Sunshine & Vanilla

being eclectic while trying to be less electric.

Category: Unplugging

Those Little Things Add Up

I never turn off lights.

Prior to last month, you could walk through my house around any given time and you would probably find the kitchen and dining room lights ablaze. The light in the den would probably be on (as would the television).  If I’d been in there for any reason, at least one light in my bedroom would be on.  If it were nighttime, the hall light would probably be on as well.  There were more times than I’d care to admit that I saw the light in the back yard was on but, by then I was usually settled in bed and, rather than getting up and being responsible, I’d tell myself I would turn it out in the morning. And then would, of course, forget.
My desktop computer was always on – always.  And usually the xbox would run until it shut itself off.  Too many nights I left the porch light or the garage light on.  Terrible with the lights. Absolutely terrible.

And it showed.  Last month my PGE bill came in at a hefty $173.04  That’s for one person in a 1200 square foot house.  To wit, that’s far too much.  Something needed to be done. And thus the great “turn out the lights!” experiment was born.

When it started, that’s all I really intended to do.  Turn out the lights.  When I left a room, I would turn out the lights (or turn off the tv, or turn off the stereo).  I really wanted to see just how much electricity I was wasting every day.   I wanted to see the difference between last month’s bill which clearly demonstrated my usual behavior and a bill reflecting my attempt to conserve energy.

It started out easily enough.  All I had to do was abide by the rule: When you leave a room, shut off the lights.  There were slips here and there.  I’d walk into the kitchen and think, “darn! left it on again!” but the more I got into the habit, the more a habit it became.  The more a habit it became, the more I wondered what else I could do to help conserve energy.

PG&E has an interesting function on their website that will give you energy saving tips.  I decided to utilize some of them.  Some of them I implemented about two weeks into the experiment, skewing my results, but it was okay.  I was still conserving!

I upped my thermostat temperature. While the AC is delightful, I do think I take it too far. There really isn’t a need for my house to be a cool 67 all the time.  I followed the guidelines and raised the temperature (though I will admit, I did not raise it to the recommended 78 degrees – I believe I left it at 74).

I also upped the temperature of both my refrigerator and freezer to the recommended temperatures (35 degrees for the fridge, 0 for the freezer).  I had the freezer at -1 and the fridge somewhere below 35, so I wasn’t sure just how much altering those temperatures would help, but why not, right?

I lowered the temperature of my water heater.  PGE recommends you put it to 120 degrees. I’m not sure what I put mine to (weird dial), but I definitely lowered it.  I have to admit, I was wary of doing this as I love a nice hot shower/bath, but in the end?  Didn’t even notice a difference!  The shower is still hot, the dish water is still hot, all seemed normal as could be.

I turned off my desktop computer.  I rarely use it. The only time I actually need it if I’m not right in front of it is if I want to watch something on the xbox.  Other than that, why is it constantly on?  Constantly running. Constantly sucking up energy?  Off it went!  I also started unplugging things. Not everything. Not the coffee maker or the printer, but things like my chargers. Why leave a battery charger plugged in long after the battery has been recharged?

I adjusted the cycles on my dishwasher and also my laundry machines.  I washed clothes in warm water rather than hot (they recommend cold water, but I’m not there just yet).  I turned off the 3rd rinse and the drying portion of the dishwasher cycle.  I paid more attention to the dryer cycle so I didn’t needlessly run it longer than it needed to run.

Interestingly enough, not only did I stop leaving lights on, I stopped turning lights on Of course I didn’t stop using my lights entirely, but I stopped using them unnecessarily.  My house gets a lot of natural light pouring through the windows – why did I constantly need to flick the switch and fill my home with that artificial stuff?  Now I put off the use of my overhead lights until they actually become a necessity, usually in the later afternoon or on the cloudier days.  I don’t need lights to wash my dishes when the sunlight is streaming through my kitchen window.  I don’t need lights to read when I can sit on my cozy couch in front of the window or, better yet, head outside and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin.

And then I anxiously awaited the new bill to post online.  Would it even make a dent?  Would my efforts to lead a less electrified existence pay off at all?

I finally got the bill yesterday and was actually quite surprised and dumbfounded.  I went from 781kW in July to 611 in August.  Even better than that – I saved $85 dollars!  I went from $173 to $88 a month in charges.  I, effectively, cut my bill in HALF.  I had anticipated a difference, but nothing like that.  Just by implementing all those little things, those little changes to old habits, I was able to cut my bill in half.

