Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Resource Conserver, Eco-maniac, or Cheapskate?

I have been cost-conscious since early adulthood. I've never been afraid to spend money, but I always felt like it was wise to be careful when and where it was possible, especially since I was a low-income freelance artist. I married someone who comes from a background where serious thrift is the norm. Even in our salad days, we still lived beneath our income. When Amy Dacyczyn wrote her book The Tightwad Gazette, I loved it. I thought it was extreme, but I recognized the behavior.

Once I got past the point of needing to pay attention to my expenses, I loosened up, but then I got involved in environmental issues and became somewhat of an eco-maniac. I use cloth bags at the grocery, compost, reuse plastic bags, spurn disposable dishes, refuse to use paper towels, have adopted handkerchiefs in lieu of tissue, and pretty much recycle everything.

As you can imagine, my family finds this quirky at best, often annoying, and sometimes embarrassing. Like when one of my daughter's friends asks where the paper towels are, and she has to explain that her mother is philosophically opposed to them. Wasting money and wasting resources are the same thing, as it happens. I don't reject the use of paper towels because I am too cheap to buy them; I use cloth towels because they are less wasteful. But in our culture it seems weird.

Of course my eco-tastes ultimately are more expensive. I buy organic food, which is definitely costlier. Our energy efficient front-loading washer cost several $100 more than the conventional kind. Our wind-generated electricity comes at a premium. But it does amuse me to realize how similar the cheapskate's behavior is to the resource conserver's!

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