The Miraculous Power of Self-Interest

I’m a huge fan of self-interest — when it’s harnessed in the service of the greater good. Even when self-discipline falters, when moral principles give in to fear or greed, and when government mandates fail, self-interest moves mountains. Self-interest is the Trojan horse I’m using to get people on board the low-footprint lifestyle movement.

And it’s looking like self-interest may finally win the day in the struggle to expand the supply of affordably priced urban housing. Young adults are having trouble finding affordable places to live near where the jobs are, and it’s partly because affluent baby boomers in urban areas are opposing efforts to create density and build new apartments near their single-family homes.

However, it turns out that self-interest may win out over this NIMBYism, as the older generations are discovering to their dismay that their kids and grandkids can’t afford to live near them.

Another common concern that’s bridging the divide is the environment: “As people of all ages work for environmental sustainability, they understand that we need to get people out of cars, and this means getting as many people as possible to live in or close to cities and use public transport. And that means making those areas more affordable.” (From When Millennials Battle Boomers Over Housing, article by Mimi Kirk on — great site to bookmark if you’re passionate about urban sustainability).

Hooray for self-interest, when it fuels the greater good.

Further Reading:

Minneapolis YIMBYs Go To the Mat for Zoning Changes. I love the use of the wrestler video to tell a compelling story. And the Canadian anti-sprawl poster, a takeoff on the old Smokey the Bear posters, is a winner!

Neighbors For More Neighbors, on Twitter: a movement to promote the legalization (or re-legalization) of fourplexes. One user commented that “replacing a single-family home with a fourplex has a bigger climate impact than solar panels.” I’m not sure of the figure, but there’s no doubt that sharing walls and a yard and other resources is one of the best ways to reduce footprint while cutting costs.

• And a couple of good books I’ve read recently: Unlocking Home: Three Keys to Affordable Communities, by Alan Durning (takeaway: allow more density). And (the cautionary flipside of revitalizing blighted downtowns) How To Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, by Peter Moskowitz.

Tips, Encouragement, and Community

I find it very helpful to see the specifics of how other people are implementing a low-footprint lifestyle. And it’s fun to share such specifics! Today’s photo shows me rinsing off the grater after grating carrots and ginger to add to a spicy vegetable smoothie. I catch the food particles and rinse-water in one of those thick waxy plastic bags that are used to line cereal boxes nowadays. (I’ve used this bag over and over for months, mainly as a shopping bag for hot peppers or other small veggies from the farmer’s market). Once the grater is clean, I dump the contents of the bag outside to water and feed the yard. In this way the food particles and water become a resource, rather than a mess that needs to be washed down the drain (and quite probably clog the drain, since I have no garbage disposal nor do I want one — garbage disposals invite people to treat fruit peelings and other resources as waste).

Although I enjoy sharing these kinds of tips (and hearing other people’s), you may have noticed that my posts aren’t focused all that much on “how-to”. Rather, I put more emphasis on mindset. There are two reasons for this:

1) People’s living circumstances, backgrounds, and priorities are many and varied. Rather than share an endless disjointed list of tips that may not be relevant to you, it’s more effective for me to convey a “low-footprint mindset” and encourage you to implement that mindset in your own unique way. You will then, just by being yourself, go on to exert a beneficial influence on people of similar background and circumstances to yours, who I would never be able to reach if I were merely sharing a laundry list of my own green lifestyle tips.

2) I firmly believe that the best asset is a positive attitude. (I’m not talking about phony “positive thinking”; I’m talking about a positive attitude that’s firmly rooted in practical reality.) To help you cultivate a positive attitude, I offer a lot of encouragement. After extended observation I’ve come to believe that encouragement is really the main thing most people need. Most people I talk with nowadays are attempting to live their own version of a green lifestyle already, and they just need some emotional support to keep going. Although “green” is a hot buzzword these days, low-footprint living is still counterculture, especially in the USA. And choosing a lifestyle outside the mainstream, even for noble reasons, takes a lot of stamina and courage. Thus I offer you steady doses of encouragement.

