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Constructive Inconvenience


In a typical day I use roughly five gallons (20 liters) of water and 1.5 Kilowatt hours of electricity.  The water usage includes drinking, cooking, and a daily shower, everything except for laundry, which is currently done elsewhere and averages one medium-sized load per week.  The power consumption is both for business and personal use, and includes: an internet server, which is always on (most likely, the same computer you connected to in order to read this article), part-time use of other computers, a microwave oven, small refrigerator, television and (until recently) a satellite TV receiver.  I also generate about ten gallons of non-recyclable garbage every three to six months (business and personal combined),

though that is shrinking as better recycling facilities become available.

For most of you (assuming you have any idea how much power and water you use and garbage you generate), the above amounts will probably seem incredibly small.  For the most part, these results are achieved without any real effort on my part, and while some of it was by design (such as selecting very low-powered devices), some of this was achieved more by accident than by design - the result of what I like to call "constructive inconvenience".

By constructive inconvenience I mean that aspects of my living environment are structured (either by intent or by lucky accident) in a manner which makes it inconvenient to waste water and power, or generate garbage.

My shower head is a standard hand-held garden nozzle on the end of a section of garden hose (part of an experiment having nothing to do with water conservation).  This makes it easy to direct the water directly where I need to get wet or rinse, and the moment I let go of the handle (for instance to soap up), the water is turned off.  Since there is no place to mount the nozzle and no means to leave the water running, there is no convenient way to waste water with this setup.  The result is that I use far less water to take a shower, without giving any special thought to reducing water us.  I use less because the shower makes it inconvenient to use more.

While I have running water on hand, I don't have a sink or running water in the house, in order to shave or brush my teeth I take a small water bottle outside with my razor and tooth brush and use that for all my water requirements, no sink means I don't accidentally leave the water running while washing, shaving, or brushing my teeth.  I only wash dishes when enough are dirty to justify using the dish water (typically three days for just one person), and I have a dish pan and dish drainer which are used along with the garden nozzle shower head in order to do the dishes.  Imagine how much less water use I would achieve if I had to haul it by hand from the stream 1/4 mile away, and had an incentive to really conserve!

My desk is next to a window, so I have plenty of light to read by during the day, and there is no light switch next to the door, so I can't simply flip a switch as I walk into a room (an unconscious habit many of us have).  I have to make a conscious effort to walk across the room and turn on a light if I really need it.

I love ice cream, far too much! For a variety of reasons, my current refrigeration system is incapable of keeping ice cream frozen, so if I buy any, it is only enough for immediate use; consequently there is never a ready supply on hand which would tend to get consumed and cause weight gain.

Having found that parts of my environment were actively discouraging me from indulging in poor choices or habits, I now actively seek new ways in which to improve my life by making things less convenient.

Ultimately the point is that if you wish to reduce your environmental impact, break bad habits, save money, lose weight, etc., try to design or "construct" your environment or lifestyle to make the problem behavior(s) inconvenient.  Many of the problems people complain about in society today could probably benefit from careful application of constructive inconvenience as well.