RIOT update: electricity

Caveat: This post was originally written for fellow members of the Riot for Austerity, a grassroots movement of people voluntarily seeking to reduce their eco-footprint to 10% of the U.S. average. If the numbers or the actions described seem extreme to you, don’t worry. The way I’m going about reducing my footprint is only one of an infinite number of possible ways. I just thought some of you might be interested in seeing actual numbers and details of one household (mine) that often achieves the 10% target or nearly so, at least in the category of electricity. Anyway, whether or not you participate in the Riot for Austerity, try not to get too hung up on numbers or momentary fluctuations; it’s really about the big picture and the long run.

This past March I moved into a house. The house has a very large fridge. (Until then, I had been living in small apartments with modest-size fridges.) The fridge, by itself, seems to consume an average of about 2kwh per day.

When I’m living by myself in this house, my electricity consumption is 60 to 75 kwh per month, which is about 7 to 9 percent of the U.S. average. (In the small apartments where I lived before, it was 45 to 60 kwh per month, or 5 to 7 percent of the U.S. average.) The average electricity use of a U.S. household is 900kwh/month.

Since I don’t use a/c or heat, don’t have a washer/dryer, and keep the water heater turned off, the remainder of my electricity consumption is mainly from 1) cooking, when I cook indoors (electric burner, electric stove); 2) electronics (internet router and modem, laptop computer, smartphone, sometimes mini speaker for listening to music).

Yesterday I consumed, by myself, a whopping 4 kwh! If that level were to be sustained over the course of a month, that would of course put me over the Riot for Austerity target of 90kwh. The culprits, best as I can figure, were:

1) unusual amount of electric cooking – I plugged in the monster stove (which I usually keep unplugged) that came with this house, and used its oven to bake bread pudding from a bunch of petrified-stale baguettes I had forgotten about in my freezer — an endeavor that, together with some stovetop cooking I did, probably cost me 1 kwh; and

2) several hours of listening to music with my laptop and mini speaker, which was probably 500 watts total.

Conclusion: If I want to be well under the RIOT target, I need to keep using the solar oven as my main cooker, which is what I’ve been doing all summer. Also it would be good to build a little rocket stove. And, do something about the fridge.

I don’t intend to buy a new fridge, with all the footprint that entails, but I may look into buying a used fridge, or seeing if there’s a neighbor with a smaller fridge who might want to swap fridges with me!

Another interesting RIOT note: This spring and early summer, I had a housemate. Despite not being interested in conservation, he was onboard with my lifestyle because it allowed me to offer him a room for super cheap. So he tolerated the lack of a/c and so on. With both of us in the house, we typically used about 126 kwh in a month. Pretty cool, as that is still a mere 14% of the U.S. average! One month we used just 101kwh! (He happened to go out of town a lot that month.)

(Oh, and early on, when I first bought the house and had not yet switched off the water heater, we consumed 137kwh in the first month of the housemate living in the house with me. Although the “huge” number freaked me out at first, I had to laugh at myself once I realized it is still just 15% of the U.S. average. Not bad!

These are some promising results, with great implications for 1) those of you green-minded folks who share living space with people who aren’t particularly eco-minded; and 2) extending the low-footprint-lifestyle movement to people who aren’t particularly eco-minded but who are concerned about their finances, health, and so on.)

Postscript: A fellow member of the Riot suggested that I should go ahead and buy a newer fridge, which could cut my electricity use from refrigeration in half. I balk at buying new stuff, but am on the lookout for a used fridge that is smaller and more energy-efficient than my current one.

Electronic Decluttering: Devices, Cords, etc.

I sometimes joke that I once had the distinction of being the only known person in the Continental United States who managed to completely weed out all “unidentified mystery items” from her office drawer of cords, chargers, and other electronic impedimenta. You know, those chargers for battery packs and other things that are long gone. Or those mysterious A/V cords with yellow or red ends, that are supposed to be plugged into the back of some portable speaker or CD player you donated to Amvets or Goodwill ages ago, and the cords you never used anyway even while you had that device in your possession because it seemed to work fine without them.

Yet you can’t 100% be sure you remember what devices those cords and things are supposed to go with, so you hang onto them, afraid to throw them away. Sometimes you KNOW FOR A FACT that a charger belonged to a phone that died, and still out of superstition you hang onto it. (Surely I’m not the only one?)

