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!!