7 Ways I Cheated While Living in a Sustainable Living Community

Another flash writing! This is responding to a prompt to write about a time that I failed at something. I chose to write about the year I spent living with 5 other people in a big old house we called Sustainahouse. It was an experiment in sustainable living… and I’m not sure it succeeded.


  1. Sometimes I flushed when it was yellow. At first it was just out of habit. I was so used to flushing the toilet after every experience that I just did it without thinking. Slowly I got better about it, remembering right before the push of the metal tab not to go through with it, to live in shame about the smell of my pee sitting in the porcelain vessel for who knows how long. But then later, after things in Sustainahouse got worse, I  would sometimes flush just because I wanted to spite the whole idea of that failed experiment.
  1. On more than a few occasions, I bought white, non-organic, non-local, non-anything-but-just-plain-cheap-and-regular eggs. I mean we had chickens, so we had a few eggs everyday that met the special standards of being good enough for a sustainable co-op. But when I knew the receipt from a grocery trip was already inching towards more than 30 dollars per person, I’d cave and buy the cheap eggs. It wasn’t worth the complaining I’d hear about how much money we were spending. And I think I might have been the only one who cared.
  1. When I would go home for a weekend or a break, I’d save all my laundry for weeks preceding and then I’d put those clothes in my mom’s dryer. We didn’t use the dryer at Sustainahouse–dryers are the second most inefficient household appliance, after blow dryers. I’d wait up to a week sometimes for all my clothes to dry, hanging across my room and the living room, just because I washed them on a humid day in the middle of a  humid week. So I took my trips away from Sustainahouse as times to break away, too, with all the ideas and tenants of it’s philosophy. I’d also leave the water running in my parents bathroom as I brushed my teeth.
  1. If it was snowing/raining/super cold/or I was lazy, I’d have Kelsey drive me to campus. We lived about 1 mile from campus. A 20 minute walk to most locations, and a 5 minute bike ride. That was the whole point of having Sustainhouse where it was; we could easily get to downtown and campus without a car. But there is a certain feeling of illicit pleasure when you can sit in a car with the heat turned all the way up and experience comfort at the same time as getting where you need to go.
  1. I killed bugs without shame, using whatever horrible chemicals are inside of a Raid bottle. I tried, at first, I really did, to do this “the natural way.” But the natural way really flies out the door when you walk into your basement to grab an extra plate and are staring into all eight eyes of a brown recluse spider. And you notice there’s another one over there. Somehow, at that moment, catching the thing in a glass and letting it go free seems like it would do more harm to this silly little ecosystem of ours than launching a full scale, chemical ridden genocide against him and his entire species. I’m just saying.
  1. When I was sitting in my bed with 3 layers of clothes on, trying to type while wearing gloves, huddled next to my space heater, I would sometimes get up, walk 5 feet to the thermostat, and turn that baby up like 8 degrees. It was night, I knew no one would notice, and then I’d turn it back down in the morning, letting the house settle to it’s frigid mix of 55 (the thermostat setting according to our rules), and whatever sub-freezing temperature it was outside. It wasn’t a particularly efficient house.

7. The last cheat, and maybe the worst one, was that I told people it was worth it. I told them I was learning so much! And sure, it was a challenge to live with 5 other people and share everything and make every decision together–even what brand of toilet paper we’d buy, but it was kind of fun! And yeah, I might not be doing it again next year, but I didn’t regret this year I’d spent? wasted? here. You know, I only really talk to one of the people I lived with there anymore. Most of them still live in Columbia. But I only talk to one. And it took me 6 months to start composting at my new house. And I flush when it’s yellow most of the time now. And I can’t tell if I’m happy or sad about it.