The Triple M Family enjoyed a rather enlightening movie night tonight. These days, we tend to watch all our movies together, and we usually let the kid make the viewing choice, using the nicely organized browsing system on Netflix. Fortunately for us parents, our boy has graduated from the Pixar movies we’ve all seen a dozen times, on to science and nature documentaries, which all of us enjoy.
Today, however, we picked out a documentary called No Impact Man, which my son thought would be interesting because from the synopsis he determined that they were “like a super Money Mustache family”. If you’ve never heard of the movie, check it out at http://noimpactproject.org/movie/.
In a nutshell, the movie captures one year in the life of a real family. The guy, a writer named Colin Beaven, designs an ambitious experiment for the family to follow, involving advancing stages of minimalist living. They start by cutting out fossil-fuel-powered travel and long-distance-shipped food. They figure out ways to produce virtually zero trash and not buy anything other than food for a year. And they go further over time, eventually shutting off even the electricity to their apartment.
The part that was interesting to me was not the exact lifestyle changes they made, because I have already adopted most of them to some extent. It was the enlightening Mustachian Journey that they went through together – from an initial feeling of shock and deprivation, gradually through to realizing that many of the changes they made were better for them, regardless of the cost or impact on the planet.
Their starting point was quite amusing. The wife, business writer Michelle Conlin, came into the project as a reality television addict who also liked to buy pairs of $950 designer boots and several Starbucks products per day. Despite being only 40 years old, she was dangerously unhealthy due to poor eating and even diagnosed as pre-diabetic. “Mommy doesn’t like nature” was one of the things she told her daughter early on in the movie. From my current perspective, it seemed like a desperate and tragic life, seeing these people crammed into a tiny apartment room watching reality TV shows on a gigantic television. But that’s actually a normal life in this country!
Colin himself didn’t have to make as many changes to become No Impact Man. He seemed to just dump the high-consumption lifestyle with no regrets, and most of his job was in managing the objections and complaints from the outside world.
An interesting part of the movie involves the considerable attention that they got, right from the start of the project. Their story was written up in the New York Times during the year of filming, which triggered invitations to appear on a long line of major TV shows including the Colbert Report. All of this attention triggered some incredibly violent rage from various complainypants critics who felt that making any lifestyle changes is a horrible idea and that people who try it should be punished.
I could really relate to this, even just being Adm Karpinsk who has never appeared on a TV show. I have seen some mind-bogglingly Fucktarded attacks that folks attempted to post into the comments section of this blog. I blocked them, of course, but I’m collecting them for an eventual article (or poem or hip-hop track or something). The same thing happened to No Impact man on a larger scale, and it really is bizarre because the dude is just trying to help us all out! There’s no need to attack people like this – if you don’t like his ideas, don’t buy his book, and your problem is solved!
The real lesson, however, came as the movie went on. Michele became dramatically more Mustachian over time, and learned to love riding her bike, even with their toddler daughter in the back. They learned to cook at home for the first time, and started spending more time with friends and meeting new people outside once they gave up the daily time-waste of television. They became better parents. They became happier, and noticeably healthier as well. After the one-year experiment ended, they ended up keeping most of the new lifestyle (including foregoing air conditioning), despite the fact that many of the elements were considered hardships initially.
I must admit that the lifestyle in my own household is far from No Impact. We have a large 4-bathroom house, we use electricity freely, we eat food from all over the world, and we take car and even jet vacations. Adm Karpinsk’s whole deal is that even by just paying a tiny bit of attention to the details, I find that you can have the whole middle-class lifestyle with well under a third of the standard US level of consumption. I still have an enormous stainless steel double-door fridge with blinking lights and an ice maker. But I bought it used for $500 and it fits easily within my 299 kWh monthly electricity use figure – electricity that is 100% wind-generated. I still have a nice reliable imported car, but it gets over 40 MPG and more importantly I still have a couple gallons left in the 10-gallon tank that I last filled in early August. We still have everything we want/need and more, but it all adds up to only 25% of what most of our wealthy neighbors are spending per year. We are not heroes – in fact, we still suck and are consuming too much – but I think we’re reasonable role models to start with because it takes very little thinking and lifestyle re-engineering to get to this point, even while the savings in both Earth and Cash are enormous.
The most significant difference between NIM and MMM was that the documentary made no mention of the financial benefits of their experiment. After digging through their blog, I eventually found a passage stating that before the project, they were spending 100% of both of their salaries, and after finishing the project and going back to a “normal” lifestyle, they were suddenly spending only one salary and saving* 100% of the second one. So even without specific effort, they found themselves growing a Money Mustache. But I was surprised that the movie didn’t promote this aspect, since from my own perspective (and perhaps yours too as an MMM reader), it is one of the most obvious benefits of adopting a lower-consumption lifestyle.
Regardless of our different approaches, I am proud of No Impact Man, who continues to work in the field of Spreading The Good Word to this day. It seems to be a fun new dream job that he’s created for himself, a model for all of us in our post-real-career days.
*I was pleased to note that he actually referred to it as “Stashing” their second salary.