When I look back to the start of this “unplugging” adventure, I realize I never actually looked at it from a money saving perspective.  Sure, I knew my phone bill would go down if I got rid of the smartphone and the associated data plan, but I didn’t expect something of this nature.  I didn’t expect these little things to add up the way they have.

Total savings on dropping smartphone:   $37/month
Total savings from dropping cable, switching to different carrier: $45/month
Total savings from becoming a more energy conscious person:  $85/month.

Total savings?  $167/month.  And still decreasing!  Wow!!!!

Over 30 Days Without a SmartPhone – How’s it Been, REALLY?

The reaction people have when I tell them I don’t have a smart phone continues to amuse me. On more than one occasion my little flip phone has been referred to as a dumb phone.  My good friend J. was there once and responded, “No, it’s not a dumb phone, it’s a phone.”

I like that.  It’s not dumb, it’s just a phone. It does what it’s supposed to do with very few additions. It can still take photos, though they’re pretty bad. It still receives and sends text messages. I can even update my FaceBook status if I really want to.

Okay, that’s all fine and good, but how has it been going really?  Have I been suffering withdrawl? Have I plummeted into a deep dark depression without the ability to look into the lives of my friends and favorite celebrities every nanosecond of every single day?  Have my fingers grown stiff and paralyzed without their constant flicking across endless apps and time sucking games?

No.  No.   Oh, and no.

Have I missed my smartphone?  Sometimes, but very rarely.  In fact, the first time I genuinely missed it was this past weekend at the Outside Lands Festival.  I was surrounded by people staring at their phones.  They were checking in, they were looking at the schedules on the nifty Outside Lands schedule, they were looking at the map, they were snapping photos on Instagram, they were tweeting about the bands.  They were doing the things I used to love to do on my smartphone all while filling those empty spaces between bands.

And then, of all people, Tom Morello, said something early on Sunday morning that really resonated with me.  In fact, it was something that was very similar to something I’d recently said to another friend in regard to my habit of lugging my camera around with me everywhere.  He said, “Be in the moment.  Put that shit (cameras, etc) down, and be in the moment.”  Another artist said it later in the day, it seemed to become a theme – the way you start thinking about something and then suddenly it’s everywhere.

Be In The Moment.

Isn’t that really what the point of my “unplugging” and living a less wired life is all about at the root of it?  I wanted to stop giving only some of my attention to things all the time. I wanted to stop devoting only part of myself to things.  I wanted to give things all of my focus. I wanted to Be In The Moment.

I wanted to go out to dinner with my friend without the urge to  pull out my phone every two minutes.  I wanted to relax at the beach without the need to check out FaceBook and see what everyone else was doing.  I didn’t really need to read all my celebrity tweets while enjoying a weekend BBQ with friends.

As an aside, at what point did it ever become acceptable to have your phone on the table during a social occasion?  At what point did society say, “Yes, it’s totally okay for you to be interacting with someone or ten other someones during this dinner date we made last week?”  When did it become okay for someone to start typing away on their telephone while their companion was mid-sentence?

Oh, that’s right. Never. And yet, apparently, everyone seems to think it’s okay.

Don’t get me wrong here, I haven’t forgotten. I, too, was one of the worst offenders.  I have never claimed to be anything other than one of the worst offenders.  It was a driving force behind giving up my smartphone.  Because I became so disgusted with myself and this poor behavior.  What’s strange is, now that I’ve made the change in my own life, I’m much more tolerant and forgiving of everyone else. Tap away, society.  Do as you will. I can wait for you to finish whatever is so important on your phone for us to finish our real life interaction.  It’s all good.

I am happy to be free.

I can’t lie to you, however, because I said I would be honest.  There are things I miss.  Giving up my smartphone has all but destroyed my twitter account. I’m not sure I’ve logged in more than twice this month.  Instagram is gone now, too.  I miss seeing my friends’ photos more than I miss posting my own, for I can always bring an actual camera places with me, but many of the people I followed there are people who wouldn’t normally take photos.  I miss checking in places, odd as that may be. It was fun looking for the place and checking in with excitement, “Old 97s! — at the Fillmore, San Francisco” and I’m certain next week when I’m sitting at the airport I’ll miss having the phone to waste away the time with, for it was an excellent time waster.  But really?  That’s about it as far as the negatives go.

I have to say, I’m pretty surprised.  I truly believed after a month, I’d be running back with my tail between my legs just begging for an iPhone 4.

