Maybe it’s because I grew up poor in rural Oregon. Maybe it’s because I love adventure fiction (you know: “man against nature”). Maybe it’s because I have a lot of my father in me. For whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated by people who go “off the grid“.
A guilty Liberal [who] finally snaps, swears off plastic, goes organic, becomes a bicycle nut, turns off his power, composts his poop and, while living in New York City, generally turns into a tree-hugging lunatic who tries to save the polar bears and the rest of the planet from environmental catastrophe while dragging his baby daughter and Prada-wearing, Four Seasons-loving wife along for the ride.
In many ways, this is another “man against nature” story: a family attempts to go off the grid in the middle of the most on-the-grid city on Earth! Though their motives are different, their methods are similar to people like the Amish, who practice extreme frugality for other reasons. (See also.)
Here are No Impact’s adapted “sustainable consumption” rules as I envisage them:
- Don’t buy new products (including, worst of all, books).
- Borrow, rent or buy used (except underwear and socks).
- Buy only sustainably produced underwear and socks (or anything else that ends up excepted).
- Cancel magazine subscriptions and read online (the trees! the trash!).
- No movies or other forms of mass entertainment.
- Find replacements for everything that is still throwaway or comes in throwaway packaging in our house: cosmetics and skin care products, soap, shampoo, cleaning products, paper towel, menstrual pads, disposable pens, disposable razors, toilet paper.
- Did anyone notice that toilet paper was at the end of that long list?
On the positive side, to replace these things, we can:
- Have fun with Craig’s List, Freecycle and other second hand sources.
- Read all we want online.
- Putter around antiques stores and flea markets.
- Go to more live entertainment.
- Socialize more.
- Have people over more.
Does it all sound awful? Well, we’ll see. That’s the point, isn’t it? To test that assumption and see what actually happens to our lives.
No Impact Man chronicles Colin’s adventures as his family adjusts to this new lifestyle. What will life be like without electricity? (And how will he post to his blog?) What about life without a car? And, most importantly to readers of Get Rich Slowly, how does this crusade affect the family finances? Apparently, they’re saving a ton of money.
How much money are we saving? Here’s a hint: I rarely carry cash anymore unless I’m on a jaunt to the farmer’s market. I forget to put my money clip in my pocket and it sits on a shelf for days on end.
At first glance, to look at our food bill, you’d think we weren’t saving a penny. After all, we spend $30 a week for a pound and a half of artisanal, unpasteurized cheese made from the milk of happy cows who are grass fed and treated well. The eggs aren’t cheap either: $7 a dozen from pasture-raised hens. The lecture from the farmer on how chickens are carnivores who would rather scavenge for worms than eat bagged corn comes free.
Veggies and fruit, locally grown and milled flour, and milk from cows I personally met and petted at Ronnybrook Farm make up the bulk of the rest of our expenses…
Add to our savings: no airplanes, no hotels, no car rentals, no gas, no subways, no taxis, no shopping for anything new, no designer clothes, no gadgets, no movies, no cable bill. On Isabella’s birthday, we went to a second-hand kids store called Jane’s Exchange, told Isabella she could have anything she wanted, and watched as she chose a pair of gold beaded slippers—total price $1. That means that our weekly living expenses, excluding our mortgage and a couple of bills, are about $120 a week for the three of us.
[W]hen the project began, we were without a dime in savings and, though not in credit card debt (I’ve been there, done that), we were both way too comfortable being in overdraft. Now, the money idles provocatively in our bank accounts. We’re living on one salary and stashing the other.
No Impact Man will interest those who have been wishing Get Rich Slowly would address environmental issues more often. But you don’t have to agree with Colin’s politics to learn from his experience. There is a lot of information here:
- What you need to know introduces the project.
- Stopping the junk mail tree killers gives four steps to stem the flood of junk mail.
- Eating local vs. organic explores one of my pet dilemmas. (Like the author, I almost always prefer local.)