Living Locally

I’m starting to realize how much I’ve been unknowingly applying the philosophy of living locally to my life. The phrase “living locally” might bring to mind the idea of bicycling to a farmer’s market to pick up fresh produce over driving to the supermarket to do the same, but it can mean much more than that. I’d like to broaden the concept to refer to the conservation of resources by minimizing space and travel, by keeping things local to the site of their use. Don’t be too put off by that definition. I’ll clarify with some examples I’ve noticed in my present lifestyle.

I’ll start with a simple example. Many years ago, when I was visiting my sister, I noticed that her family used a dish scrub that was attached to a handle which housed soap in it. As you scrubbed, gravity pushed soap out of the handle and into the sponge, keeping it saturated and ever ready for cleaning. This tool came in very handy during my college days, when I shared dishes with roommates. Rather than spending hours of time washing everyone else’s dishes, I simply scrubbed the dishes I needed, rinsed them and placed them in the drainer. The idea caught on quickly and my roommates followed suit.

So how is this living locally? Simple, the soap sponge doesn’t require one to fill a sink full of water and add soap to it and then afterwards rinse the dishes. It may consume slightly more soap than washing dishes the standard way, but it uses less water and less effort. It’s quite analogous to taking a shower in preference to a bath; it is well known that showers use far less water and time.

I stumbled onto another local living strategy quite on accident. My current kitchen is pretty much RV sized, so when I bought a dish drainer, I went with a relatively small one to conserve space. When I got it home, I dropped it in the sink as I was unloading other items from the car. When my attention returned to it, I realized that I might as well leave it in the sink, using that side as the drying side and the other (the one with the garbage disposal) as the washing and rinsing side. I don’t have much cupboard space, so I just leave commonly used dishes like bowls and plates in the drainer and take them out as needed. Not only do I save time that would be spent moving dishes around, but I also don’t have to clean or replace the rubber mat when it starts to grow mold. Nice!

Here’s another kitchen example: the toaster. Imagine using the oven every time you wanted to toast a few slices of bread. What a big waste of time and energy! You’d spend 30 minutes just heating it up! By making the heat local to the source it is intended to be used on, you are able to do the task in far less time and using far less energy. This is why I’m not only a big proponent of the toaster, but also the toaster oven. I started using the toaster oven during my college days and now won’t go without one. Microwaves are generally faster and use less energy than toaster ovens, so why don’t I use one of them? Mostly because baked foods taste better in my estimation, but also because my counter space is limited, so I opt for the smaller, more versatile tool.

Ok, I’m almost through. Only two more examples, but these ones are huge.

The concept of localizing your heating can be broadened to the heating of your house. Rarely do you frequent every room of your house. If you are like me, 90% of your time is spent in your bedroom. So it doesn’t really make much sense to heat the entire house, unless you’re entertaining guests. The same applies to cooling. Instead, just heat or cool the rooms you use the most. The amount of discomfort you feel while in the other rooms will only make you appreciate your bedroom more. This has to be my #1 recommendation, since most home energy costs are spent on heating and cooling and it’s pretty cheap to install local heating and cooling in bedrooms. Over the winter I bought a small space heater from Walmart for around $15. For the amount of time I used it, I estimate I spent about $30/month on electricity. A window-mounted air conditioner is a bit more expensive at around $200, but in Las Vegas, that would easily recoup its cost over just one summer.

My final example of local living involves exercise. Less than a year ago, I was spending $40 a month on a gym membership and $25 per session for a trainer. When finances got tight, I ended up discontinuing both, but I still felt the need to keep myself physically fit. So after months of off-time, I finally decided to purchase $250 worth of weights (about the cost I was spending per month at the gym). I just bought a set of dumbell bars and about 150 lbs of free weights. I figured I could buy more weights as I needed them. Dumbells are very versatile and are safe to use without having a “spot” (if used with caution). I’ve devised a single exercise that works out nearly my entire body. I’m mostly going for mass, which this exercise will do. I may go back to the gym for some fine tuning a few years from now, but so far I am very pleased with my set up. Going to the gym requires all the driving time and dress up/dress down time. Not only that, but it’s intimidating and discouraging for a guy of average build to work out around a bunch of huge men. Not only does this local living solution eliminate many disincentives to working out, it also adds on a bonus: when you have weights in your bedroom, they constantly remind you to use them. The only thing that keeps me from working out nowadays is fatigued muscles, just how it ought to be.