7 Energy-Sucking Activities I Stopped Doing During Quarantine

©. L. Reynolds - Dirty hair, don't care.

Some might say it's slovenly. I call it cutting down my carbon footprint.

By now, we've probably all seen the articles that suggest we should use this worldwide lockdown to get in the best shape of our life, go vegan, meditate every day, and learn how to bake the perfect sourdough bread from a starter you sourced from a kindly old baker in your local village. I plan on doing all of those things, really, sometime in the very near future. But there is something to be said about simply stopping — or putting a strong pause on — everyday activities that aren't really necessary.

If you've read Lloyd Alter's experiment about lowering his carbon footprint, you'll see what a challenge it is for any eco-conscious person. The biggest emissions, on a personal level, come from our meat and dairy consumption, fossil-fuel based energy, car use, and air travel. And we should never forget that 20 fossil fuel companies can be directly linked to more than one-third of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. But like Lloyd has written before: "It is too easy and simplistic to blame the building industry, the power companies and the oil industry, when we are buying what they are selling. Instead, we should be sending up some signals."

I have yet to calculate my own footprint, but I would like to think by stopping some of these arbitrary habits, we could all help the planet a little more, and emit a little less chemicals into our precious air. Of course, healthcare workers, farm workers, and the countless underpaid, overworked, hourly wage earners do not have the luxury of these choices; which means those of us who do have the means, can and should cut back where we can. Cutting back on what might seem "essential" is easier than you think.

Showering every day

Let's not kid ourselves: sitting and working at a computer for 9+ hours a day, with occasional trips to the fridge, does not work up a sweat. True, I walk my dogs twice a day, and I sometimes do push-ups during commercials for my beloved TV shows. But I'm not physically working as hard as a farmer or a day laborer or even my friendly mail carrier. So there's no need for me to strip my skin of natural oils and waste unnecessary water. I'd always romanticized pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder and her ritual Saturday-night baths, now I am living it. One cheap product that makes this even easier? A bidet that attaches to your toilet. When I traveled to Vietnam, these "bum gums" were ubiquitous, and so practical. Perhaps I don't smell as fresh as a daisy, but so far my two dogs haven't complained.

Wearing makeup

I enjoy the idea of makeup, as evidenced by the various lipsticks and eye shadows and pointless creams taking up space on my bathroom counter. But it's seeming more and more like a special occasion kind of thing. There's two reasons I don't like actually putting the makeup on: it often irritates my skin, and I find it extremely tedious to take it off at night. Plus, clean, chemical-free makeup isn't cheap, unfortunately, which makes me all the more motivated to use it sparingly. I have daily Zoom calls with my coworkers at 8:30 a.m. (in my time zone), and while I used to get semi-professionally dressed and style my hair and put contacts in...it's just a waste of 15 minutes that could be spent making a really great cup of coffee. Judging by the bedhead hair and spectacles and daily workout gear amongst my fellow brethren, I know I'm not alone.

Changing clothes daily

When it comes to a work-from-home routine, I'm afraid Marie Kondo would be horrified by me. Mostly because I wear the same sloppy outfit for days on end. I try to have separate daytime athleisure outfits and nighttime pajamas, but sometimes those things blur together. Especially during the earlier, colder days of the pandemic, who needs to change out of warm sweatpants into cold sweatpants? Sure, the clothes may look a bit unkempt by Friday, but who cares? I highly doubt my mail carrier will be horrified by the food stains on my t-shirt and wrinkles in my cotton pants. Laundry has a bigger impact on the planet than you might think. Wearing the same thing every day has also made me realize how many clothes I own...and (shamefully) never wear. Occasionally, I'll treat myself to a fresh, new, ironed outfit, and feel like Julia Robert in "Pretty Woman" busting out of that Rodeo Drive dressing room. Maybe I'll even wear makeup that day, too.

Wasting food

I bet for many of us, staying inside and trying to avoid the grocery store as much as possible, planning our meals is the most exciting part of our day. My boomer parent's refrigerators (they have two! I know, I know) give me anxiety because they are always so stuffed with food. If you aren't able to see every single item when you open the fridge door, no doubt something, somewhere, wedged in the back, is going to waste. A streamlined, minimalist fridge helps me keep track of every egg and slice of bread I own. Plus, like Katherine, I get a big satisfaction out of making meals with limited ingredients. My meals are boring, perhaps, but never thrown in the trash.


Men with beards, I see you. There's never been a better time to stop shaving whatever you want! Everyone has their own shaving ritual, but it wastes a lot of water on my end. If you still use a disposable razor and buy shaving cream in an aerosol can, you have the opportunity to cut way back on these harmful items. Even better, consider switching to a plastic-free, zero waste razor and a shaving bar. It may be 91 degrees today in Austin, but I'm rocking hairy legs in my thrice-worn running shorts. Just like wearing makeup, when (if ever) you do feel like shaving, it'll feel extra-special.

Washing my hair

We at Treehugger have preached the gospel of low-maintenance hair care for years. Katherine is truly our hair sage, as she has experimented with just about every DIY hair treatment. The first thing to remember, she writes, is this:

It is crucial to understand that the more you wash your hair, the greasier it will get. When shampoo strips the hair of its natural oils, the scalp compensates for that loss by producing more oil. It creates a cycle in which more washing leads to more oil, and so on. In order to break it, you must be willing to put up with levels of oiliness that may not feel acceptable at first, but eventually an equilibrium will be established.

Because I have thick hair and low standards these days, I wash my hair about once a week. I supplement that with a homemade dry shampoo made out of cornstarch and a sprinkle of lavender oil. My hair feels healthier, and my water bill has never been happier.

Driving. Anywhere.

Since I already worked from home before the pandemic, I didn't have a morning commute, which can be a huge part of one's personal carbon footprint. You would think that constantly being at home would make me constantly dream up reasons to run an errand or two, just to get out of the house. Not a chance. I loathe errands, and only grocery shop when my supplies are exhausted. My agoraphobic ways might sound odd, but they've made quarantining pretty easy for me. I go a week or two before firing up my 2008 Toyota Yaris, and for the most part, I've been having my groceries delivered and giving the delivery person a fat tip instead. Now, I view driving as a special treat, and it must have a special mission.

While I am incredibly privileged to have the option to work in a somewhat disheveled state, I know the majority of American workers cannot. My hope is that one silver lining from this pandemic will be people realizing that one or two actions/consumptions of their daily routine can be pared down, or better yet, eliminated. Whether it's giving up your daily latte in a plastic-coated-paper-bucket, or biking to work instead of driving, or even one less shower a week, a return to sufficiency over efficiency could be a very good thing.