Archives for December 2009

No More Resolutions

Like many people, I have an unfortunate history with resolutions. I spent years making them, only to fail spectacularly by January 15. Then I stopped making them altogether, but found that I spent the year not really working towards anything. This year, I’m going to try something different.

I’m going to spend some time thinking about what kind of person I want to be and then focus on thoughts and activities that will lead me closer to that vision. I’m not talking about becoming someone else; I don’t want to be Oprah or Nancy Pelosi or Jennifer Nettles or Erin Doland or even Heather Armstrong, though I admire them all for various reasons. I’m talking about the parts of myself that I want to make better and the places where I want to direct my focus.

My idea is that if I can create a specific picture of the kind of person I want to be, then the actions will naturally fall into place. I haven’t completely worked out all of the details, but here are a few things to start with:

  • I want to spend time with my family without multi-tasking (i.e. “You all keep playing, I’ll be right back after I move the clothes from the washer to the dryer.”) My mind is constantly running off to all the other things I think I need to be doing. I want to spend more time in the moment.
  • I want to improve my efforts to live in a more environmentally and socially responsible way. I’m off to a good start, but there’s always room for improvement.
  • I want to live more simply, because clutter, both life clutter and physical clutter, add to my level of stress and reduce my level of enjoyment.
  • I want to be more mindful of my expenditures, both of time and money. It’s not so much about being restrictive as it is about doing less wasting, and more spending, on things that truly matter to me.

Soon, I plan to break these desires down into specific actions that will move me closer to the kind of person I want to be. I’ve often said that unless we know why we want to do something, the motivation is harder to come by. If I know that the things I do and the choices I make every day will lead me either towards or away from my goals, it’s much easier.

How about you? What kind of person do you want to be and how do you plan to get there?

How to Conserve Water: A Lesson From the Rain


In the first 13 days of December we’ve already gotten 6 inches of rain here. The normal rainfall for the entire month in our area is 3.2 inches. Last month we had 9.6 inches of rain; the norm for November is 3.06″. That’s 15.6 inches of rain in a month and a half in an area where the norm is 4.44″ for the same time period. So why am I talking about something close to a flood in a post about water conservation? That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way.

I thought I’d gotten pretty good at conserving water at home. We don’t let the water run when we brush our teeth. We run only full loads in the dishwasher and we have a front-loading high efficiency washing machine. When we replaced the toilet in our downstairs bathroom, we bought a “low-flow” model. We also have low-flow shower heads in both showers.

But then the rains came.

Our house was built in 1964 and is one of the first three houses in our neighborhood. Ours was the first side street. Most of the neighborhood is on the county sewer system, but our house, like the rest of the houses on our street, has a septic system. Septic tanks fill and then leach into drain fields through a series of pipes in the yard. It turns out that once the ground gets really saturated (from something like 3 times the normal rainfall), there’s nowhere for the stuff in the pipes to go. The only option is for it to go back into the tank. Once the tank is full, it can either go back into the pipes, or back into the house.

Ah. . . water conservation.

The septic system did back up into our house, but only a little bit, thankfully. It was enough to completely gross me out, but not nearly as horrible as many of the stories I’ve heard since from others. We quickly called a company to pump out the tank. The nice man who came to our house pumped 1500 gallons out of a 1000 gallon tank. He explained that as soon as he emptied the tank, the “stuff” in the lines poured back in because there was nowhere for it to go. “Until it dries out around here,” he said, we should try to use as little water as possible. He suggested things like, flushing only when “absolutely necessary,” taking super-fast showers, making sure to run only completely full loads in the dishwasher, and not doing that any more than we had to.

As someone who has prided herself on her conservation skills, I wondered how we could cut back further, but it’s amazing what you can do when you’re paying acute attention. And I assure you, when my attention would determine whether or not I ended up with septic back-up in my house again, it was acute. I have been much more aware of how much water I’m using. Instead of turning on the faucet full blast to rinse my toothbrush, the task is accomplished just as well by turning it on only half-way. Instead of mindlessly sloshing water all around the sink while I rinse out the coffee pot, I’ve been careful to use just what’s needed and then turn it off.

While I’ll be happy when the ground dries out and I won’t have to worry about sewage pouring into my home, I don’t think I’ll abandon my attention to the water. One of the things I stress here on the blog is that being greener isn’t hard, it just takes some thought and paying attention to our habits. It’s easy to overlook the little things, but those little things add up. While every wasted drop may not result in your floors flowing with septic sludge, it doesn’t take any more effort to use less; it just takes your attention.

How about you? Have you ever been in mandatory conservation mode? What did you learn?

Photo Credit: Greig