The Value of Reducing Your Overhead

Good, down-to-earth advice based on wisdom and experience is something I always appreciate. When I hear such advice from two very different sources, I’m even more inclined to sit up and take notice.

A piece of advice that made a big impression on me was, “Reduce your need to earn.” I heard this back in 2005 from Scott Pittman, of the U.S. Permaculture Institute, who taught the two-week course in Santa Fe, NM, where I earned my first Permaculture Design Certificate.

I just loved that phrase! And often over the years I’ve encountered the same advice worded differently from a variety of sources, including successful corporate executives. The other day, reading a business leadership book (I read a lot of those — they’re great reading not just for business but for life!), I came across the following:

Many young leaders are tempted to take high-salaried jobs to pay off loans or build their savings, even if they have no interest in the work and do not intend to stay. They believe that after ten years they can move on to do the work they love. Yet many become so dependent on maintaining a certain lifestyle that they get trapped in jobs where they are demotivated and unhappy. Locked into the high-income/high-expense life, they cannot afford to do work they love. Ironically, not one of the leaders interviewed would up taking a position predicated upon establishing wealth early so they they could later pursue roles they would enjoy.

Excellent advice, from TRUE NORTH – Discover Your Authentic Leadership, by Bill George with Peter Sims.

I’d actually been practicing this principle for years without fully realizing what I was doing. Long before I took that life-changing Permaculture Design Certificate course, I had reduced my financial overhead to the point where I only had to work a few hours a week to cover my expenses. The rest of the time was free to develop business ideas, make art, connect with friends, ponder solutions to world problems, get out in nature. And, perhaps most importantly, have ample time and headspace to tune in to my inner voice.

Anytime I hear of someone who “can’t afford” to do the work they really want to do; can’t afford to travel; can’t afford to take courses; can’t afford to live the way they want to live; or just plain can’t figure out what they want in life … my first advice is always, “Reduce your overhead. Reduce your need to earn.”

This advice applies doubly to people who are passionate about the environment. Reducing our overhead not only helps us personally; it helps the planet. People with low overhead and simple needs tend to have a much lower eco-footprint. And, they have more free time and headspace to ponder solutions to our collective problems.

Want to improve your life and reduce your footprint in short order? Reduce your need to earn! Note, this is different from saying “Cut your earnings. Deprive yourself. Embrace poverty, be poor, live on the edge.”

No, what I’m talking about is reducing your NEED to earn.

Or, in other words: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.” Those words are from Henry David Thoreau (a real master of low-footprint living large!).

A really far-out example of this principle is Diogenes, the ancient Greek philosopher who supposedly dwelt in an urn. Now THAT would reduce a person’s housing costs! A very low-footprint life, with few possessions other than his drinking cup. But one day, Diogenes came upon a young boy who didn’t even have a cup, and simply drank water out of his hands. Seeing this, Diogenes tossed his own cup away.

Most of us prefer to own cups, and at least a bit of other stuff besides. But almost all of us can benefit ourselves, and help the planet, by reducing our need to earn.

For your further encouragement, I give you two present-day real-life examples of highly successful small businesses that were started by people who’d just had the seemingly disastrous experience of losing their steady, high-paying jobs:

The Soup Peddler, Austin TX: started out as a one-man bicycle-based business delivering jars of homemade soup; grew into multiple storefront locations

Kale Café Juice Bar & Vegan Cuisine, Daytona Beach FL: started out as a booth at a farmers’ market; now has multiple storefronts

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.