Besides tips and encouragement, people need a tribe; a community of likeminded people. This goes double for people choosing a path outside the mainstream. I’m attempting to create a community around my book and blog. But I also want to be sure you all know about the Riot for Austerity community online. We have two main channels right now:

• The Riot for Austerity group on Facebook has been our main channel for the past few years.

• Recently, one of our longtime members pointed out that Facebook is rather high-bandwidth and therefore high-footprint. And so we’ve reactivated our email group, the 90 Percent Reduction Yahoo Group. This group started back around 2007 but went dormant after our Facebook group was launched. As of last week, our Yahoo group is active again!

Join either or both of these groups to connect with a wide variety of people from all over the world who are practicing the 90 Percent Reduction lifestyle (also known as the Riot for Austerity). You’ll get far more information and inspiration than I alone can provide. You’ll find good company and get a feel for just how committed our little grassroots movement is.

One of the longtime members of the Riot movement started a Self-Introduction thread on the rekindled Yahoo group as a practical icebreaker. So far in this thread, I’ve seen low-footprint pointers on home insulation, water savings, bandwidth conservation, weddings, and more. (A couple of different members each shared their own version of how they were able to have the wedding of their dreams for $100!) It’s lovely to hear personal stories and get a feel for the many and varied versions of a low-footprint life.

See you in the community! And thanks so much for allowing me, and this website, to be a part of your resource base for low-footprint living.

Why Stuff Goes Bad

Did you ever think about why stuff goes bad? Food rots in the fridge; clothes mildew; houses left unoccupied collapse in on themselves.

The truth is, stuff doesn’t really “go bad”; that’s just a limited human viewpoint. Stuff “goes bad” because nature makes no waste. Nature makes no waste, and nature allows no waste. Something that appears (through human eyes) to be going bad, is actually not going bad; it’s being used by something, whether animal, plant, or microbe. Resources don’t sit around; they get consumed.

Which is one more great reason to right-size your living space; and to avoid hoarding excess food, clothing, houses, land, and other things that nature (including “pests” and “weeds”) will find a use for if you leave them sitting around too long. I once had a beautiful leather jacket go moldy in the back of my closet, ruined beyond repair because I literally forgot about it. Fortunately, Mother Nature is far more careful and reverent of “stuff” than are many of us, her thoughtless human children. Something(s) ended up getting plenty of use out of that leather jacket.

It occurred to me just now that knowledge and experience can also “go bad” if not used. Find a way to share your knowledge and experience, or it withers inside of you and dies with you.

How many examples of this can you find in your home, neighborhood, workplace, or just out and about?


My name is Jenny Nazak. I’m a self-employed writer, artist, and permaculture designer living on the Atlantic coast of Florida, in Daytona Beach. I moved here in summer 2010 from Austin, Texas, where I lived for 15 years. Before that I lived in central Tokyo for 5 years. And, I grew up in a Navy family so we moved every couple of years in my childhood. I’ve been doing the RIOT since about 2007.

My seaside Florida neighborhood is historic, and is made up of narrowish streets laid out on a grid. I’m about three short blocks from the ocean. The houses in our neighborhood are of modest size (600-1,200 square feet mostly) and on small lots. In March 2018, after having been a renter for almost all of my adult life, I bought a house, which is 988 square feet.

I’m legally a household of one, though I have seasonal and temporary roommates. (I had one young man who stayed here for the summer to work.) I’m now aspiring to get either 1) longterm RIOT roommates who truly love the lifestyle and want to build community together; and/or 2) temporary roommates who are willing to do the RIOT lifestyle at least on a trial basis because it saves a ton of money and is a great way to stay healthy and free up headspace for creative endeavors.

Transportation is a big challenge area for me. Day-to-day is not the issue. I can walk or cycle to 95% of my errands and events; the rest I can generally get to by bus or rideshare. For me, living in a walkable place with close-by neighbors is essential to my happiness and sense of security.

