The opening chapter of my first book was about time, not the most obvious aspect of “home ecology.” A book called Time Wars had just been published and I was fascinated by it, and very much conscious of time shortage in my own life. But looking back on this in 2012 I am astonished by the fact that I read Time Wars (and really read, front to back) and many other books then, far more than I read now. I can’t help wondering if the time I now spend on email and Twitter used to be spent reading. Here’s how Home Ecology (London: Arlington Books, 1989) opens:

When I told a close friend that I was researching things each of us could do to solve environment problems. I expected her to be enthusiastic and was surprised at her reaction. ‘I care, of course,’ she said, ‘but I don’t have time to do anything extra. I wish I did.’ Her life was so full and sometimes so difficult, with two children and a job to juggle, that she thought I was going to make her feel guilty about not doing enough.
Surveys show that women, and mothers in particular, are the group most concerned about the environment. But they are the people who have least time to spare. One survey of working mothers found that they talked about sleep as a starving person talks about food. When I suggested switching to cloth nappies or making soup with kitchen leftovers, their first reaction was often “I don’t have time for things like that!”

I, too, have children and husband and job, as well as aspirations to find a little time for myself, and I decided to start the Green Home with a chapter about time – because our waking hours are what we start with, in any new venture, on any new path. Before looking at particular environmental issues, we need to think about how we can find the time and energy to make changes in the way we live. After all, the way we spend our time is a reflection of our values. Only you can decide about your own days and years, and taking time to consider how you want to spend the time of your life is the first step in creating a green home.

You may also worry that a green home is going to cost too much, so the next chapter deals with the second half of the Time + Money equation. But first let’s look at the way time – or our perception of it – makes us tick.

I’m amused now to see how I quote all the requisite people – E. F. Schumacher, Ivan Illich, and many more – in the pages of a book that was then serialized in women’s magazines and the Daily Express. Here’s a section of the chapter with some tips:

Beyond this, we all have patterns of time use that may not reflect what we really want and value in our lives. We talk about ‘quality time,’ which means not much of it. We talk about ‘killing time,’ waiting for something good to happen. Some people suffer from compulsive busyness, every minute carefully preplanned in a datebook. Others want to retreat from the many conflicts of modern life, becoming couch potatoes who retire each evening with a microwave meal and a stack of videotapes. Here are a few suggestions for those who want to become more attuned to the passage of time:
* Take your watch off for a day or two over the weekend. Does it really matter whether it is 2:36 or 2:39? Eat when you feel hungry; go to bed when you get tired.
* Get involved in a time consuming craft like pottery or knitting or bookbinding, and get to know a different rhythm of work, creating something that will probably outlast you.
* Spend half an hour or so walking every day for a week – just walking, not going anywhere. Get to know your neighborhood or a stretch of rural footpath, and use the time for quiet reflection away from the daily demands of home and family.
* Do something extraordinary for someone you care about without spending any money. This will mean a gift of your time, in some way or other, and is a good way to show how you value your relationships.

And here’s how the chapter ends:

There are always trade-offs as we move through our lives with limited time and resources. Pace yourself. Don’t try to turn your life upside down, and don’t feel guilty because you continue to drive your children to music lessons. Keep looking for options and evaluating your choices. And take time to enjoy and learn about the beautiful world we live in.

Quite accidentally, the e-letter I sent out yesterday, over 20 years later, was about exactly that. Click here to read “Knowledge is power,” my Berkshire Publishing Group letter for May.