely makes me Crave Crunchy Snack Foods All The Time, when normally I might have some nuts or chips two or three times a week. But just trying to eat less packaged snacks is fine, because I know they’re there should I really want them.

  11. Christinaon 14 May 2009 at 11:31 am

    This is especially true for products that you have to purchase repeatedly – things like laundry and dishwasher soap for example. The manufacturer’s desire to have you purchase as much of the product as possible is built into their “recommendations” for use. With a lot of them, even a quarter of the suggested amount is plenty to do the job.

  12. Lizon 15 May 2009 at 1:59 pm

    When I was young, the instructions on bottles of hair conditioner said to add a capful to a cup of water. By the time I was an adult, the advertising proclaimed that we were no longer required to dilute the conditioner, how wonderful. Of course, all that meant was that we used twice as much as before.

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