Thursday, March 27, 2008

Conveniently Simple

You read the news: collapsing ice shelves, retreating glaciers, drugs in the drinking water, and plastic oceans. You want to live greener but you work, your spouse works, the kids are in school and have softball on the weekends and you try to cram quality time in whenever you can. Internet searches for environmentally friendly changes turn up people making their own butter, trekking to ancient water wheeled mills for local flour, and eating food grown within 100 feet of their homes. Sure, it sounds interesting but with what time? Eco-bloggers blame the decay of our planet on the conveniences that allow you to make it through the day - the short cut to dinner, the cleaner house quicker, the fast packed lunchbox. Can you eschew these conveniences and still get to work on time? Is the "simple life" out of reach?

I don't think so. A simpler life is accessible to everyone and what follows are a few changes that are, in my opinion, conveniently simple. All of the following will help the environment, most will help your checking account balance and a fair amount will also leave you with more time. Hopefully, readers will add their own ideas to this list.

  • Use Dr. Bronner's soap to avoid 1,4 Dioxane, which is a known carcinogen and appears in most dish soaps including "environmentally friendly" ones.
  • Run the dishwasher only when full. Turn off the drying cycle and let dishes air dry.
  • Turn down the settings on your fridge and freezer and keep both full for more efficient usage.
  • Buy bulk packages of yogurt, crackers, and such and, repackage them in reusable containers for lunches and snacks on the go.
  • Swap out juice boxes and water bottles for reusable bottles, like Sigg or Kleen Kanteen.
  • Switch to rags or dishtowels in lieu of paper towels; cloth napkins in lieu of paper. Our used towels and napkins go in the hamper with the rest of the laundry and I haven't noticed an appreciable difference in the amount of laundry I do.
  • Whenever you home cook, double your patch. Freeze leftovers in single meal sized portions. Now you have a frozen dinner that is healthier, better tasting, has no packaging and costs less than a Lean Cuisine.
  • Look into a CSA (community supported agriculture) or buying club for delicious, sustainable food delivered to a home near you. This is even easier than supermarket shopping because you can leave the kids in the car while you grab your box of goodness from a neighbor's front porch. ;-)
  • Make your coffee at home. Kicking the Starbucks habit obviates the need to carry a reusable mug, saves some dough and allows you to control (1) the type of coffee (look for shade grown, fair trade and/or organic; all three is best), (2) the filter used (go for a reusable filter is best or ones made with recycled paper), and (3) disposal of filter and grounds (compost!). With a programmable coffee maker, you'll save time (and gas) by not hitting Starbucks and have your cup of joe waiting when you get up in the morning.


  • For kids, trade clothes with friends, playgroup members or relatives. Used clothes have no carbon footprint!
  • Wash clothes in cold water and use half the detergent called for.
  • Only do full loads of laundry.
  • Wash your clothes less. Are you jeans dirty after an evening out at a restaurant? Do your kids need to have their pj's washed every day or will once a week suffice? Lowering your clean clothes standard saves time, money and energy.
  • Have less stuff. This takes more time initially but, clean out your closets, your dresser drawers, your desk drawers and sell items on Craigslist, freecycle them, or donate them to a local charity. The more stuff you own, the more time and money you need to spend organizing it, cleaning it, storing it. Just get rid of it (and don't buy more). I promise you won't miss it.

  • Unplug the TV, DVD player and computer when not in use. We keep our TiVo directly plugged in so it still records but switch everything else off via a power strip.
  • Use less light (after switching to CFLs). We have one CFL light bulb on at night in our family room. We adjusted quickly to the dimmer lighting and, when guests come over and turn on the overhead lights, feel somewhat blinded.
  • Don't renew magazine subscriptions. You can get the same information on the Internet and will reduce paper waste. Also, if you're like me, I felt compelled to read a magazine that I might otherwise not when it landed in my mailbox. Reading it took time as did moving it from pile to pile before I actually found the time to flip through it.
  • Turn off the TV. Not completely. But maybe one night a week or one hour less a night. Life Less Plastic recently divulged that Americans watch 4 hours and 35 minutes a day of television. Holy American Idol! That's a lot of winding down - and a lot of found time in an otherwise hectic day.
  • Read a book. Animal Vegetable Miracle is a beautifully written, accessible and low stress memoir about a dual income family's attempt to eat locally. Reserve it from your local library or buy it used at Abe's Books. Other great reads are Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic and Your Money or Your Life.

