Setting New Goals

I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with the home restoration.  The big projects left to complete are growing smaller.   Of course the gardens won’t be complete for awhile.  There’s some landscaping to do, the butterfly and bee garden to plant and expansion of the edible areas of the garden but I don’t count that as home repairs.

As the work winds down I’ve been assessing the environmental cost of this rehab.  I can honestly say that I’ve accomplished what I set out to which was to bring this sad house back to life using as much used and free materials as possible.  While a lot of paint was used to brighten the rooms I was able to do most of the upgrades using found or used materials. Even the dry wall I needed to patch walls were free to me, scraps from another person’s remodeling. Only one light fixture was purchased new (the bathroom fixture).

Decorations for Easter (eggs hanging from a piece of yarn) made using used cardboard. She was happy with them and that’s all that matters.

Less than I thought ended up in the landfill.  The living room carpet did as it was stained and soiled from dogs and never cleaned but the rest of the carpeting was given away on Freecycle. The bathroom tub and surround along with the old toilet did end up being collected for disposal but that’s all that was thrown out.

The old laminate flooring from the kitchen was given to someone else who could use it. The cabinets that were removed from the kitchen and a small one in the bathroom found new homes.

I collected so much furniture from curbside finds that I joke that the amount I threw out was more than offset by the amount I saved from the landfill.   I’d like to believe that’s true.

Free clothes a neighbor outgrew some went home with my granddaughters some now fills the “dress up” closet for the girls. Zero cost and saved all this from the landfill!

With a bit more time to focus on other projects my attention has returned to sustainable behaviors.  I have more trash now than I did when living in the studio apartment. Some will be reduced now that Little Guy is in the process of potty training (those diapers add up quickly) but the rest of the trash is tiny juice boxes and food wrappers left here by the children. My garbage has grown to one small bag (the size of single use bag used to carry home store purchases) every two weeks.   I need to make some changes to eliminate those now that I have the energy to dedicate to this practice (of bringing disposables) I allowed to happen.

In the introduction to Hooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume Stephanie Gaza points out:

Americans spend more for trash bags than 90 of the world’s 210 countries spend for everything…..we consume our average body weight – 120 pounds- every day in extracted and processed materials.

I find those statements shocking!  When people talk about first world problems purchasing trash bags would be one of them we could eliminate with a bit of work.

For years, I’ve been trying to reduce my footprint down to the lowest figures I could without feeling deprived. Using a couple of carbon footprint calculators I was pleased to discover that my figures weren’t bad compared to the average American but that’s never been enough for me.

Then I came across  Riot for Austerity, a webpage no longer being updated. The goal of Riot for Austerity was to reduce our emissions to 1/10th of what the average American uses, bringing our emissions equivalent to that of a Chinese peasant.

The project allowed a year’s time to make the necessary adjustments to reach that magical 10% figure.  In some ways 1/10th will be easy for me, others quite difficult.

For example, gasoline for automobiles isn’t a problem as I don’t drive. Considering the added trash brought into my home (I counted all trash as my own) I still have this goal met.

I have decided to take on the challenge set by Riot for Austerity for one simple reason.  We, as a nation, need to reduce our emissions by 90% immediately if we have any chance of slowing down climate change and having a future for future generations. If I can make it look easy to those around me maybe, just maybe, I will inspire others to make cuts where they can.

If you would like to challenge yourself to reduce your emissions to 1/10 of the average American here is a summary of the details of the challenge.  All figures are per person, unless otherwise noted. If you live with others adjust the figures accordingly for each additional family member. For more in depth details of each category refer to 90% rules.

Here are the 7 categories:

1. Gasoline. Average American usage is 500 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR. A 90 percent reduction would be 50 gallons PER PERSON, PER YEAR.

2. Electricity. Average US usage is 11,000 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR, or about 900 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH. A 90% reduction would mean using 1,100 PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR or 90 kwh PER HOUSEHOLD PER MONTH

3. Heating and Cooking Energy – this is divided into 3 categories, gas, wood and oil. Your household probably uses one of these, and they are not interchangeable. If you use an electric stove or electric heat, this goes under electric usage..

