Living within your means as a choice

Joe Bevilacqua


Bob Moon: Tough times are forcing many of us make changes in our lifestyle -- eating out less, shopping less, just generally cutting back. A few years back, commentator Joe Bevilacqua lost his job and made some drastic changes to his lifestyle. Now, he says, it's second nature.

Joe Bevilacqua: A good life is one that evolves slowly. Patience is the difficult part.

I grew up in New York and until seven years ago lived only in cities. Food came from the grocery store. Heat, water, electricity came from utility companies. I never thought about the true cost of such convenience. The word "sustainability" was something environmental nuts talked about.

Things changed when I met my wife. She was a vegetarian and I became one too, just to please her. But as we learned more about the health and environmental benefits, sustainability began to make sense to me.

When I lost my high-tech job and cashed out with six figures, we bought a small 60-year-old house in the Catskills. We started gardening, composting and doing about 50 other things.

The learning curve was high. A garden doesn't grow overnight. But within two years, we were dicing up a 2-foot long zucchinis from our garden. Large, south-facing windows greatly reduced our heating costs. We spent a lot less money and felt more connected to nature.

Over the years, we've lost other jobs, and the six figures have dwindled to a near zero bank balance. Today, we both work but can't go on vacation and have no health insurance, yet are surviving pretty well.

Our patience has paid off. We know how to live well with only what we need. Not as a panicked reaction to the current economic crisis, but as a personal choice. Some day, we may again have six figures in the bank, but as for our lifestyle, we wouldn't change a thing.

Joe Bevilacqua's 50 ways of living more sustainably

1. Drive a Honda Insight hybrid, which gets 60 to 70 mpg.

2. Live in a small, 1,100-square foot house.

3. Cook most meals fresh at home, no microwave.

4. Eat vegetarian at home and compost food scraps and uneaten leftovers.

5. Produce very little garbage and take it to the dump ourselves.

6. Rake our leaves into the compost.

7. Have a small but prolific organic garden that feeds us all summer.

8. Process and store the rest of the garden's bounty in a large freezer in our basement.

9. Grow nearly every kind of vegetable.

10. Grow many kinds of herbs in the garden and around our 3-acre property, and hang and dry the herbs inside our house.

11. Buy very little packaged or processed foods.

12. Buy dry foods such as beans and grains in bulk.

13. Hand grind coffee beans.

14. Designed the inside of the house for maximum exercise, including a hatch with weights and pulley to go to the basement, and pipes bolted to the ceiling for a chin-up bar.

15. Hike and run with our dogs in the woods.

16. Heat with a wood stove, which we can cook on, too.

17. Turn down the water heater.

18. Have a small, efficient refrigerator.

19. Air dry (hang our clothes) outside in the summer, inside in the winter, and have no dryer.

20. Hand wash dishes. Have no dishwasher.

21. Have no fully working stove, cook mostly in a small convection oven.

22. Have our dogs eat a vegan food mix.

23. Use recycled wood for cat litter.

24. Cook outdoors in a solar oven all summer.

25. Have fruit trees -- peaches, cherries.

26. Pick wild raspberries, blueberries, scallions on our property, and acres of woods behind.

27. Only mow a small part of our yard, let the rest go natural.

28. Have a lot of plants in the house, creates oxygen, natural air cleaner.

29. Ride bikes into town in the summer, about 4 miles one way.

30. Ride a stationary bike indoors in the winter.

31. Buy clothes at thrift stores.

32. Organize errands to save trips.

33. Use compact fluorescent bulbs and LED lights.

34. Turn off lights when we are not in a room.

35. Keep electronics (TV, etc.) on a power strip and turn it off when not in use.

36. Have a small TV that uses less power.

37. Use a bidet instead of toilet paper.

38. My wife uses reusable, washable cotton pads and a rubber cup instead of tampons.

39. I shave with an old-fashioned, double-edged safety razor. No better shave, very inexpensive, no plastic disposables, no four and five blade razors.

40. Make fresh soy milk and tofu, with a soy milk machine, from bulk soy beans.

41. Cook rice and other grains in a rice cooker, saves time, keeps food ready anytime.

42. Bake bread from scratch.

43. Only use orange oil, vinegar to clean the house.

44. Winterized the house.

45. High ceilings, ceiling fans, open floor plan.

46. Use passive solar techniques -- skylights with shades, large windows on southern exposure.

47. Added reflective film to south facing windows.

48. Sewed mylar to back of curtains on south side, which keeps cold out, heat in in the winter, and the opposite in the summer.

49. Be multi-talented; have many diverse skills--just like our garden, we do not "mono-crop" how we can make a living. If one job ends, it is easier to find work in another area. I currently make a living writing and editing books; writing articles for newspapers and magazines; writing, directing and acting in stage plays; drawing cartoons; illustrating books; writing technical manuals; writing, producing, directing and acting in radio dramas; reading/recording audio books; reporting for public radio magazines; teaching broadcasting and public speaking on the college level; doing publicity and PR for a variety of clients and more.

50. We shop locally and support local businesses over big corporations, which saves fuel and helps the community.

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Here is yet another NPR story of someone discovering simplicity and running off to the country to live it. I am a true believer in the benefits of simple living both for individuals and for the world, but spending a "six-figure" savings buying land and time to establish a new lifestyle is NOT simple. Separate households dwelling on separate pieces of land does not represent sustainability. Likewise, living without health insurance is neither simple nor sustainable when it comes to a population. If you are not now one of the people who cannot do without health treatments and medicines you may be one at any time and most likely will be in the long run.
The fact is, cities are the most efficient places for people to live, and the fact also is that most people must live in cities or crowded towns whether they want to or not. Joe Belivaqua gets to choose to live within his means; Most of us don't get that choice-- we're stuck with it. And as a world we are stuck with it and getting more and more stuck as we fight it.
I would be much more interested in a story of an ordinary person with ordinary financial resources living simplicity and sustainability in their present home: gardening on their balcony, rooftop or tiny urban yard and/or creating community gardens in whatever space might be around; sewing and installing quilted window shades and laundry lines; using their wash water to flush toilets and scrub floors; working with their landlord and neighbors to fund and install insulation, green roofs, solar panels, and reflective surfaces; reducing, reusing, recycling and doing all this while also working eight hour days for money so they can pay their rent or mortgage and get some kind of health coverage. Now that would be real and interesting and helpful.
NPR, tell us about people who are doing that we might do ourselves to mend and tend and fix the lives we've got. Then might we all have the chance and the choice to live good lives.

Good story, made my day! I am glad some people are taking the economic downturn into there own hands.


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