My pitfall is long-distance travel. For the past few years, I had been limiting my trips to 1-2 a year, to see family and friends. Since I always traveled by train or bus, I generally came in at around 50 to 100 gallons of gasoline, which is 10% to 20% of the US average 500 gallons.

However, this past year (2017), with my Mom’s illness and passing, and associated family matters, I ended up taking three airline trips and two solo car journeys adding up to several thousand miles. Air travel isn’t even included in the RIOT, but using calculations I found online for miles per gallon of jet travel, I computed my footprint to be nowhere near the RIOT target, but still under the US average. Maybe 70% of the US average.

Even our farmer’s market is pretty scarce in local produce. I get 95% of my groceries from the farmer’s market but a lot of them come from far away. For example, tomatoes from Tennessee. I’m working on growing at least some of my own food, but since I’m not a great gardener, I focus more on foraging for wild edibles such as prickly pear, bidens alba, spiderwort, chickweed, and other locally plentiful “weeds.” I’ve also had luck growing sweet-potato greens, which are delicious and grow well even if the tubers don’t ever appear. Long-term, I’m planning to get at least one Tower Garden, which grows a couple dozen veggie plants in a tall tiny footprint of about 3 cubic feet.

I eat more processed food than ideal still, but most of it is freegan. (Food that’s being thrown away; food that friends/neighbors bought too much of and are giving away.) My sweet tooth has gotten better as I’ve gotten older, so my “sugar footprint” has gone down as a whole. When I crave candy, I try 1) eating fruit; and 2) walking down to the candy store where it’s sold in bulk and I can bring my own little bag to fill it with just what I plan to consume that day.

I’m omnivore but limit my meat intake, particularly beef.

Local protein aspirations:

I’ve partaken of insect potlucks, and find bugs to be quite tasty! I’m looking into finding edible bugs right around here. Alas our fattest, most plentiful grasshoppers are said to be poisonous.

A neighbor is an avid fisherman, and I traded him some used fishing equipment I found in my garage, and a used SUP board I bought for myself but never ended up using because it was too unwieldy for me to carry to the beach, for pretty much a lifetime supply of fresh fish when I want it.

I use about 15 gallons a day, most of it for toilet flushing. (For cooking and drinking and washing-up, I find it pretty easy to stay at 5 or so.) I conserve water by not flushing for a pee. My house came with a well, and it works nicely. I use it instead of city water as much as possible, so my city water consumption last month was 130 gallons for the month! I still try to track my water usage. The well is hand-pumped (I took out the electric pump and have been thrilled with the hand pump.)

My bathroom sink drains into a bucket, which I use to water the yard. I’m working on transitioning my yard to shrubs, wild plants, coastal grasses that need little or no water.

BTW it rains about 49 inches a year here, which is staggering to me, as I’ve lived in so many places with much less. It’s amazing to me how few people here collect rainwater, and also how folks limit the water-holding capacity of the soil by scalping the grass and other vegetation. Not me. I collect some rainwater in barrels, and also make little trenches etc as well as adding mulch to increase the water-holding capacity of the ground at my place.

I find it pretty easy, when living solo, to keep my electricity at 7 to 10 percent of the US average. Last month I used 70kWh; the month before was 65. If not for the fridge, about the only electric I’d need would be for laptop computer, cellphone, and internet, plus the bit of lighting I use. Having walls painted a light color, which my past several places have been, makes it pretty easy to do with only a modest amount of artificial lighting even at night. (Oh, and it helps that the streetlights are rather bright. One DOWNSIDE of urbanish living. I would rather not have streetlights — would love it if we had a “Dark Skies Ordinance” as some cities do — but I make lemonade from lemons by utilizing the streetlight for reading and writing.)

Space cooling: I just do without a/c. Yeah it gets hot here, and sleeping has its challenges, but for the most part my body is well-acclimated to heat. And I do find that I can almost always be cool, even get a bit chilly even in the dead of summer, by sleeping outdoors, either on the beach or in my yard.

Space heating: I don’t use heat. We get maybe a few nights a year under freezing. Quilts are more than adequate. And during the day, for the few cold days, getting up and briskly moving around works wonders. As do sweaters.

