Low-Tech Resolutions: 5 Small Changes

The most common New Year’s resolutions will not surprise you: exercise more, eat healthier, lose weight, save money, spend more time with family, and friends, reduce stress, spend less time on social media, and save on living expenses, according to a late 2022 survey. These seem pedestrian and slightly repetitive: they either focus on living better or spending less.

To start off 2023, we’re going to share a series of low-tech resolutions that unexpectedly happen to correspond to the more popular resolutions people have made this year. These are ideas for people to begin to transition their lives away from dependence on fossil fuels and refocus on local solutions for housing, clothing, and feeding ourselves. You can see a whole road map in our Transition Rubric, but here are some approachable ideas to start out easy.

1. Eat Out Less — Cook More

Since 2010, Americans have spent more on “food away from home” than “food at home.” This is the first time in human history where a majority of food eaten by people in hunter-gatherer, sedentary agricultural, or industrialized societies has been prepared out of the family.

Eating more at home contributes to many of the top resolutions: eating healthier, spending more time with family, saving money, and reducing stress. After housing and utilities, food is the highest areas of spending in a household, and eating at home saves big: a meal in a restaurant costs 3–4 times more than at home.

Why is eating at home a low-tech solution? As we try to focus on local resilience, having the ingredients and skill on hand to feed ourselves is important. Households that depend on eating out are more at risk of running out of food when disasters strike. A well-stocked pantry is never a detriment.

Next Step: Grow more of your own food.

2. Give your Clothes a Break

Our clothing choices determine a lot, from a garment’s lifetime cost and emissions to how readily we can achieve form and function. In the last few decades, our closets have begun to burst because we’re buying more items than ever before, buying three times as many garments per year than a half a century ago.

Instead of buying an item a week (the US average), investing in fewer garments of higher quality to replace retired clothes is more economical, even if the upfront costs are more: better clothes should last longer. Organic cotton and linen have less ecological impacts. But don’t junk your wardrobe just to buy new, better stuff: wear items out first (then turn them into rags), and replace a couple of cheap shirts, for example, with one good one. Sewing and repairing garments will stretch items even farther (and give you options for styling). This whole process can save money and may require learning new skills.

Why is transitioning your wardrobe a low-tech solution? If we think about local provisioning and resilience, having the clothes we need to keep us warm, protected, and looking fabulous available is important. Fostering the habit of fewer, better garments with the skills to make and repair them is essential for our future.

Next Step: Make some of your own clothing.

3. Clean Up Your Water

If you use city water or a well, you need electricity to have water. And much of that water contains things you shouldn’t be drinking, from heavy metals to nitrates.

We’ve got a couple of options. One is to use the 5-gallon drinking water jugs on a dispenser in your kitchen. The nice part about this is you can line up ten of these containers, cycling through them as you drink, and always have enough drinking water for a family of four for more than ten days without tap water. But this requires a lot of lugging of water containers (maybe use it as part of your work out?). Another option is a reverse osmosis filter, which provides thousands of gallons clean drinking water. The down side is that you need water pressure for it to function, and it discards about four times the amount of water as it cleans, so unless you’re diverting it into a grey water system, you are wasting water here.

Why is reconsidering your water a low-tech solution? A rule of thumb states we can go three months without shelter, three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air. Three days is about the amount of time most municipalities can supply without power. By starting small, with water on hand and/or a way to purify water, you’ve taken a step towards more local resilience.

Next Step: Collect water for nonpotable use.

4. Compost Like You Mean It

Landfills are the third largest source of methane — a greenhouse gas eighty times more potent than carbon dioxide, responsible for a quarter of all warming. And landfills only release methane from anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. Proper compost only releases CO2. Not only would composting reduce greenhouse emissions, but it helps build nutrient-dense soil.

Depending on where you are and what type of living situation you have, a couple of composting options can be right for you. If you have the space and the temperature profile, a traditional turned pile in your garden can take most of your scraps. For those in a small space, vermicompost and/or bokashi might be good answers for you. Please do not purchase an electronic composting appliance — they don’t create compost, just dehydrated, ground food waste. Whatever type of composting you choose, one of the best benefits is that your garbage will no longer stink.

Why is composting a low-tech solution? Right now we use a lot of power to synthesize nitrogen for growing food, but as we become more locally oriented, we need to save the nutrients we have — not throw them away. Getting started composting now gives you an on ramp to creating cyclical nutrient systems instead of the import/export model.

Next Step: Community-scale composting system.

5. Meet Others Who Think Along These Lines

It is hard to make friends as adults. The ideas that brought you to this blog are shared by others, but often we don’t talk about our ecological leanings as people might think we’re too out there. This can make folks feel isolated. But never fear. Others are out there (maybe as far out as you?). If you feel deeply concerned about our planet’s future and our place on this rock, try to find some like-minded friends.

The best place to start is as close to your home as possible. In the event of personal or regional disasters, it is great to have a neighbor or someone else within walking or riding distance for mutual aid. A small group of like-minded neighbors, who have built up some resilience in their homes can help other neighbors, who are less prepared. Outside of your neighborhood, look at attending meet ups of groups: local permaculture folks, smaller organizations (e.g., Extinction Rebellion, Earth First!), mainstream environmental organizations (Sierra Club, 350.org, etc.), outdoor recreation groups, or others. Put yourself out there and be open for rejection from people who are still content with the status quo.

Why is meeting others a low-tech solution? Having a functioning, local community is key for resilience. The time to get to know your fellow shipmates is not when you’re bailing a lifeboat. Meet others and talk earnestly about your interests and goals for the future.

Next Step: Create a formal neighborhood resilience group.

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