Well, one day sometime in 2009 I cleaned out that drawer for real, and for years afterward I existed in the blissful state of ONLY having plugs and chargers and cords that I could actually identify as belonging to devices I still had in my possession. Ah, ecstasy!

Recently, though, a few strays have crept in. Still, it’s a big improvement; they all still fit into a ziploc baggie, which fits neatly into a drawer in my kitchen, and hopefully should not be too hard to sort out.

An electronic device I let go of recently was a pair of speakers I inherited from my Mom’s house. They have a base station that they must connect to by wire, and also each one needs to be plugged in to a wall plug for power. In other words, the two speakers require a total of three power outlets. All those wires notwithstanding, the label on the box reassures the consumer that these are “wireless speakers.” I donated these to my AmVets thrift shop. I will keep my itty bitty baby speaker that’s the size of my smartphone, uses only one cord, and produces better sound than the big fancy “wireless speakers” pictured above.

Interesting backdrop to the wireless speakers: At one point they were sitting on top of a quilt made by one of my aunts, who was an epic quilter right up until she passed away a couple years back. The quilt measures about 6 feet by 7 feet, and every single stitch was made by hand.

(By the way, speaking of drawers and the decluttering thereof, I was also at one point possibly the only known person in the Continental United States to clean out her drawer of sauce packets from Chinese takeouts. I actually used up all those little packets of soy sauce and hot mustard and duck sauce! But at some point over the past year or so, I seem to have accumulated a full jar again! Hey, at least now I’ve wised up and confined them neatly in a jar, rather than filling up a corner of a kitchen drawer where they somehow, despite being sealed packets, manage to leach their brown and yellow and peachy-orange goo all inside the drawer.)

Tiny Bohemian Universe

Part of what prompted my post yesterday about electronic decluttering, was stumbling on a bunch of photos I’d totally forgotten about, stashed in dusty corners of my computer hard drive. This one is a photo-collage “excerpt” of a line of jewelry I made a few years back. I dubbed the pic “Tiny Bohemian Universe.” I love the bright colors and the sense of entering a sweet minuscule world, and thought you might enjoy it too.

One major advantage of the low-footprint lifestyle is that it frees up enormous amounts of time and energy. It can also radically reduce one’s income requirements. For me, those benefits add up to things like being able to create a line of jewelry and have that be part of my livelihood.

Electronic Decluttering: Hard Drive

Although it doesn’t take up physical space, clutter on a computer can be a major drain on one’s time and energy! I’m not a huge picture-taker, but I do have a fair number of photos, and am not that great about naming the files and putting them into folders. Today I got the idea of making one file that’s like an electronic photo album.

I could do one for my whole life; or do different albums for different periods of my life. Deleting the photos from my hard drive after making the album would be an option. Or copying the photos onto a memory stick and then deleting them off the hard drive.

Here’s a page from “Starshine,” a little 2-page album of my favorite photos of my cat. She lived just about 16 years, and was such a sweet and joyful part of my life. She came to me as an abandoned stray in Austin, and made the move with me to Florida. She always was a good traveler.

Making the album brought back happy memories. My mind feels cleared and energized just knowing all my favorite photos of her are gathered in one file, with the very easy-to-find title “Starshine Album.”

I created the file in Pages for Mac, but it would be easy to export as a PDF to make it more shareable if I wanted to.

Best Dustpan Ever


I made this dustpan a few years back, from a detergent container I got out of a recycling bin. I think I saw the idea online; I don’t remember thinking of it myself. In any case, this has been my favorite dustpan ever, and the little caddy for daily household goods or toiletries was a nice bonus. Goes nicely under the kitchen sink or bathroom sink, and keeps those jars and bottles organized.

When the dustpan isn’t in use, it stows neatly right on the broom.

Low-Footprint Living Hints from LoLo-Ease


No doubt most if not all of you are familiar with Hints from Heloise, that beloved newspaper column offering household thrift tips. Heloise has been around for almost 60 years now! (Actually the column was taken over by Heloise’s daughter in the 1970s.) The tips are as good as ever, and of course, what’s thrifty is oftentimes also green so it’s a double bonus.

Today I offer you my own version, Low-Footprint Living Hints from LoLo-Ease. Domestic Science for the New Green Millennium! Eco Home Ec!