I use zero of either of these. I do use about a quart or two of lamp-oil a year, for my Dietz lantern.

I have no idea. This house has a bit of insulation in the attic but otherwise I don’t know. It’s made of block and has a conventional asphalt-shingled roof. The roof is new and I chose a very light color because, FLORIDA!

The water heater in this house is electric. I don’t use it. I haven’t used a water heater in I can’t remember how long. I’m able to heat the water I need in a kettle.

My “bath” is the ocean, plus a little fresh water from the watering-can and washcloth to wash any excess salt/sand after I get home from the beach. I feel super clean from the salt water. Back in Austin, my “bath” was Barton Springs. 68 degrees year-round!

Similar to Debi: electric stove, solar ovens (which work fine year-round here). I also do haybox cooking (retained-heat cooking), which is boiling for a short time on the stove and then putting the pot in an insulated bag or cooler and the food finishes cooking by itself.

In the summer I eat a lot of raw veggies, fruits, smoothies. I can go days without using any fossil fuel for cooking. I do plan to make a Rocket Stove, have had them at previous places where I lived. They let you cook a meal with a handful of deadwood twigs.

I mostly just don’t want stuff, so it’s easy to keep this category down, except this year was a spike because I had to get a new roof for my house. That was about $7,000, which still puts me at under the US average.

I generate about a pound or two of trash per week. Most of the weight savings is from composting. I also recycle, of course. BUT, since we don’t know for sure where recycling ends up, I strive to minimize my purchase of plastic containers and others that need recycling. One of my challenges is beer. I drink 2 to 4 cans a week. I’m looking into getting a refillable “Growler” from my local brewpub.

What’s important to note, is that my approach to doing the RIOT feels fun and natural and stripped-down in a good way, as in liberating, rather than feeling like deprivation (as some mainstream folks might imagine, if they just read about my practices without knowing me).

That’s all for the moment! By the way, I have a blog where I set out to encourage other people to join the RIOT and live lighter. My latest post has photos of my “virtual tiny house” which I have just created within my house! Basically I turned my 7 x 8 foot studio/office (which used to be a laundry room til I got rid of the washer/dryer because I prefer to wash by hand and line-dry) into my whole living quarters. I did this the other day, because I realized I was nostalgic for the feeling of living in an RV or “roomette”. You can read about it here

Cheers everyone! I’m so excited about the use of the written word as a medium. Low-bandwidth, high-efficiency transmission for all! Feel free to write me and introduce yourself. And if you need any advice or encouragement, just ask! That’s what I’m here for.


Midterm Elections; and Creative Living

What’s up with these pics? I’ll explain later in this post. But first, a word about the midterm elections.

The local candidates that my neighbors and I were rooting for and worked hard to support, did not get elected.

The eco-conscious and responsible-development candidates in the next town over, and in the county, who I would’ve voted for if I’d been able to vote in those districts, lost also.

Most of them lost by respectable margins of 5% or less, and some by quite narrow margins, indicating that there’s a lot of public support for the ideas “our” candidates built their platforms on. Protecting the environment, attracting responsible development, supporting small local business, valuing historic architecture, and so on.

And, what I always say about elections is: No matter who wins, we will all still wake up tomorrow and have to work together. So, although the candidates I was rooting for didn’t get in anywhere, I will still be me, showing up at meetings, writing emails, and all that. Most of all, I will be looking for common ground. ALWAYS. Because there ALWAYS IS common ground.

The person who got elected to City Commission in my zone did not seem to have a platform. If she had one, my neighbors and I didn’t hear about it. And she sent out some cheaply insulting mailers. But obviously a lot of people, including some of my friends, think highly of her. I will find out what my new Commissioner cares about, focus on her as a fellow human being, seek common ground, and work through channels, the way water finds channels (or creates channels!) as it flows.

