A Full Life

If you’re reading this sat glumly at your office desk you might want to spend a short while pondering this post.

Would you like to spend more time with your family and friends ?

How about more time pursuing leisure activities or keeping fit ?

Most of us could easily come up with a long list of enjoyable, useful, life affirming things we could do with more time – spend more time with the kids, get involved in our local communities, relax and unwinding, prepare better food and eat together as a family more, learn a new skill – or teach one, do something creative, or maybe even do some of that voluntary work or take part in civic society the way government keeps urging us all to do.

But instead we work long hours, both during the day and increasingly into the evening and at weekends, commute a few more and as a result feel under constant time pressure as we try to balance all the things we know we should be doing: help the kids with their homework, buy and cook healthy food, get involved with the community, try to keep fit, find time to see friends, not to mention finding time for ourselves and our own interests and relaxation. Modern life can be hectic.

Not all time is equal of course – we might have a couple of hours free before bed, but after our long work day, commuting and the necessary family and domestic duties, all we might be good for is veging out on the sofa in front of the TV or aimlessly messing with our social networks. Time is no use if you’ve got no energy left.

If this sounds exactly like your life, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself . . . wait a moment, because there’s another alternative.

Millions in our societies are also struggling with unemployment, and as economic austerity bites deeper, many have little optimism about their working futures – the young, the ‘more mature’, those with obsolete skills, those suffering from poor health or disability and those with other family care commitments, usually women.

The conventional economic cure for our current economic woes is yet greater efficiency – less people doing more work for less money.

Somehow, we’ve managed to build societies in which millions of people are unemployed, desperate for meaningful work – while simultaneously, millions of others work long hours in jobs they hate, and are too tired as a result. While some of us are overworking, over spending and over consuming, others can’t afford a decent quality of life.

There is a seemingly obvious solution every school table of six year olds would spot.

Why not share the work out more ?

Seems obvious doesn’t it. Reducing the working week, giving people free time to do ‘all that good stuff’ and creating jobs for more people appears to be a ‘triple-win’: good for the economy, good for our quality of life and good for the environment, as, it is argued, people will become less attached to status driven resource based consumption, deriving more enjoyment from their relationships.

A reduction in the working week to an average of 21 hours is being championed by the think tank The New Economics Foundation, as a way of breaking the live to work mindset, rather than working to live. Many other futurists have previously argued the same thing – assuming increasing technology would provide us with ever more leisure time, instead of driving a desire to do ever more work. Keynes himself imagined we would all be working a 15 hour work week by 2030 . . . probably not going to be one of his more accurate predictions.

But this seemingly obvious solution, of sharing the work out, has a couple of major obstacles – firstly working fewer hours means bringing in less money, and those on comfortable incomes may not immediately see the attraction of this, secondly it’s simply not reasonable to expect those on already low hourly rates to simply reduce their hours, so there would also need to be a corresponding increase in the minimum wage.

Will we see societies higher earners giving up a significant slice of their income in exchange for more leisure time, and a better quality of life ?

Sounds unlikely ?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

For sure, not everyone agrees we should all be working less – another think tank is reported as recently proposed scrapping the UK’s bank holidays to boost GDP, but increasing numbers of people do appear interested in downshifting, simpler living, anti-consumerism, slow living and all aspects of sustainable living. Many also recognise the advantages having a more equal society would bring.

I don’t imagine our governments are about to institute 21 hour maximum work weeks any time soon – but those of us who are in the fortunate position of having options regarding our working week might want to give it some serious thought.

Many of us could get by just fine with a little less money, and would enjoy finding ways to constructively spend the extra time. I know I did, when I moved to a four day week a couple of years ago :)

Less work, consume less, for more jobs, and more time with your family and community – what’s not to like ?

I’d love to hear your views.

 

Photo from Seo2 via Flickr

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Forget About the Price Tag

Anyone thinking that being ‘green and ethical’ is expensive, and only for those who are better off, is kind of missing the point.

It’s really about making better choices, not filling our lives with rubbish, and hopefully being happier as a result. Moving to a ‘greener and more ethical’ lifstyle should cost us all a lot less !

 

SAVE MONEY AT HOME

Even if you don’t feel like wearing a jumper at home to keep warm you can save energy. Turn down your hot water thermostat by a degree or two and bleed your radiators so they work efficiently. Reflective panels, or even silver foil behind them will also help radiate heat back into the room. Only run the washing machine and dishwasher when full and get to grips with the economy cycles and settings. For most washes try turning the temperature down to 30 degrees. If you have cheaper electricity at night (Economy 7) consider running your washing machine and dishwasher then to take advantage. If you have central heating room thermostats make sure they are in the right place, and not set too high. Clean the coils at the back of the fridge to keep them efficient and keeping your freezer full also helps. Close doors and windows properly and hunt out draughts and seal or block them. Use curtains and blinds to keep in heat when cold, or shut out sunlight when hot. Consider turning off the heating in some rooms if they’re barely used for periods.

Get free or subsidised loft or cavity wall insulation. If you own your home and have a south facing roof, consider signing-up for free solar panels – the installer takes the government grant (feed in tariff), but you save the electricity. It goes without saying, but turn lights off when not in use, and use efficient lights and bulbs. Consider using a multi-socket on groups of electrical appliances so you can turn them all off/on easily and avoid leaving things on standby – plugging TV recorders and similar items that need to be left on into a different socket. Consider getting a wireless energy monitor to encourage you to save more electricity, or sign-up to trial a smart meter from your energy company, free of charge.