  • US Average Natural Gas usage is 1000 therms PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR. A 90% reduction would mean a reduction to 100 therms PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR. (for other types of heating and cooking refer to link above)

4. Garbage – the average American generates about 4.5 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean .45 lbs of garbage PER PERSON, PER DAY.

5. Water. The Average American uses 100 Gallons of water PER PERSON, PER DAY. A 90% reduction would mean 10 gallons PER PERSON, PER DAY.

6. Consumer Goods.  A Professor at Syracuse University calculates that as an average, every consumer dollar we spend puts .5 lbs of carbon into the atmosphere. This isn’t perfect, of course, but it averages out pretty well.

The average American spends 10K PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR on consumer goods, not including things like mortgage, health care, debt service, car payments, etc…  A 90% cut would be 1,000 dollars PER HOUSEHOLD, PER YEAR

  • Used goods are deemed to have an energy cost of 10% of their actual purchase price. That is, if you buy a used sofa for $50, you just spent $5 of your allotment….. This would apply to Craigslist, Yardsales, etc… but not goodwill and other charities. This rule does not apply if you know that the item would otherwise be thrown out….Those items are unlimited as well, because they keep crap out of landfills.
  • Goods that were donated are deemed to be unlimited, with no carbon cost. That is, you can spend all you want at Goodwill and the church rummage sale. Putting things back into use that would otherwise be tossed should be strongly encouraged.

7. Food.  Food is divided into 3 categories.

#1 is food you grow, or which is produced *LOCALLY AND ORGANICALLY*….. Local means within 100 miles to me.  A 90% reduction would involve this being AT LEAST 70% of your diet, year round.

#2 is *DRY, BULK* goods, transported from longer distances. That is, *whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea, coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *ONLY*). This should be no more than 25% of your total purchases.

# 3 is Wet goods – conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc… transported long distances, and processed foods like chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc…  no one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form.

Thus, if you purchase 20 food items in a week, you’d use 14 home or locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing.

source unknown

I am sure I will face many choices, some more difficult than others, but it’s time I had an actual goal to strive for. More changes are in the works but I’ll stop here for today.

Do you think you would feel content or deprived living with the guidelines set by Riot for Austerity?




  1. Love your “rogues” gallery…Always loved a photo wall..And the Easter Décor is lovely..

    re the challenge…sigh..not for me….


    • Thanks! The gallery wall is driving me a bit nuts. All the frames were thrift shop finds that had to be painted. There’s no consistency between the frames but I so enjoy the kids photos. It is what it is, maybe one day I’ll find better frames at the thrift shop or some one’s trash 🙂


    • Hi Elaine! Happy belated Birthday! I spotted your post on my phone and just need a chance to stop over and say Hi.

      With all the shared walls and the smaller square footage your condo must be a big difference on your footprint.


  2. I think I’m below the average American usage in most of these categories but some of them would be hard to cut. I am spending a certain amount of gasoline to go to work and with no buses or carpools available, it is what it is. I do try to coordinate errands and other things to use the less time and energy.

    But there are other areas that could be cut. We’re still trying to figure out the heating and cooling of our new house. There’s room for improvement there and we’re trying different things to understand what’s the most efficient way for us to be comfortable.

    Anyway, I won’t be joining the challenge as we are working on our new house, also. But the list is a good reminder of things we can do.


    • I think the US made a horrible choice to design the nation around cars. In many cities, just like Pittsburgh, when they got rid of the trolleys, they simply paved over them. The entire infrastructure for the trolleys is still under there. My town has no public transit available, but it used to have a trolley! Makes your head spin to think just how backwards we’ve gone.

      I probably wouldn’t attempt the challenge if I was just starting on my house either! How is your house coming? It has to feel good to now just have the one home.


      • It is wonderful to have only one house now. We are comfortable in the new house, but still have a lot to do both inside and out. I have to slow myself down and realize that I need to live here a while to really understand how we will be using our space. And I really want to get things going outside, but I also need to wait a season and see what comes up. Also, there are invasive weeds in all the beds that I need to get under control before I start digging around much. Every time I split a root another two will come up.


