Privilege Blog

The Big Red Buckets, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:39am

I have a certain capacity for self-discipline and self-denial, but, it gets used up. How? Sadly, on self-maintenance. Eating less sugar than I want to, less saturated fat, eating less all around. Drinking less alcohol than I would like. And so on.

What remains for virtue? I can manage  generosity pretty well – I like to give presents and compliments. Doesn’t require any chiding from my inner voices, except when occasionally I get caught up in telling my own stories and forget to listen to what others need to say.

But the kind of virtue where you put your needs aside? Not my strong point. So I have a little trick – I piggyback on my own desires. See that bucket above? It’s in my shower. I catch warm-up water and use it on my butterfly garden – rather than refrain from showering or growing flowers. Sometimes I even think about getting a beautiful bucket, all sauna-esque and pine.

This morning my sister and I are canvassing again. It’s going to be 103 degrees. We’ve both agreed that if we weren’t doing this together we’d likely not be doing it at all. Essentially I bribe myself with her company to do what needs to be done.

I imagine you all have many, many similar and better habits and strategies. I am however unclear exactly what we call this. Virtue piggybacking? Self-bribery? Intelligent human process design?

Do tell.

Have a useful weekend, with the caveat that only you yourself know what useful means.


48 Responses

  1. I’m going with intelligent human process design. You’re smart to bribe yourself to do good things. A big thank you to you and your sister for canvassing; doing what you can to help people to vote is essential if our democracy is to survive.

    1. @MJ, Thank you. As it turned out, the canvassing was fun, and restorative. People were friendly, sick and tired of hostilities and bad decisions, but so hopeful about their community and the country in general.

  2. Oh, regarding the bucket in the shower, that’s something I will start doing as I hate to waste water when so much of the world lacks access to clean water. And thank you to your and your sister.

    1. @Jane, You are welcome. We don’t manage to save it all, by any means, but each bucket taking to the garden feels pretty good.

  3. Not sure if this is quite the same as you mean, but to maintain and augment my French, I’ve been reading my way through Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels — much more fun than more substantive or literary books. And I’ve been known to bribe myself into a longer walk with the promise of some destination pastry. . . . (not so compatible with the sugar-and-fat-lessening tho’ ;-)
    We keep a large plastic bin/tub in our oversized sink, and we try to catch most of the grey water in it for watering the terrace garden — far fewer steps than you have, I imagine, but it still feels virtuous to do.

    1. @Frances, That’s exactly what I mean – the kind of thing BuzzFeed would probably call “virtue hacking;).” And I probably have the same number of steps as you – because I just take the bucket out the side door that is quite close to our master shower! Nothing I planned for, but welcome accident.

  4. Lisa and friends,
    I’m on a plastic reduction campaign. It began with a desire to stop using plastic bags and has led our family to refuse plastic bottles, plastic toothpaste tubes, kitty litter packaged in plastic, etc. I estimate we have reduced plastic consumption by greater than 90 percent. I have just ordered reusable produce bags. You get the idea!
    I realize it may be a futile effort but like you Lisa I care deeply about the planet.
    I will try catching our shower water. I think it is wonderful idea and will be curious what is saved.
    The heat and the fires out west sound terrifying.


    1. @luci, Plastic is on my awareness horizon. I use glass storage pieces for leftovers, reuse plastic bags from WF – and choose the recyclable ones to begin with. I have a metal thermos for water. I could do more without misery – which reusable produce bags did you order?

  5. Very pertinent topic! When you are studying, the prospect of a degree as well as the intrinsic interest in the subject matter keeps you going. When you are working, if you are lucky, congenial colleagues and the fascination of your works keeps you making the sacrifices of being a responsible professional. When you have a family to raise, the emotional attachment (2 way!) and love for your nearest and dearest helps you stay up those long sleepless nights, and to weather those childhood illnesses. When you are (semi) retired, you have more time to stay in shape (eg walking is its own reward if you choose a beautiful/interesting route) and to pursue volunteer or self-fulfillment interests. More time for family and friends. Maslow had a lot to say about self-actualization.