Because we are ALL STILL HERE, and what’s the alternative? Non-participation? Or just trying to tear down “the powers-that-be”? Nope, not an alternative, neither one of those. Whenever I observe waste, destruction, foolishness, or just plain limited thinking, I will continue to call it out, but in the most constructive possible way, always seeking to offer a better alternative rather than merely disparage what the powers-that-be are doing.

And I hope you will do the same, whatever you feel about the election results. The world is always in need of good ideas, better design, better alternatives. Share your ideas whenever possible, as publicly as possible, through whatever channels you feel comfortable sharing. And most important, LIVE your better ideas to the fullest extent possible.

That’s what’s so great about the low-footprint lifestyle movement: We get to take charge and LIVE our best version of the world we want to create. Day in and day out, we get to vote with our wallets and our sharpened minds, for millions of choices, without regard to who is or isn’t elected.

Every day I vote for walkability by patronizing establishments that are in walking distance, even if I have to pay a few bucks extra. (It ends up being less in the long run or even in the short run.) I vote for beauty by living in historic neighborhoods. I vote for forests and wetlands by planting trees in my yard.

On the subject of living what we prefer, and casting our vote each day, today’s photos show a new creation of mine. This is my micro-studio, which some of you may have seen in previous posts, but this week I made a major addition to it: I turned it from just my art and writing studio/office, into my entire living space including sleeping area and clothing storage. Basically, I have created a tiny house within my 988-square-foot house! This thrills me to no end.

I got the idea just recently. It struck me very strongly that while I adore my house and hope to grow old here, I still yearned for the compact functionality and bohemian paisley genie-bottle feel of my little RV that I lived in years ago in south Austin, or the many “roomettes” I’ve created in shared apartments over the years. So … I have now simply created a tiny house or roomette inside my house, even though the “normal” thing to do when you own a house is occupy one of the bedrooms.

The bed (a sturdy but still lightweight cot*) easily leans up against the wall in daytime and becomes the storage rack for my pillow, blankets. I felt exhilarated as soon as I moved the cot in and figured things out. Now all my pens, notebooks and other supplies are in one room. No more having to wander across the house into a separate bedroom to see if I left my water-glass or writing supplies there during the night. (I know 988 square feet doesn’t give me far to have to wander, but the feel was sort of sprawl-y and unappealing to my aesthetic.) Now things are cute, compact, tightened-up, reachable. It’s energizing and (to me) beautiful.

At night, when I’m lying on the cot, I can look out the door and see the sky. Because this micro-room happens to have its own door to the outside (it opens to my fenced backyard). So it really does feel like having a tiny house or RV in my own backyard!

And, as the icing on the cake, I now have TWO big bedrooms available for guests and roommates, rather than just one! Living with other people reduces everyone’s eco-footprint through reduced financial overhead, and through sharing of household resources such as a fridge, dishes, tools.

The dimensions of my tiny house-within-a-house are 6-1/2 by 7-1/2 feet. Somehow it seems larger, at least 8 by 10!

I wrap this post up with a bit of advice: Vote with your hands and feet; vote for the world YOU want, no matter how wild or weird it might seem from a mainstream viewpoint. Create it; live it. The world needs your creative expression.

* Thanks B! (A shout-out to my dear friend who left the cot with me in the course of his travels)

The Real Point of Deep Green Living

Living from the heart gets a bad rap. People associate it with impracticality, pipe-dreams, not having one’s feet on the ground.

But, as people who are actually doing it know, REALLY living from the heart means you train your thinking mind to operate in service of your heartfelt aspirations. When you enlist your thinking mind in hammering out the details of accomplishing your heart’s aspirations, the “pipe dream” becomes a perfectly practical venture! The nuts and bolts come together; all the bills are paid. Not saying you can expect smooth sailing all the way, but let’s just say that when you fully unleash your heart, and train your thinking mind to follow, you create a tailwind for yourself.

So what’s the “Deep Green” connection here? It’s this: Cutting one’s footprint reduces physical & mental overhead, freeing up energy & processing capacity which can then be channeled into living from the heart! Making the “impractical” practical! Doing your highest calling.

