The wasteful Dominguez family

In February 2008, Lisa Ling gave viewers a look inside the subculture of freegans, people who chose to shun consumerism in favor of living with less. While most people are not going to go to that extreme, everyone can learn to be less wasteful—after all, Americans make up just 5 percent of the world's population but use 25 percent of the world's energy resources.

The Dominguez family admits they're wasteful. The kids—Joe Jr., Jessica and Lauren—are picky eaters, so mom Tina makes four different meals for the family and throws out the leftovers. Sometimes, the family skips her meals entirely and buys fast food instead. They load up their shopping cart with $200 of food even though their refrigerator is already full, and Tina says they end up throwing a lot of it away. Their garbage cans burst with bags by Sunday—but trash day isn't until Wednesday.

The family also uses a lot of heat and electricity. Joe Sr. says they spend about $200 a month on electricity and nearly $800 on gas heat.

The bills, like the trash, keep piling up. "Some months, I have to borrow money," Joe Sr. says. "If I get a bonus, I can pay back my mother or friend. Right now, I'm on the brink of, borderline, where I'm going to lose everything."
The Dominguez family takes the challenge.

Can this family of wasters live with less? The Dominguezes get a special delivery to their New Jersey home—a challenge from Oprah.

"Tina and Joe, no more making multiple meals for the family," Oprah writes. "At your house, there is only one breakfast and one dinner being served. That means no trips to fast food restaurants, no catering to individual tastes. And you're all eating leftovers.

"Get ready to spend more time together because the TV is going off. You can watch one television for one hour a day. Pack away the iPods and the video games, and your computers only get turned on for homework.

"That thermostat is going down to 70 degrees. If you get cold, put on a sweater. Want to go shopping? Head to your closets. I hear there's lots of things in there you've never worn. The mall is off-limits to your entire family.

"Can't wait to see how you do. Good luck!"

Could your family do this for a week? Get the rules for your own "Live with Less" challenge.
The Dominguez family struggles in the challenge.

On the first day of their challenge, Tina buys a recycling bin and recycles for the first time. For dinner, she makes just one meal for her family.

Not everyone reacts well to the changes. Jessica says she cried herself to sleep the first night. "It's only been a day, and nothing felt the same," she says. "I didn't have my laptop. I didn't have a cell phone. It was really hard."

Joe Sr. wakes up to find the thermostat is not at the challenge temperature of 70. Instead, it's turned all the way up to 82! Meanwhile, he finds more challenge no-nos—the lights have been left on in empty rooms, Tina has fallen asleep in front of the TV, and Jessica lets the water run in the bathroom while she's shaving her legs.

While Tina says giving up television was the hardest part of the challenge, the kids say they struggled the most without their computers.
Jessica quits the challenge.

Five days into the challenge, the Dominguezes have adapted to some of the changes. They eat together as a family and don't throw out leftovers. Unfortunately, there's also been some cheating—Jessica bought some junk food, and Tina purchased five pairs of reading glasses!

On the sixth day, one of the Dominguezes has had enough. Tina finds Jessica watching a movie in her room. "I give up," she says. "Mom, I want to finish my movie."

What movie lured Jessica into quitting the challenge on the very last day? "Titanic," she says, even though she admits she's already seen it "about 10" times.
The Dominguez family

Finishing the seven-day challenge was important to the whole family. Joe Jr. says he probably had the easiest time with the challenge and ended up patrolling the rest of the family for cheating. "I think it was really beneficial," he says. "I think they learned a lot of good life lessons from it."

While Lauren says she struggled with what to do without her cell phone and computer, Joe Sr. says he found plenty to occupy his kids' time. "They could take time shutting things off. They could take time putting things away. They could take time doing laundry. They could take time going outside cleaning up, helping with dinner," he says. "There are lots of things I could find."

The Dominguezes say that even though the challenge is over, they won't be returning to their old ways. "We never realized how much we wasted. We just spoiled the kids and let them buy what they wanted on the computer with no time limits," Tina says. "We're a changed family."
Kriss and Tim Burbee

After watching Lisa Ling's special report about the freegan lifestyle, a mother from Indiana says she started thinking about the wasteful habits in her own household.

Like many families, Kriss Burbee, her husband, Tim, and their children, Lily and Tommy, go their separate ways after supper. On any given evening, Kriss says you can find Tim in one room watching television while their 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son play video games in another part of the house.

Kriss isn't the only one frustrated by her family's wastefulness. Every night when Tim gets home from work, he says he notices how many lights are left on throughout the house. "The house is lit up like a Christmas tree," he says. "It's one of my pet peeves." 

"I realized that we waste way too much time and money on unnecessary things," Kriss says. "I would just like to go back to basics, and maybe we will all learn how to talk again."

Tommy, Lily, Tim and Kriss Burbee

Not only are the Burbees using a lot of electricity, they're also throwing out hundreds of dollars worth of groceries every month. "I go grocery shopping at least twice a week. Yesterday's trip was $200," Kriss says. "I probably throw away, at the very least, 25 percent of whatever I've bought." Though she saves leftovers, Kriss says they hardly ever get eaten.

The Burbees also go through a roll of paper towels every day and use more than their fair share of paper plates and plastic cups.

Over the years, Kriss says her children's unhealthy habits have started to concern her. Lily loves the taste of Starbucks steamed vanilla drinks, which she gets twice a week, and Tommy plays video games three to five hours a day.

