Another Bright Idea

Diogenes by Jean-Leon Jerome.
Diogenes may have chosen to live in a barrel, but he had very nice muscle definition, and four lovely puppy friends. What more does anyone need?

One day Diogenes the philosopher was down at the stream washing vegetables for his dinner when Plato strolled by. "You know," observed Plato, "if you learned to court the king, you wouldn't have to eat vegetables for dinner."

"Mmhmm," grunted Diogenes, "and if you learned to eat vegetables for dinner you wouldn't have to court the king."

Me, I am one of those who would rather eat vegetables than court the king.

This new year I do have a resolution. To live lighter. To live more on the eating-vegies-with-Diogenes-in-his-barrel end of the economic spectrum. One day in winter I was walking the dog and watching some rather bedraggled birds huddled in the trees, and it occurred to me that if I was willing to put up with the same degree of discomfort that birds do in the winter, then I too could be 'free as a bird'. After about three seconds of reflection I rejected that idea, but I have since modified it. Now my plan is to reduce my footprint down to the minimum I need to live a cheerful and fulfilling life. I haven't got there yet. I mean, I have a perfectly cheerful and fulfilling life, but I haven't reached the sweet spot where I am at minimum expenditure for maximum return. I have started on that delicious downward slope, however, and here is how the plan is going so far:

I moved from a large house with a pool to a small house with plenty of space for growing food (going well) and keeping chickens (still a future project). I ditched some of my appliances - I don't have a dishwasher, tumble dryer or TV at my new house (well, I have a TV in the wardrobe that comes out sometimes to watch a DVD). I have discovered that with wooden floors I use a broom and don't need a vacuum cleaner (anyone want one?).

Without these appliances and with a wood heater for winter heating we are using much less electricity. Because we are living close to the centre of town we are walking a lot more and driving less. After my Buy Nothing New year I have become used to hunting for second-hand goods, or sometimes buying local or handmade. I sometimes fail at this, especially with clothes for teenagers.. but more on this another day. Anyway, I have made much progress and rarely walk into a department store these days.. except with a teenager..

I have long been an advocate of local food, and recently decided not to shop at supermarkets any more, which frankly is a little trickier than I had anticipated, due to forward planning, or the lack of it, and the way the big supermarkets are conveniently always open. Still, for the most part I am making progress towards living lighter, but want to ratchet it up a notch.

Anyway, I ran my idea past the girls, who by this stage are used to my bright ideas, and mostly ignore me, but The Girl, who can be very practical, thought it might help if I quantified my goals (she knows she is quite safe because she gets to go back to university in another state, so she can afford to encourage me). I found that idea rather intimidating but then remembered Sharon Astyk's Riot for Austerity project of 2007 and 2011 where she encouraged people to see if they could live on ten percent of an average American's use of earthly resources. I remember seeing it on-line at the time and thinking that I couldn't possibly do that, but now here I am several years later, willing to give it a go. I might use her 2011 numbers for American usage, or I might try to find 2016 numbers for Australian usage, but really, I am sure they are very similar.

So here are my goals for the year. I will reduce my consumption to ten percent of the amount of energy and new goods used by an average Australian. Categories used by Astyk are Transportation Energy, Electricity, Heating and Cooking Energy, Water, Garbage, Food Energy, Consumer Goods. I undertake to examine all of these areas, mostly in a haphazard manner and without doing any difficult sums. Near enough will be good enough for this project. I do not know how to make an excel spreadsheet, and I intend to keep it that way. Now, it seems like a terrible way to start a project, but I am kind of expecting that I won't meet the goal. I am very interested to see how low we can go without feeling miserable and deprived. But what if I only reduce consumption by 50%? Well, that will hardly be a failure, will it? This is really a game you can't lose.

If there is anyone who would like to join me, I would be more than pleased, in fact I would be absolutely delighted! Or come along for the journey and point out what I am doing wrong, and make helpful suggestions. I love a conversation.

