In the cli-fi movie Downsizing, scientists discover a way to shrink human beings and promote this form of downsizing as the solution to balancing human consumption with planetary boundaries. Only they don’t market the procedure as a way to protect the planet. Instead, the promoters appeal to status conscious consumerism. Think how much larger you can live if you are only five inches tall! The Matt Damon character falls for Leisureland, a micro development advertising early retirement in a large house for those who choose to shrink themselves and enlarge the relative value of their retirement savings.
Actually, the suburban neighborhood we live in sometimes feels like the consumerist wonderland of Leisureland. Except everyone seems to be working really long hours to pay their huge mortgages and utility bills. Can you spot which picture is the micro-McMansion from Downsizing and which ones are GoogleEarth images of my street? To be fair to my neighbors, all the houses here are custom designs. The neighborhood has an interesting history, having been founded as a socialist back-to-the-land cooperative in the 1930s.
Our house was one of the owner built houses from the original socialist colony. So, luckily, we live in a much smaller than average house – 1100 square feet small, to be exact. And that includes the spacious back porch. When trying to keep a small footprint, it helps, well, to have a small footprint.
Downsizing also refers to what empty-nesters do when the kids move out and the house gets too big for two. Some of my neighbors already complain that their houses are too big – even with kid at home, the spread out space means they hardly see their own family in their own home. That’s never been a problem for us – especially when we keep the thermostat low and a fire in the fireplace. Everyone stays in the living room by the hearth.
But becoming empty-nesters was an opportunity to reduce our appliance footprint as well. Our small house has a small galley-style kitchen. It works just fine for cooking great meals at home. But the refrigerator was not just an energy hog – it was a space hog as well. When we had to move the fridge to make way for some electrical work a couple of years back we saw how much more light and space we would have without it. So we bought a dorm-style mini-fridge and put a new marble counter in for more cooking space. After all, with a low meat, low dairy-fat diet and no kids in the house, there is not much to keep in the fridge anyway – just some milk and creamer, and the usual spoiling leftovers that will fill up however much space you have. Fresh veggies from the farmers market don’t really need refrigeration. And if we really want ice cream, there is a local ice cream shop a quick bike ride away. Oh, and the built-in beer can dispenser in the mini fridge comes in handy. New fridge price: $159.
More recently, our ten-year old gas dryer gave out – the igniter quit,. I have vowed never to replace any fossil powered appliance with another fossil powered appliance. But a full sized electric dryer would require rewiring the house for a 220 volt receptacle – an expensive proposition. I hate dealing with appliance repair appointments, but wasn’t sure I could diagnose or fix the igniter problem myself. So I put off doing anything until it got too cold and wet to dry all of our clothes on the clothesline. Then I went looking for apartment-style 110 volt dryers. And found one. For about $159.
The new dryer sits neatly on top of the washer, and works fine for the two of us. The space formerly occupied by the gas dryer makes a good parking spot for two bicycles, And I have evicted one carbon-spewing fracked-gas burning fossil powered appliance from our house and replaced it with a renewable-energy-contract cheap and easy electrical appliance that doesn’t count against my monthly carbon budget.
The movie Downsizing is a little ambiguous about the brand conscious consumerism that drives its plot. After all (SPOILER ALERT), at the end the Matt Damon character jumps ship from the techno-ecologist colony to throw in his lot with the consumer goods mercenaries and the Vietnamese political activist love interest. It’s not a great movie. Perhaps its point that the most effective way to get people to downsize their ecological footprint is to appeal to consumerist social envy is too well taken.That’s why Tesla EVs outsell Smart For Two EVs.
But even if we can’t downsize our bodies (and probably wouldn’t want to, not even for a McMansion), we can still downsize our footprint with smaller stuff that gets the job done.