Friday, January 3, 2014

More Stuff Green People Like

A few years back, I decided to start a list called "Stuff Ecofrugal People Like." This was my answer to Christian Lander's spoof site "Stuff White People Like," which I considered (a) inaccurate and (b) not very funny. In the comments on that post, I received a couple of suggestions for additional entries to the list, and I've also thought of a few new ideas since, so I decided it was time for an update. So here, without further ado, are seven more things that egofrugal people like. Since the original list had seven items, we'll start here with number 8:

8. Slow cookers. These are ecofrugal partly because they make it easier for busy people to cook at home, rather than eating out or relying on pricey convenience foods. Take five minutes to throw some ingredients in the pot in the morning before you leave for work, and you can have a hot meal waiting for you when you come home. Moreover, slow cookers are particularly good for making the kinds of dishes that are staples of the ecofrugal diet, such as soups (which make a hearty meal with little or no meat) and stews (which are the best way to cook tougher, and therefore cheaper, cuts of meat). They're also handy for cooking up inexpensive and healthful foods like dry beans and whole grains. Our slow cooker doesn't get used as much these days since we got our pressure cooker, but it's still the ideal tool for making homemade baked beans and scrap-bag soup stock.

9. Clotheslines. As I've noted before, when you actually do the math, it turns out that hanging your wash on a line doesn't actually save all that much money or energy; if you were looking for ways to trim your budget or reduce your carbon footprint, you could no doubt find others that would give you a much bigger bang for your buck. But even these cold, hard numbers can't blot out the irresistable allure of the clothesline. Part of its appeal is that, as my friend Amy noted when she proposed this idea, "it feels like getting something for free." Even if you're actually spending 15 minutes of your time to reap a savings of 30 cents or so, it still feels somehow magical to see your clothes dry all by themselves, just like that. But also, as I noted in my entry, hanging my clothes reinforces my ties to nature. It gets me out in the sun and fresh air and helps keep me aware of the changing seasons. That alone, to me, is enough to make it a good use of my time.

10. IKEA. Okay, this one was sort of on Lander's list as well (in his entry on modern furniture, he describes IKEA as a "key supplier of furniture to white people"), but for us ecofrugal types, the appeal of this store has little or nothing to do with its modern styling. (Actually, I tend to prefer its more traditional pieces, like our Hemnes bed frame and Leksvik coffee table.) Instead, we love IKEA for its wonderful combination of low prices and sustainable products. It's not just their LED bulbs and water-saving faucets, which you can find at most home stores; it's the chain's all-encompassing commitment to the environment at every level of its supply chain. Over 20 percent of all the wood it uses comes from sources certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council, and it's aiming for 50 percent by 2017; it also intends to have all its cotton meet the standards of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) within the next two years. On top of this, the stores use and generate renewable energy and recycle over 85 percent of the waste they produce, as well as providing stations for customers to recycle batteries and CFL bulbs. Yet while other stores jack up prices on feel-good products with impeccable green credentials, IKEA manages to keep its prices not just competitive, but low enough to blow its competitors right out of the water. I'd like to see Wal-Mart sell me a 5-piece patio set for $120 and a bag of organic, Fair Trade coffee for less than $7 a pound. (No, seriously, I really would like to see it. But I'm not holding my breath.)

11. Hulu. I'm actually slightly embarrassed about the fact that our household now has cable TV. I always hasten to tell people that we only signed up for it to take advantage of a package deal that gave us cheaper phone and Internet service, because I don't want them to get the impression that we're the sort of behind-the-times folks who consider cable a necessity. On the contrary, we got along quite happily without it for years, and one of the sites—perhaps the main one—that made it possible was Hulu. Even just the basic, free Hulu site gives you access to a huge range of TV and film choices, including exclusive original series like the bizarre and gripping "The Booth at the End" and the latest episodes of popular shows like "Castle" and "Grey's Anatomy." Spring for an $8-a-month subscription to Hulu Plus, and you can watch the whole latest season. (This is probably what we'll do when we're ready to watch season 6 of "Castle," since $8 for a month of Hulu Plus is cheaper than $20 to buy the whole season on Amazon.) At those prices, who would ever need to pay $30 a month or more for cable? (Well, er, unless they needed it to save on their phone and Internet service. Ahem.)

12. Edible landscaping. Like clotheslines, edible landscaping feels like getting something for nothing, and in its case the feeling may actually be justified. True, I calculated back in November that our vegetable garden, although it does save us money on groceries, actually yields a pretty pitiful "hourly wage" for all the time we spend on it. However, other forms of edible landscaping, like our herb border and raspberry bushes, require very little effort to maintain. Once you put in the initial money and work needed to plant them—and a little extra effort to make sure they survive their first year—they keep providing food, year after year, with virtually no effort on your part. And they take the place of more common landscaping choices that do take money and effort to maintain—like the inexplicably popular manicured grass lawn, which requires regular watering, mowing, and fertilizing and produces nothing in return.

13. Reusable bags. These are an ecofrugal no-brainer. Not only can a single reusable grocery bag take the place of hundreds of paper and plastic bags over the course of a year, but some stores actually pay you to use them. Our local Stop & Shop has dropped its nickel-a-bag discount, but we still get 5 cents back for each bag we use at Shop-Rite and 10 cents at the Whole Earth Center, and we save the 10-cent-per-bag charge we'd otherwise pay when shopping at Aldi. Sure, these aren't exactly huge savings, but with reusable bags so widely available for as little as a dollar, what's the downside? A 99-cent folding tote from IKEA (there they are again!), which slips into a purse or jacket pocket where it's always ready to hand, could pay for itself twenty times over in its first year of use.

14. DIY. I've long maintained that one of the basic tenets of the ecofrugal ethos is, "Never pay someone to do what you can easily do yourself" (it's important to slip that "easily" in there so that you don't end up trying to do the jobs that would be dangerous or ridiculously time-consuming to tackle on your own). However, if the truth be known, the main thing I like about DIY projects probably isn't the money I save; it's the satisfaction of being able to say I did it myself. (Well, to be fair, in most cases it's more like being able to say that we did it ourselves—or even that Brian did it himself. But that's still a lot cooler than just hiring someone to do it.) Plus, with DIY, you have a lot of options that you probably wouldn't have when working with a contractor. I doubt a contractor would have been willing to construct a patio for us out of Freecycled pavers, for instance, and I don't think we'd ever have been able to install our brown-paper floor in the downstairs room without doing it ourselves.

So, we're up to 14. If I can come up with, say, 100 of these things, maybe I can make a book out of it just like Christian Lander and make some easy money. Anyone want to help?
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