I was reading a post over at Small Notebook, one of my favorite places for excellent writing, photography, and style. The author asked, “Have you made any changes that you would have never tried before?“, in relation to environmentally-friendly activities.
Here’s a list of things that I do, that I do for financial or aesthetic reasons, but inadvertently help the environment:
- I garden. We love heirloom seeds from the Baker Seed Company.
- I raise chickens in my backyard. We can’t have an indoor pet because of severe allergies on Fierce’s part, so this is my way of having a daily dose of animal cuteness.
- I never use paper towels. We keep a basket of washcloths and rags under the sink and throw them in the laundry when we’re done. We probably wash them more than necessary, but I don’t think it adds much to how many loads we do annually.
- We use primarily natural cleaners. We still have some commercial cleaners left over from my husband’s grad school days SIX YEARS ago, and will pull them out if we have a good use for them. For example, now that we are potty training, that Resolve Carpet Cleaner sure is nice. Ordinarily, we use vinegar and water in a spray bottle (formerly a bottle from a “real” cleaner. In my experience, these are MUCH sturdier than the kind you buy. I can’t remember how many of those we have broken).
- We air dry big items and easy items. Huge quilts get draped over the currently not-in-use crib and can take their sweet time. Light scarves and jackets hang on hangers near an open window or ceiling fan.
- We buy most things second hand. This is primarily because we are working to save money, despite still being inthe early years of marriage and childrearing where one does have many things to buy. I hit up garage sales and rummage sales like nobody’s business. I will go with a list of outstanding needs, from “black leather belt for Fierce” to “giraffes and hippos for Little People Noah’s Ark set.” It’s amazing how much one can spend buying things retail, compared to buying second hand. This last weekend I went to the mother of all rummage sales, one that is regularly recommended in national magazines. We spent about $70 on clothes for Fierce, $75 on clothes/purses for me, $13 on toys for Wolfie, and $22.75 on the household goods. The clothes we bought Fierce would have cost about $300, even if we had bought only Old Navy junk. If we had bought the same brands, these clothes would have run at least $600. We know from experience that Ralph Lauren polos will outlast Old Navy in terms of color and shape endurance, so we win at several levels. The clothes I bought would have cost about $350, and the purses about $500 or more. Wolfie’s toys would have cost $140 or more. Once I sell two of the more expensive purses, we will actually make a little money, even after deducting everything else we spent. I’m thrilled that Fierce was able to retire some of his more behated shirts and his grief-stricken, worn-out undershirts. The good news for the environment is that we didn’t buy new and thus didn’t contribute to the demand for new goods, and these goods did not end up in a landfill. Financially, we shaved several hundred dollars off of this year’s clothing budget.
- We nurse our computers along for 4-6 years, until they finally die horrible deaths.
- We use the cheapest cell phones on the planet, and never upgrade. Being cheap with few features, they don’t seem to malfunction nearly as often as our fancy flip phones used to.
- We haunt our library for books, DVDs, and books-on-tape.
- We cook almost everything from scratch. We use some frozen and canned food, some non-perishable dried food, but we never buy frozen meals and rarely eat out or get take-out.
- We not only drink organic, but we have it delivered in reusable glass bottles. Oddly, this is cheaper than organic bought at the store. I know organic costs more money, but so do good doctors, safe cars, energy efficient windows.
- ??We cloth diaper and use cloth wipes for our son. I nursed him past the age of two, and will nurse Baby Two.
- We will be having a home birth, which means far less hospital waste. It is unreal watching how much stuff gets thrown in the garbage, just to draw blood or serve Jello.
- We use paperless billing for all of our bills. This usually doesn’t save money, but it saves the stress of having to maintain a huge filing cabinet full of bills one never seems to need.
It’s taken a while to whittle down a lot of our extraneous spending, but we have found that certain hobbies get a much bigger bang for their buck. Gardening has some upfront costs, but assuming a fairly successful year, should pay for itself over the summer and fall. Either way, it leads to hours spent outside rather than in, with a greater appreciation for what goes in to growing our food.
Where do I draw the line? I don’t really. I don’t have a big idealogical hold-up on financial or green moves. If someone wants to use family cloth or sew their own clothes out of recycled flour bags, that’s fine by me. If somebody wants to save money by sitting in the dark or going to bed early, fine too. We have found that 90% of the frugal tips one can follow really don’t have much of an impact on quality of life, other than improving it through better savings. We wouldn’t have found that if we were constantly listing things we would *never* do. Amy Dacyczyn of The Tightwad Gazette refers to “selective squeamishness”, and I think she’s right that if we were honest, we would realize that we do a lot of things that are inconsistent with our allegedly delicate sensibilities. The same people who would never wear used clothes, will try on outfits in the store, which haven’t even been washed between people trying them on. I’ll try almost anything once, and I’m usually surprised how inoffensive the “cheap” way is. Sometimes I scrap an idea, but usually I’ll try it before I knock it.