Saturday, December 9, 2017

Normal behavior is crazy

Yesterday, Brian and I were out in the yard, dealing with the long-delayed task of raking up this fall's leaves. We distributed most of them across our various planting beds—the rhubarb, the asparagus, the bush cherries, and the new flowerbed in the front—where they will provide a layer of moisture-preserving mulch and insulation from the cold, which we hope will help the plants get an earlier start in spring. The leftover leaves that the beds couldn't accommodate got scooped into the compost bin, along with the dried-out remains of last year's wildflowers and asparagus, to break down into free, organic fertilizer that will give next year's beds a nutrient boost without any harmful chemicals.

At some point during this process, it occurred to me—as it occasionally does while going about my ecofrugal life—that what we were doing was not normal.

What a normal person would do is use a leaf blower to corral all those leaves, scoop them into leaf bags, and leave them at the curb to be hauled off to the landfill. Then, having saved so much time and energy by substituting a noisy, fuel-burning, carbon-emitting engine for their own muscle power, they would hop in their fuel-burning, carbon-emitting car and go off to an expensive gym to get some exercise. And on the way home, they'd probably stop at the home center to pick up a few bags of mulch for the flower beds, and possibly some fertilizer for next year's garden.

Moreover, it would simply never occur to them that it was possible to do anything else. If they happened, while heading out in the car, to spot us in our yard raking our own leaves—saving money and gas, and getting some free, healthy exercise to boot—they would probably smile pityingly (or perhaps smugly) on those poor folks who "couldn't afford" a leaf blower to do the job for them. If we tried to explain that we were raking our own leaves because we wanted to, they'd think we were crazy.

But what's really crazy here? Our ecofrugal lifestyle—or the "normal" way of doing things? Are we crazy for doing a simple job with our own hands instead of an expensive, gas-guzzling machine, or is it crazy that we live in a society where that's not considered normal?

Once I had this epiphany—that normal makes no sense—I started seeing more examples everywhere. For instance, when I spotted the stack of holiday gifts in our guest room, all wrapped in reusable gift bags and reused wrapping paper, I realized that, if I were normal, I'd just go out and buy new wrapping paper every year and send it all to the landfill after a single use. (According to this Marketplace story, Americans spend more than $7 billion a year on wrapping paper—$21 for every man, woman, and child in the country—and most of it can't even be recycled.)

I noticed it yet again later in the day, when we stopped off at a Starbucks after doing some holiday shopping and pulled out a deck of cards to play cribbage, instead of each sitting down and staring at a screen like everyone else in the place. (Of course, I realize that some frugal folks would argue stopping at Starbucks at all, and spending $4 on a cup of coffee—even if it's a peppermint mocha—is itself crazy. But at least Starbucks is an eco-friendly business that I'm happy to support, and a cup of coffee from there is no more harmful to the earth than one brewed at home—with the exception of the disposable cup, but come on, it's a special holiday cup that doubles as a coloring book. That's a kind of crazy I'm willing to live with.)

The fact is, a lot of things we ecofrugal folks do are going to come across as weird to society in general. Heck, even an article about frugality on Money Crashers went so far as to attack "the crazy things some people do" to save money, like cutting Post-It notes in half (rather than wasting a whole square to write a single word) or doing the same thing with dryer sheets (thereby spending less money, wasting less material, and halving their exposure to the questionable chemicals these sheets contain). The author, who describes himself as a frugal person, nonetheless says anyone who has "ever thought of doing stuff like that" needs to "take a chill pill" and quit "living like you're an early primate."

This kind of judgmental sneering can sometimes lead us to question our ecofrugal choices and wonder if we really are being unreasonable—perhaps even crazy—for trying to save money and help the environment, instead of living a wasteful, "normal" lifestyle. At times like this, it helps to take a step back and objectively compare what you want to do with what the rest of society is doing, and ask yourself which one makes more sense. Then you can throw your head back and shout along with Suicidal Tendencies, "I'm not crazy! You're the one that's crazy!"

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to get outside and start shoveling the year's first snow off our sidewalks. And if any of our "normal" neighbors show up at the same time with their loud, heavy, expensive snow blowers, we'll have fun seeing if they can actually get the job done any faster.

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