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How to Save the World in 10 Easy Steps

Yes, it’s Earth Day, at least for a couple more hours.

The Unicyclist and I participated in the Valley’s Bike to School/Work Day today; he biked to work, and I biked off to my errands after we both enjoyed a complimentary breakfast together that the local Whole Foods sponsored.  This biking business isn’t new for us.  The truth is that I gave up my car-owning ways in 2004 and he gave his up in 2006 shortly after we met.  Our bikes (and his unicycle) have quite a few miles on them as a result.  That’s all right by me, as my bicycle is the closest an object can ever be to embodying freedom itself.  Simple, cheap to operate, efficient, fun, and easy to maintain—it doesn’t get much better.

Also, it’s blue and goes zooooooooom!

Which, point of fact, brings me around to something else that’s blue and goes zoom.

The Unicyclist and I have recently taken the plunge and supplemented our forms of transport.  For a whole bunch of personal reasons I won’t go into, we just bought a 2007 Prius, Toyota’s well-established gas-electric hybrid.  It’s a wonderful car and very fun to drive, but there’s some angst that goes along with giving up a slower lifestyle, a lifestyle based in our home, a lifestyle where we have been forced to simplify.  You see, I like home.  I like simple.  I like slow.  So today, on Earth Day, I’m mourning a little.

I am excited about opportunity and very much looking forward to starting the new job that was the driving force behind the purchase, but I am well-aware that I am giving up something to “move up in the world.”   I’m giving up having lunches with my beloved Unicyclist.  I’m giving up a highly flexible schedule for a somewhat flexible one.  I’m giving up watching the woodpecker out my window, taking calls from my adorable mum any time of the day, and I’m giving up my intimate, bike-traveled world for one a bit bigger.

I will miss those things.

But I am determined to use this shift to add new adventure and beauty to my life, like camping and hiking excursions on the weekends in the wilds of Arizona.  Or, say, dragonboating.  Just hypothetically.

And there’s health insurance, but that’s a whole different post.

All of which brings me, in a seemingly non sequitur way, to how you can save the world in 10 easy steps.  The thing is, saving the world is largely about saving yourself.  I believe that in a marvelously complex, globalized world, growing ever larger and more crowded, it’s also about preserving a smaller, more intimate world.  That’s what these tips are about.  Let’s get to it, shall we?

Step One: Try the best you can to establish one slow day a week, whichever day works best for you…an afternoon, at least.  On this day, guard your stillness.  Don’t drive anywhere, leave the TV off…just be.  Go for a walk.  Read a book.  Scrub the kitchen floor if it makes you feel good.  Make art.  Sew something.  Play with the dog.  Bike or walk to a farmer’s market.  Play a board game with your kids, or go shoot hoops with them.  Dance in the living room to your favorite album.  Don’t drive anywhere.  Pretend all the stores are closed.  Just stop.

Step Two: Love your neighbors.  Even the weird ones.  Bring them baked goods, leave them flowers from your garden, invite them for dinner, toss their barking dog a treat, share the Sunday paper with them when you finish it, pass your paperbacks along to them after you’ve read them, offer them aloe pups or garden seedlings you need to thin.  I live in one of the biggest cities in the nation, and this still works here.  Go figure.

Step Three: Commit to learning a useful skill this year, even if you don’t master it.  Think gardening, CPR/first aid, natural remedies, sewing/mending, bicycle repair, rainwater harvesting, building solar ovens, preserving food, cooking, massage for pain relief.  You don’t need a class, though you’re welcome to take one.  Use the web, use your library, use your friends and family.  Relax about being imperfect while learning.

Step Four: Use the least complicated means of doing things when possible.  By that, I really mean to just keep things simple and at a reasonable pace.  If you need to go three blocks for an errand, walk or bike it instead of driving it if you can afford the few extra minutes.  (Gas and car maintenance are pricey; this is a way of cutting those expenses.) Make the big batch of muffins and freeze them for simple breakfasts on the go to save yourself time later on.

Step Five: Cut back on personal chemicals.  Get personal care products without fragrances or dyes.  Skip the fabric softener in the dryer.  Heck, skip the dryer and hang dry.  Consider a haircut that isn’t overly intensive in terms of time or product if you’re frustrated with your morning routine or with worrying about how your hair looks after getting caught in the inevitable cross-draft.  Consider giving up perfume or cologne if you use them; lots and lots of people with fragrance allergies will thank you. If you love scents, consider switching to diluted essential oils instead.  Clean your home with vinegar, baking soda, Bon Ami, and salt (depending on the surface and the issue) instead of harsh cleansers.

