misc articles

How Green is Our Household?

In the course of our science schoolwork, our daughters and I started a list of things that we do that are considered “green.” Here’s what we came up with (not in any particular order).

• We work at home so we don’t have to commute.

• As writers and homeschoolers, we are constantly using both sides of the paper for drafts and scratch paper.

• Our “lawn” is just mown-down prairie grass. We live on the edge of a prairie, so we just fenced in a portion (to keep the dogs close) and mowed it. We use a push mower because it doesn’t break down. We don’t use fertilizers or weed killers, and we seldom water it – maybe twice a summer. It tends to go brownish toward late summer, but that’s okay.

• We own two vehicles but only drive one, a Hyundai Tucson. The other vehicle is an old gas-guzzling farm truck that we seldom take out on the road (it’s more for on-property use).

• Our pets are spayed, of course. No sense contributing to the pet overpopulation problem.

• We very seldom buy packaged foods and make almost everything from scratch. This does not include stuff like crackers which are “packaged.” I guess what I mean is, we don’t buy much pre-prepared foods, i.e. frozen meals or even canned items. Some, but not much.

• We raise a good chunk of our own food, including meat, eggs, and dairy. Our chickens are free-range. Our cattle are grass-fed. We get the grass from our fields or a neighbor’s fields for winter feeding. Since our property is dryland (no irrigation), we can harvest a lot of protein by raising cattle on what would otherwise be unused land.

• We garden, have a berry patch, and an orchard (the orchard is start-up and hasn’t yielded much yet). We can and freeze.

• We make our own bread products, chiefly bread, English muffins, biscuits, muffins, and dinner rolls.

• We make mozzarella, cheddar, butter, yogurt, and ice cream from our own milk, so we don’t have to purchase many dairy products.

• We don’t use a clothes dryer. In the summer, we line-dry our clothes. In the winter, I use a clothes rack in front of the woodstove.

• We heat with wood, so we don’t use propane or electricity or heating oil.

• We keep our electricity usage fairly low. We pay about $50 a month to run a business, a home, a school, and a farm (this is average – a bit higher in winter, lower in summer).

• We recycle everything we can. Since the nearest recycling center doesn't accept glass, we make an effort not to purchase anything in a glass jar. By the way, this recycling center is forty miles away (in the nearest city), so we have to save up our recyclables until such time as we're going into the city anyway, maybe once every two or three months.

• We bring eco-bags to the grocery store for reuse.

• We feed edible food scraps to the chickens or dogs, and compost the inedible food scraps like orange peels, onion skins, etc.

• We buy our staples in bulk – flour, sugar, salt, cornmeal, beans, dried peas, lentils, rice, tea, spices, dog and cat food, etc.

• We drive a fairly energy-efficient car (though not a hybrid – can’t afford one) – gets about 30+ mpg. We drive less than 5000 miles/year, which is about 100 miles/week.

• We avoid disposables. We never use paper plates or plastic utensils. We use cloth napkins and reusable feminine hygiene products. We use a coffee press for my husband’s coffee rather than disposable coffee filters.

• We buy almost everything second-hand, including all shoes, clothes (except socks and underwear), and household goods (furniture, toys, books, pictures, sporting equipment, sheets, towels, etc.). Thrift stores are our favorite places to shop.

• We try to keep our propane usage down. We use propane for heating water and cooking. We have a propane wall heater, but we only use it when it’s 15 degrees below zero outside and 50 degrees inside the house and we’re just getting the woodstove started up in the morning. Then we turn it off.

• We don’t have air conditioning or central heating. We do have ceiling fans. Our house is warm in the summer and cool in the winter. We deal with it.

• We don’t have a dishwasher. I’ve seen “studies” that say hand-washing uses more water than an energy-efficient dishwasher. I challenge that.

• We don’t have a swimming pool. Think of the cost, the expense, the maintenance. In hot weather, we swim in our pond or go to the lake.

• We have a hot-water-on-demand water heater, so we don’t have a tank of water to heat.

• We don’t keep up with the Joneses. We don’t upgrade, we don’t purchase anything to impress anyone, we don’t dress fashionably. One time a friend of my then-ten-year-old daughter asked her, “Are you interested in fashion and makeup?” My daughter looked at her like she was crazy. “No,” she answered, puzzled. Her tone of voice implied, “Why should I be?” Poor kid – she gets her attitude and her shopping genes from her mom (smile).

• We don’t recreationally shop. Ever. We don’t have the money or the interest. To be fair, it helps that we’re an hour’s drive from the nearest source of recreational shopping. I think it’s been three years since we’ve set foot inside a mall.

• We don’t fly. It’s not that we’re necessarily against it, it’s that we can’t afford it. I wouldn’t mind visiting my parents more often, though…

• We reuse our ziplock-style plastic bags. Goodness how I love ziplock-style plastic bags. I use them constantly and wash them between uses. A box of the quart and the gallon sizes lasts us about a year.

• We don’t watch television (no reception) and therefore the kids don’t get the gimmee’s from ads. Since we homeschool (as do most of the rural families around us), the kids aren’t influenced by peer pressure for expensive gadgets and clothes.

• Our leisure activities are low-tech. We are voracious readers. We rarely travel, eat out, go to a movie, or anything like that. Where we live, there are few restaurants, no movie theaters, and it’s so gorgeous that there’s seldom a reason to travel far. We rent DVD’s for home viewing. We take walks, ride bikes, and visit neighbors.

• We keep our garbage output low. We recycle (or burn, in the winter) all waste paper. We recycle all recyclable containers. We compost our organic waste. On average, for our family of four, we fill about half a trash can a week.

Other ideas for greening up? We love hearing suggestions.