  • Adjust your sprinklers for rain and slowly reduce the amount of time they are on. Less water often makes plants grow deeper roots, which is healthier for them and your water bill.
  • Compost. Many counties offer subsidized compost bins. I got a $200 Smith & Hawken compost bin for thirty bucks. I keep a covered bowl under the kitchen sink and toss my produce scraps and egg shells in it. It is more a change of habit than a time suck. Further, I am the world's laziest composter - I dump the stuff in but never take the time to "turn" the compost or even cover it up with brown leaves. I know gardeners everywhere are cringing over that. Even so, I've diverted tons of food scraps from the landfill and reduced our garbage output so much so that, after we began composting, we were able to go from two trashcans a week to one at a monthly savings of $10 on our garbage bill.
  • If you take care of your yard yourself, use a reel mower and leave the grass to decay on your lawn. This is called grasscycling and is great for the environment and your lawn. Also, be lazy and let leaves decompose where they fall. This is nature's way of maintaining a balance, providing habitat to wildlife and freeing up your time.
Finally, one of the most important things about going green is getting over the idea that a simple life means hauling buckets of greywater, being cold, and wearing pleated pants that come up to your arm pits. Okay, you may eventually do some of those things but please, God, not the pants! For now, though, find a hobby that is related to living more meaningfully and that you can introduce to your kids if you have them and start small, very small.
When I began my green evolution, I read a number of articles about the huge percentage of emissions associated with our industrial food chain. I was inspired to go to the farmers' market occasionally - one or twice a month. The food was so good, the music rockin', the people so nice, though, that I began to go regularly, bringing my husband and the kids along for the adventure. And then I started cooking all that wonderful food, trying new recipes, attempting my own versions of store bought favorites. A year later, I find myself eating almost entirely outside of the industrial food system. It occurred almost unconsciously. Certainly, this takes more time than eating take out, prepackaged meals or even home-cooked from Whole Foods produce. I don't even notice the time. It is not drudgery or even effort at this point. This is now how I unwind and one way I connect with my kids. But this is me. You are different.
Michael Pollan wrote, in The Omnivore's Dilemma, that as alternative food systems develop, we'll see many different ways of eating sustainably. The same can be said for living more ecologically. We all need to find our own road to a better life.
If you enjoy gardening, plant an herb pot or clear a small space to plant a mini vegetable garden with the kids. You'll end up with more time outdoors, some exercise, habitat for wildlife in your own yard, and children who are likely more willing to "eat their vegetables."
If nature rings your bell, opt for a vacation at a state park instead of an exotic locale or amusement park. You'll reconnect with your family without the distraction of the electronic world, slash your travel emissions and give your children the gift of a wild place in their hearts.
If you seek exercise, walk or bike to errands - even if it's only once a week. The whole family can walk or bike to a park, a restaurant, or to get a frozen yogurt. Or you can bike to the grocery store to get a little solitude.
Living lighter means different things to different people. We all live in different places, have different circumstances and make what changes work for us. The only sure thing is that the simple life is conveniently addictive. Once you start living it, you'll never go back. Your former life will seem both too much and not enough.


Joyce said...

Great list! Great post!
We have always lived this way (except for the CSAs and farmer's markets, which we really don't have here), and this is how we were able to live on one very moderate income as a family of six. It's not just environmentally wiser, it's CHEAPER! And you're right-whatever you do, avoid those pants!

Rediscover Raw Food said...

This is an amazing post with so many great ideas! I'm happy to see that we already do many of these things, but there are definitely things we can easily do better. Thanks for this!

katecontinued said...

Green Bean, this is a wonderful summary. This is to let you know that I will use this post as a link for this very purpose - conveniently simple - rather than re-write it myself. I think it is very important to remind ourselves of the beginning steps.

Your last line about going back to your former life is brilliant, and true.

Your former life will seem both too much and not enough.

Green Bean said...

Joyce: Thank you! It is so much cheaper. I'm approached this lifestyle more from a green perspective but my husband is floored by the amount of money we are saving.

