If you are totting up a list of New Year's resolutions that include things like "losing weight, being healthier, spending more time with family and reconnecting with friends," then why not satisfy the whole list at once by joining thousands of other Americans in taking the "No Impact Challenge." (noimpactproject.org)
This challenge is a week on a low-carbon diet that makes you reassess how you spend your time and money, and consider what's really important in your life. The challenge is based on No Impact Man Colin Beavan's year-long experience of living lightly in New York City with his small family and leaving no environmental impact. Three months into the experiment, the Beavans stopped consuming new goods (except local food) and discovered that kicking the shopping habit saved them not only money, but opened up time to spend with family and friends, and more space in the house.
Could you avoid buying anything new (besides local produce) for one week? The No Impact Challenge asks you to start by stopping shopping for new things. Instead, repair broken things, make something yourself or find used items at garage sales, Freecycle.com or craigslist. With the time you save by not shopping, host a clothing swap party or a play date with your family.
When Beavan began his experiment, he stockpiled his family's trash for a week to figure out what disposable items they could stop consuming and throwing away without sacrificing their happiness or comfort. He sorted the garbage into categories -- disposables used less than 10 minutes and more than 10 minutes, and things that they could live without. He equipped each family member with their own reusable drinking cup, containers, utensils, cloth napkins and bags. After giving up all disposable products, their level of happiness and satisfaction actually increased.
We drivers spend an average of 1,000 hours annually behind the wheel. What would you do with all that extra time if you found other transportation? Half the trips we take in cars are less than 2 miles away and could be done on bicycle, roller skates or foot with the side effect of improving our health and reducing our waistlines. Look for ways to incorporate public transportation into your day, or share a ride and the expense of gas.
"A big part of the No Impact project was to eat only local, seasonal, unpackaged food. That meant, basically, lots of fresh vegetables. Michelle and I both lost a lot of weight. None of the farmers I talk to at the farmers' market try to jam their food with salt, fat or sugar to get my little Isabella addicted," from Beavan's No Impact Man blog.
Eating local requires more thought and planning than buying prepackaged foods in the supermarket. Find a local farm that retails directly in your area at www.localharvest.org. If you eat lunch outside of the house, make it yourself in a reusable container. If you substitute things grown locally for imports on your shopping list, like apples for bananas, you keep money flowing in your local economy.
The final part of No Impact Man's Challenge involves volunteering for local nonprofits. "The final stage was to me the most important," blogs Beavan. "The final stage was not about conservation. It was about innovation. And it was in this stage that I met new people and made the most friends. It was here that the people were most excited. It was not about doing less harm. It was about doing more good. It was less about limits and more about possibility."
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at [email protected]