May 29, 2018

People Have The Power Challenge

No electricity? No problem for this muscle powered laundry center.

It hasn't even been 100 years since electric powered consumer goods were beginning to be common. Before electricity, homes were dominated by human-powered devices. Life was harder, slower, and often, more enjoyable. The people had the power.

Take my grandparents, for example. They lived in a era when North America saw the implementation of the power grid and the electrical devices that came with it. 

However, when my family visited them in the 1960s, their home and yard were still largely hand powered. I loved to go into their basement where grandpa had a workshop packed full with an extensive collection of hand tools. He made wood art and furniture.

When I went out into their yard, a reel mower waited for me to blow off my restless energy and cut the lawn at the same time. It was not a chore - I liked it. Trimming was done with a big set of shears that grandpa sharpened carefully himself. 

To me, a product of the age of electricity, the old tools and devices were beautiful and functional. They hold a romantic appeal, hearkening back to a time when our heroic ancestors got by with only their muscles and simple tools and devices.

In the kitchen, grandma did not have electric gadgets on the counter, even though at the time they were hooked to the grid. Her arms and hands lovingly interacted with all ingredients, and kneaded dough and chopped and made magic right on the counter top. 

What got me thinking about my grandparents human powered life was a reader comment that said, "In my home we are gradually phasing out electrical items as they break to see how little can we live with and still have a satisfying life." (Thanks Madeleine.)

I think that is a laudable goal that makes sense for our less energy intensive future, when we will have to shave kilowatt hours off our energy footprints. 

It also reminds me of James Howard Kunstler's 2008 novel "World Made By Hand". This novel explores a future post-everything USA scenario, and is set in a small rural community. There is no government, no maintenance of infrastructure, no fossil fuelled transportation, no tractors, and no electricity.

Hence, it explores a human powered future, much like the one we recently left behind us only a few generations ago. Some describe it as a dystopian novel, but it could also be seen as a utopia, depending on how attached to modern creature comforts you are. 

There are also cleaner rivers that teem with fish, a brighter night sky, stronger community bonds, fresher organically grown food, and a quiet such as few had ever heard in their previous modern lifestyles.

There are characters in the book that enjoy the post-apocalyptic hand powered world better than the one that briefly preceded it. As I read through this set of novels, I found that Kunstler was describing a world that I wouldn't mind joining.

Therefore, I propose a "People Have The Power Challenge". 

The goal? To gradually phase out as many electrical tools, gadgets and devices as possible. 

Intended results? Reduced dependence on Big Utility Corps., cutting your energy footprint, eliminating the need for new power generation (whether it is green or not), adopting more appropriate technology for a new lower energy world, and re-engaging with a slower, more connected, and enjoyable way of life.

Providing electrical power to the grid is a massive endeavour any way you look at it. Whether it is hydro, coal, gas, or nuclear, or even solar, wind or geothermal, all have their own negative impacts and unintended consequences. 

Therefore, instead of looking at increasing our electrical capacity (even if it is touted as green/sustainable), we should be reducing our reliance on that power.

Are we headed toward a resurgence of people powered lifestyles? What powered devices could you live without? 

Join us in the "People Have The Power Challenge", and see what powered tools, gadgets and devices you can do without. You will be practiced and ready for any potential future scenario, dystopian, or utopian.

I vote for a utopian future, where the people use their power to get all sorts of things done. In the home, the workshops, and on the streets.


  1. Anonymous5/29/2018

    Hello Gregg,

    I think you and Linda have raided my kitchen drawers! Many of my tools are of the vintage shown, and still work beautifully. We are waiting for the dishwasher to die so we can reclaim some cupboard space. I think I will find it challenging not to have the dishwasher option on days I work away from home. I have become used to this 'luxury' item for sure.

    I have been doing without my electric blender and am wishing for a mouli for my birthday (it's a French stainless steel mill used for hand-blending soups, pasta sauce etc...) I have always used a suri bachi for pureeing foods - it's a Japanese clay bowl and wooden pestle. The bowl has a serrated surface on the inside making it perfect for grinding things like sesame seeds, guacamole etc...I am coveting a hand washing machine like the one you've shown!

