Our appetite for just about everything in America seems to be getting bigger as the years pass. Whether it’s sodas, electricity, houses, or cars—we want it super-sized, thank you very much.
In the midst of this trend towards more, and bigger, and better, there seems to be a small movement of people going the exact opposite way. They are testing the limits of using less in what you might call "extreme green" lifestyle experiments. And to me at least, what they are learning about the effects of using less is very interesting indeed.
Take No Impact Man. Colin Beavan, his wife Michelle Conlin and their 2-year-old daughter have embarked upon a year of urban living as light as possible on the environment. This experiment has included learning how to wash clothes by stomping them in the bathtub, buying food from local farmers and this month, attempting to live without electricity. They use no fossil fuels in their transportation; Conlin commutes to her work on her scooter (as in the kind used by kids, not the kind you drive).
Or, look at Judith Levine, who embarked up on a year of buying only “necessities,” (unlike No Impact Man, Levine included toilet paper in her list of necessities). Levine recently wrote a book about her experiences—how she had to wean herself from her buying addiction, how she never ran out of shampoo because she had so many hotel samples stashed in her house, and about the kinds of free neighborhood entertainment she and her partner were able to discover after they gave up going to the movies.
There’s also the Compactors, a group of people in San Francisco who’ve agreed not to buy anything new for one year. Instead, they make what they need, or buy it used. (I am pleased to report that the Compactors have allowed themselves to buy one thing new, and that is underwear.)
My husband and I have also experimented over the past year with “giving up” some of our modern conveniences, although we’ve done nothing as extreme as the examples above. But the strange thing about our experiences in giving up our car, or in buying non-necessary items, is that it wasn’t very hard. In some ways, we actually gained from it. In the case of our car, I lost weight (from biking) and our family is saving much more money each month—money we’ve been able to apply to our retirement savings account.
I’m not advocating for anything as extreme as No Impact Man or the Compactors. Seriously, I’m not about to give up buying a new outfit now and then. I do wonder, however, if there is a "middle way" between our extreme buying habits and having to give up one's toilet paper. Could it be that there are small sacrifices Americans could make, right now, that might improve our quality of life while making a dent in climate change?
Maybe, just maybe, being thrifty is just as patriotic as shopping.