    1. @Martine, Don’t you wonder if Maslow had any idea how enduring and pervasive his ideas would be in the long run? I sure do. Tie the reward directly to the goal, whether big or small.

  6. Hi Lisa,
    Good for you with the bucket! Thank you.
    There are so many ways that we find easy to go lightly on the planet, including that one. We also use washing tubs (and biodegradable soap) in our kitchen sinks and use what we catch for watering the garden. We also have a small bowl in the bathroom sink.
    We use vintage glass containers for the refrigerator and carry (thrifted) containers in the car for take-out, or doggie bags. I carry a small metal fork, spoon, and straw, as well as a hard plastic glass, cloth napkin, and rip-stop nylon shopping bag in my purse. These are truly not difficult steps, and seriously cut down on waste.
    There are other, harder core steps we take, but I won’t bore you.

    1. @Cara in S. FL, I think about resuable shopping bags, but we put our recyclables in the paper ones, in order to take them out to the bin, so I stay with those. I know myself – tubs in the sink would bug me because of visual clutter. I think it’s really important to do as much as you can, bit by bit, and not scold ourselves for going only so far. At least me, I am demotivated by shame.

      I admire and applaud your capacity to do so much. Your example inspires people like me to take the next small step.

  7. Wow on the bucket. We used to do that back in the 70s. As for today, I did buy stainless steel straws and chopsticks in the hope of not adding more garbage than necessary to this beautiful earth.

    1. @MaryAnne, I remember the draft of the mid-70s. It kind of feels like that permanently now, as the temperatures have ticked up 2-3 degrees. Stainless steel straws and chopsticks also sound beautiful – beauty for the beautiful earth.

  8. Oh, I got nothin’ on this one. Self-discipline is a toughie. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever unpack my house because I just cannot bring myself to focus! But I love how you’re watering the butterfly garden. Ingenious. You should totally get that sauna bucket. So chic – and it’s a reward for all the discipline, non?

    1. @K-Line, I think you have so much energy and directness that you maybe don’t need the self-discipline to be effective. You’ll unpack – one night you will have had enough and you will probably unpack for 18 hours straight:).

  9. Keeping your garden green matters. Not only does it help keep temperatures down, it can make a huge difference in a bush fire (although not much will help during a firestorm except blind luck). I am quietly terrified of what the summer and fire season will be like in Australia, given how bad the drought is. My thoughts are with those in the northern hemisphere who are facing the same difficulties.

    1. @Erika, These are both good points – saving water while letting dry brush pile up and sacrificing the CO2 reduction can be counterproductive. I wish you the best for your fire season. California is suffering with our fires – even the city of Redding is burning. We never thought the cities would go.

  10. I think the value of virtue is not measured by the amount of self-denial but by the results – for other people or even the planet as a whole. Therefore taking many small steps which do not require too much effort may, in the end, be more effective than the one, great, life-changing decision which I may always consider but never take. Your shiny red bucket (you should keep it!) is an excellent example. And spending your weekend canvassing isn’t such a small step, either.

    1. @Eleonore, I am making that conceptual shift, from virtue being suffering and self-denial to it being something more like a good impact on the world. It will never leave me, I imagine, that sense that I am not virtuous, enough, but it was so unproductive that perhaps Sturdy Gal will simply put it in a cupboard under the stairs and move forward.

  11. Lisa,what a thought provoking question. I propose that this practice before called red bucketing, in your honor.

    1. @Anne Swire, I open my eyes wide in surprise and thank you very much.

      Can you imagine how wonderful to be remembered for some small assemblage of words that helped people to both do more good and feel less not good?

  12. The ethos of my husband’s Boston WASP family is that there is No Virtue Without Suffering. Hence, my picking up trash and recyclables on my daily walk down my beautiful wooded country road is a good thing to do, but too easy to be worthy of virtue points – plus I benefit personally from the more atrtactive look of the road, so no virtue there.