Once, Alexander, King of Practically Everywhere, and otherwise known as Alexander the Great, came to visit Diogenes who was sprawling in the sun next to his barrel. Alexander asked Diogenes if there was anything he wished for that the king could provide for him. "Well," answered Diogenes, "now that you mention it, you are standing in my sun. If you could just move that way a little, no, a little more, a little more. Ah yes, that's perfect. Thanks."

And as he left, Alexander remarked that if he could not be Alexander, he would be Diogenes.

Because the thing about wanting nothing, is that then you have everything..


Anonymous said…
I need to think on this. Not sure how I would go being so drastic with my family who definitely wouldn't be on board, but it's something I would like to try. At the least to just reduce across those areas in some way that is sustainable over the long term would be good for me/us I think. Being the lazy sod that I am, I'm going to follow your lead on numbers and such and then see what I can do.

cheers Kate
ps no pressure on you to provide that info of course
Jo said…
Kate, this is exactly what I think - reduce to 10% - is it even possible? Well, I'll know when I try, but even if I fail, I'll have reduced consumption by something, so it's a win/win situation. Btw I am also a lazy sod, so this will be the Sustainability Club for Delicate Snowflakes Who Like to Lie on the Couch:) Welcome aboard!
Treaders said…
A brave goal but like you say, if you "only" reduce by 50% that in itself would be fantastic. I have a shedload of stuff to get rid of so I think I have to aim for a major declutter first as my goal for this year but I will troll right along with you. Pity you are in Australia - it would be fun to meet up with other like-minded souls, so if you ever move to France .... Anna
fran7narf said…
You just got me twitching mentioning Excel. Steve and I studied "Complex Excel Spreadsheets" at TAFE an eon ago. Don't ask me why. I think we went insane there for a while and signed up but we did complete the course and I do know how to insert a macro into a spreadsheet. I may or may not reserve the right to throw my computer over the deck in a furious rage should my spreadsheet not behave as it has been programmed but that's an appropriate use of energy and should be included on that energy consumption scale so thats AOK by me.

We are with you in solidarity with reducing our footprint on the earth. Living out in the country means that you can impliment a lot of schemes and ideas that you couldn't contemplate in the city but I have a sneaky suspicion that if you want to do something badly enough, you will find a way. Here's to Diogenes and his bolshie desire to stick it to the man! We are discovering that once you step onto the pathway of working with nature, rather than against it, you get an incredible sense of satisfaction as a brilliant side benefit. Learning how to do all kinds of things yourself when you used to have to pay someone else to do them makes you feel like a million dollars. I can now make a really tasty vegan butter substitute that Steve likes that takes us another step away from the supermarkets. We have made our own bread, crackers and vegan mayo and the results have made us so much happier than the sum of the energy expended to create them.

Diogenes was onto something! We just need to pick up where he left off (preferably living in a house rather than a barrel but whatever floats your boat!) We already have two of the four dogs so I feel we are at an advantage here. The more you can make of what you have, the more you learn about recycling, repurposing, re-using what is available to you, the more empowered you feel about your life and the direction it is taking. The world around us is moving at a manic pace and we can't do a lot about the direction that it is taking aside from finding like minded people and banding together to form a motley crew of Diogenes's to spread the word and to share what we know and to offer another pathway of hope, satisfaction and understanding. Here's to communities :)
Anonymous said…
Admirable intention. I'm not going to join you , yet... Am finding the averting made in China products is already impacting my consumption in a huge way. Practically everything in the U.K is made there!!! I've been able to walk away from lots of unneccessary rubbish using my new rule. Rather liberating. Combined with trying very hard not to buy food in plastic packaging I'm feeling rather self-righteous in this first week of the new year, but you are taking it to a whole new level. You are rather inspiring you know ! Penny Lxx
Jo said…
Anna, when I move to France you will be the first to know:) Getting rid of stuff is very emotionally uplifting and freeing. I mean, look at Diogenes. He is clearly not into clutter! All the best for that journey xx

Fran, I still have your cracker recipe on hand to try:) I am hearing you on the heady sense of empowerment when you just get on and create something. You guys must be feeling that in spades with your magnificent new wicking garden. Respect!