RRF: So glad to give you a few ideas. I always love to come across someone else's ideas that I haven't thought of yet.

Kate: Please please feel free to post it. It is really exciting to see more people interested in lighter living and we need to remember accessible ways to begin. :)

arduous said...

Okay GB, death is not an option, which would you pick: skinny jeans or pleated pants?

(Oh, and awesome post. That's a great list, and I already have many plans to reference it!)

Chile said...

Nicely thought out list, Green Bean! Changes don't have to be hard or time-consuming, and they often do bring improvements in quality of life. I notice you don't have cloth wipes on your list. While I have no problem with these (for #1), I do get a little impatient when hanging 4 dozen at a time on the clothesline. ;-P

Green Bean said...

Tough one, Arduous. Really, death isn't an option? because squeezing into skinny jeans might do it for me. Between those two, I might have to go with the pleated pants but, shhh, please don't tell anyone!

Hazel Nut said...

A most excellent post Green Bean. Today at school we had our multicultural festival and a local news reporter came to talk to us and show clips of her trips to Sudan to help build schools. She stated a quote from Ghandi that fits well with your post and has stayed with me rattling around in my head all day: "Live simply so that others may live."
That's what you're doing, and many others whose blogs I enjoy reading.
I'll be thinking of you and others as we all power down for earth hour tomorrow.
PS - check it out at Four Mugs and a Crock - I took a couple photos today of my first brave snowdrops as they struggle up through the melting snow in my front garden.

ruralaspirations said...

Great list of ideas. But one thing you didn't touch on was bringing more time into your life. You started out by saying that convenience items are used by people who lead busy lives. I believe we can choose just how busy our lives are. There are many things people can do to bring more free time into their lives, slow down, and regain priorities. Full time jobs, kids in school plus homework plus extracurricular activies...these are all choices we make. I think this, too, is a very important part of Living Simply.

Green Bean said...

Chile: You are right. Living lighter doesn't have to mean a ton of work.

Hazel nut: great quote! It is so fitting for what we are all trying to do right now.

RI: You are so so right! Actually, I had meant to talk about that and I think I just forgot. ;-) I have significantly curtailed my kids' activities which opens up a ton of time, saves fuel and gives kids time to be kids, be creative, day dream. As to jobs, I think Your Money or Your Life is a great avenue for exploring whether someone in a dual income family can go part time or eventually stay home. We employed several of the strategies in that book when we reached the decision that I would quit my full time job.

kale for sale said...

I loved how you categorized the things we can do. I know I've read here before about bar shampoo but it didn't dawn on me until now that bar shampoo is without the plastic packaging. That's great.

No wonder change is slow. It takes time to readjust to the different options. And for me I have to hear it or read it a few times before the new thing sinks in. Thank you for repeating this one.

CindyW said...

Thanks for the wonderful list. I honestly have not felt that the changes in my life have been difficult. At the beginning, it required a bit more thoughtfulness. Once these changes become habits, then it really does not seem more difficult or time-consuming. I do understand getting started can be somewhat daunting. GB, your list is a great guide.

Gift of Green said...

Great post! Thanks for all the new ideas!

Theresa said...

I really needed to read this today. Thanks so much for this fantastic and comforting post. I get so spun out sometimes thinking of all the stuff I need to do, and you've helped me to see that I'm just doing it, a little at a time. My former life just...isn't...anymore. Thank you.

Jennifer said...

Great list! I'm already doing many of the things on the list; challenge is to do them all!

I have to say the money reason is the reason we started doing all of this... and is the driving force behind all decisions.

Green Bean said...

Cindy: I'm with you. None of the changes are really more difficult - just a change of habit.

Kale: it takes a while for me too. Sometimes, I don't get why something is helpful and then suddenly a light bulb goes off.

Gift: Thank you!

Theresa: I too get like that sometimes but really, there is no going back. I just don't want to!

Jennifer: I'm always amazed when people thinking going green means spending a lot of money. Mostly, being frugal and being green are the same thing. We're saving SO much money living this way.

Free Cleaning Quote said...

Mary @ Green Global Travel said...

Thanks for the numerous tips on how to go green! I will definitely be trying a few of them!


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