Shop ‘til you Drop

Black Friday was just this past weekend. It is an American tradition, so we Canadians just sit back and watch in awe. We are still impacted a bit of course, with the TV commercials and spam emails from our favourite online retailers. Someone in Canada decided to start an opposing tradition for this day, called “Buy Nothing Day” in protest against the spectacle of consumer gorging.

It is a simple issue really. We love to shop, but in doing so we are rapidly using up the resources of the planet. As the title of my blog indicates, we only have One Earth to Live. Once we run out of resources here, there isn’t a spare Earth floating by that we can all hop on to. This is it. Some people have likened this to the idea of a spaceship. Earth is our vessel as we careen through space. We need to use resources aboard wisely, to ensure that they don’t run out, that everyone has enough, and that the conditions required to keep life alive persist.

So the core idea of being Earth friendly is to be less wasteful. That is it. Don’t use (consume) more than you have to. What you do take, use wisely and efficiently. Make less garbage and use less energy. It is simple really.

So why is it so hard to do? Why do most people not do it? Heck I didn’t do it. For me, it took a series of exposures to this issue, over a period of about 4 years, which finally culminated in my reading “Now or Never” by Tim Flannery that made me sit up and really take stock. After reading the book in one night, I found myself crying at 2 in the morning, vowing that from that moment forward to take action. I worried for my children and future grandchildren. I desperately wanted the world to change, not to save the Earth, but to save ourselves – humanity. It took this drastic awakening in me, for me to start to change my ways. What will it take for everyone else?

I was driving in my neighbourhood one day, this caught my eye (actually my son pointed it out):

Then we found this one nearby:

Hmmm… a shopping cart at the top a mountain of snow, right in front of Wal-Mart. How interesting. How symbolic really. We are all climbing a mountain – working and striving to make money to support our families and to buy stuff. We work harder and harder to buy bigger and better stuff, so that we improve our standard of living and live more comfortably. Does this make us happier? Well perhaps it does, since why else would we all do it? At the end of the day, the stuff is somehow supposed to equal happiness and success. It is the shopping cart atop our mountains.

My 5-year old son thought it was funny. I bet the kids who pulled this prank probably thought it was funny too, I am sure they were rolling around laughing at the sight of it. I wonder if they thought about the symbolic piece of landscape art they had just created….

Air Dry II

So the results are in. Air dry was a success. Folding took less time as expected, due to the pre-sorting involved with hanging. After a short while, my four loads of kid’s clothes looked like this (minus the socks, underwear, bathing suits and tights):

My one worry was the crunchiness of the clothes after air drying. This proved not to be a problem for most items. Out of everything, the cotton was the stiffest. However cotton knits were not a problem at all, and luckily, most of my kids’ clothes are cotton knits (pyjamas, pants, t-shirts). To get out wrinkles, all I did was smooth them out with my hands. This is what I normally do with dryer-dried clothes anyway. Here are pyjama pants before the smoothing:

Here they are after. No problem.

The crunchiest items were the jeans. To soften them up a bit, I just rubbed them together at the waistband.

The weave cotton items could not be smoothed out. So out of the nearly 100 items washed, I decided to put 4 cotton weave dresses and 1 pair of pants into the dryer for one minute to fluff. It worked okay, not great. I am not sure I will try it again. It is a small stain on my otherwise dryer-free experience. Purist! An iron was probably necessary but I was too lazy.

The next step is all the adult clothes and linens/towels. I have completed 2 loads so far! As expected, hanging is a breeze as there are way fewer items than with kid’s clothes. Plus, drying rack space does not get used up so fast. Bonus.

Overall, the entire process was not nearly as hard as I thought, and more gratifying than I ever imagined. It sounds weird, but I feel more connected to the clothes, more responsible for them somehow. Just doing this has opened my eyes to the full impact that our clothes have on the environment. The fabric production process utilizes an astonishing amount of water, and then we continue to use water and energy to maintain them. So that has me thinking – what else can we do to reduce our clothing foot print?

Air Dry

I have never air dried my clothes. There is one exception – when I was pregnant I borrowed maternity clothes from a friend and didn’t want them to shrink. She air dried them, so I did too. All other clothes have always gone in the dryer, every time.

I briefly thought about this fact when we were in Australia 6 years ago. Apparently most people air dry their clothes there and don’t even own dryers. I felt a slight twinge of guilt for not doing the same, but that feeling quickly passed when I realized how much extra work it would be. Plus how are you supposed to dry your clothes outside when it is below freezing 6 months a year? This is not Australia people, this is Canada.

Once I had kids, the thought of having to air dry all the little baby clothes and blankets seemed crazy to me. Have you seen how much laundry babies make? Kids can make even more, due to the sloppiness of eating and the dirtiness of playing. I felt thankful for my dryer, and continued to push through load after load.

Well, I have been putting laundry off since I have turned over my fresh new environmental leaf (about 3 weeks ago). I now have a totally different way of thinking. One of my main goals is to live the life I want everyone else to live, so I really want reduce my carbon footprint. Now I am pretty sure the big 5 – fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer and dryer – are pulling out a lot of wattage. The most wasteful one right off the bat seems to be the dryer, since there is a relatively easy viable alternative. This is the reason why Australians hang their clothes, as do many people in Europe. So I should just suck it up, and give it a try.

Today I went out and bought two extra hanging racks. Check it out (third rack not shown):

As stood in front of the washer and drier I wondered how I was going to deal with all the little socks and underwear. Then I realized it was staring right at it – laundry shelves! Perfect. You can see by the amount of underwear (note that there are additional rows in some places) that I have been really putting off laundry.

My husband said when he saw all the kids’ underwear and socks, that it gave him the same image of someone comin’ home after a duck hunt. Ewww.

So anyway… here is the analysis, having just completed the hanging:

  1. Load by load, this is much faster. I mean, you have to wait about 50 minutes between each cycle when you use the dryer. With the washer only, you can be in there to switch loads in about 25. So for these 4 loads it took just over 2 hours.
  2. Load by load, it takes a lot longer to hang all these little people clothes up, compared to chucking them in the dryer. It took me about 15 minutes per load to hang, and I was getting faster by the end. The grownup people loads would be even faster of course, as there is about one-third the items per load.
  3. I feel like although it took longer to hang, it will be faster to fold. Much of the sorting is done (some pairs of socks already hanging together as you can see).
  4. I actually don’t mind the act of hanging, or folding too much. It is somehow relaxing, and I cannot explain why.
  5. I feel good. My dryer stayed quiet and cold.

There is one thing I am a bit worried about – what shape the clothes will be when they are fully dry? The climate here is quite dry in the winter, so wet things dry really fast. This is a good thing, since I have another 8 loads or so waiting in line… But drying fast means that fabric can feel stiff, crunchy even. Maybe excessive shaking out or precision folding will help with that. Worst case scenario is that some items go back in to the dryer for one minute for a fluff. I will let you know.

Being an accountant, I want to put numbers to all this stuff. How much power do I actually save based on my total drying time and the kWh used by my dryer?

Find these things out, I will.