Unplug: Consciously using power in our lives

4 years ago


Meatless Mondays, homesteading and gardens, Sandy and gas rationing ….this year really has been full of throwbacks to earlier, less secure times.  Sandy bought my home state of NJ and our neighbors in NY to our knees, and the cleanup has only begun. 

But get a load of this: when I was talking with a friend last week, we both noticed ourselves guiltily longing for the power to go out again, and to live by sun and candlelight.  Are we nuts?  Probably!  She and I were both without power for about a week right after the storm.  Being unplugged for that time was rough in some ways.  I had to get used to seeing my breath while I read in the evenings.  Having no electricity to power our heat or stove certainly made for some sacrifices of diet and comfort.  Streetlights were out, gas stations took to rationing, and our cell phones had to get their juice from the car charger, which meant strict phone conservation, which meant we were rather isolated.

I lived life by the sun: as soon as dawn hit my window, I was up and ready.  When the sun went down, I took the dog out one last time, and then bundled us both in bed to read and hibernate until Mr. Liz, who works second shift, returned.  Without electronic distractions, even his sleeping patterns altered to be up earlier to go on long walks with Gobi and I, enjoying the midday. 

Strangely enough, we were both pretty happy, probably from getting about twelve hours of sleep apiece during the outage!  Our daily life was profoundly altered in a short time, but we are fortunate to be young, able bodied, and healthy, so it was more of an inconvenience than a crisis. 

As my friend and I talked further, we realized we had she and I both gravitated to simple projects: sewing, reading,calligraphy.  Things that had sat in the “rainy day” bin for years, but we never got around to.  We been forced to live in a way that would conserve light and warmth, and our own energy.  Little things became precious, and we both really connected again with our significant others.  This is why we enjoyed the outage to some extent.  I wonder if it’s not a good idea to take the positive aspects of this experience and insert them into every day life.

While I’m sure no one is eager to really lose power, especially with winter coming, I wonder if conscious unplugging may not be a good idea here and there.  Gadgets and electricity are great, but as with all things in life, moderation is key.  If you have the ability to choose how and when you use energy, do it!  It refreshes you and makes you more aware of what you have.

These are some things that I found helped me, so I built them into my normal life as much as I could once the lights came back:

  • Try to frugalize your home’s energy use.

Emergency preparedness is a necessary counterpoint to all this pretty old fashioned candlelight living.  Conserving energy in your home is a great way to start thinking critically about your use, and you may save a few bucks!  For our home, Mr. Liz and I have all small gadgets (toaster, computer, coffeemaker) on surge strips, which you can purchase at any hardware store, or online.  Chargeable devices go onto  Outlet timers, such as these Belkin ones in the link.  I like these because they have settings for 30 minutes, 3 hours, or 6 hours, and will turn themselves off afterwards, since sometimes I forget.  Another thing is to not leave things charging all night!  Try, whenever possible, to charge up only when you’ll be there to monitor your gizmo and take it off the plug when it’s full. 

If you are in a house setup, make sure insulation is ok, and there’s no large drafts from windows or doors.  Those can spring up, so a quick fix is to use thick curtains in the winter, and draft doggies.  You can get the “doggies” pre-made, or if you’re crafty, there are patterns all over the net.

  • Learn how to power down.

As with many things, becoming conscious about something so common as energy use in our lives requires practice.   This not only saves money on energy bills, but provides a reminder about your off switch, as in "now we are going to relax as a family" or "now I am going to have some me-time".  Moderating the use of electrical devices during this "power down time" means that your attention will not be as divided.  Simplifying your sensory landscape, even for a little bit, can be restful and soothing.  One way to do this is to have a nightly email/blog/social network cutoff time.  We've all stayed up late to check one more email, or reload facebook one more time....for what?  Barring emergencies, there's very little that can't wait a few hours.  

Another idea is to keep activities in store that don't use electricity.    Books, does anyone remember them?  DIY and crafts can be a good thing.  Also puzzles, word games, and more...use your imagination!  Lastly, and most drastically, leave the phone home sometimes.  Just a little bit.  Leave it so you can walk around the neighborhood or run to the store.  This may sound a little patronizing, but I have to force myself to do this, too. The benefits of just being in a place, unconnected, not poised to answer every ring or buzz, are great.

  • Get active!

You would be surprised how inactive our accustomed devices make us!  Long hours of computer use, for instance, can cause a number of posture and breathing problems.  Hewlett-Packard's website has an entire section on ergonomics and computer use: "The intense mental concentration that may accompany computer use may tend to cause breath-holding or shallow breathing".  

BlogHers, I've been there myself - I find I hold my body tense, I start to slouch, I don't move as much, and my breathing pattern alters.  Once you notice this in yourself, there's no un-noticing it!   Taking a small break or, if you can, turning the PC, TV, whatever off for a while does you a world of good.

Go for a walk - around the house, office, or park, whatever.  Just get as much fresh air and change of scenery as possible.  This is an incredible benefit to body and mind.  If you’re stuck at home or the weather’s bad, move your exercise indoors – get a routine down so you can do it without a video playing.  My go-to routines are yoga, stretching, and basic pilates, all of which can be altered for different ages and abilities.  

You can be as basic or intricate as you like, just build in a habit of being in your body and active for part of the day.  I like to do this in the morning before I turn on the house, so to speak. Whenever your peaceful, unhurried time is, be in it and enjoy it!

  • Last thoughts

I’d like to stress that “unplugging” like this has a lot of privilege inherent in it, and I’m doing my best to mitigate that.  Even if you have the most efficient home, the best location to weather storms, and have income so secure you never have to worry about the power bill, conscious use of your energy is still imperative for a healthy and balanced life.

Not only can you improve your personal life and better connect with the rhythm of the day, you will think about how and why you use energy.  This will get you thinking about where exactly your money and time go in our artificially lit age, which could lead to wiser, more compassionate choices overall.


If you have any favorite tips or tricks for balancing your plugged in time with the unplugged, feel free to share them in the comments below!  




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