I’ve been a stay at home mom (and a stay at home enneagram 7) for 9 years now. That’s a long time for an enneagram 7 to do anything, let alone stay home. While I’m sure I was created to run around the globe starting projects, or teaching English overseas, or being a professional camper/hiker/pie baker/writer/musician, I find my reality to be in stark contrast. These days are spent running kids to school, building Lego castles and washing the same load of laundry three times because I forget to switch it over to the dryer. My own reality when it comes to creation care is also much different than I imagined. My family of five-plus-labradoodle hasn’t (yet) found a way to cram into a Prius or to walk everywhere, but not for lack of trying. I’ve come to terms with my actual reality, which is living with intention, on the grid in suburbia and leading my family to reign in our footprint. And maybe finding a way to wash that load of laundry only once.
Which leads us to this: My top six ways we care for creation in the suburbs, right now.
1. Ransack the electricity bill
I did my own Electricity Audit of our home (I called the power company for a quick how-to lesson. I used our electricity meter to measure how much each appliance/item in our house used) and then made intentional choices about how I wanted to use our energy.
We had been using 100 kwh per day on some days (that’s kilowatt hours) and now we use only 4.5 kwh/day as a baseline (that’s what it takes to run our fridge and water tank). With that baseline established, I can add in electricity usage intentionally, or avoid it purposely.
2. Rage Against the (Laundry) Machine
The most satisfying thing I learned in my Electricity Audit is that our dryer sucks up not only all of my joy, but also ALL of the electricity, confirming what I’ve known for years; laundry is a terrible invention. Suspicion had been mounting for some time, so I used this epiphany as my motivation to unplug that sucker and hide the cord out of reach. Regrettably, that didn’t make the laundry disappear. But it did motivate me to donate a bunch of our clothes (and stop buying new ones) and adopt a more sustainable strategy for getting them clean. These days I’m washing our stuff in cold water with environmentally friendlier detergent and line drying everything, to save us a whopping 300 kwh/month.
3. Cut cooling costs
I committed to not turn on our AC until the temperature in the house is over 80 degrees but that left our 45 year old house very uncomfortable. So I added thermal curtains to our windows along with heat reflecting window film. I covered our skylight with an old tent rainfly and I use fans to bring in cool air in the morning and then turn the house into a dark cave for the rest of the day. By 5 pm it’s pretty hot so that’s when we venture to the local spray pad or eat dinner outside. The house starts cooling off around 8 pm so that’s when I open the windows again. I’ve also planted deciduous trees and shrubs in certain places to block the sun in the summer and let it in during winter.
4. Limit use of disposables and packaging; recycle when we can’t.
I hired my five year old to be our Recycling Master, and his job is to inventory our disposables and take the recyclable stuff to the Red Bin (or turn it into crafting supplies), whilst wearing a cape, of course. It’s not as awesome as producing zero waste, but we’re on a journey.
We also buy from the bulk bins at the store to save on packaging, and try to buy giant shampoo/conditioner or use bar shampoo which is new for us. Again, it’s a journey. Finally, we use reusable grocery bags and reusable bulk-bags for the bulk bins and produce at the grocery store.
5. Certify Our Yard
The most fun thing we’ve done on our block is to turn our backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat, and our front yard into a Certified Monarch Waystation. During our Stay-Home Orders, the kiddos researched through those respective websites (NWF.org and MonarchWatch.org) and found checklists for how to turn our space into a friendly one for pollinators and native wildlife. Now we have butterflies and bees galore and the kids enjoy researching the different types of insects. Plus it makes our neighbors happy and gives us something to talk about!
6. Plant Food
We cut out some of our lawn area to plant a large organic garden, and we also raise chickens for eggs and we compost in our backyard. The coolest thing about this that makes me cry just thinking about it, is that the kids sell the eggs to our neighbors, who fall all along the political spectrum, to help fund our church’s Immigration Center.
7. Bonus! Involve the neighbors.
When we certified our yards, our certification came with fancy signs to stake in the yard. Our neighborhood has a lot of walkers, so we make sure that we’re in the front yard as often as possible in the evenings to help build community. Everyone stops to ask about our sign and our very important work! The kids enjoy answering questions and challenging the neighbors to follow suit. At least six families on our block have planted or are committed to planting butterfly gardens and stopping their use of pesticides. Several have also gotten certified, which means more signs, and more awareness about stewarding creation well. That’s over an acre that’s now theoretically pesticide free! Added, my mom friends on our block have heard too many details about my laundry saga, which has inspired many of them to give the clothesline a try. Many of those moms also pushed me to try new things like bar-shampoo and more vegan meals (cookie-dough bean dip is my boys’ fave new snack).
Overall, it’s been a fun journey with my kids to shift our lifestyle and move our focus off of our comfort and onto something sustainable. Caring for creation in our own little neighborhood is helping them become inquisitive and thoughtful and it’s doing wonders for our sense of community.
Amanda Burchfiel is a former high school English teacher who now raises flowers, chickens, veggies and kiddos in the suburbs of Oregon. She thrives on Cafe Bustelo, homemade bread and as-frequent-as-possible neighborhood block parties.