Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Last week we went about our usual activities, but without electric lights. I think we were inspired by Earth Day and Lights Out day, but we were really just seeking an adventure, a way to go somewhere else while staying home. The kids and I were all equally excited about it, and Joe went along.

We started with a meeting last Sunday after dinner, to discuss concerns and make accommodations. The first concern was Little's: he uses his fish tank light as a night light, and he felt strongly that he couldn't get to sleep without it. So we decided he could continue to use his fish tank light at night. The second concern was Joe's: he felt that it would be dangerous to use knives in the kitchen without strong lighting, and we agreed, so he also got an accommodation.

We then scurried around the house, finding flashlights and putting candles in candlesticks, so we would be ready when the sun went down. I rushed upstairs to take my lenses out before it got dark. We located matches and lighters, and established some rules for safe candle use: light candles only if an adult is watching over you, and don't leave a room with a lit candle in it. That first evening was exciting, like camping out in our house. It was peaceful, and more quiet, somehow.

The next morning was gloomy, as gloomy as Central NY ever gets. Really gloomy. Dark outside, and no sunlight coming through our windows, just a gray drizzly paleness. We did school at the table as usual, but with candles lit on the table. It occurred to me that we should probably have checked the weather before we embarked on our grand experiment.

We discovered two more essential lights that morning. Most of our Legos are kept in the basement, away from Cricket's chewing teeth. The basement has no windows, and for Little, a week without Legos would be impossible. I think he would just wither up and blow away. So we agreed that he could use the basement light for the week. I also discovered that our closet light is completely essential. Our main downstairs closet is deep, and away from any windows. I suppose we could have fumbled around in the dark or with a flashlight to find jackets, but since if we're looking for jackets, that usually means we're supposed to be somewhere soonish, I decided that in the interest of sanity, we'd better just use the light.

And then we got used to it. The rest of the week was sometimes gloomy, sometimes sunny, but we didn't miss the lights during the day at all. In the evening, we were happy to get everything done before the sun went down.

I think the experiment was successful, although Big disputes this. He really didn't like not being able to read up in his room after dinner.

Here are my general observations:

1. I am much more conscious about turning a light on during the day. Now that I know I can function without it, I'm more likely to leave it off. I think this is true for all four of us, and I'm pretty sure our electric use will fall significantly, just by introducing this element of awareness.

2. Electric lighting keeps us awake. We all went to sleep earlier during the experiment.

3. Electric lighting extends the useful part of the day, which is not really a benefit. Given that I'm never really ever done with housework anyway, it was really nice that the sun set and put an end to my scurrying around. Anything left undone could wait until tomorrow.

4. Big is much less likely to disappear into his room to read a book at night if he can't see well enough to read. In general, all four of us were together a lot more in the evenings.

5. If we did this all the time, I wouldn't read very much, and I'd knit a lot less. I really can't knit by candlelight very well, and I don't have much time while the sun is up to sit down and read for pleasure.

6. I can, however, spindle spin by candlelight. Pretty easily.

7. It is entirely possible to do Sudoku by flashlight.

8. Interestingly, we never did use Joe's dispensation to use electric lights in the kitchen while cutting something. Dinner got made before the sun went down, and on the few occasions that the dishes weren't yet washed when darkness fell, we either left them for the morning or did them by candlelight.

9. We have friends who are extremely good sports. Our friends Alison and AK were up from NYC with their son for the weekend, and we gave them carte blanche to use lights however they saw fit while they were here. The first evening found us all sitting around a few candles chatting after the kids were in bed, with nary a complaint.


Granna Judy said...

Amazing, the ideas that you come up with! Will you be doing it again sometime?

elsie deluxe said...

I think we're going to keep doing it one week of every month. Should be interesting...

Michaeliris said...

It seems like its worth making a distinction between using only (or at least largely) dim light and using only non-electric light. I think if you made non-electric light a permanent practice you would soon acquire some bright lamps with cylindrical mantles, which would allow you to knit and read easily.

A related experiment could be to limit your use of water to what you collect in containers from somewhere slightly inconvenient — say the hose bib outside. We conducted this experiment for a few days, involuntarily, following our December ice storm. We had it easy, because we got water from Community Hall just a few hundred feet away, but it was a considerable inconvenience, and it certainly made me think more about water usage.

Lindsay said...

This is quite a cool experiment. I find that I prefer natural light, but I've never actually tried no electric light for a length of time. We might be trying that. Certainly it will be easier in the summer, but maybe that's the reminder that we need to use less electricity. Hmm. Thanks for writing about it to give me something to think about. :)

Ipo said...

the summer months will be perfect for this since the sun is up so much longer... D is always turning lights off in the house, which is a good lesson yet sometimes annoying :-)

JoVE said...

What a great experiment. Will think about trying it ourselves sometime.

Casey said...

Oh, man, we have got to try out your experiment for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Interesting...so much of what we do here is electricity dependent, and light dependent. Though I do try not to have the lights on during the day when I can easily sit by a window. I also have a big, old-fashioned oil lamp, but I've never used it enough to really understand how to use it properly.

Awareness is just a simple, but huge thing, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Great experiment and look forward to mentioning this to the family. We were inspired, several years ago, by the PBS Colonial House (they did Victorian House and a bunch of others) and we had a couple days w/out electricity. Wow. We all learned how dependent we were! And I remember the going to bed earlier thing.