 

SAVE MONEY IN THE KITCHEN

Many of us could do with eating a little less food full stop, but it’s also true that most of us waste a great deal of what we do buy. Minimise waste by using things before they go off, making use of leftovers in soups/stews/casseroles etc, storing things better (not always in the fridge), and controlling portion size to reduce waste off the plate. You might also be able to minimise wastage, save money and make life easier by buying and cooking in bulk and freezing meals – having something ready to go in the freezer will also reduce the temptation to eat out or get a takeaway when you’re tired or rushed. Some people take part in communal cooking clubs -cooking in bulk then swapping dishes with each other.

Knowing the cost of things when shopping for food helps, as does shopping from a list, and the classic ‘not shopping when hungry’ to limit impulse purchases. Keep a range of healthy (and cheaper) snacks at home, in the car, and at work, to avoid so much splurging on snack foods. Making your own lunches in advance also helps. Avoid routinely buying expensive high street coffee by investing in a flask and making your own. Never buy bottled water – take an empty water bottle with you to fill from the tap. While you’re at it give-up buying paper towels, and simply use washable tea towels again.

Meat is generally an expensive item, and it also has a significantly greater environmental impact than non-meat foods, so consider expanding your range of non-meat cooking and eating a little less. Perhaps consider trying meat-free Mondays.

Try to buy locally produced food that’s in season – it’s often cheaper and keeps your money in the local community. Even better, if you have the space and time, grow your own food. If you grow enough you can always barter your excess with your friends.

Try turning the oven off a few minutes before the end of cooking, the heat will remain, and you’ll save a few minutes of electricity. Afterwards opening the oven door will allow the warm inside to vent and help heat the kitchen, and reduce the length of time the oven fan has to run to cool the oven after turning the oven off. When not in use be sure to turn appliances such as the cooker, dishwasher, washing machine and microwave off, rather than leaving on standby. Use hot cooking water from cooking to scald weeds, but avoid letting too much steam escape into the house – as it presents both a damp and mold hazard, humid air also takes more energy to heat than dry air.

 

SAVE MONEY SHOPPING

Turn mindless shopping into mindful shopping – don’t buy things impulsively, or recreationally. Keep track of what you’re spending, and how much you’ve got left in your budget – credit cards can make us loose touch with the value of money. Consider how many hours you’ve had to work to pay for what you’re spending. Ignore the pressure to overshop – buy one get one free is only good value if you really need two! Allow yourself time for a reflective pause before committing to buying – ask yourself: do I really need this, do I need it now, what if I wait before buying it, where will I put it, can I share someone elses ? If you’re a problem shopper consider self, or group help.

Know the origin of what you’re buying as much as possible. Try to make ethical choices wherever you can, often ethical items are no more expensive than non-ethical items – such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, which is now Fairtrade. Ethical Consumer magazine and many other sources give ethical summaries of various products. Check out smaller ethical providers and retailers, who often have no high street presence, but can be found easily online. Wherever possible buying things that will last, or can be repaired or upgraded, will be both cheaper in the long run, and have a lower environmental footprint.

For some items like books, newspapers and magazines, consider whether you really need to buy at all. All newspapers have online editions, most of them free, as do many magazines. Books can be borrowed free from public libraries, many of which now have their catalogues available for online searching. Borrow from a friend, and pass on books of your own that you’ve finished with. There may be a local book swap club or store, or you could investigate online book swapping.

Buy things second hand where you can – charity shops can be variable, but bargain hunters know which ones are best. Car boot sales, jumble sales, or yard sales are other possibilities. Scan local sources, or use Ebay, Amazon or other online retailers who sell second hand items, like computer game, DVD and electronics retailer CEX. You may even be able to get what you want free from Freecycle. Alternatively consider renting rather than buying – easier than ever in the digital age. Try to sell-on or give away your own items when you no longer need, rather than sending them to landfill.

Consider getting more involved in challenging overconsumption, sign-up with Buy Nothing Day, Commercial Alert , the Christian Reclaim Christmas Group Ready-Steady-Slow, or even the very silly Rev Billy.

 

SAVE MONEY TRAVELLING

Minimise the amount of travelling you need to do by grouping tasks and errands together. Make sure your tyres are at the correct pressure, both for safety and economy, and consider your driving habits – if you do enough mileage you might consider getting some eco-driving lessons. Obviously walk, cycle or use public transport where you can, and it might be practical in some circumstances to car share, either for regular communiting, or simply in giving your friends or neighbours a lift from time to time or offering to pick-up some shopping for them if you’re going into town – we often bemoan both the number of cars on the road, and the lack of social contact in society, but sometimes struggle to do much about it.

It’s often more fuel and cost efficient to get shopping delivered, than making a special trip to the store. All major UK supermarkets now do home delivery, with the cost depending upon distance, demand and time of day. Sometimes delivery can be arranged for free.

If you’re able, consider discussing working from home with your employer – to save you both travel time and fuel costs. It might be that you’re able to do without your car at all, saving road tax, maintenance and servicing and depreciation, as well as fuel. It’s always possible to hire a car for holidays and other specific trips, and in some places car share clubs may be available.

Photo by Chris Parker UK