Greening up your life

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OK I know I just wrote a little op-ed describing my rebellious bad-girl relief about being able to throw all of our trash into a single bag without having to recycle and thus maintain several different simultaneous categories of unwanted items, so I understand if it seems a little hypocritical to hop over to the other side and actually encourage environmentalism.  Welcome to my semi-schizoid life.

What follow are several miscellaneous suggestions that I actually do follow myself, at least as best I can.  I’ve noticed that after making certain lifestyle changes, I’ve enjoyed a few unanticipated positive side effects.  I’ve saved money, shed sources/level of stress, and have overall simplified my life.  I enjoy these side effects, and so I pass these encouragements on to all who might get some hybrid mileage out of them (although no, I’m not giving up my pickup truck…sorry).

Growing up, my mother always threw unwanted food scraps into a Cool Whip bowl she kept by the kitchen sink, instead of throwing it into the trash.  No, the bowl never sat very long; she would throw the scraps far into the backyard, where they would serve as food for the birds and whatnot, or simply reabsorb back into the ground as fertilizer for the soil.  Bonus: our trash didn’t smell hardly at all, so nobody dreaded taking it out.

About a year ago, I decided to go completely earth-friendly in the female department, and I swapped out my disposable female supplies in favor of cloth underwear liners.  They were a little pricey, but they’re *definitely* worth it.  They’re actually *more* sanitary in that they allow your skin and private areas to breathe better.  There’s no risk of any toxic shock syndrome or hormone imbalances from any chlorine or plastic by-product issues (these substances used in the manufacturing process of conventional female products carry a host of health risks they don’t exactly tell you about).  They come in different sizes and each liner can hold up to 2 additional inserts.  They stay put and absorb everything well.  They’re much more comfortable.  Sanitation is not an issue; these liners soak well and machine wash without a hitch.  Piece of cake.  Highly recommended!

Another thing my mom did (at least with me) is use cloth diapers.  Same concept, not hard.  They’re much healthier for the baby, as they allow the baby’s skin to breathe better, without the tendency for rashes, reactions, or infections.  Again, totally machine washable, and better for the environment.

My husband and I would go walking in our old neighborhood and as we passed the various trash cans, you could totally tell who had kids with disposable diapers.  With neighborhoods so densely populated, I would be *embarrassed* for a smell like that to be emanating from my outdoor trash can!

While we’re on the subject of raising babies, I am proud to say (as is my mother) that I was NOT a Gerber baby.  My mom didn’t buy into that pre-fab artificially-flavored, MSG-laced crap that sadly passes for baby food, that to add insult to injury, carries a high price tag!

Instead, she took regular adult food–fruits and vegetables and the like–and mashed them up to a consistency I could deal well with.

It worked.  Not only was I one of the healthier and more developmentally advanced kids for my age, but she saved a ton of money, and by not overexciting my brain cells to death with MSG just as they’re trying to work their hardest, I saved a whole bunch of brain cells. 🙂  I know that tidbit isn’t exactly environmental, but then, this is about greening up your life–your whole life.

A big part of my own life has always been my commute, which has usually been long and varyingly hellish.  So, I did 2 things.

First, as long as I was stuck in a stage of my life where I had to have a long commute, I found my truck’s optimum speed limit–the speed at which it runs most efficiently.  Most vehicles have a particular speed that they’re designed to go, and they actually get their best gas mileage at this speed.  For most vehicles, it’s somewhere between 55 and 60, depending on the manufacturer.  I’m fairly certain mine is 55.  For every mile an hour faster you drive than that optimum speed, your gas mileage goes down, and it’s not a linear relationship.  As in, the further you stray from that magic speed, the even faster your mileage plummets.  So, driving fast is not only stressful (I didn’t realize how much more stressful until I started driving slower and only then did I notice the difference), but it’s also costly.  I already hear the protests: you drive faster because want to get to work faster/arrive earlier!

Let me dispel that little myth that claims that driving faster automatically translates to less time spent on the road and thus you can make up for leaving late by speeding to work to get there on time.  It doesn’t, and you can’t.   I’ve consistently gone within 5 mph of the speed limit and gotten passed up by some speed demon doing 15-20 mph faster, only to catch up with them at a red light on a sidestreet or on the freeway as they get stuck behind a group of slower cars.  Seriously, it’s not worth it.  One’s commute is not shorter just because they go faster.  It should be, due to the laws of math and physics, but it’s not, due to the intervention of exogenous circumstances of real life like red lights.  So do yourself that favor…

Of course, driving slower is only preferable if you can’t–gasp–live closer to work!  Now there’s a thought.  Believe me, I counted the days until I graduated school and could 86 the 45-minute-each-way commute.  A huge weight lifted when it was finally over.  Now that we’ve been blessed with the chance to start over, we did what we should have done all along; we decided on our workplace location first, and only then did we search for a place to live, setting a maximum radius.  It’s not the most glamorous place to live, but you can’t beat my 7-minute commute, in which I drive entirely on tree-canopied neighborhood sidestreets without even so much as touching a freeway on-ramp.  Seriously, I think I navigate through only 2 stoplight-controlled intersections.  Oh wait–three.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  I never realized how much better my quality of life would become once I got rid of the heavy commute.  I no longer have to glue myself to an AM radio station and live and die by the almighty traffic report.  I no longer have to leave my house an hour before I’m supposed to arrive at my destination.  I can hook up the iPod to my truck’s stereo system if I want, but I might make it through a single song–if that–before getting to the office.  It’s healthier for me, as I spend less time sitting in a high stress hormone state, and it’s healthier for the environment, as I’m not dumping tons of emissions into the air every morning and afternoon.

Although we’ve always had a dishwasher, we’ve washed our dishes by hand for years.  This may not be practical in a household with multiple children, unless one parent is a stay-at-home.  But seriously, it’s simpler just to wash them right away after dinner.  Because we don’t have to wait for a massive load to accumulate before washing dishes, our dishes are always clean, our sink is always clean and empty, our electric and water bills are much lower, and we actually have more free time (as it takes less time since there’s no dishwasher to load and unload).

Bonus: our dishes are actually cleaner (dishwasher spray heads often get gummed up with hard water minerals or dirt/silt–think back to the commercials for dish soap that got rid of those pesky spots…or worse, remaining food particles!)

The biggest thing we do is stay home a lot.  Yes, we’re (quite) broke, so it’s not like we have a lot of options (going out practically anywhere is usually expensive). But it’s more than that.  We’re a family-oriented town, and as such, our streets are usually cleared out by 6pm, when everyone gets home from work and sits down with their family for dinner.  Going out to eat and shop is not a powersport for us.  Staying out at the mall (or on the road, for that matter) until 10pm does not deserve a badge of honor.  In fact, it’s sort of a societal atrocity that there is still traffic at 10pm (in other cities), and the only way I even know for sure that there is, is because our work and school schedules involuntarily kept us out that late, or we would’ve been home ages earlier.  One could ask, how do I know that these people aren’t in the same boat?  Half the city, you mean?  Concentrated around the mall and restaurant areas?  Hardly adds up to anything beyond their control.

Bonuses to the tidbit immediately above: we save a shit-ton of money and time.  Not only do we save money on the eating out (and thus additional tipping) expenses, but we also save on gas and all of the other shopping temptations.  We also get our evening hours to ourselves, without having them all spoken for me by having to be in the truck.  We don’t contribute to traffic congestion and we form (priceless) stronger bonds with our (also priceless) family members.

There.  I’m so green I’m dang near Kermit.  Oh wait, he’s still on the porch, smoking.

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