Kriss says her son's video game addiction is what made her realize they needed to make a change.
Kriss reads the list of rules.

The Burbee family agrees to abide by their own set of "Live with Less" rules for seven days. They are asked to eat every meal at home, give up their bottled water and soda habits, limit their use of electronics and get rid of disposable plates, cups, napkins and paper towels.

To start the week off right, Kriss packs a picnic lunch for her family to eat after church instead of going to a restaurant. "I have noticed that we are the only people in the entire park with cloth napkins, but I kind of think it's cute," she says.

At first, Tim struggles with Oprah's five-minute shower rule. "That's a race against the clock, let me tell you," he says. "I'm not so sure I'm getting clean, and I think my wife's noticing."

On the third day, Kriss adds a rule of her own to save gas. Instead of driving Lily to school, Kriss tells her to take the bus, which doesn't go over well. "I hate the bus," Lily says.

Tommy has the toughest time adjusting to life without his computer and video games. "I can't live without it!" he tells his dad. "It's my only thing. ... I'm not doing it. Stupid, dumb experiment."
Tommy playing a video game

Kriss says seeing Tommy cry about electronics makes her realize she's been irresponsible with how much time she's allowed her children to watch TV and play games.

"It made me sick to my stomach to watch him so out of his element, not knowing what to do with himself after the first couple days," she says. "He would go from room to room, wandering around, not knowing what to do. My son is 5, and I am riddled with guilt."

Looking back, Kriss says watching Tommy adjust to life without video games was like watching an addict go through withdrawal. "I used to watch the show Intervention. Just seeing some of the drug addicts, the heroin addicts—you'd see the same reaction. They were unreasonable," she says. "He didn't understand, 'We're cutting you off.' He hated me, and it made me feel terrible."

Though it was an uphill battle, by the end of day three, things start looking up for this family. Instead of retreating to their rooms, Lily and Tommy choose to sit on the couch and read a book together. "It's a beautiful moment at the Burbee house," Kriss says.
A Burbee family bike ride

On day four, the Burbee family begins embracing their new lifestyle. Instead of watching sports one night, Tim chooses to read his children to sleep.

During the day, the family goes for bike rides, and at night, they play board games to pass the time. "At first, it was to keep them occupied because we didn't want to break a rule," Kriss says. "After a while, everything just got kind of natural."

Tim says he's proud of his children for not asking to turn on the television and proud of his wife for cutting back on the amount of food she wastes.

Near the end of the challenge, Lily says she still misses her Starbucks drinks, but she doesn't want things to go back to the way they used to be. "The experiment is really helping our family," she says. "We get more time together, and I just really love being around my family more. We're going to keep doing it."
Tim and Kriss Burbee

Tim and Kriss also want to preserve the sense of togetherness they felt during the seven-day challenge. Before they started living by the rules, Tim says the first thing he'd do when he climbed into bed every night was turn on the TV. If his children were lying next to him, he says he'd shush them so he could hear the program. Now, things are much different.

"My kids wake up in the morning, and we talk," Kriss says. "They don't ever ask to watch TV. ... It's been good for my marriage because there is no TV on in the bedroom, and we're talking, all of us."

After the challenge ended, Kriss says she and Tim sat down and came up with a new set of rules that they plan to enforce from now on. Each family member will be limited to a seven-minute shower and one hour of television a day, unless they're watching a family movie. Telephone calls are also restricted to five minutes.

Kriss says Tommy's video games are still stored in a box, and he hasn't asked for them since the challenge ended. If he does ask for them some day, Kriss says he'll only be allowed to play for 30 minutes at a time, twice a day.

"We were checked out," she says. "We're checked in now."

Just a few years ago, Shannelle says she was living the life many people dream about. She was making a six-figure salary, wearing designer clothes and dining out four nights a week. Then, in 2006, she watched one of Oprah's Debt Diet shows.

"Before I saw the Debt Diet show, I was focused on just consuming and not really knowing what I was consuming," she says. "I had the hottest, the latest, the cutest, the best. I lived in 675 square feet, and I couldn't understand where my money was going."

Shannelle made the decision to cut back and live on less. "I don't think I had any idea before how wasteful I was," she says. "A lot of things I thought I needed, I didn't anymore. ... Now, more closet space represents the uncluttering of my life."

Instead of going to the beauty salon once a week, Shanelle now goes once every eight weeks and does her own hair at home. She's also cut her grocery bill down to $30 a week. "I want to make sure that I only use what I need, not what's available to me," she says. "Life is not about spending. It's about living."
Harpo employees use 1,600 cups a day.

Changing habits to be less wasteful can be hard, but it can also save you a lot of money. Oprah should know. Harpo goes through about 1,600 paper cups a day—or 32,000 cups a month—which employees use for water, coffee and tea. Some people even double their waste by "double cupping."

All that waste adds up to serious money. Harpo spends approximately $41,000 each year on disposable paper cups!

In the spirit of this show and honoring our planet, Oprah declared April 14, 2008, "No Paper Cup Day" at Harpo. Every single paper cup was locked up. "Fortunately, there were no riots at the coffee machines," Oprah says. "I'm proud to say everybody figured it out. In fact, are you listening, Harpo? I'm making it permanent. ... Maybe you at home can do this at your company too."
FROM: What Would You Dare to Live Without?
Published on June 12, 2009


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