Monday, July 16, 2012

On buying less and working less

Approximately 5 years ago, I started actively reducing my carbon footprint.

Just over 2 years ago I switched from working 5 days a week to 4 days a week.

These two events are connected.

Often I get asked how much money I save from the environmental changes hubby and I have made. "Just how much do you save by not having a fridge?", is the most common question. When I tell them that it is probably a hundred bucks a year I generally get a lot of "oh".

It's clear they are disappointed.

The truth is that the cumulative savings from getting rid of the fridge, the car, the dryer, and using less water is substantial enough to make all these things worthwhile financially as well as environmentally.

But the one change we have made that has saved us the most money by far, is buying less stuff. Less clothes, less electronics, less take out food, less household items. Basically we stopped buying things we didn't need.

I won't go into the environmental and social issues related to over-consumption because I couldn't hope to do a better job than Annie Leonard did in The Story of Stuff.

Suffice to say it's not good.

But even with 'the Story of Stuff', the environmental benefits from individuals buying less doesn't get a lot of airtime. We tend to think more about our utility usage (gas, electricity, wood, water) when we think of our carbon footprint. These things are easy to measure and so we can assess and compare our success. I can personally attest to how good it has felt to see our utility usage go down.

On the other hand, it's impossible to measure the environmental savings from not buying all the "stuff" we might have bought over the last 5 years. I don't know what those things are nor how or where they would have been manufactured. So I can't use a cute calculator that will tell me how many barrels of oil or trees I have saved. It's not so warm and fuzzy.

But what I do know is that buy buying less stuff meant that after only a short time we were living below our means. Way below our means. And because of that, reducing my work week by 1 day was financially easy. Almost unnoticeable.

And so life has slowed down. I'm not rushing, feeling out of breath, feeling that I'm missing out on things. This morning I took the dog for a long walk through the little urban forest near our house. I came home and had a breakfast of yogurt (homemade), granola (homemade), and local raspberries. As I type this I can hear the birds chirping outside my window. Later today I'll bike up to the library and then perhaps go swimming in the community outdoor pool at the end of my street. Life is good.


Urban Girl said...

Such a great thought on reducing your footprint! Adding more time to enjoy life (rather than stuff!). I keep thinking about how gardening and biking etc adds more pleasure to one's day while at the same time reducing costs and energy demands.

I had a discussion with a friend just last month about needing less of a paycheck if our "wants" can be reduced. They don't consume much, can walk to work so for them it's more a matter of work policy... reduced work hours are still not an option at many businesses. Here's hoping that will change with more and more people taking on side businesses as they explore their talents (like crafters or photographers)!

Before I left the government, my final two years were at reduced hours. I really can't imagine going back to 40 hours a week!

Green Grrl said...

I didn't know you used to work for the government! We should go for coffee/tea - interested to know how you shook off the golden handcuffs!

And I completely agree - I also can't imagine going back to a 40 (or rather 37.5 hr) work week.

Urban Girl said...

It helped that I wasn't there that long (only about five years).

Haha - exactly 37.5!

Let's try for later in August! Bridgehead or Second Cup.

Next couple of weeks, I need to get serious about my aquatic plant collection! I NEED to get this done! (this is the part of school that I don't like - STRESS!)

: )

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