Sunday, March 27, 2016

Compare Your Consumption

Many years ago, when sustainability, resource depletion, and Peak Oil were constantly in the news, we could find calculators that would allow us to compare our usage to other people.

Back in 2010, I often wrote about our usage. For those of us here in the US, we always came up on the heavy end of usage. In fact, regardless of our lifestyle choices, just revealing that we lived in the US added negative points to our overall sustainability score, which irritated me, sometimes, but I understand. Just calculating the transportation factor alone (given that most of us in the US have and heavily rely on our automobiles - especially in rural states, like Maine, where everything is so spread out) increases our usage compared to places that have a mass transit infrastructure.

I haven't heard as much talk in the news or around the web these days about personal usage, and so, when I saw
this article on Der Spiegel, I was excited to try it out.

Some of the answers were a bit skewed, because we don't purchase meat from the grocery store. We raise our own chickens and rabbits, we eat wild meat (deer, turkey, fish), or we purchase a meat share (pig, cow, lamb) from a local farmer. With the way that our meat is packaged by the butcher for our family of five, we end up eating about 1.4 lbs of meat per person per week.

We also don't throw away food. Whatever food waste there is either goes to our chickens or goes in the compost pile, but I still put a number in there, because, maybe there are times when something gets put in the garbage that should have gone outside.

The electronic waste question was also a difficult one. My house is full of electronics. Everyone one of us has a laptop computer, and we all have either a smartphone or a Kindle. The thing is, however, that we do, as suggested in the article, repair instead of replace. Deus Ex Machina still has the first smartphone he ever purchased, an iPhone 4. One of the buttons no longer works, but the phone itself is fine. He wouldn't have gotten the smartphone when he did, except that none of the cellphone carriers in our area could support his old razor. We've replaced the screens on my daughters' phones on several occasions when they cracked. As for computers, we rarely replace those, either, because if it works, it works. Why get a new one? And we're just as likely to figure out what's wrong with the old one and replace a part (like putting in a new hard drive, which we've done) as we are to purchase a new one - and even then, the new-to-us computer is just as likely to be a refurb.

The clothes question was an interesting one, because many of the clothing items I own were purchased second-hand to begin with, we tend to wear our clothes until they can't be worn anymore, and when the clothes are no longer fit to wear in public I keep them so that I can make them into something else - like oven mitts, cloth sanitary napkins, bath mats, or surprise clothing items.

I estimated that 10% of my wardrobe consists of things I don't wear often, but that number is, possibly, misleading. I have lots of sweaters that I don't wear at all during the summer. I have some dress clothes that I only wear when I'm ushering at the theatre.

It's been a long time since I filled out one of those calculators, and we've changed a lot in our lifestyle habits. With regard to answers on this calculator (which, I believe, assumed I was German and so I wasn't automatically dinged for being an American :)), we're not doing so bad.

How do you compare to the world?

My answers:

Your consumption in comparison with the world:

  • Your spending: 26 % – People in in Botswana. spend a similar amount on food as you do, measured as a percentage of total expenditures.
  • Your meat consumption: 0.6 kg – Your weekly meat consumption is 0.8 kilograms. That is comparable to the weekly per capita amount available ****.
  • Your household of 5 person(s) throws away 0.5 kg food – At 0.1 kilograms per person, your household throws away less food than those in all European countries for which data is available.
  • You're responsible for 5.4 kg electronic waste – You are responsible for roughly the same amount of electronic waste as people in the Dominican Republic.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


I have this pair of jeans that I really love. They fit better than any other pair of pants I own, and despite looking everywhere, I haven't been able to find a comparable pair - one that fits and feels like this pair that I found at Goodwill a few years ago.

Part of my lifestyle over the last several years has been all about being frugal - partially to save money, partially in the interest of being more "green." We purchase most of our clothes and household goods second-hand, because it's kinder to the Earth, and in most cases, cheaper.

But finding clothes second-hand is, actually, a chore. It's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - one never knows what one is going to get. As is the case with my jeans. I've found, exactly, two pairs of jeans that I like and wear at Goodwill. The first pair are now designated "work" jeans, because they not only have holes in them, but they are also covered in paint. The second pair are now getting threadbare, but I just can't part with them.

Recently, the fabric gave way, and now there's a hole. It's time for a patch.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Will Work ... for Free

I had a conversation with a friend on Facebook the other day. This friend is an anti-capitalist, which can be interesting. I learn a lot.

In this particular conversation, he was sharing some thoughts about housework. In particular, he was sharing articles and essays by Silvia Frederici, who seems to be saying that women have gotten the raw end of the deal when it comes to capitalism. I didn't read further into her writing, and it may be that she is very politically motivated and promoting a different political-economic system than capitalism.

But that's not where my conversation with my friend went.

Where it went, at least for my part, was to concentrate on the reality that our society views housework as valueless, and by proxy, people who engage in it, are considered less valuable than those who do paid work. Mostly women fall into this category, and again, Ms. Frederici, a feminist, may be ranting against this patriarchal system that has, again, dumped on our more gentle sex.

The comment that prompted me to comment to him at all was that he said something about kept women (not to be derogatory, but as a label that is often applied - unjustly - to those who are homemakers).

It's, unfortunately, a truism in our culture, and as a long-time stay-at-home Mom (and I usually qualify that I'm also a work-at-home mom ... see? I'm worth something, because I HAVE a job that actually pays money), I have, personally, been subjected to this stigma.

My thought, though, and that of greater thinkers and writers than I (like Sharon Astyk and Amanda Soule), is that we, the home-makers, may just be the ones who save us. We can all see that our economy is in trouble. The world economy is in trouble. In the past thirty years, the economies in Russia, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Argentina, Greece, Venezuela, and Japan (and perhaps others I haven't mentioned) all collapsed, catastrophically. No jobs. No money. No supplies, including food.

We, housewives (at least those of us in the middle class sphere of housewifery) have been creating a, sort of, informal economy, where we, often, barter our services and/or goods - usually without even thinking that that's what we're doing. I'll teach a workshop and get "paid" with bread and fresh produce. I'll babysit for my friend and she'll pet sit for me. I'll give my friend a rabbit (because she wants to try it), and she'll give me cheese and grass-fed beef from her own cows.

We've learned to reuse stuff that those who are working for money would simply throw away. If I had a full-time job, I probably wouldn't spend much time making my own panties or a bath mat out of old towels and some leftover fabric scraps. There aren't a lot of gardens in suburban neighborhoods, because most two-parent families have two jobs, and gardening isn't on the priority list. Most people don't line-dry their clothes, because it can be a time-consuming choice. Most people don't heat with wood, even if they have a woodstove, and if they do supplement their heating with wood, they don't cook on their woodstove.

It takes time. It takes effort. It takes thought and planning to do all of those things, and when people work full-time, the last thing they want to do is extra work. It's just easier to pay someone else to make panties and bath mats, deliver the heating oil, produce the electricity for the clothes dryer that someone somewhere manufactured, heat up the convenience food that someone else prepped and froze (or canned) in some facility out west somewhere.

Here's the rub, though. When our economy buckles and those conveniences are either no longer available, or only a little available, we'll all be doing more for ourselves.

Or we'll need to hire a housewife to do it for us ... because we, housewives, will be the only people who know how.