Taming a Wasteful Spouse

Argument over wasteSpouses and children frequently derail our efforts to conserve water, energy, and other resources.  Case-in-point are the still partially folded (clean) clothes that sometimes wind up in the dirty laundry again because someone was too lazy to put the clean clothes in the drawer.  (Don’t get me started…)  Anyway, I totally got what author Fredrica Rudell had to say in the following blog, which was originally posted on WeHateToWaste.com on August 22, 2012.  So I got permission to reprint it here.  Enjoy.

Trish Holder, Publisher

Greenspiration Home LLC


Originally published on WeHateToWaste.comAugust 22, 2012

By Fredrica Rudell

I have a mixed marriage.  Our differences are not racial, religious or ethnic, but rather they are ecological.  It has been said that men are from Mars and women from Venus.  In our case, I strive to reduce our carbon footprint here on Earth, while my husband seems to be floating in outer space.

To be clear, Mr. Right shares my progressive values and concern about global warming.  He takes pride in his car’s fuel efficiency, and favors strong environmental protections and policies.  However, while I’m busy reducing, reusing, refusing, repairing, and recycling, his day-to-day habits have not evolved.  The result is a constant battle of wits over waste.

The Thermostat Wars

I suspect that we are not the only couple to engage in seasonal Thermostat Wars.  I am comfortable living in a house that is a little cool in winter and warm in summer, adjusting my apparel to heat (or chill) my personal space as needed.  But as soon as my back is turned, my spouse has flipped the thermostat to make the entire house into a sauna or fridge—not necessarily based on his personal comfort, but on what his mobile weather app tells him about the temperature outside!  (I gently remind him that we live indoors.)

Who Turned on the Lights?

Smaller battles are equally frustrating.  While I turn off lights when I leave the room, he has been known to turn them on and then leave the room.  I carefully use and reuse the smallest portion of a “select-a-size” paper towel, while he employs half a roll to mop up a tiny spill.  He can leave the bathroom without responding to the steady drip of a sink or shower faucet that was not completely turned off, or the relentless gurgling of a running toilet.  Perhaps most maddening, he subscribes to numerous papers, magazines, and academic journals.  Then he reads the articles online and leaves tons of the often-untouched “hard copy” for me to lug down to the curb for recycling.

Old Habits Die Hard

My husband is very intelligent, so I have tried to reason with him on grounds of efficiency and waste reduction as part of an environmentally responsible (not to mention practical) lifestyle.  Not long ago, I brought him into the kitchen and pointed to four paper cups lined up on the counter.  He had taken a few drinks of water over the course of a couple of hours, using a fresh cup each time.  (By contrast, I simply rinse my morning coffee mug and reuse it for all my beverage consumption during the day.)  He understood that it was wasteful to use so many paper cups and admitted that he hadn’t been paying attention when he poured the water.  He sounded sincere when he promised to be more careful in the future, and I felt that I had gotten my point across.  But an hour later, I returned to the kitchen and found a fifth cup added to the lineup!

I’m happy to report that I do win the occasional skirmish.  Mr. Right finally agreed to repair an expensive clock radio rather than buy a new one.  But after 42 years of marriage, so many frustrating and seemingly “irreconcilable differences” in habits remain.

How do you deal with a member of the household who doesn’t share your attitude toward waste?

Fredrica Rudell has been an environmentalist since the ’60s and teaches Consumer Behavior and Green Marketing courses at Iona College.  She is very involved with sustainability activities on campus. (The views expressed on this article are hers alone, and not those of her employer).


10 Responses »

  1. Great article – thankfully my husband is like minded. Now if you could give tips on how to convert children to our way of thinking that would be most appreciated! :-)

    • Whew! That’s a tough one. I struggle with it every day. One conflict-free way (though I’m not sure it teaches kid’s responsibility) is using occupancy sensing light switches. Those are GREAT for laundry rooms, bathrooms, closets, and attic/storage spaces. We have a couple and I’ve become quite spoiled be the convenience!

    • Divorce. Get out while you can…
      There are root causes which go too deep for the other to change.

    • Tracey,

      I have a blog about eco-influence if you’re interested. I just posted a short blog about the 3 Stages of Eco-Influence and next I’m going to post about eco-personality types, levels of commitment, and how values hold the key to eco-confusion.

      In general, I would say that every person (especially a child) is a unique creature and what influences one will not necessarily work on the other. The best approach is one that is tailored to one person, gives them something they want, and helps them take it step by step.

      You can email me any time.

      Gratefully, Adam

  2. Frederica,

    Love your website. Keep up the great work!

    Gratefully, Adam

    • Hi Adam,

      Frederica was the author of this article. We reposted it on Greenspiration Home which is my site. I’m glad you liked both!

      Trish Holder, Publisher
      Greenspiration Home LLC

  3. I address the fact with everyone I can about how little (around 3%) of the Earth’s water is fresh when they leave water running and waste it. Most people don’t know this very important fact and it can help in bringing an awareness to water waste that might not otherwise be there.
    All water fixtures in my home are Cal Green Compliant reducing the amount that is flushed or running through a typical fixture by 20% from the typical low flow fixtures.

    Our light fixtures are either on occupancy sensors or timers and lamps are either LED’s or CFL’s. When completing a remodel we made our home extremely energy efficient and hardly ever use air-conditioning on even the hottest days in CA. We have had solar evaluations and determined that it makes no financial sense to install PV given the lengthened pay back period other tan of course creating power from the sun.

    My thermostat automatically re-sets after a period of time to reasonable levels regardless of what it is manually set to.

    I take out the recycling and put it back after collection so I am quite aware of what goes into it and how much waste we create.

    Finally keeping tally for two or three months on the actual dollars wasted by not paying attention might help. If none of this makes a difference put your partner out for recycling!

    By the way I am the male spouse in our family and lead the conservation charge….

  4. My husband and I are together on our eco lifestyle mindset. We have done things to help us make the right choices.

    1. Don’t buy the paper cups to begin with. Why do you have paper cups in your house at all? The only time disposable cups come out is for party’s and there is always a sharpie next to them so that you can write your name on it. Even then we mostly drink beer in recyclable bottles at our parties.

    2. To fight the paper towel battle, we buy select a size which helps. But we also bought quite a large stash of bar mop towels, dish towels and dish wash clothes. The bar mop towels are for anything disgusting. If it’s really bad you can rinse it out side with the hose before it goes to the laundry. Drying is done with the dish towels. We use wash clothes at the sink and don’t buy disposable sponges. Has you smelled a 3 day old sponge? I can have a new wash cloth every day…(they are fine for 3 day’s if your husband rinses them and hangs them up.)

    3. Lastly laundry is minimized by hanging up clothes that we have worn but are still clean. Used to be American’s were the only wasteful people that had to shower every day and wear clean clothes every day. When I lived in Belgium you wore the same clothes for a week before it went to the laundry. Now I have to say climate matters. I sweat a lot more in the Texas summer than anyone ever sweats in Belgium. And you have to rotate the clothes you wear so that other American’s who don’t understand how wasteful they are don’t mock you or your children for wearing the same clothes day after day.

    Maybe we should have a “Wear the same clothes for a Week” week to try to break the American Stigma.


    • Dawn,

      I love the idea of a “Wear the same clothes for a Week.” Heck, I just wish I could convince my daughter that wearing a sweater or a pair of jeans for a few hours one day does not mean either needs washing!


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