Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Are Our Comforts Killing The Planet?

Have we made our lives too comfortable? Is our desire to be comfortable the root cause of (most) environmental destruction?
When I moved to my new home, the tiny house, I had to give up some of the comforts I had grown used to, such as having instant access to running water and having a lot of space. This has shown me the direct link between comfort and unsustainable habits.

Wanting to be comfortable is a natural tendency for all living beings, including humans. We invent ways to make life simpler, easier, faster and in the process we want to ban out any pain or discomfort. But sometimes we seem to get lost while on this quest for comfort and convenience. We forget about the cost of these 'improvements'; not just to the environment, but also (paradoxically) to our own quality of life and well-being.

Convenience detaches
Convenience usually means that someone or something is doing our work for us. Because most of us work for other people all day in our jobs, we like to have someone else or something else do our work when we get home. So we have devices for entertainment, ovens and other equipment to cook our food, and machines doing our dishes and our laundry. But this detaches us from the task and puts us out of touch with reality, including the reality of the resources that are used. For example, do you know how much water a load of washing uses?
The average washing machine uses about 150 liters of water per load. In my tiny home I don’t have a washing machine nor in the nearby barn, and even though I have been offered the opportunity to do my laundry at the main farm house, I prefer to do it by hand, because it connects me to what I am doing and it helps me see what resources I put into it.
I put my clothes in warm to hot water (depending on what fabric it is) with a bit of soda, and I just let it soak for a while. Then I knead, swish and/or rub the fabrics together, wring them out and hang them out to dry.  It is quick and simple. Per tub I use 3 to 4 liters of water and for a comparable load in the washing machine this would add up to about 9-16 liters when washed by hand, compared to 150 liters in a washing machine. Now that is a big difference. And it doesn’t really take that much time either.
Another way is to put your clothes in a stream or river, so that the water does all the work for you. Just leave them in there for a couple of hours and they should be clean. Unfortunately this is not an option for me at the moment because it is still too cold, but I will definitely try this in summer.

I have noticed I use a lot less water for other things as well, because my tiny home is not connected to the water grid. So whenever I need water, I need to ‘leave the house’ and walk the cold and often slippery 15-meter path to the tap (in the nearby barn). Not too much trouble, but enough of a barrier to break my previous routine of mindless water consumption. I now have to think about when I need and use water. I have to plan it and have it ready. And wherever possible, I try to avoid going to the tap by exploring alternatives. For example, I often use snow to 'wash' my hands (or sometimes to rinse the dishes), or I use rainwater that collects in a bucket outside my door.

Convenience breeds habit
Convenience creates habits, and habits can make us slaves of routine and lull us into half-comas. Together with the detachment factor and our desire to hide away from pain instead of moving into it, we run the risk of losing our sense of aliveness and awareness. Pain and discomfort can teach us a lot. Also, simplifying your life and letting go of certain comforts and conveniences doesn't have to be uncomfortable. It can actually be fun and enjoyable. It can add spice to your life. If you find your daily chores boring or unpleasant, you may need to wonder what is missing in your life, because I am willing to bet it is not about the chores themselves. It just never is. Perhaps it is time to reconsider your day job.
I enjoy doing my laundry and washing my dishes. It is not uncomfortable or inconvenient, and I don't feel like I am missing anything at all. I would not want it any other way. And if I do feel the occasional discomfort, I question it. It helps me grow and expand. That is why it appears. If I were to run away from it, or find a way not to experience it, life would get dull, and I could get numb and lose my awareness of being in the process. I have been in that place before and never want to go back there. Some call it depression.

Comfort can hinder change
Being too comfortable can make you stagnant. Like water, you need to be in motion sometimes to be able to cleanse yourself and leave a positive impact on others and the world. Motion allows you to flow with life and adapt to the inevitable changes with ease and grace. Being too comfortable can lull you to sleep (if you are prone to that) and make you rigid, which can make it much more difficult to change and more difficult to see where you are and where you are heading in life. It can also make you lose sight of the big picture and the part you play.

So this is my solution for getting out of habits (and boring routines): avoid getting too comfortable by making things just a tiny bit more challenging for yourself in some way. Also look for ways to simplify your life. It will make your life more fun, help you to stay in the flow and make changes more easily (without getting stuck in apathy). It will also help you to practice creativity and discover new ways to do things (or rather to rediscover the old ways). It will help you stay connected and present. And this will help you come alive.

"To be awake is to be alive." -- Henry David Thoreau

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