Step Six: Try to beat your monthly electric usage from last year.  Hang clothes on a line or rack to dry if you wash your clothes at home.  Set up appliances like the toaster and microwave and electronics like the computers, the TV, and gaming systems on power strips that you click off when not being used.  Turn off those lights when they’re not being used.  If you’re going to heat up the oven, make dinner plus the granola for the week’s breakfasts plus cookies for the neighbor all in one fell swoop.

Step Seven: Get out in that gorgeous wild world.  Go for walks in your neighborhood, check out the state and national parks near you if you have the wherewithal, visit the lake for a swim or maybe to rent a kayak, pick blackberries on bike paths in July.  Watch birds in your backyard or the herons that gather on the irrigation canals.  Take your kids to the arboretum or botanical gardens on a free admission day (or check your local library for a museum/garden pass—Phoenix just implemented a program like this.  Enjoy your world however you can where you live.

Step Eight: Get more serious about reusing and reducing than you are about recycling.  Purchase clothes, dishes, furniture, cars—whatever you can—secondhand.  Pass on what you’re not using.  You’ll save a lot of money and keep a bunch of stuff out of landfills.  In addition to your local secondhand stores and swap meets, there’s Craigslist and Freecycle to find recycled items, sometimes completely free.

Step Nine: Cut down on generating unnecessary waste.  Take your own reusable bags to all stores, not just grocery stores.  Buy in bulk when you can and reuse the bags.  Compost your vegetable scraps when you can; we don’t have space at our place, but our CSA accepts them when we pick up our veggies every week.  Menstruating women, consider using a product like the Keeper instead of pads or tampons.  If it works for you, you’ll likely LOVE it.

Step Ten: This one is yours.  You tell me.  What do you think we as individuals or as nations should be doing for the long-term health of our planet, ourselves, and our children?

I can’t wait to hear your ideas.

Happy Earth Day, all.


6 Comments so far

  1. Captain Mommy Pants April 22nd, 2009 10:00 pm

    Step Ten: Laugh, smile, sing, be silly and enjoy the very, very simplest of pleasures occasionally. Keep perspective and think happy thoughts. It is contagious, reusable, creative, wonderful for your health and good for the environment. :)

    Happy Earth Day to you and thank you for all the good you do for the Earth! :)

  2. Mangochild April 23rd, 2009 2:46 am

    Happy Earth Day! Bike-to-work/school days are a great idea. We have that here in my area the last Friday of every month starting in April… the local biking association helps organize, sets up biking-buddies if desired, and just really motivates people to start the habit. They even offer free breakfast at a central downtown location for bikers :-)
    Step 10: Getting out of the comfort zone and really thinking about your habits and beliefs – it might spark a thought of a new approach that can help be more mindful of one’s impact and influence on this world.

  3. Michelle @ Find Your Balance April 23rd, 2009 2:19 pm

    I hear you about cars. I haven’t owned one in 12 years and only sometimes wish we did. It means more walking to the store, and more rides home with friends. Not so terrible :-) But at some point (when?) it feels like we’ll be pressured into buying one. I always think, when we have kids…

  4. Kathleen April 23rd, 2009 5:00 pm

    I have a 2007 Prius;I love it. Gave up a gas-guzzling Toyota Sequoia, which I loved, but retirement demanded a much less expensive way of transportation. I love going to the gas station and taking just a few minutes to fill up while all the trucks are there forever. I like the fact that I forget to buy gas until the beep sounds and the little square starts to blink. And I probably still have another 40 miles to go. Congratulations on a great addition to your life. My dog loves it too.

  5. Al April 23rd, 2009 8:19 pm

    Definitely, most definitely try dragon boating, astronomy and so on and so forth.

  6. Laurel May 5th, 2009 10:08 pm

    Thanks, Kathleen! We do like it quite a bit. :) Glad to hear you love yours! (I have yet to meet a Prius owner that doesn’t though I’m sure there’s one somewhere.)

    Michelle–totally. At least you guys are in Boston, though. I would imagine it’s like most East Coast cities–fairly dense, passable public transport. Phoenix, on the other hand, takes up more square mileage than New York City, despite being probably a quarter of NY’s population. I do agree with you that not owning a car or doing a car share with friends or family is actually a nice way to build community. I have no problems chipping in for insurance and up-keep on a community car. I think we get so caught up in independence (my own car, my own house, my my my mine) that we wind up shackling ourselves to jobs to pay for all these things that are supposed to make us free. And so we work more and more and never LIVE. Old story, but one that has some truth at its core. I think a lot of people might free themselves up if they could work out some collaborative arrangements with friends or family. Something to think about as so many or us consider downsizing right now.

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