        • When I first see a new home I plan to move into I can see exactly how my things will fit but I too need to live with the space a while before making any real changes. Each home has a feeling to it and I need to connect to the house so anything I do fits with it. I ran into that in this house. It was in such poor shape and dirty, I can’t even describe the dirt and smell, that I had to jump in right away to make it livable. The last few months I’ve been going back and tweaking things to make them feel right after having lived here long enough to connect with the house. Your home will speak to you too.

          I feel for you on the invasive weeds. I have plenty here too. It’s a yearly thing to tackle the weeds because some I will never get all the roots, such as creeping Charlie, which is every where! I hope you have better luck with your weeds.


  3. Interesting article and good goals but the way things are in America today, I don’t think many people could achieve this. We began the year trying to purchase and eat as plastic free as possible. After 80 days, we have come to the conclusion that we are just making ourselves crazy!
    It wasn’t that difficult when I lived in Minnesota and had access to bulk stores, farms, a dairy, and a butcher shop. In South Carolina it is far different. For example, the only place to purchase from bulk bins is an hour away. If you count the gas and wear and tear on the car and the added cost of the food (it’s a Whole Foods in Charleston), we can’t afford to do it. The only other options are upscale grocery stores on the beach (we’ve decided people with lots of money like convenience and lots of wrapping) or very poor grocery stores here in town. And EVERYTHING is wrapped in plastic in these stores. Everything. Produce that is not wrapped in plastic, such as carrots, are almost double the price. Did you know it is worse to buy oats in a “cardboard” container than in a plastic bag? The “cardboard” container is lined with a coat of plastic and impossible to seperate and recycle whereas the bag might be recyclable.
    If I sound discouraged, I am. We can’t afford to live without plastic and certainly our neighbors can’t, even if they were interested in trying to. On the plus side, we don’t come anywhere near the average 4.5 lbs or even .45 lbs of trash a day you mentioned and our little garden is doing well so far. We have very little sunny space for growing fruit but we did find a place for a fig tree and some red raspberries. We will continue to do what we can and I hope to stop feeling guilty about the world I will be leaving my grandsons!
    I love the photo of your granddaughter, looking so pleased with her creativity and decorating. And no plastic involved!


    • Cynthia, you and I are having the same struggles. I can’t buy carrots without plastic no matter how much I had to spend. Yes, everything is wrapped in plastic here. It’s shocking how different things are from one area to the next. Your hometown in Minnesota sounds a lot like the town I left in Northwest PA. We had farmers who even started little stores on their properties and the grocery store stocked local produce in the growing season which saved me having to run all over.

      I didn’t know the cardboard they sell oats in isn’t recyclable, I rarely buy the containers but when I do I’ve tossed them in the recycling thinking it was fine.

      I’m hoping my garden will do better this year than last, if it does then I’ll have a good amount of fruit and vegetables to put up. But even putting up my own food I have to rely on some plastic to pack it in the freezer. I simply can’t afford to purchase that many glass or metal containers or to give up that much space in the freezer.

      Did you know raspberries can be grown in the shade? They do quite well there actually.

      Thank you, my little one wanted to “make crafts” for Easter. We found the cardboard and used cotton thread to hang them. They weren’t totally plastic free as she used markers and crayons to decorate them. 😦


  4. First of all, congratulations on coming down the home stretch in terms of home remodeling. I fear I’m heading into a phase where much is on the horizon – foundation work, dealing with my disastrous siding (steel siding is a BAD idea if you live in a sunny place with a southern exposure), kitchen & bathroom upgrades, plumbing and electrical upgrades. Oy! Honestly, it overwhelms me just thinking about it all!

    I LOVE your new challenge. Alas, my life is a bit too crazy at the moment to partake, but I do have some thoughts. First of all, I think that a one size fits all approach doesn’t really work in this situation. For example, growing one’s own food in an arid climate will take a LOT more water than doing so in a wetter region. Likewise, it will take a lot more energy to heat one’s home if you’re living in Minnesota, than say, Hawaii! So, I think one should make some allowances for circumstances that are beyond one’s control (like climate).

    That being said… let’s see how I stack up!

    Gasoline: Well, the last few years I’ve been driving around 600 miles per year. This year is better, only about 140 so far. My car gets around 30 mpg so let’s guess that’s about 20 gallons of gas. I usually fill up 2-3 times per year, so that sound about right. Score 1 for the Cat Lady!