NB I am kind of hoping that living in a barrel isn't in my future either..

Penny, liberating is the exact feeling I have when I don't go shopping! And not buying food in plastic packaging is actually really hard, isn't it? I fail at that continuously, but I keep trying. Don't be inspired yet, I haven't done anything.. talk is cheap!

Anonymous said…
You know I will be watching you and cheering you on! And living a better life vicariously through you. It's like your my mirror image in the good world.

And you don't fly. Apparently one long haul flight produced more green houses gasses than, well I will be precise here, all made in one yesrcof my life. Or it negates a year of recycling. Or something. Anyway it is bad. But I'm not giving that up.

On the up side, Mr S and I do a fair bit of recycling. And with a pool, use the water of an average four person house. I can look next time and share with you what that is, so you can see if you are less than Sydney. After all, Sydney is probably to Australia what the US is to the western world in resource consumption.

I'm thinking of buying a soda stream as I have cut right back on alcohol and enjoy drinking soda water but feel bad about all the bottles and the energy used in transporting all the bottles. This way I will just use tap water. So more buying to reduce consumption. Lol. It actually doesn't work out cheaper than homebrand soda water but I figure less wastage and bottles going flat in the fridge and no more bottles in the recycling.
Anonymous said…
Seems Wordpress is launching a unilateral attack. Blogger let me right in!
Jo said…
Lucinda, you always make me laugh! But hey, let's all just jump in right we we are and do something, whatever that is, because it's all better than not doing anything, and for me, too, it's about finding a sweet spot where I am living a happy and fulfilling life with the smallest footprint possible. For every person that is going to look different.

When we had a pool I didn't find it used a lot of extra water, but a huge amount of electricity for the pump.. but I can't talk about water, as this morning I left the sprinkler on the vegie patch for one and a half hours while pottered about the house. I was so convinced I had turned it off after 20 mins. I can even remember doing it! Clearly losing my mind..
Little Moo said…
I can suggest a good book called "Grown and Gathered" by Matt and Lentil (no surname...) if anyone wants to know about living by the seasons and 'off the grid' in terms of food production. They're a couple from country Victoria who have written a book about how they managed to get out of the supermarket 'everything always available' mentality.

Will be watching with great interest - also interested in numbers re energy consumption if you are able to easily get them...

Good luck!
Jo said…
Little Moo, I love your name! My grandmother's name was Muriel, but we all called her Moo:)

Thanks for that recommendation - I saw their book reviewed recently - was it in the latest issue of Earth Garden maybe? and I just looked up both book and their blog, which is wonderful. I may be buying a book soon..
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Diogenes epitomises cool! Those are worthwhile and admirable goals and I salute you. It's a journey really, don't you reckon?

Jo said…
Chris, yes, all the cool people live in barrels and eat vegetables and espouse Cynical philosophies! I love that in the stories he always got the better of Plato in their, er, discussions.

Yes, it's all a journey. Sometimes I need to get kick-started, and this is one of those times..
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry for my delay in responding to your post, I've had to do some number crunching and give it some thought.

The upshot is that I'm going to partially join you in this challenge. My exclusions are: 1. Travel. It's already at a bare minimum as home is my favourite place. 2. Consumer Goods. I did a not buyin' nothin' for six months a few years ago. I had to rush out and buy some new shoes at the end of it, but the non-consumption habit has stuck and very little new stuff enters my house now. 3. Electricity. I have been all over this for the last several months and apart from depriving myself of the radio and Internet (eek ! and for negligible gain), I don't think I can tweak my consumption much more.

But, I am sure I could make some improvements in the other areas. I thought I might spend the next month recording my food, water, and garbage habits and figuring out where I can make some changes. They may only be small, but it all adds up!

