Last month, a member of my fella’s family stopped by our house for an impromptu visit. I guided her to sit at an overstuffed chair in the livingroom, next to the heater. I gave her tea that we had mixed in-house with herbs from our garden, along with homemade biscuits slathered with jelly that I had made earlier from wild blueberries.

Old-country urban chic, yes/no? It started as a nice visit. But an hour later, our guest was yelling at us for using space heaters.

Fella and I attempted to explain our reasoning. There’s only two of us, and cats that sleep all day in the living room. We used space heaters to only heat the rooms of the house that are in use. For example, we used a heater in our bedroom only at night, and one in our rec room only when we were in there, watching a movie. We put on an extra layer of clothing if we get chilly, and I time my baking, so the heat from the oven is not wasted.

Our “normal living” electric bill in the winter went beyond $300 per month, with the furnace and fireplace. With space heating, the cost runs around $160. We save electricity and money, without impact on our lives. We feel like we’ve won something.

Even though our guest was comfortable in our home, heating only the spaces we used had somehow passed her personal threshold of acceptible living. Our unexpected guest ended up demanding that we turn our furnace on, for no other reason than it was there.

It’s interesting where people draw their lines for what is acceptable green living versus living like misers or in poverty. A lot of the “new” green living techniques were considered just living cheaply or with common sense where I grew up. I didn’t learn how to sew to be trendy. Likewise, I didn’t learn how to garden to save the earth.  I sewed to have clothes for school and party dresses that were much nicer than you could get at the discount store. My family gardened to stock up food for the winter.

This is not a yarn about “the good ol’ days.” I’m in my early 30’s. This was maybe 15 years ago. And as delighted I am to see people stumbling around, trying to learn how to live within their means and reduce/reuse/recycle in the everyday, I tend to stumble into these invisible boundaries regularily. It seems to be something different for everyone:

  • Darning holes in socks (& lingerie) vs. buying more.
  • Reinforcing jeans and patching vs. replacing.
  • Foraging vs. buying at grocery stores.
  • Space heating and layering clothing vs. central heating.
  • Making bread (or cheese, or yogurt) vs. buying prepared.
  • Canning seasonal food vs. buying as needed from the grocery store.
  • Owning a junky car vs. car payments.
  • Adopting a working pet vs. a useless pet.
  • Buying household items in thrift stores vs. buying “green” items new.
  • Mulching with leaves and straw vs. beauty bark or hauling off.

Strangely enough, people who are repulsed (or feel pity) by one item on this list usually celebrate something else I do on the same list. I’m not even what I think of as hardcore sufficient: freeganism, let it mellow, gray water recycling, etc. — which someone else probably thinks is business as usual.

It just goes to show that you can only live the best way that you can, and to take the preferences of others with tolerance and grace.

There’s a different view on everything out there.