    Electric: Hmm… this is harder to quantify since my cooking is all electric as is a good chunk of my heating (my hybrid furnace uses a heat pump until the temps drop below 40, at which point it switches over to gas.) Plus, I buy all of my electricity from wind power – soooo not sure how that figures in. Anyhow, last year I used 5320 kwh, which comes out to around 443/month. Sooo… doing much better than your average American, but still work to be done there…

    Natural Gas. Let’s see, in the past year I used 363 therms or around 30 per month. This includes heat (when it’s below 40 degrees outside) hot water, and gas drier. I used a LOT more hot water in the past year than usual, and also used the drier a LOT more than normal because of the carpet beetle situation. Let’s hope that improves this year! But at any rate, doing much better than average, but still work to do there.

    Garbage. Well, if you don’t count cat litter, I think I’m well below .45 pounds per day. Short of teaching them to use the toilet or booting them outside, I don’t see a good solution there. I did try composting it for a while and.. well, the yuck factor was a bit much for me.

    Water – Hmmm.. can’t seem to get into my online account so I can’t say for sure. Once again, I think I’m way below average but probably not near 10%. The carpet beetles did me in again, I fear. I am expanding my drip irrigation system for the garden this year, so hopefully that will be more efficient.

    Consumer goods, hard to say for sure without doing a lot more research, but I think I’m probably much lower than the average American, but probably not quite low enough. My downfall is bike stuff and electronics (computer, TV, camera, etc.) Probably room for improvement, though CatMan is a technology nerd, so I don’t see myself cutting back much in that area.

    Food. A tough one for me. I’m nowhere near growing 70% of my own food! And bulk foods are hard for me. I recently had an experience where I bought a bunch of bulk foods and had to throw them out (well, feed them to the squirrels) because they had been contaminated with sunflower seeds – and I kept getting hives. Not worth risking a severe allergic reaction! I tried to cut back on meat & cheese a while back and the results were terrible. I was hungry ALL THE TIME – not to mention really grumpy and depressed! I guess when you ride your bike 100 miles per week, you need more protein. Anyhow, I gave up on that plan and I’m doing much better. I am trying to do better in the garden this year. We’ll see if the weather cooperates!

    OK, so sorry for the really long comment, but that was a fun exercise! I guess my general conclusion is that getting to around 30-40% of average is pretty easy… beyond that would be a challenge!

    I can’t wait to hear how it all goes for you!


    • I feel for you. Foundation, and electrical problems are things no one should have to deal with, I hope it’s not too serious. Electrical issues scare me so I only do very limited work with electricity. It sounds like you have a long road ahead of you. Good luck and don’t lose your mind in the process.

      I have aluminum siding which has its pros and cons even in this area. Is yours faded from the sun or damaged? I bet it’s very hot to the touch in the summer.

      I had so much fun reading your assessment of your emission totals. I know heating is a problem for me in reducing natural gas. Some one recently said that even in a cold climate we won’t die if we don’t turn on the heat. Her proof was that we would have died out in certain parts of the world. I’m not turning off my heat in the winter!!

      I don’t have all my figures together but the one I was really concerned about was water. Ten gallons a day doesn’t seem like a lot when you figure in showering, laundry, toilets and dishes. Turns out ten gallons is a lot because my current bill shows I averaged 7.1 per day.

      Which means the two areas I need to focus on are natural gas and food. Food is going to be the one that I want to work on the most as trucking it in has such a large food print whether grown organically or conventionally.. There’s no way I can at this stage grow 70% of my food and local sources are pretty much non-existent. I could order a CSA box from a family that farms near my son and have them bring me the box when they visit and I am still considering it. I could buy a cow or pig from local farmers and put it up but well, meat and I don’t get along. You and I are complete opposites when it comes to food.

      Bulk foods here are shipped in as well. My only source of bulk foods is a Mennonite business that prepackages everything in smaller plastic bags. I could ask about putting in a special order for the large bags they receive but it would take me forever to eat all that if I bought a variety.

