In October I picked up the book, No Impact Man. I had heard about it a long time ago and added it to my book list to read one day, but just hadn’t gotten to it yet. For some unknown reason, it popped back into my head and I decided it was time to read it and see if it could help me take my environmental lifestyle to the next level.
When it arrived, I couldn’t put it down and finished it in three days. Afterwards, I immediately went onto Colin Beaven’s website for more resources and discovered there had been a documentary made about his project.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with his project, he went an entire year creating No Impact on the planet with his wife and baby girl. That meant no buying anything new, no packaging, no transportation, eating only locally grown food in season, volunteering to make up for the little impact he was making and couldn’t avoid and no electricity.
I had just finished reading the book and 30 minutes later my husband Carl and I were watching the documentary on our couch. I wish every book I read had a documentary that came with it - I can get him to watch something SO much easier than reading the book.
His book and the documentary opened my eyes to so many systems we have in place that are negatively affecting our health, our animals, the environment and our planet that are just unnecessary. It all seemed daunting, yet at the same time, encouraging that we could do our part in adapting our lifestyle [over time] to become more sustainable, more ethical, and better for our world and our planet.
About halfway through the documentary, Carl put it on pause and looked at me and asked, “Do you want to do a no lights challenge with me for a month?” I was in shock! Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband isn’t avidly against all of my ‘new’ ways to make our life better for the planet, he just doesn’t usually suggest them.
I said yes and thus began our month long challenge of living without lights. It’s not nearly as extreme as going ‘No Impact’ for a year or even going without electricity alone, but it was a start in the right direction. We didn’t change the world, but here are some things we learned over the month.
You become in tune with natural light
Choosing to do this challenge in November definitely proved to be more difficult than if we had opted for say, July. With it being dark when we woke up and dark by 5 PM before we got home from work, our at-home hours were always dark. My schedule is more flexible than my husband’s, so I got at least an hour of natural light at home before heading out, when I didn’t work from home.
We also got to know which spots in our house were naturally lit the best. It actually got pretty comical. If I wanted to pluck my eyebrows, I would go in the bathroom, pull our expandable mirror as far as it could go to be in front of the bathroom window and do my right eyebrow. To do my left eyebrow, I’d go into our bedroom and stand in front of my full length mirror that reflected the light just right from one of the windows in our bedroom.
I found myself spending more time in my studio because it was lit so well. About a year and a half ago I painted my studio all white, paper white, the ceiling, the walls - even the floor! Since then it’s become my favorite room in the house. I never have to turn the light on because there are windows on three sides of the room that reflect light through my perfectly white box of a room all day long. For a year and a half I’ve been doing a version of the No Lights Challenge at least in one room.
Everything looks so much prettier and brighter in my studio, which has made me want to paint our entire house all white - and now after doing this challenge, I want to paint even more! Can you imagine an entire all white house that’s beautifully and naturally lit all day long without any electricity? I can and I want it.
Going without light causes you to slow down
Maybe this one seems like a no-brainer to you, but it did catch me off guard a bit. I assumed that we would be able to do everything normally, just by candlelight. I quickly discovered how poor candlelight is for task lighting and would often just decide not to do something at all because I couldn’t see very well.
I definitely got A LOT less done this month, but that was a blessing in disguise. For the first two weeks of the month, I was very sick with what I thought were migraines and nausea but ended up to be meningitis. It got extremely scary at one point and I had to be hospitalized for two and a half days. Besides the medication they gave me, I was instructed to take it easy and not over do it.
That doesn’t come very naturally to me, so the fact that we were doing this challenge at the same time that I was supposed to be resting and slowing down was a complete God send. Once I started feeling better, I still wanted to ease my way back into my normal routine. Having less light lead to calmer evenings, slow dinners, relaxing with my husband and early bed times. Now, doesn’t that sound heavenly?
It made us more mindful
When you have to think, “Don’t flip the light switch,” every single time you enter a room when previously you would unconsciously flip it on every time - you’re practicing mindfulness. We had to be intentional about our light. When we wanted to cook, we lit a candle. When we needed to use the bathroom, we lit a candle. Everything else we pretty much did in the dark.
We also had to schedule our tasks according to how much light we would have. If I knew I had homework in my women’s study group, I had to do it in the mornings after breakfast when the kitchen started to get natural light. Same for doing any cleaning or organizing. I needed to see for those things and was very purposeful about when I could do what according to how much light I would have.
Like I said, it got dark at 5pm, so that didn’t allow much time for doing chores requiring light and it made me more tired, which caused me to go to bed earlier. While lying in bed, I had time to think and ask myself questions like, “Where does my electricity come from? What powers it? Who works there? Is their health at risk? Are they being taken care of? Are there renewable options for us here? Do I only have one option? How much are solar panels? Where do I get a solar panel? How much energy are we saving?” And so on and so on.
Before doing this challenge we were very wasteful with our lights. I’d be home alone and have every light in the house on. I like brightness, I like being able to see and I think it made me feel safe. Now I’m sitting here writing this in a pitch black house on our last day of the challenge not at all freaked out over the creaks our old house is making and not letting my imagination tell me it’s someone in the house.
Before doing this challenge we didn’t give our electricity usage a second thought. We just flipped the switch, took it for granted and often forgot to flip it off when we left the room. Ironically, we’d be watching tv in the living room with the lights out while the lights in our bedroom were on - with no one in there.
We went into this challenge cold, not having any of the answers to the questions above. I still don’t have the answers honestly. But now I know what to ask and what to research and I think that’s the point to any challenge. Often times, when it comes to the environment, people don’t think they can make a difference because it’s just SO overwhelming. There are problems to be solved in every area of our lives.
We can become overwhelmed and think, what does shopping locally really do? What does recycling my glass bottles really do? What does going without lights for one month really do?
It gets us started. It gets us asking questions we were previously in the dark about [pun intended.] It gets us seeking answers to problems we didn’t know existed. It gets us connected with other people doing the same thing. And it gets us out of our comfort zones, stretching our capacity along the way.
I never would have thought I could live without light for a month, but now I know I can. And now, I’m interested and excited to see what other things I can do that I previously thought I wasn’t capable of.
It’s very likely that it will take us some time before we’re able to switch our electricity usage to a more sustainable, renewable method, but there are things we can do now. For starters, I plan on painting at least ONE more room in our house all white to help reflect natural light. We can take advantage of natural light by keeping our blinds open during the day. We can use candles or no light at all when we’re just relaxing and we can be intentional about when we use our lights and mindful to turn them off when we're done using them.
I really love the concept of challenging myself and think I'm going to start doing them more often. I mean, I can do anything for 30 days, right? Right. So with that, I plan on waking up an hour earlier than usual [which is 6 AM for me] for the month of December, to get a jump start on my day. I know 6 AM doesn't sound early for most people who have a "normal" 9-5 or for people with kids, but I don't have either of those which has contributed to me waking up at 7 AM or later.
I'll let you know how it goes in the New Year. Can you believe 2017 is right around the corner? What sorts of things are you doing to challenge yourself? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!
Love & Blessings,