Reducing our footprint isn’t just about sucking our tummies in and trying to take up as little space as possible. And it’s not just about ensuring the biological survival of life. No!

Ultimately it’s about freeing up energy to realize our maximum potential as loving, compassionate, courageous human beings, and the maximim potential of all life on Planet Earth.

The New Public-Health Crisis

What do you think the most serious public-health crisis is right now in the USA? Obesity? Smoking? Addiction to painkillers? All of those are serious, for sure, but the public-health crisis that’s been making headlines lately is … loneliness and social isolation. Actually I’ve been observing this crisis for a long time in the people around me (and also sometimes in myself), and possibly so have you. Loneliness and isolation has been at least a contributing factor, if not the main factor, in the illnesses and deaths of many people I love.

It’s painful to notice how emotionally sparse a person’s life can get, largely because of bad design. (A couple of examples: car-dependent neighborhoods; houses designed to rely on artificial climate control most or all of the time). Although the elderly are particularly at risk, isolation takes a toll on people of all ages.

Many personal actions to address social isolation also reduce our footprint. And the reverse is true too: Many things we do to reduce our footprint can alleviate social isolation. Examples: Starting a community garden; turning off your air-conditioning and sitting under a tree in your front yard; taking an evening stroll around your neighborhood instead of holing up all night in front of the TV; sharing a meal with a neighbor instead of dining alone and consuming more food than you need.

Further Exploration:

Loneliness Kills: A new public health crisis (and what we can do about it). “A little-discussed condition raises the risk of premature death by up to 50 percent—making it a health hazard at least as significant as smoking and alcohol and more so than obesity. Yet many medical professionals haven’t heard about it, and the public remains largely in the dark. …Lack of human contact has serious physiological consequences. Studies show that without human contact our risk of functional decline increases as does our risk of mobility loss. Our risk of clinical dementia increases by 64 percent. These health problems further isolate those suffering from social isolation, threatening a vicious cycle of physical, emotional, and psychological decline.” The authors go on to make several recommendations, starting with elevating our discussion on this topic to a national level.

This TED Talk by Susan Pinker, “The Secret To Living Longer May Be Your Social Life”, is a real eye-opener. The second-most-important factor in longevity is close relationships, and #1 is “social integration” — those seemingly trivial face-to-face interactions in passing throughout the day. Who knew that idly chitchatting with the mail carrier or barista or hardware-store cashier or librarian mattered so much. It surprised me that this fabric of casual daily interactions is a more important factor than close relationships. Further down the list of longevity factors are quitting smoking, boozing, and drugs; and maintaining a healthy weight. Since isolation exacerbates obesity and substance abuse, we can get extra bang for the buck by addressing isolation.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (book by Robert D. Putnam): “In a groundbreaking book based on vast data, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures– and how we may reconnect. Putnam warns that our stock of social capital – the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities.” One of my big takeaways from Putnam’s book is what the author refers to as “the value of weak ties” — people you’re not close friends with, but who are part of your wider circle, such as neighbors and friends of friends. These more distant relationships enrich us in unexpected ways. I experienced this phenomenon firsthand when I was living in an RV park in Austin, Texas. Most of my 16 close neighbors were not people I’d seek out as close friends, but we got great value from one another’s presence. We shared skills, tools, food, and other resources. I already had plenty of close friends in various parts of town, but the “weak ties” with my immediate neighbors — people I would not have sought out, and who would not likely have sought me out, if we hadn’t happened to be living right on top of each other — were a totally separate asset, bringing different benefits.

Community Solutions to the Loneliness Epidemic (report from Shareable): looks at the key drivers of loneliness, social isolation, and civic disengagement; and explores what communities around the world are doing to address the root problems.

• You may already be familiar with this poster from Syracuse Cultural Workers, on how to build community. I’ve seen this wonderful poster on the walls in many intentional communities and permaculture centers. The first two suggestions are “Turn off your TV” and “Leave your house.” Yes! A couple of suggestions I would add to update this 1998 poster are: start a Little Free Library in your neighborhood; and set up a Turquoise Table in your front yard.