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The Thermostat Game

Every autumn I wait to see how late in the calendar I go before I turn on the furnace.  I don’t know why this frugality is a pleasure, because the self-abnegation, the suffering, is only mine to bear.  I don’t defer dessert, generally speaking, and my four-year-old self would have eaten that researcher’s marshmallow in the test of delayed gratification.

Even now, as I wear shoes and socks, my toes are cold, so the contest no one wins will be over.

I suspect it is the Depression’s fault, as my father came of age in the 30’s and “It’s good enough” was a phrase he said often; per my cousins, my uncle repeated those same words.  We didn’t spend money on frills.

My father saved nails in a coffee can, and he would hammer out bent nails on his workbench in the basement.  My boys still laughingly recall the softball, torn hide, which was fixed so often with duct-tape that it became a silver duct-tape ball at my parents’ small house, where they could play Annie-Annie-over.  He removed the engine from a broken lawnmower, built a box, and had a converted wheelbarrow, of sorts. Like my thermostat game, he took pleasure in frugality.

My mother kept buttons in a jar to replace missing buttons, and I kept that jar, have those buttons still.  It is practical, and every time I open the jar and shake out the buttons to search for right color and size, I remember her house dress or that coat or see the Girl Scout insignia on a small brass fastener. 

In these days of environmental degradation, the pettiness of reusing nails and buttons seems to stand against all our wastefulness, the one-use plastics and fast fashion and other detritus creating the mid-ocean whorl of garbage, the policy debates about plastic straws and other nonsense.  If everyone lived like my father, there would be no waste; it would all be repurposed or composted. Whole industries might collapse. Retail would be in worse shape.

I’ve read the cumulative impact of individual actions is that you influence, and are influenced by, friends and neighbors.  Individual roofs with solar panels are frequently clustered; if your two neighbors have solar panels, maybe you’ll get them, too.  Maybe, if everyone delayed turning on the furnace as late into the season as possible, carbon emissions would decrease. 

So, I’m about to turn up my thermostat.  How long did you go, this fall?

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