Thoughts on Shaving, Socks and Water Conservation….

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

Twenty years ago Michelle and I began a mission to reduce the amount of garbage we were producing. Eventually we reduced our output to just 1 garbage can every 3 months, so our family of four made just 4 cans of garbage a year. We accomplished this by taking a look at every item we put into our garbage can and wondering “How can we eliminate this?”

I used to shave using shaving foam – the kind in an aerosol can. You end up with an empty aerosol can that isn’t recyclable and so I decided it was one item that I needed to do without. So I began to just use soap when I shaved. About this time I had a personal epiphany that not everything corporations were telling me in television ads was true. I was devastated. It turned out that soap worked just fine for shaving. I didn’t need the magic stuff in the aerosol can after all. And since the cans of shaving foam cost a lot more than a bar of soap, I ended up saving myself a whole lotta money too!

I’ve done with this shampoo too. I like to buy the bars of shampoo that you get from places like LUSH or from small local soap makers which foam up and work really well. You don’t end up with a huge plastic bottle to dispose of.

I’m not perfect though. I haven’t gone all the way and switched to a straight razor. I still use the Trac II razor I got in high school in 1978. Two blades –  what an innovation! I’ve stood back and watched as newer razors have been introduced that use 3 blades, 4 blades and recently 5 blades! Come on, now it’s just getting silly. When will a 6-blade razor come out and then an 8 or 10 blade one? As I’ve just learned in the book “The Collapse of Complex Societies” you ultimately hit a point of diminishing marginal returns when adding more “things” like blades, just doesn’t make any sense. I think with razor blades this happened in 1978. From then on it’s just been stupid.

The downside of shaving with soap is that it doesn’t have all the moisturizers and emulsifiers and cellular expansion factors that are allegedly part of the shaving foam in the aerosol cans. Finding some moisturizer around my house hasn’t generally been a problem because when my daughters were still living at home they would buy the latest, greatest moisturizer and then grow tired of it before moving on the next new product. So there was always bottles of the stuff that they had stopped using, and so I would take it over. Nothing goes to waste on my watch! Then my daughters moved out and the gravy train of reject moisturizer ran out. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy some, and have another big hunk of plastic end up in the recycling bin. So I started thinking about these products, and I remember seeing an advertisement for some moisturizer that promoted the fact that it had “oil olive” in it. So I decided to go straight to the source and I began using olive oil directly on my face. And it’s worked great. It’s a little greasy when I first apply it, but as long as I don’t rub my face on anything it’s no big deal. The only problem is that I start craving pasta as soon as I put it on. I use it on my hands after I do the dishes too.

The whole deodorant vs. anti-perspirant product line drives me crazy too. It’s getting harder and harder to find deodorant without having to purchase anti-perspirant (especially for women.) Antiperspirants contain ingredients designed to stop you from perspiring. Think about it – does that sound natural? There are hundreds of toxic chemicals poured into the personal care products we slather on our bodies, and in cosmetics. What’s in my moisturizer? Olive Oil. Cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil.

Check out the video this website by Annie Leonard who did “The Story of Stuff.”

She recommends lobbying to make our personal care products safer. You can lobby all you want to get this crap out of your personal care products, but it isn’t going to happen in your lifetime. is a good site to check out the products you put on your body. I’d rather have dry skin, yellow teeth and smell bad. Apparently I’m not in dating mode these days.

I’m also having a hard time with socks lately. I must have awfully sharp heels or something because most of my socks end up ripped and torn at the heel. It also may be the fact that I wear shoes for so long that I inevitably wear off the padding at the heel, and end up with a hunk of plastic rubbing against my socks. So I’ve decided to try cutting off the good upper part of heel-less sock and using that piece of sock to cover up my heel-less sock.

I guess you’ve noticed by now that I can be pretty quirky. Usually Michelle tolerates my quirks, but I do drive her a bit nuts with my water recycling. Pumping water is one of the biggest uses of electricity in our off-grid house. So in the fall when we have long cloudy periods and not enough wind, I go into “water conservation mode.” One of my habits involves leaving the bathwater in the tub after a bath. First off, I like the fact that the still-warm bathwater gives off its heat to one of the coldest rooms in the house, so this just makes sense. I then use the bathwater to flush the toilet the following day by scooping up buckets of bathwater and carrying over it to the toilet when a flush is required. Michelle rarely complains, but she has been complaining about all of the buckets of water in the bathroom lately.

But think about it. We’ve used all this electricity to pump the water up from our well into our house. Now the bathtub and the toilet both drain into the same septic tank. So I’m just diverting the bath water and getting one more use out of it, before it hits the septic system. It just feels right to me. I know most people wouldn’t take it this far, but if it means I don’t have to run the generator, which burns gasoline, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it seems like a pretty minor inconvenience to me. And besides, the cats love it. Michelle leaves lots of small bowls of water all over the house for them to drink from. But where do you find them? In the bathroom lapping up the water in the buckets, up on their hind legs like some big wild cat in the desert who has just discovered a watering hole.

I do it for the cats. It’s all about the cats.

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Photos: Cam Mather