Make new habits easier: Simple ways to care for the Earth

By Sylvia Keesmaat

Sylvia Keesmaat, who lives on an off-grid solar-powered farm in Cameron, has a diploma in Permaculture Design and a doctorate in Biblical Studies. Every summer she and her husband welcome interns to their farm to learn about resilient gardening and farming, and sustainable living. Sylvia is also an Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies at the Toronto School of Theology, with a focus on agrarian and anti-imperial readings of the biblical text.

What are the things that make change possible? We might decide to eat better, or get more exercise, or care for the environment. But then we find ourselves late, so we grab some fast food, or we have too much work to do so we skip the walk, or we would like to buy local, but we can’t really afford it. The truth is, it is hard to change our habits, no matter how important we think such changes could be.

One way to make changes and stick to them, is to make it easier to do things the new way. Here is an example from my house. We wanted to cut back on our energy demand. And nothing takes energy like a clothes dryer. So, we chose not to have a dryer.

But that is only half of the change. We also needed to make it easier to dry our clothes without the dryer. So we installed a clothesline outside. Then we purchased a few collapsible wooden drying racks from Home Hardware. We can use these inside or out. In the summer, we dry our clothing outside; in the winter, or if it is raining, we dry them inside. In fact, given that our house is dry in the winter, we often do a load of laundry in the evening and then hang it in the bedroom to dry. It adds welcome moisture to the air while we sleep.

Our decision to dispense with the dryer has had more impact than we had intended. We use less energy. Our clothes last longer. The added moisture in the air in the winter lessens our need for a humidifier. And, hanging up the clothes inside or out means that we were getting more exercise.

I’ve left out the best thing: hanging up clothes this way is something that can be done with children, or with a friend with special needs. It is a time for talking, singing and creating community. That seldom happens around a dryer! Not to mention that hanging clothes on the line in the summer, with the birds singing and the breeze whipping the sheets around, creates a deep sense of well-being.

I don’t even need to mention that this simple lifestyle change saves money not only on energy, but also on dryer repair and replacement costs. That is just icing on the cake.

Here are a few other changes that can shift the balance so that new environmentally-friendly habits are easier to practice. Pick one or two that suit your situation:

  1. Give away your electric can opener and buy a good quality hand powered one. This saves on energy use and money and keeps your hands limber.
  2. Sell your e-reader and get a library card so that you can read without using electricity.
  3. Dig your garden by hand rather than using a rototiller. This saves on fossil fuels and provides exercise. If you plan it right, it can also be a chance to build community.
  4. Shovel snow by hand instead of using a snowblower. Most snowfalls are easy to shovel and provide exercise. If the snow is too deep and heavy hire a neighbour kid to do it for you. It will still be cheaper than the snowblower and will save on fuel.
  5. If possible, try to have one or two car-free days each week. Keep your bicycle in good repair so that it is easy to just hop on or off. When we lived in town we sold our car and saved an enormous amount on gas and insurance. In fact, we saved enough that we could easily rent when we needed to go somewhere on the weekend. This is a great way to get more exercise and save money. Or, see if one of your neighbours would like to share a car.
  6. If you live close enough, walk to your local farmer’s market to purchase food. Save on gas, get exercise, socialize with friends (or make new ones), and get to know your local farmers.
  7. Get rid of your TV, or unsubscribe from Netflix and other streaming services. Gather some of the books you would like to read so they are handy in the evenings. Have some cards or board games on hand. Invest in some stationary so that it is easy to write letters. You will not only save money and build community, you will also find yourself getting more sleep.

Sometimes we need to alter our environment to change our habits. But once we have done so, it is surprising how easy some changes can actually be.

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