Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Easy Way

A thought occurred to me the other day as I was scooping out the cat box: I'm a big believer in doing things the easy way.

The cat box brought this to mind because it's a case in point. I know of some people who use clay litter and never bother to scoop the box; they just dump it out and change the litter once a week. But I find changing it to be a lot more work than scooping it, so I use a wheat litter, scoop it daily, and only change it every couple of months. And since the litter's flushable, I can just dump everything right into the toilet instead of having to bag it up and take it out every day. (NOTE: Yes, I do know that cat poop can pose a threat to sea otters, but indoor cats don't carry the parasite in question, so their wastes are safe to flush. I discuss this in detail in my review of Swheat Scoop litter on the Associated Content site.)

Our compost bin is another example. Brian and I recently attended a workshop on composting, and we somewhat shamefacedly admitted that we do all our composting in the simplest, crudest way possible: throw all our vegetable matter into a bin, turn it over when we happen to think of it—which isn't more than a few times a year—and eventually, after a couple of years, pull out some usable compost. It was tremendously liberating to hear the workshop leader declare, "There's absolutely nothing wrong with that." (And in case I needed more vindication, a recent article on the Mother Earth News site came to the same conclusion.)

Of course, you could argue that making compost at all, or having a garden to put it in, is doing things the hard way. Sure, it would be easier to get all our groceries at the supermarket. But because we do all our gardening in the easiest, laziest way possible, it only takes us a little bit of effort for a decent payoff in fresh, cheap produce. We use the square foot method, which means less tilling and less weeding; we throw in some compost at the start of the planting season and don't bother with additional fertilizer; we leave the beds uncovered so that the rain can do some of our watering for us. And I don't find that the satisfaction of eating the fruits of our labor is at all diminished by making that labor as light as possible.

So what does this all mean in terms of ecofrugality? Well, I guess what I'm trying to say is that a lot of the things that can be done to save money and resources look like a lot of work—maybe even more trouble than they're worth. And conversely, it sometimes seems as if the only way to make these jobs easier is to spend money on fancy, labor-saving gadgets, like compost tumblers or self-cleaning litter boxes. But sometimes, all that's really needed is a willingness to settle for less than perfection. Our garden may not yield the maximum amount of food per square foot, but it certainly gives us the most for the amount of time we put into it. Our compost bin doesn't produce usable compost in two weeks, as some commercial composters promise to do (though if Mother Earth News is to be believed, ten weeks is more realistic), but left to its own devices, the waste does break down eventually, with no effort on our part. By stripping these jobs down to their essentials—in other words, doing them the easy way—we can get the best results for the smallest outlay in money and effort.
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