    But my monthly early Sunday morning trash detail on one of the three larger roads near our house, which is inconvenient, unpleasant, and somewhat dangerous, and which benefits me only tangentially, is definitely a feather in my virtue cap! Or so I am told …

    Your “red bucketing” is a good thing, and helps the planet in several ways, but your canvassing with your sister is several steps beyond, and deserves massive kudos – inconvenient, not always pleasant, possibly risky, but you do it in service to a greater good, beyond yourself.

    A role to which we should all aspire – while we are toting our own daily red buckets and doing the many small good things that can make a big difference.

    1. @Victoire, Ah I know that attitude well and I can only say that I am trying to move away from shame where it gets me nothing. Or, not shame really, the sense of inadequacy. Trying to move the needle just a bit on how I rate myself on my dial of inadequate to good enough to excellent.

      All of which is to say, I think you get virtue from the easy trash too.

  13. Whoops! How DO you spell “recyclables”? With an “-ables” or an “-ibles”? And sorry for the typo on “attractive” -my fat fingers typing too fast …

  14. Many thanks to you and your sister. Getting the vote out is key. We can only hope for a better tomorrow.

    1. @Susan, You are welcome. And canvassing gave me hope. The people were wonderful, and pragmatic, and hopeful, and friendly – America’s still out there.

  15. Brava for the red bucket and canvassing-so important if every one did a teeny tiny thing for our planet
    And for the sceptics,a bit of our poem :

    A waterfall flows, and flows, and flows
    What does my little drop mean to it?
    Look,a rainbow appears in the water,
    And it shines and trembles in thousands colours
    My little drop helps to create
    That dream in waterfall and makes it shine

    Dobrisa Cesaric
    ( translation: site/projectgoethe)

  16. I just finished assembling baby gifts for two new grandchildren of friends. The new parents are high social consciousness folks, which motivated me to recycle beautiful wrapping material I had salvaged from gifts received, as well as packing materials for the journey. The earth-aware packaging is very small thing, and I am glad that the awareness of the younger generation motivated me to do this while satisfying my need to walk in beauty.

  17. “Nevertheless she persisted… ”

    Thank you and sister for persisting…These are serious times that take strong women to persist…

    1. @Deede, I guess I use these little techniques to replace strength I may not have with small joys as incentive. It’s a lot easier to persist with something that makes you happy one way or another.

  18. I so love to be responsible to our planet and try every which way I can but feel so guilty every time I take a vacation to some far away place and think about all the jet fuel that is being used to get me where I want to see……

    1. @Janie, I imagine that going forward the airlines will find ways to let people purchase carbon offsets – and also to lower the fuel usage and pollutants of their planes. We all do things that are not perfect. Don’t feel guilty. There are lots of ways to make a difference.

  19. Looking at virtue under the aspect of how much suffering it causes to the virtous seems to me a very Protestant approach. (I may be wrong here, not knowing enough about the moral teachings of the Catholic church.) But they forget Ecclesiastes 3,12: “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.”

  20. What a great Idea. And I think canvassing is a great activity. I’m doing nothing but melting in the heat right now. But there will be other opportunities.

  21. Picking up rubbish when I am out and about. Avoiding plastic carrier bags and using my own bags when shopping. Giving people things. Not up-grading pointlessly and expensively. And I am going to get rid of my car because it is not used enough, has had a long life and is costing more than it is worth to me. This makes me feel relieved as long as I don’t anthropomorphise my old metal friend.

  22. Ah, the old bucket in the shower trick – always a feature of my childhood in boiling hot Adelaide, Australia. I can hear my mum calling out “put it on the gardenia!” as I (teenagely; grumpily) carried the takings out the laundry door.

    1. @Leanne, I looked up Tiny Habits, I found this video of BJ Fogg to be useful.

      I always cheer myself in the writing process:). I’m learning to do it more often about more things.

      Thanks for the resource – I recommend any other readers here take a look.

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