A Household Word: Dirty Socks and Carbon Footprints

By Carol Band

I feel good that my family is doing more to help protect our planet. Personally, I think laying off the housework can really make a difference.

Global warming is probably the most serious issue affecting our planet. Although I suspect if we all simply stopped driving our kids to soccer, the Earth would plummet into another Ice Age. But this spring, in addition to boycotting my son's away games, I'm taking additional steps to reduce carbon emissions, conserve energy and keep the ice caps intact. I figure that if I reduce my family's impact on the Earth, not only will I help the environment, but I might even improve my own quality of life.

In my quest for carbon neutrality, I've decided to stop vacuuming. Turns out, a canister vacuum like mine sucks up a whopping 800 watts of electricity per month. Now, the cat hair on the couch and the dust bunnies under the dining room table will provide extra insulation as well as visible proof that I am doing my part for the planet. When company comes, I'll just unscrew our fluorescent bulbs (more energy savings!) and light a candle. I'm sure my guests will appreciate the ambience.

With the time I save by not vacuuming, I can relax and watch TV (which consumes a mere 180 watts a month). Who knew that tuning into Oprah and the Food Network could help stave off global warming?

To further reduce my family's carbon footprint, I've also cut way back on how frequently I do laundry. After all, in a month of average use (and my family is way above average) the washing machine drains about 15,000 gallons of potable water, as well as more than 600 watts of electricity. And the dryer burns up a staggering 13,000 watts.

So when the kids say "Moooommmmm, I don't have any clean socks!" I just say, "Turn 'em inside out and they'll be good for another week." Same goes for underwear. I know Al Gore would approve and I feel good about treading lightly (albeit in dirty knee-highs) on the Earth.

Deforestation is also contributing to climate change. We all know that saving paper can save trees. So, in the spirit of environmental consciousness, I've replaced the rolls of squeezable Charmin in my kids' bathroom with those little, gray, scratchy sheets that they have at highway rest stops.To read more of her Household Word columns, visit the Household Word Archive

I lost the ability to control their toilet paper consumption when they stopped demanding "Wipe me!" Now, unsupervised, they gaily unfurl yards of the stuff at each sitting. I know - because I'm the only one who ever replaces the empty rolls, and I replace them frequently. The result of this ticker-tape mentality has resulted in clear cutting in Brazil and clogged drains in my bathroom. Maybe the little scratchy sheets will make using toilet paper a little less of a celebratory occasion and more of an opportunity to meditate on the importance of trees. They're lucky I don't put a basket of oak leaves next to the toilet.

Perhaps the most significant step I've taken to stop global warming is to cut my consumption of gasoline. I've simply reduced the number of unnecessary car trips to places like the supermarket.

The way I see it, if we're out of milk, the kids can drink water. If we're out of food we can get take-out. Ordering Chinese food or pizza saves some of the 12,500 watts that the stove uses during an average month and, because the delivery guy's out there driving around anyway, I figure he might as well stop at my house. When I do cook, I try to use the microwave (only 1,300 watts!) instead of the range. That means when the kids ask, "What's for dinner?" the answer is popcorn.

I feel good that my family is doing more to help protect our planet. Personally, I think laying off the housework can really make a difference. The way I figure it, sometimes doing more means doing way less. And that's a sacrifice I am happy to make.