      Like most things, I jumped right into this and don’t have all my figures to share. (When I get my bills I put the total owed in an app on my phone and delete or recycle the bill)

      The one I laughed at, at first, was the consumer spending. Ten Thousand a year? That’s more than half my total income in a year. But when reduced to $1,000, I first thought that was a lot for someone who hates to shop then I started adding up all the paint, Christmas and birthday gifts etc. Do I need to count the money spent on fruit trees and seeds (which eventually will reduce my food emissions) as consumer spending? Thankfully, when looking at these figures most of what I put into my house was dragged home or repurposed so I didn’t pay anything for it. So minus the house and the gardens the $1,000 figure is easy to meet.

      I think in some categories your 30-40% figures would be pretty accurate (such as heat and food) so my hope is to offset those emissions with a greater reduction in other categories until reaching my goal.


      • Years ago I read an article that advocated turning off the heat in the winter. They were promoting some system that’s apparently popular in Japan, where you essentially have a small space heater under a low table with a table cloth hanging down around it to trap the heat under the table. Then people sat (on the floor) around the table with their legs in the heated area, and this was supposed to replace indoor heating. My thoughts were 1) sounds like a good way to burn your house down, and 2) I hope that nobody who lives in a climate with real winter tries this, because the amount you’d save on heating would pale in comparison to the cost of repairs once the pipes freeze and burst!

        I just think it all goes to show that people face different realities for a variety of different reasons, and one really needs to take those things into account before spouting off about how other people ought to live!


        • I’ve seen the Kotatsu tables. They are interesting. The first time I saw one I thought it was a similar concept to having a wood stove that everyone sits around when that’s the only source of heat. I sure wouldn’t mind having heat I could snuggle up to but like you I would be afraid of fires.

          Colin Beaven turned off his heat in his New York apartment when he did his No Impact Man year. At first I thought he was crazy but then being in a building where everyone else is heating their units would have kept his pipes from freezing. You can do that when you live in a large apartment building but not a house.

          Regardless, I’m not turning off my heat even if I was in a situation where pipes wouldn’t burst. It might be fine to bundle up in a single room but just think how cold it would be to bathe!


          • I’m chuckling at your bathing comment, because this is the crux of my hot bath issue. I keep the house cool (65-68) in the winter, but I just CAN’T go to bed cold. So the hot bath is not only about getting clean, it’s about being able to feel my toes and get warm so I can sleep. I suppose the fact that I don’t have a functioning shower is also a factor… hopefully that will be addressed as I tackle the bathroom remodel… OY!


          • I completely understand that. I used to enjoy a hot shower in the winter to thaw out but with the design of my bathroom being so small the door has to stay open because my chair doesn’t fit in all the way so now I freeze while showering in the colder months. It sucks!


  5. Hi Lois
    thought this article sort of went with the post …please just delete my posting if you think I shouldn’t put the link..

    Recycling is in trouble and you may be part of the problem

    “Our contamination changes by the season,” said Mike Taylor, the company’s director of recycling operations here. Since it’s spring, the facility is getting a lot of garden hoses. Around the holidays, they get broken strands of Christmas lights, another choking hazard for the sorting line. And all day every day there are plastic shopping bags (recyclable at a grocery store but not from a household), chunks of styrofoam, diapers, syringes, food-contaminated containers … a nearly endless litany of things that residents throw into their curbside recycling carts figuring they are or ought to be recyclable. One worker grabs the remnants of a screen door off the sorting line while another snags a wire rack from a DIY shelving unit.

    A study by Rob Taylor with the State Recycling Program in the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality estimated that the average market value of a ton of mixed recyclable material arriving at a recovery facility in the state dropped from just over $180 in early 2011 to less than $80 at the end of 2015. That value has since rebounded a bit, Taylor found, to a little over $100, but it still leaves the industry struggling to extract profit from the millions of tons of recyclable material Americans throw away every year.

    (((this next bit really shocked me)))
    Across the recycling industry, “what was once a valuable commodity five years ago is less valuable now,” Biderman said.

    The change is perhaps most dramatic for glass. In most American cities, the glass bottle you toss in the recycling cart is essentially worthless, and if it breaks, the shards may make the paper in a mixed cart worthless as well.

    More on the link…


  6. I guess we can each just do the best we can. At least that’s my plan. I was so happy to see the sun for at least one day before the rain comes back that all I cared about was being out in it. I’ve made peace with how I walk through the world now. Hope you are all set for a wonderfilled weekend. Hugs.


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