Before Julia, Maars, Mickey, and I all moved in together, we didn't do many of the things we do now. I think I can safely say that none of us composted in our dorms. We couldn't really cook that often if at all because of the limited kitchen space and lack of a freezer or large fridge. So we couldn't put into practice many of our energy saving techniques through our current food consumption practices. None of us had cars on campus, so we were taking the bus, biking, and walking like we do now. I'm sure we all turned off lights, but did we take shorter showers? We weren't recording every bit of energy we were using. We weren't really in control of how warm our rooms were, but if my house-mates old dorm rooms were anything like mine, they were WAY too hot.
Coming together in this house, we were able to start over. We could form entirely new habits in this house that was ours. We've figured out how to live with each others different cleanliness requirements. We've been good about casually reminding each other to turn off lights, to unplug appliances when we're done, to bring the reusable bags to the grocery store. We have weekly house meetings to talk about our highs and lows, positive observations and negative observations. We've became a true community, and I truly feel like we're finding away of life that is better, cleaner, and healthier than other options.
So about those other options.
I could beat myself up for all of the bad habits I've slipped back into being away from EcoHouse, but I'd like to look at this as more of a learning experience than a relapse. The first thing I did wrong is I flew home. Now driving wouldn't have been better, I believe it's about the same amount of fuel used. I could have taken a train, but that was going to take me a whole day and be MORE expensive than taking a plane. So, I made the economic, efficient choice, and took the plane. If it had been cheaper, I absolutely would have taken the train, time commitment and all. It was a promise I made myself. But the average American definitely wouldn't.
Coming home to a house that was also built in the 50s on a spare lot at a glance seems like it would be the same. Shaker Heights is a street car neighborhood, like Mac Groveland, though a little more recent. Actually, my house is a short walk away from a rapid stop (the train in Cleveland), about 75 yards. I could easily take public transit into the city and get around. Our house is bigger though, a 5 bedroom house with 3 baths and two half baths, a full finished basement, large expansive rooms, little to no insulation. Having little insulation is not that uncommon for a house like this, except that my parents recently spent a whole lot of money remodeling this house. We moved here last May, after selling off my old childhood home. They were downsizing (a sustainable choice) but standing in my closet will tell you how much money they're losing to their heating bill because they didn't add insulation as their first step.
My parents added quite a few energy star rated appliances to their kitchen but they have electric ovens instead of gas ovens, which are less energy efficient than the later. They have a front load washer and a dryer with an energy setting and moisture sensing, two purchases that I recommended in the sustainable energy guide I made for Frogtown Neighborhood Association. Our cabinets were even made locally (by Amish people!). Of course, there were no materials used in remodeling this house that were reused, unlike the EcoHouse. They haven't redone the roof, it wasn't necessary, but I bet my parents won't put in a steel roof, even with the stone covering. It won't stop me from making a strong argument for it, however.
None of this really has anything to do with me. I didn't have any input in the remodeling decisions we made (otherwise we'd have paperstone counters instead of granite). As it is, the house is gorgeous. I'm not going to pretend I'm disappointed in them, even if they didn't make the most sustainable choices. The fact is it's a challenge to modify someone else's lifestyle. Actually I wouldn't recommend it, environmental mission or not. So trying to put my new habits into my old routine was like trying to shove a slightly warped peg into a hole that had always fit perfectly before.
Take my shopping routine for instance. I'd never really thought twice about where I buy my food until this break when I tried to bring a little EcoHouse to Shaker. My side of Cleveland seems not to have any CO-OPs like Mississippi Market. My dad believes there's one on the West Side, but the distance I would have to drive to just pick up groceries makes it not worth it. My family eats way more eat than I do at school and we eat all kinds. Regardless of whether it's a CAFO product or not.
I mentioned starting a compost pile to my parents and they said they wouldn't ever keep it up or use the finished product (Mom likes Miracle Grow just fine for her flowers). The same amount of people live in this house as the one at school, but we have a much larger refrigerator and a second one downstairs. I tried making vegetable stock for my parents. I saved all the vegetable scraps for a week and used the broth to make a few soups. My mom mentioned she might do it again, but didn't seem too excited about regularly saving all of her scraps. They take up a lot of room in the freezer.
So what is a girl to do? Find simple ways to help my parents stay in their same routine but make more sustainable choices. For instance, when our sunroom roof started leaking in the middle of the night, we agreed that if ice-dams were forming in the gutters, it was time to insulate the house. Dad even took my advice on adding weatherstripping and plastic covering to the windows. When it's an argument like that, it's hard to find a flaw. Other things are trickier. Such as convincing my parents that even though small appliances don't use THAT much energy when plugged in, unplugging all of them when not in use makes a pretty big difference. It's hard to prove that, so I can't get them to change.
I'm not going to bash my head against the wall and stubbornly keep pushing my parents in a different direction. They're still good people. They recycle almost everything they can, and they don't even throw batteries in the trash. They dispose of them properly. Mom's always been a lover of the farmers' market, and insistent that we turn lights off. Unless I find a good rebate for them, they aren't likely to install a solar panel on their roof, but then again, I can't blame them. Without the rebate, PV solar panels aren't likely to pay themselves back before needing to be replaced, and Cleveland probably doesn't get enough sun anyway. Each step they take is a step, and it's good, even if it is slow movement. There is no such thing as being too eco friendly, but there is such thing as being over zealous. My parents will never live the way I intend to, but they don't live the way their parents did either.
When I move out of the EcoHouse, I'm not concerned that my habits will slip. I know it will be harder to maintain them, if only because the EcoHouse can serve as training wheels to those learning how to live sustainably. But starting over makes it easier to implement an entirely different routine. Sure I'll have to make my own worm bin, I'll probably have to weatherproof my own windows, and I'll certainly need to pay even more attention to how much electricity and gas I use (utilities are pricey!) but I'll still be living deliberately. As long as I'm making my own decisions, I know I'll be able to make good choices.