The Ecology of Dirt

Don't wash them.I have been musing, of late, about ecology and the ways in which ordinary (lazy) people like myself can make a positive contribution to our environment. In running over the possibilities, I have returned, again and again, to the subject of DIRT. I believe that there are several untapped avenues that may have positive effect with little effort and no cost. What’s more, the benefits — both tangible and intangible — will handsomely repay those small efforts. These actions are accessible to everyone. No training is needed. In fact, the couch potatoes among us will discover rich soil in which to flourish and finally to assume a position of leadership. The two areas of impact to be discussed are environmental and personal. In order to bring us along gradually, I will focus, this week, on Environmental Impact.

Our first non-effort involves windows and is simply this: Do Not Wash Them.

The benefits of this simple inaction are many. Over time, a… shall we say, patina will form on the surface of your windows. This will yield a pleasingly artistic effect that will transform even the most mundane vista into an Impressionist paradise. However, art is not our focus (nor, indeed, will the outside world be, after a while). Here are some of the benefits to be accrued:

Protection from the sun’s harmful rays. This refers not only to personal protection but also to protection for your belongings. Blocking the interior light will retard deterioration of bedding, upholstery, clothing, rugs and other textiles, thereby conserving money that otherwise would be spent on replacement. And speaking of finances, consider how much better your books will sell on eBay if the spines aren’t faded.  

Insulation.  Keep the house cooler in summer, which will minimize negative impact from air conditioning (yes, I know, we can do without a/c but we are discussing things people are willing to do, not a Utopian ideal). And let us not discount the benefits of sound absorption. No longer will a white noise machine be required to keep you from clubbing your partner over the head when the snoring becomes unbearable. Taken to its logical conclusion, then, this simple step might well insulate you from years in prison…

Economy. In addition to saving money on cooling your home, consider the money you will save by not having to purchase curtains and blinds at all. And the savings extend beyond that, into the area of … 

Reduce landfill.

Personal Health. Eliminating all that dust-catching fabric will reduce allergic reactions, thereby reducing expenditure and need for allergy medicine, tissues, eye drops and doctor visits. Furthermore, the reduction in the volume of tissues used means less waste/landfill. If you already have made the switch to cloth hankies (bravo), you will save money and preserve environment by not having to launder them as frequently since you won’t sneeze as much. 

Privacy and Security. Be as uninhibited in your home as you choose and never again worry about whether someone is watching and, perhaps, preparing to achieve fame (by uploading the resulting you tube video) or fortune (by blackmail) from the resulting glimpse. Furthermore, would-be burglars will be foiled in their attempts to “case your joint” (no, not Peeping Toms — they’ve already been discussed) by never knowing when or whether you are at home.

Your harvest

Clean Air and a Harvest. Here is where the real beauty of the plan comes to the fore. As layers of dirt build on the surfaces of your windows, they become perfect hosts to a variety of small plants. Simply embed seeds in the substrate and wait for them to grow. (Hint: do not plant watermelon. Corn also is not recommended.) When your garden does grow, you will benefit from improved air quality as well as aesthetic satisfaction from viewing natural foliage. Ahh, and don’t forget harvest time. A really determined effort can produce as much as a cup of berries. You will savor each delicious morsel, knowing that these are indeed the fruits of your lack of labor. 

Relaxation. Of course, there will be times when nothing is blooming in your little window paradise. Never fear. Simply retrieve the little wooden rake from the Zen garden you so enjoyed (until your cat pooped in the sand) and once again give yourself the pleasure of tracing random patterns in the dirt.

bigdirtupperIn conclusion, we can only say that dirt has long been an undervalued tool in the preservation of our personal ecosystems. Perhaps there will come a time when phrases like you dirty so-and-so, you are dirt under my feet, or what a dirty mind you have will be accolades of the highest order. 

That ends today’s lesson. Please join us next week when we explore the benefits of not bathing. Our subtopics will include: Dirt, A Natural Sun Block; Cleanliness May Be Next to Godliness but Dirt Keeps Sick People Away from You; Neglect to Bathe and Always Get a Seat to Yourself on the Bus.

Author Note: To be serious for moment, let me just say that many people and organizations are doing innovative work to improve our planet and our daily lives. I will point you to one project that is a personal favorite. Growing Power  is a group whose mission is helping “communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time.” Get involved either hands-on or by donating money to help them reach more people.

Note: This is a republication of a piece written several years ago.


  1. I fell out reading about the zen garden with the cat poop. And do you remember the Pogo strip where Churchy (I think) was going to make his fortune selling the Housewife’s Secret Imgredient: DIRT! (You can’t clean house without it!)

    And Joan River’s line (or was it Phyllis Diller?) ‘My oven’s so dirty I can only bake a single cupcake!’


    • Lol. I don’t remember them but if having dirt is the magic ingredient for a clean house then mine is spotless. I once bought and framed a card with a picture of a woman crouched on top of her frig. The caption was: Inordinate Fear of Housework.


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