Good luck to us both :)

Jo said…
Specks, how marvellous! I would love to share the journey with you:) And it looks like you have done such a lot already. I would love to know how you have tweaked your electricity consumption. I will be onto that when I get my next bill, which I believe will be next week..

Yes, good luck to us.. we need all the help we can get:)
Angus Wallace said…
Hi Jo,

Great post. I've heard that anecdote before, but had forgotten it -- thanks for the reminder!

The easiest way to reduce your energy consumption is by reducing car transport. Cars are so normalised in our society that we forget that they use such an extraordinary amount of energy. Walk or ride a bike for short trips (less than 5 kms) which for most people is the majority of their car travel.

An average Australian drives about 40km/day and uses 10 kWh/day in home power. For an average fuel consumption car, that 40 km equates to about 4 - 5 L of petrol, which equates to about 40 - 50 kWh or energy. In other words, the energy used by the car is about 80% of consumed energy (not including the embodied energy used to manufacture and distribute purchased goods). Halving driving distance will almost halve your energy consumption, and it's really not hard to do. From an energy perspective, it is very worthwhile buying an ebike if it allows you to reduce your driving -- the energy payback will be a matter of weeks.

ps. I admired your brick path photos -- very nice! :-)

Cheers, Angus
Jo said…
Angus, thanks for this comment, and your most recent post on driving - knowing that a litre of fuel embodies 10kWh of energy is having a real impact on how I think about driving. As someone who is also obsessing about electricity use, I can really get behind saving that amount of energy by walking instead.. hope you'll weigh in on the discussion when we get to electricity next week. I know you are much more efficient at keeping electricity use low than we are..
Melonie K. said…
I'll join the "riot"! I hopped over from our mutual friend Wendy's blog and look forward to joining you. We have a move coming up so I've been using up a bunch of the pantry and freezer - I am looking forward to our chest freezer being empty so I can shut it off for the rest of our time here.
Coincidentally I received our utility statement just a few days ago, so I can check and see what our current consumption is compared to our neighbors, and then against those in the USA. I'm sure we're lower than the US average because we are consistently lower than the neighbors (our utilities are prepaid and we get a refund if we come in under the baseline) - but having some hard numbers in front of me will help get the family even more on board than our usual conservation efforts. The biggest area I can still cut is getting things back out on the clothes line to dry. We had a wet fall and I went back to the tumble dryer, but lately it's been down to freezing with little precipitation. Time to put on warm gloves and get out there to the line! :D
Judy said…
Happy to join you on this Jo as I haven't looked at our consumption for a while. Let me know if you need help with calculating the energy data as I luuuuvvvv spreadsheets.

I think you will hit or be very close to 10% for transport by the sounds of things, with no problem. I thought my transport would be bad and was quite shocked at how good it was.

Remember to check whether you are comparing against figures for the average person or average household. If it is the average person then divide it equally for you and your lovely daughters (after all, a lot of the journeys will be dropping them places).

Some other things you can do to reduce further, are to lift share, drive at the most efficient speed (it saves so much driving at 60mph rather than 70mph and saves stopping for fuel so often too) and, if you are giving lifts, then sit and read a book in a local cafe or walk the dog nearby, instead of driving home and then back again.
Jo said…
Melonie, that is wonderful, welcome to the conversation:) I will be starting to look at my electricity consumption next week. Gulp! I think anyone who hangs washing out in the snow is a true hero! I would be hanging them inside in front of the fire at my place:)

Judy, you are a complete star! You are definitely my new (only) go-to person for spreadsheets, and I am in total awe of anyone who can whip one up:) Your driving tips are excellent as I work towards a miniscule driving goal.
Melonie K. said…
I'm no hero - we've only gotten the freezing temps, not the lovely piles of snow to go with them. ;)

SO glad to be involved here. I've missed the community feel of the "old" blogsophere so much, and I see it is alive and well here! Huzzah!

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