Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Less … a New Year’s Update


CONTEST UPDATE: Four days till the contest closes.  Several entries in already — but room for many more!! Get those entries in!

This time last year I blogged about my desire to reduce consumption, energy use, and waste in general for the new year.  Looking back at 2008, I’m reflecting on how I did with that.

I was certainly more aware of energy use, and consumption in general, than I’ve ever been before.  Awareness is good, but it’s only a first step, and meaningless if all it does is create a vague sense of generalized guilt rather than leading to action (which is a real pitfall for me: feeling guilty about things as a subsitute for actually doing anything about them).

We replaced our car in 2008 and did choose a smaller, more energy-efficient model (Mazda 5 to replace our Plymouth Voyager), though not as small or efficient as we could have gone with. I’ve also tried generally to be more aware of how much we are driving, and to reduce fuel consumption wherever possible.

On the other hand, we flew to Australia and back, which is some pretty spectacular energy consumption there. I’m sure that more than erased the benefits of buying a smaller vehicle.

We managed to cut our household electrical usage to 2/3 or less of what it was last year (our electric company helpfully prints on the bill what our kilowatt usage was each month compared to the same month last year, which has made it easy to track).  This was mostly due to installing what I like to call “curly bulbs” (i.e. compact fluorescent bulbs) and being more vigilant about turning stuff off when not in use.

BUT, we also installed a very luxurious bathroom.  While I was very glad that the addition of the heated floor, whirlpool tub, etc., did not increase our electricity usage, it was still a big huge expenditure for what is basically a luxury (but a luxury I love so much!)

Since trying the anti-plastic challenge back in July, I’ve become much more aware of plastic packaging in all its forms and tried to reduce it.  I’m really proud that the breakfast program I helped start at the kids’ school has committed to using re-usable dishes, etc., rather than disposable, because that is something that I really pushed for.  But sometimes I feel like I’m imposing my anti-plastic priorities on others, because using re-usables creates a LOT more work (washing dishes after each breakfast) and thus the need for a lot more volunteers, and I know some other people involved in the program are thinking, “Wouldn’t it be much easier if we just used disposable stuff?”

One major success on the anti-plastic front: I’ve almost completely cut out the use of plastic shopping bags just by remembering to bring the reusable ones along whenever I leave the house.  I’m particularly pleased with this, not just because of the environmental implications but because the proliferation of plastic bags all over everywhere used to drive me insane.  Change is so much easier when it’s also aesthetically pleasing!

What would really be aesthetically pleasing would be to somehow reduce the overall level of STUFF IN THIS HOUSE, which despite constant efforts, clean-outs and purges continues to multiply so I can barely keep ahead of it.  I would so much like to have less, yet I feel like to do that I would not only have to throw tons of stuff out (or recycle, or give it away), I would have to stand at the door like the angel with the flaming sword at the gates of Eden to stop people (myself included) from bringing more stuff into the house.  Or perhaps a better image would be like Gandalf in the Mines of Moria: “You … shall … not … pass … unless you leave those toys/books/DVDs outside!! Begone!!”

So, still working on the overall downsizing.  It’s worth noting that in 2008 we made a number of changes that didn’t have any negative impact on our lifestyle — most of them, in fact, had a positive impact, like paying less for gas and electricity and not having so many plastic bags around.  I want to continue this New Year’s evolution in 2009, but I wonder: will my family (and I) be so sanguine if we start trying to reduce consumption in ways that actually make us less comfortable? How far can one very average, very middle-class family go in having less so that others (including future generations) can enjoy more? Does anyone have suggestions for ways you’ve managed to reduce consumption?

And another thought question for the ages: Is a Sony Digital Reader just one more electronic gadget to waste money and clutter up the house, or is it a wise, tree-saving investment for an avid reader who already has a houseful of books but doesn’t intend to stop reading? Inquiring minds want to know … this is NOT just a theoretical question!!


8 thoughts on “Less … a New Year’s Update

  1. The digital reader is cool depending on how many books you can get for it. And if Sony is up to their old tricks, you’ll have to jump through all sorts of hoops just to get a book in the right format on there…but I don’t know. I’d have to do more research to find out the number of books available and how easy it is to put them on and take them off.

    Other than that, I think it’s a way cool idea. I wish we could get ALL books digitally.

  2. You’ve done a lot more than other people, e.g. me 😀

    About the extent of my efforts is switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

    The Sony Reader would come with it’s own set of worries. For example, how much energy does it take to manufacture all the parts that go into making it and distributing it. And how difficult is it to dispose of.

  3. I’m enjoying reading on my iPod Touch which seems a much more efficient investment than something that can just read books. Also, speaking of that, I was very impressed with the packaging of the Touch. A very tiny box with no wasted packaging at all.

  4. Tina, isn’t the screen on the Touch very small for reading? You’ll have to show me what a book looks like on it when next we meet. I like the Sony Reader (and the Amazon Kindle) because they look so book-like, same size page as a paperback, same typeface, etc.

    Jamie, good point about the Sony Reader and what books are available — also the issue of what’s available in Canada vs the US, as I know is often an issue with getting music from iTunes and presumably would be for ebooks as well. I’m also quite entranced by the Amazon Kindle where you can, of course, get the books straight from Amazon, but again I don’t know if there’s the same availabilitly in Canada as in the US.

    FLG, good point about what it takes to go into manufacturing one of these things. But at least it would be a one-time thing (till it died, anyway) as opposed to the ongoing slaughter of trees for my library…

    Oh, and FLG, I think (based on your blog) that you’ve done quite a lot to reduce consumption in 2008! 😉

  5. I heard it was a bit pricey to actually buy your books on Amazon Kindle. Compared to lucking into a book sale, or buying used books, you will pay full price on Amazon. I guess you have to weigh your pros and cons. Some authors won’t be on there of course, so you’ll still have to go the old fashioned method for some. Other than that…digital books seem like a fabulous idea!

    As for de-cluttering the house…oi! I de-cluttered last summer, and found I had thrown out a few of my Christmas decorations that I had meant to keep. Oddly enough, life went on, and the world as I know it didn’t stop. Yesterday I went looking for my winter boots and found two old coats that I thought I had thrown out. One of the coats is quite warm, but very out of style. My mother refers to it as my “grim reaper” coat…big, black with a large hood. This morning I thought about maybe keeping the grim reaper coat in the event we should experience another four day “black out” in the province. That coat might come in handy. That was my thought. Then as I slowly started to come more awake, common sense took over once again.

    I too, like the curly bulbs…although, if broken, they are quite dangerous, and need special disposal. I’m not so fond of that fact.

  6. Ask Lori MacDonald about the Sony Digital Reader. She got one for Christmas. I had a look and it was WAY cool! I’m sold on it now…except for the book availability, which I still know nothing about.

    It does, apparently, read pdf and word docs too, though.

  7. Kindle in Canada is practically a no-go. You need a US billing address, or you did the last time I checked.

  8. That’s kind of what I thought about Kindle, seenonflickr, given that the amazon.ca site DOESN’T offer “Buy for Kindle” as option like the US site does. Why does everything take longer to happen here?

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