When we think of “reducing our footprint,” the first thing that comes to mind is setting out to reduce the use of something. Use less water, use less electricity, and so on.
Which is great! But if we try to do too much of that approach all at once, it can start to feel like being on a diet! Always having to “count calories.” Fortunately, there are other kinds of actions we can take to reduce our footprint, that don’t require us to focus on “cutting” something. The cuts come naturally in the course of taking the action (or inaction, as the case may be!).
Here are just a few examples:
• Dilute your dish liquid and liquid hand-soap with water. The bottle can last months or even a year or more, and the product still works fine. I’ve been very surprised at how much I can dilute a liquid detergent and have it still work. This not only saves detergent but also drastically cuts down on the consumption of plastic bottles. A bottle of dish liquid that might have lasted me a month in the past, can now last a year.
• Skip mowing your yard. Skip it every other time; leave part un-mowed; skip it permanently and turn your whole yard into a meadow. Lawn-mowers and associated grass-grooming equipment can use huge amounts of gasoline. Free up your time and labor for something fun.
• Skip an event you don’t really want to go to. If it’s a social event, express your friendship with a card. If it’s a meeting, write up your comments by email.
• Fall in love with thrift/vintage clothing, and make it your default if you haven’t already. The production of new textiles and clothing has a huge footprint.
• Turn one night a week into family nighttime adventure walk night. Turn off your house lights and entertainment devices and head out into the neighborhood on foot! Enjoy your discoveries.
• Skip cooking dinner, and just make a cold picnic supper with food that’s already in your fridge or on your shelves ready to eat.
• Go for an overnight camping trip in your yard. Same as the adventure walk, the idea is to turn off the lights and electronic entertainment devices, and have an “acoustic” evening. Pitch a tent, sing songs, tell jokes and stories.
• Go “shopping” in the recycling bins on your street. (Note, in some areas it is illegal to remove stuff from other people’s bins.) One neighbor’s trash can be your treasure! Containers I find particularly useful include thick square plastic buckets, thick plastic detergent bottles, large peanut-butter jars. Bonus: Many times an “empty” detergent container will contain enough liquid for several washings! The key is to add water and shake, so the detergent is thinned out and can be poured easily. Then once the bottle is cleaned out you can put it to other uses. I have an excellent dustpan that I made by cutting up an empty detergent bottle.
• Walk away from an argument. Be it on Facebook, in person, or somewhere else, arguments consume a lot of resources. Decide it’s OK not to have the last word. Walk away and go do something else — something fun, productive, kind, or all of the above.
• Walk over and introduce yourself to your neighbors. Besides being the friendly thing to do, and being good for neighborhood security, it also promotes sharing of resources. If my neighbors and I didn’t know each other, we wouldn’t be able to lend/borrow tools, carpool, share food — all of which reduces one’s footprint.
All of these actions might seem small, but they add up. And, since they are done at the personal and household level, they help shift our cultural norms away from unnecessary consumption, and toward thrift, sharing, friendship, and creativity.