    I found some inspiring videos you and your readers might enjoy. They are of a young Chinese woman who lives in the countryside with her grandmother. They demonstrate how to do many things from scratch, using the most basic tools. Not a bit of plastic or an electrical cable in sight! Here is one where she makes tofu from scratch - right from picking the soy beans in the field, to grinding them in a stone mill and then making the tofu In case the link doesn't work look for Li Ziqi - A Fairy on youtube.

    She has many cooking videos and also shows things like how to make a pair of cloth shoes the traditional way. My only disappointment is that most videos are not translated into English (she doesn't speak, but titles come up to tell you what she is cooking etc...) It is worth a look around as you will see different ways of cooking outdoors (not the $1000 BBQ lots of people have now) and some beautiful countryside in some of the videos.


  2. This is awesome and something that's very much on my mind right now. We also are paying twice what we were paying at our old house for power, simply because our electric hot water cylinder is so huge. Very unhappy about it as we don't need one this big, but to take it out and replace it will be expensive too! We can use almost no hot water and the cost is still enormous simply because the whole jolly thing heats up at night. I think I could do without lots of electrical stuff, and I"m getting into practise now. I also have a kitchen drawer like yours Gregg :) There's nothing wrong with doing things by hand, I think we have gotten lazy/too busy and simply lost the knowledge of how to do things the old fashioned way. There's also this constant upgrading and getting better electrical /stuff, whether its kitchen gadgets or'other things. I still own an electric hand beater and blender, both of which must be a solid 20 years old. They work fine, so no need to upgrade there. I also have non electric ones!
    Madeleine- I"ve watched some of those videos from that lady and they are amazing! So gentle but so informative. She does everything so gracefully.

    1. Anonymous5/31/2018

      Hello again Karen,

      I asked around about turing the water heater off and a friend had talked to his plumber about this. The plumber said don't do it as it can blow up your water heater. The plumber also advised that it is fine to turn the temperature down, but not too low or bacteria can start to grow in your tank. So a bit more research might be needed...


  3. Anonymous5/30/2018

    Hello Karen,

    I heard somewhere that you can actually turn your water heater off - I think in the mornings - and then turn it back on at night to save money. You would have to research this before you try it as it could depend on the type of water heater. You could also try turning the temperature down on the water heater as often they are set far higher than we need, and can easily scald children too.

    I'm sympathising with you on electricity costs. My bill just arrived and tells me our power usage is down 7.6% compared with the same billing period last year. However, the cost of the bill was UP by 13.26% in in spite of our lower usage. This tells me that the actual cost of electricity is therefore up by MORE than 13.26% (I am just too lazy to do the maths right now).

    I'm thinking perhaps we should just donate the dish washer to someone who would like it rather than waiting for it to stop working....I'm thinking more hand washing...I'm thinking keep food in the cool box with ice from our freezer and switch the fridge off for the Winter....

    Glad you enjoyed the videos, it is heartening to see old skills and tools, and especially a young person using them.


  4. Anonymous5/31/2018

    I live in the suburbs, and several in our neighborhood use hired landscapers for their yards. That means lots of noise, for what sometimes feels like for hours on end,of leaf blowers and lawn mowers. Not only it is noise pollution, it is air pollution as these are all gas powered. I close my windows on a lovely spring day often to keep out the noise and smell. As for my own yard, I was using an electric grass mower and electric edge trimmer - until this year. If I hate the noise so much, I needed to do my part and use non-powered items. So I now use a non-motorized push grass mower, and I clip edges with a large clipper, similar to what you describe, Gregg. Just my little part of doing it by hand and reducing the pollution.

    Madeline, we only hand wash dishes. Sometimes it's a real pain, but not usually. And we use our old dishwasher as the drying rack for those dishes - keeps them off the counter. Lastly, we lived for several weeks last year without a fridge as our old one died and the new one was on back order. We have a small freezer and kept rotating out frozen water bottles in the coolers that held our fresh food. None of our food spoiled, we didn't get sick. But I have to admit, I was happy when our new fridge arrived.

    Thanks for the pictures, love them.


  5. I recognized every one of the hand powered gadgets here. Imagine, back when we used those people didn't buy memberships to gyms for exercise. Our regular life and use of hand powered tools was all the exercise we needed. What a great post, Gregg!


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