• When a jar of jelly or honey is used up, put water in the empty jar and shake it vigorously to clean out those very last bits of honey or jelly. The jelly-water or honey-water is a nice sweet treat, and the jar will be cleaner for the recycling bin. Sometimes I chill the jar of sweetened water in the fridge for an extra cool treat.

• Peanut butter and oatmeal is a filling and affordable breakfast. When the peanut butter jar is just about empty, instead of having your oatmeal in a bowl as usual, put that day’s oatmeal and hot water in the peanut-butter jar, stir or shake, and eat your PB&O right out of the jar! For us green cheapskates, failing to use up that very very last bit of peanut butter would just be wrong! Also the oatmeal and spoon serve as a nice scouring material to get the jar clean for the recycling bin.

• Instant cover for the compost bin: flattened cardboard box. It makes a nice additional cover, besides the dried leaves and grass that you use to cover the food scraps to keep odors down and make the material break down properly. Over time as the cardboard gets broken down by rain, you can mush it into the bin with the rest of the compost and then replace it with another flattened box. By the way, earthworms love cardboard. And it’s always good to steadily use up cardboard boxes rather than keeping too many around your house and garage, as they are attractive to rodents.

• Buy the toilet paper that has a paper wrapping rather than the one wrapped in plastic. It’s one less piece of plastic in landfill, and the paper wrapping is really good for cleaning the stubborn gunk out of your coffee cup (or for a greasy pan or plate, etc.). And you can toss it in the compost afterwards.

Those are just a few of my personal favorites that I can think of off the top of my head right now. I’ll write more on other occasions as I remember them. If you’d like to share your favorite household green thrift tips with your fellow readers of this blog, feel free to email them to me. Be sure and let me know if you want me to include your name or initials, and city/state.

Have a thrifty green day, and remember, the millions and millions of little choices we make each day have the power to change the world!

I realize that some of you might feel that the tone and content of this post is inappropriately light. We’re dealing with a deadly serious subject here, after all: the impending collapse of our living environment; the possible imminent demise of human civilization, because of what boils down to human thoughtlessness and selfishness.

The light tone of some of my posts might seem offensive to some of you. For those who prefer a more serious approach, I assure you I’m living it. But keep in mind that I’m trying to reach and motivate as many people as I can. And stay motivated myself!

For those of you who’d like a bit more substance to balance out the light tone of today’s post, I offer you this article by Ron Meador in MinnPost, New outlook on global warming: Best prepare for social collapse, and soon.

I’m here to help you prepare for the possibility of societal collapse. Ideally, best case scenario, to prepare ourselves so we AVOID societal collapse. And much of the preparation involves boosting our inner resilience. Humor and the ability to take pleasure in small things are valuable qualities to cultivate as we move forward into uncharted terrain.

A Tale of Two Yards

The two houses in these photos are located just a couple doors down from one another. Both houses are right on the beach. They literally have the beach in their backyards! The owners of the home in the top photo have a typical lawn. The owners of the home in the bottom photo chose to leave the existing trees and shrubs in place rather than clear the lot.

These houses front onto a busy highway. The house with the trees gets a free privacy buffer and noise buffer. Interestingly enough, although the lawn obviously has a much lower volume of vegetation, the lawn people probably have to water their yard more than the tree people do. The tree people might not have to water at all! (Actually this lawn doesn’t look too extremely green, like those you see sometimes whose uncannily green color is maintained by massive inputs of water and fertilizer and weed-killer. It looks fairly low-maintenance as lawns go. Still, the trees win hands-down in terms of beauty and functionality!)

Another benefit: The trees to the west shield the house from the fierce afternoon sun, which probably means the tree people don’t need to spend as much money to cool their house as the lawn people do.

Smart people, those tree folks! So much else to do with their time other than maintain a clipped lawn. After all, the beach beckons! … Or the library, or the fishing pier, or the art museum …

They may or may not realize it, but the tree people aren’t just benefiting personally from their landscaping choices; they are also helping to reduce the load on the stormwater infrastructure and protect the land from wind and water erosion. And they are creating a cool moist microclimate which provides habitat for beneficial wildlife as well as making life more comfortable for humans.

A fine example of stacking functions, as we say in permaculture design.