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Living on Less: 10 Trusty Tips

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Living on Less: 10 Trusty Tips

By Diane Herbst, Tonic

On top of a mountain in West Texas lives the artist Alyce Santoro, best known for inventing sonic fabric, an audible textile woven from recycled audio cassette tape. The creation of sonic fabric — once made into a dress worn and “played” by Jon Fishman of Phish — came from the cash-strapped Santoro’s attempts to scavenge for free art supplies. “It was more about that,” Santoro says, “than save the earth.”Now Santoro’s daily life is wrapped around saving the earth. Her studio is a converted bus outfitted with $500 worth of solar panels that power her computer, scanner, lights and sewing machine. Home is a 14-foot trailer with $10-a-month electric bills. She and her boyfriend collect their water in rain barrels, power their outdoor stove by the sun, and expect to be completely off the grid by the end of the year.

“There are so many things people can do at a personal level to make a difference now,” says Santoro, 41, who recently launched a conservation campaign on Facebook called USE HALF NOW!, a forum for sharing energy and resource-saving tips. Santoro hopes to get at least 5,000 people to vow to halve their average resource use by Earth Day, April 22. “It’s like everybody’s going around, trying to raise awareness, talking about things you can buy to make your life greener,” she says. “But it’s really the opposite. Now is when you need to learn how to conserve. We don’t have time to wait.”

A former city dweller — she lived in Providence, Rhode Island for 12 years followed by 5 years in Brooklyn — Santoro and her boyfriend, a guitarist/composer named Julian, 40, moved in 2006 to the mountaintop outside of Marfa, a small desert haven that draws artists from both coasts. “I could have more space and more time to do experiments into sustainable living,” says Santoro, “and I would have more time to make art.” (Click here to see some of her conservation-minded creations.)

“I felt like my time in New York was just going into ways to make money to live,” she continues, “whereas here, I can live on a lot less.”

The couple lives frugally on family owned land, so there’s no rent or mortgage to worry about. They grow most of their own vegetables, watering them with runoff from dish washing. Instead of buying a refrigerator, the pair found an old chest freezer next to a dumpster, installed a new thermostat, and created an energy-efficient fridge. That innovation cut their electric bill to a remarkable one-tenth of what is was before. “Of course it’s inconvenient,” she says of her dumpster-find innovation, “but if you are willing to reduce your usage, you can do simple things that cost almost nothing.”

Next: 10 Simple Tips

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Read more: Conservation, Green, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse

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88 comments

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6:39PM PST on Jan 25, 2013

I already do 8 of the 10 hints. Can't garden as I am also in a desert and if I miss ONE DAY everything wilts and dies. I do not have a printer as it is rare I need to print..but when I do...the library is fine.

6:36PM PST on Jan 25, 2013

There is a goodwill clearance center in the city where I live .So..instead of hitting a big box store I go to the clearance center .REALLY REALLY cheap .Clothes 30 cents a lb and odds and ends 40 cents a lb.Items as chairs and appliances are different prices . I never go early because it is INSANELY busy and the guys grab the furniture first ,Definitely worth a trip if one is near you .There is a regular GW attached and they also have great things at times with higher prices .

11:31AM PDT on Oct 20, 2011

Thank you - off to look at her blog now.

9:42AM PDT on May 29, 2011

thanks for article, it's good to see

8:21PM PDT on May 14, 2011

I'd leave a more thoughtful comment, but I have to go unplug the appliances I'm not using! ;)

6:15PM PDT on Oct 8, 2010

Thank you so much!

7:49PM PDT on Sep 12, 2010

Buen artículo

3:10AM PDT on Jun 16, 2010

I fine myself any change i get when shopping and put it in the charity boxes everytime i go into a shop and realise i don't have a cloth bag on me and have to use a plastic bag from the shop. i have lots of bag for life bags and cloth bags but im amazed at how many times i forget to take them.

5:07PM PDT on Apr 20, 2010

This is a list we have all seen before. The key is to get creative like the artist in the article. You have to find out what uses the most energy for you and find a way to lower it. It may be that you eat food that has been packaged and sent across country or sea. Then you can change your eating habits and eat local. I have friends in Northern cal that have been living off the grid for over a decade now. They have tried to get me to convert to that way of living for years. Ten years ago I was not ready but I have changed my thinking enough that I am headed in that direction now and it is not going to be a big deal because my EXPECTATION of what I want from life has changed. Change your mind and change your life. It really is that simple.

2:50PM PDT on Apr 20, 2010

I do all of these. Need some more tips please.

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