I’ve been seeing a lot of talk on the Net recently about living simply, and making sacrifices in our daily routines to cut costs and consumption of resources (see here and here), or making drastic lifestyle changes (see here, here, and here). During yesterday’s speech in Indianapolis, Barack Obama even said something about it:
Now, make no mistake: the change we need won’t come easy or without cost. We will all need to tighten our belts, we will all need to sacrifice and we will all need to pull our weight because now more than ever, we are all in this together.
Having made a drastic change in my lifestyle recently, I’d like to catalogue the myriad of differences between my old life and the new one I’m currently living.
First, some amount of description of my old and new lives. My old life was in Bloomington, Indiana. I lived in a different house or apartment almost every year of my 13 years there, trying to find the perfect place. From 3-bedroom townhouses, to a country house in Brown County (20 miles away), to a 1 room apartment downtown, I tried it all. I worked for Indiana University, doing technology support. I also took classes part time.
My new life is in Alaska, living 8 miles from the nearest store and 15 miles from the nearest town. My wife, Skippy, and I have a 2-room cabin with no plumbing (the outhouse is included on the deal!), where we live rent-free in exchange for working as dog handlers for Libby Riddles. I also run my own technology support business, and Skippy works 4 days a week for the behavioral health department.
On to the differences (and some similarities).
Old: Central heat/air. Summer thermostat set to ~
68° 75°F, with outside temps ranging from 80 to 100+°F. Winter thermostat set to ~65°F, with outside temps ranging from 40 to -5°F. We also often had ceiling fans going, blowing down in the summer and up in the winter.
New: Small fuel oil heater, no air conditioner. Summer outside temps ranging from 50 to 70°F. Winter thermostat set to 60°F during the day, 54°F at night, with outside temps ranging from 30 to -20°F. If the sun is out during the winter, the heater is turned off, as large, south-facing windows generate enough heat for much of the day (short though it may be).
Old: Daily showers, several filled sinks for doing dishes. We turned off the water when brushing teeth, shaving, etc.
New: We now shower once every 5 or 6 days, with washcloth rinses every couple of days (mild or cold temps means not a whole lot of sweating, fortunately). With no plumbing, our water comes from a 35 gallon tank mounted in our loft, with a gravity feed to a spigot over the kitchen sink. That tank is filled from a Rubbermaid tub and a sump pump. That Rubbermaid tub is filled by us hauling 5-gallon buckets of water from Libby’s house. If you want to conserve water, only use water you’ve placed in a big bucket and carried 50 yards. To do dishes, we heat some water, put it in a small tub, and wash until they’re done. Rinsing is done with a trickle of water. On average, 35 gallons seems to last us 3 to 4 days. Since the average person uses 80 to 100 gallons a day, we’re doing pretty well on that.
Old: The last place we lived, a beautiful 2 room apartment, used recessed lighting with spotlight bulbs, an electric stove and oven, electric heat and air, and an electric water heater. We turned off lights when we weren’t in a particular room, used compact florescent bulbs as much as possible, and tried to use as much window light as possible, with most of the windows facing north. We both had laptops, plus an LCD TV hooked up to a media computer (Mac mini) with speakers.
New: We have a total of 5 lightbulbs in the cabin, though they are all full-spectrum bulbs, since we might get the crazies during the dark winters here without them. We usually only have one on at a time, since that provides most of the light we need. I’ve replaced the TV and laptop with a single iMac. I do have a laser printer, scanner, and several external hard disks, but I only turn those on as needed: hard drives once a week for routine backups, printer only when I need to print, scanner when I need to scan. I also have an APC UPS that automatically turns off a specific set of plugs when the computer is powered down or in sleep mode, which means the external speakers and USB hub are only on when the computer is on. We currently use a single-burner electric burner for our food, and boil water in an electric kettle. Our baking is done in a small toaster oven.
Old: We typically only flushed for No. 2 and company.
New: We have an outhouse, and put all toilet paper and wet-wipes in a trash can. We also pee outside. Fun fact: when the wind blows, it comes through some holes in the bottom of the outhouse, and up through the seat hole. Now that’s brisk!
Old: Depending on where I’ve lived and worked, I’ve driven, walked, and ridden a bicycle to work. Most of the last year I rode a bike. Almost all shopping was done by car. I drove somewhere almost daily.
New: Skippy has to drive into town 4 times a week for her job. I sometimes have to go in for my work, though before she got her job, we’d gone an entire week without starting a car. We also have about 3 friends up here, and they’re all busy, so we’re not exactly the social butterflies we were in Bloomington. I miss our friends.
Old: We made a conscious effort to fix every meal. Unfortunately, Bloomington is home to far too many good restaurants, and we ate out probably once or twice a week, more if we were tired. Grocery shopping happened ad hoc, since we were only a few blocks from several stores. Sometimes we would make 3-4 grocery runs in a week, as a desire for a particular meal might strike us at any time.
New: Here, there are a few good restaurants, but they’re all outrageously expensive. Even a McDonalds value meal averages $7. We eat out once or twice a month now, and it’s usually fast food or pizza by the slice. We buy groceries once a week, sometimes once every 2 weeks. Meals are planned around getting the most out of whatever we’ve purchased.
Looking back, I see areas in which we could have done better in our old life. Less water, less fuel, better planning…
Look at this list. Do you see anything you can cut back on, or plan better? You don’t have to move to Alaska to do your part.