Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ecofrugal tidbits

Today we bring you an assortment of ecofrugal tidbits, gleaned from e-mails from family and friends.

Our first topic, at the risk of being morbid, is ecofrugal funerals. This article, forwarded to me a few weeks ago by my friend Laura in Knoxville (thanks, Laura!), describes a funeral home in Tennessee that's started offering "green" burials as an alternative to the traditional formal funeral complete with embalming, a costly casket, and a vault to put it in. Options include direct burial, with just a shroud, or a simple wooden casket. Green funerals are not only easier on the earth but less expensive, as well. According to this article from the Dollar Stretcher, a basic funeral costs $10,000 on average—even without "extras" such as overpriced thank-you cards and elaborate floral arrangements, which unscrupulous funeral homes often try to push onto grieving relatives at this vulnerable time. Yet all this pomp and ceremony doesn't necessarily serve the real purpose of a funeral—to help people honor their dead, express their sorrow, and say goodbye in a meaningful way. People interested in simpler, more meaningful last rites (for themselves or someone else) may be interested in joining a memorial society. For a small membership fee, these organizations will step in at the time of a death and help the mourners make the arrangements, rather than being left to the tender mercies of a funeral home more concerned with racking up as big a tab as possible than with helping the grieving family.

Topic number two, also from Laura, is about a novel way of coping with invasive plants. This article from a Knoxville news outlet describes how officials at Fort Dickerson Park have brought in goats to eat the ubiquitous kudzu that threatens native plants and even trees. This method is a much healthier alternative to herbicides, which can't distinguish between native plants and invasive ones, and which don't necessarily get to the root of the plant (meaning it can come back next year). Goats eat the stuff right down to the roots and don't appear to be harmed in the least by the harmful chemicals the plants put out. (Apparently, goats can even eat poison ivy without ill effects—though humans shouldn't drink their milk for a while afterwards.)

And lastly, from my sister, we have an interesting article from today's New York Times about the relationship between money and happiness. The gist of it appears to be that what makes people happy isn't stuff; it's experiences. Thus, the only category in which spending more money leads to increased happiness is recreation. Spending money on an experience (a vacation, for instance) is more likely to increase your happiness than buying a new car—unless the new car makes it possible for you to have a lot more Sunday drives in beautiful places. Spending on stuff only supports happiness when that stuff contributes to better experiences, like a board game that leads to spending more time together as a family. (The article does cite a contrarian viewpoint from people who deeply love clothes and argue that buying, owning, and wearing beautiful things truly contributes to their happiness. However, I don't think that necessarily contradicts the main point, since for these people, wearing wonderful clothes is an experience.)

I enjoyed the article, but I couldn't help wondering: would these same experiences contribute any less to people's happiness if they hadn't spent so much money on them? Is a week spent touring Europe, staying in fancy hotels, really more satisfying than a week spent camping in the woods—or a week spent visiting family members or friends you seldom see? Is the experience of reading a novel more satisfying if you go out and buy the hardcover as soon as it comes out, rather than waiting for the paperback—or taking it out of the library? I'm willing to concede that spending money on experiences may be more satisfying than spending it on stuff—but why not go the extra distance and have the great experiences without spending the money?
Post a Comment