Thursday, January 7, 2010

Philosophy 101: On Not Paying for the Boring Stuff

In my last post, I made a bit of snarky fun of the financial-writer convention of using giving up a daily latte as a way to balance the budget.  As I suggested, I have been guilty of doing this myself; as I also suggested, coffee lovers will not want to be separated from their gourmet beverage of choice.

This is an example of one of my personal touchstones of sustainability:  if you perceive a cut as a sacrifice, you will be less likely to follow through with it.  Making a lifestyle change to sustainability is just like a diet; if you promise to give up your favorite cookies at New Year's, you will be off the wagon by February.  But if you cut something from your diet you don't like anyway and perhaps substitute something healthy you love, it will become second nature.

Sustainability is the same way.  If you are adopting this lifestyle to balance or cut back a budget, you will be tempted to start with the things you view as an extravagance, and cut there.  Indeed, if you are facing five- or six-digit credit card debt, the loss of one or more household incomes, or bankruptcy and foreclosure, you probably will have to adopt a more monastic approach for a while.

However, if you are just looking to live a better life using fewer resources, I suggest you start by looking at the bill you hate most to pay, and make your initial changes there.

For me, it is the electric bill.  Yes, I'm a big fan of summer air conditioning and running my various necessary appliances, but I absolutely hate the day the electric bill arrives.  Somehow, it is boring, and I never really feel like I'm paying for something tangible, even if I am.  So my first moves toward sustainable living addressed the electric bill.  Easy changes I made included:

  • Closing the window coverings on south-facing windows in the summer to keep out the heat from the sun.

  • Hanging most laundry outside to dry, as soon as the air temperature was over 60.  (I'm a wimp, but this year I aim to be out there in slightly cooler weather.)

  • Making sure to bake more than one thing when I use the oven.  If I do a roast, I will certainly bake bread and maybe a batch of cookies while it cooks.

  • Only running a full dishwasher.

None of these were hard changes to make, and each one gave me a small feeling of control over that bill that I hated so much.  And with the exception of hanging out the laundry (which did require purchase of a clothes line), every one of them was free and took very little time to execute.  I just needed to think a little harder about the timing of some events.

As we move into our journey of sustainability, ask yourselves what you hate the most to waste:  money, time, resources?  Then ask yourself what aspect of your life bores or irritates you, and take your first sustainability steps there.  How can you decrease a bill, produce less waste, or use less of a resource you value?  Make it a challenge to yourself, almost like a game, and you will soon have a lifestyle.

What are you going to change this year?
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