When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships – Andy Warhol

“Hi, I’d like to cancel my cable please.”

I’ve spoken these words before several times, twice for the reason I spoke them a couple of weeks ago.  The reason wasn’t because I was moving or switching companies or suffering financial burden.  The reason was simple, I no longer wanted cable. I no longer wished to have a hundred channels of time-sucking drivel pumped into my house at my expense.

Before I go ahead and alienate everyone, let’s get some things clear right off the bat. I am not an elitist. I like television.  I loathe 90% of all reality television, however. And by loathe, I mean loathe, detest, hate, would rather rip out my eyes with a red hot spork than guess who is going to get some rose or get kicked out of some pricey house or god forbid watch those kids on the shore make spectacles out of themselves in my beloved Florence (for god’s sake, talk about giving Americans an even worse name out there).  Okay, okay, I’m sorry, maybe I am a snob after all.  I do love to watch Gordon Ramsay on just about anything, even if he is cursing out the young folk and making them cry. Don’t even get me started on the mystery basket on Chopped.  AND YES I AM TOTALLY ADDICTED TO JUDGE JUDY! That’s right. The worst of the worst. I love Judge Judy. I wish I could have her job. I wish, for just one day I could sit up there and tear those clowns apart.  What kind of idiot would agree to go in front of Judge Judy anyway?  Seriously.  So, yes, those are my reality shows.

Aside from those shows, once my beloved LOST came to an end (yes, I’m still talking about LOST, deal with it), television held little interest for me anymore. In fact, the second time I canceled my cable was two weeks after LOST ended.  Oh sure, there was Alcatraz (canceled) and Person of Interest (sensing a theme here?), those were pretty good.  I don’t know why I missed every single episode of Mad Men this season (how does that happen?), but I guess I’m over that one.  So what will I miss, really, by not having cable?

THE WALKING DEAD.  Yep.  That’s about it.  That and American Horror Story, if it ever returns.  It’s true I may shrivel up and die if I don’t find some way/where to get my Walking Dead fix, but other than that, I’m doing okay without cable. And here’s why.

For one thing, I have an xbox and with the xbox comes Netflix/AmazonPrime and their wonderful streaming. And with their wonderful streaming comes my current obsession:

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Okay, so I’m kind of cheating, right?  It’s not like I’m living 100% without television. But then, I never said I was!  I just said I’m living without cable.  The difference here is, rather than sitting in front of the tube for three hours, getting up and realizing I just wasted three hours on mindless drivel I actually didn’t care about, I’m taking time to choose what I’m watching.  And, also, by default, I’m spending far less time in front of the television.

What have I been doing with all that extra time?

Well…

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I’ve been kind of crafty

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I’ve done a lot of research into and adopted a paleo lifestyle

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I’ve spent more quality time with friends (and viewed beautiful art)

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I’ve read

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I’ve found new ways to get out in the world and exercise

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I’ve taken the time to pamper myself

What else have I done?  I’ve walked a lot more. Just yesterday I walked to get my groceries. I’ve been going to bed much earlier. My house is cleaner. My yard is slowly coming back to life. I’ve been writing a little here and there. I’ve been listening to music so much more. Oh music, I forgot how much I love music filtering throughout my house all day long. I prep my lunches for work the night before to erase some of the chaos in the morning. I’ve been walking the dog and spending time training him. I’ve been playing with my cats. I’ve been multi-tasking less.  I had my parents over for dinner and we languished about playing cards afterwards. And when they left, rather than flopping on the sofa, I cleaned everything up and curled on the sofa with Cooper to polish off a chapter in my latest read before heading into bed so I could get up early and get an early start on my Saturday. I actually spent time chatting with a friend on the telephone. I’ve been taking photos with something other than my phone again.  I registered for a class. I’ve been d-o-i-n-g.

The truth is, I could have made the choice to do all these things even with cable and my little smartphone.  I could have simply chosen not to turn on the television.  But now I have the added bonus of saving even more money each month.   And here’s what’s crazy.  To cancel my cable and keep my internet and landline with the company I was using the cost would have gone from $80 to $110 a month. To just keep the internet would have put me around $70/month.  Yes, it would have gone up.  So I canceled everything, switched to different company and now have a landline and internet (which is just as fast) for $45/month.

So not only have I, once again, dramatically improved the quality of my life by “regressing” as some might call it, I continue to save money by doing away with technology I, personally, feel was serving only to pollute my life.

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