For the last however many years I have known the day after Thanksgiving as ‘Buy Nothing Day’ – which I have no problem complying with. This year it was promoted as ‘Use Nothing Day’. Not that my own personal, non-political, action will get us anywhere, but it sounded like a fun experiment. I assumed they meant ‘use nothing up day’, since I use my bed to sleep (or the cold, hard ground), I use my house to keep me dry, I use my feet to walk or my butt to sit… Anyway, you get the idea – I tried to use nothing up. They suggested a Ramadan-like fast (sun-up to sun-down), easy enough up here when the sun comes up at 9:30am and is down by 4pm. I decided to do this instead of a full day fast, because I am weak and there were too many tempting left-overs threatening to rot. Not everyone in my family was in, so I decided ahead of time that I would not dictatorially turn the heat all the way off, shut off circuit breakers, or unplug the fridge (normally it would have been doable to put all the contents in coolers out on the freezing porch, but our fridge was stuffed to bursting with holiday food). So here was my day (after falling asleep around midnight on Thanksgiving):
Wake up at 8am to use the bathroom. Sleepily forget and use a piece of toilet paper (instead of cloth). Think about eating something and realize I am still full from the day before. Go back to bed. Wake up a few more times and rationalize that the longer I sleep, the less I will probably use, and the less hungry I will get. Get up at about 11am.
I turned off the bedroom thermostat at this point, leaving the living room one set at the normal program, which since this is a weekday is to turn down to 55F while we should all be at work and school. If it really did drop to this, the family would have complained, but it never did – the slightly above freezing weather and everyone else’s heat in the building kept us at 65F, our normal at-home setting. It was full daylight. The family ate breakfast and I drank some water out of a bottle I had filled earlier. I did use the tap a bit that day, as well as the toilet – so a definite consumption of clean water – a small amount for drinking (less than a liter) and a small amount for hand/toothbrush washing. I brushed my teeth with water alone, and flossed with my flosser (I do not dispose of floss each time, but leave it in the holder and rinse it off. It lasts for months and months. No grosser than not disposing of your toothbrush each time).
Then Osh and I went out and made snow-creatures, and had a big snowball fight and shoveled the drive and lay down on the snow to watch the flakes come down. Then we came in and read books and played scrabble. Eventually it was 4pm (sundown), and a neighborhood kid came over to visit. I used the microwave, somewhat guiltily, to heat up plates of leftovers for all of us (for the kids I didn’t want to risk the fight of forcing them to eat cold food, and I felt that if I was already doing it, what was one more plate for me…rationalization.) Osh turned a light on to see, but after dinner, when the friend went home, I lit a bunch of candles and we continued to read and play scrabble by candlelight. Gil returned home from his errands, and all of us played a round before bed.
So, a bunch of cheating and a few imperfect choices (turn on lights and use natural gas-generated electricity, or burn petroleum-wax candles sent up from the lower-48 using fossil fuels – but at least not purchased new, and just sitting around already, or force the 6-year-old to meditate in the dark with me). Some transgressions were to not inconvenience others, some were to go with the flow, some were out of knee-jerk habit – the usual reasons. Was it a worthwhile experiment? Did I learn or gain anything? Probably not. I only went a click or two beyond my normal low-impact lifestyle, I didn’t really influence those around me (didn’t even try to use it as a teaching tool with the neighbor kid), didn’t bring down civilization or make any scientific breakthroughs that would change the environmental destruction picture. It was like pulling out the microscope and looking at some pond scum with the kid – a day’s amusement. And it lacked enough of the two elements that would have made it feel celebratory – people and fire. It was cozy and intimate with my immediate family and some candles, but how much better it would have been with a bigger group of friends and family members and a roaring fire.