One of my strongest memories as a teenager is that of my father obsessing over the electricity bill. He would come home from work and do a thorough sweep of our house, room by room, to see if there were any lights left unnecessarily on. Upon entering a brightly lit but otherwise empty room (usually one of our bedrooms or the den) he’d flick the light switch down with more force than was necessary and shout, to no one in particular, “What is it, Christmas in here with all these lights on?!” and stomp off in search of further electricity wastage.
My younger siblings and I found this an odd thing to say as we are Jewish; our exposure to Christmas was through movies and TV commercials in December so basically children getting boat loads of presents, tinsel on towering pine trees and families wearing fluffy pajamas while drinking hot cocoa and marshmallows. I don’t remember seeing kids skipping from room to room, turning lights on and yelling “Best Christmas Ever! Yay!!!!”.
During these inspections we would try to look super busy with homework, studying or setting the table for dinner in the hopes of avoiding an interrogation which would inevitably lead to a lecture about bills, the value of a dollar and how we all needed to be less self-absorbed.
Fast forward many years and I’ve got my own family. We are lucky enough to live in a house with lights. Lights that are frequently left blazing in empty rooms. And now I understand what my father was raging about all those years.
My kids are kind, intelligent and best of all, they make me laugh. Sometimes in a good way. Despite that, it’s taken me years to get them to make their beds without being asked. My method? Repeatedly ask “Did you make your bed?” and when they said they did not, send them back up to make their beds. Simple. But not easy.
Applying the same method to towels on the floor, dirty plates left on the table and lights being left on is proving less successful. Not successful at all, actually.
I know it’s not just my kids, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many memes about how little they care about basic household maintenance, but I can’t be worried about everyone else’s problems when I’ve got my own to deal with. In my house, I’m the one who changes the lightbulbs. Early in my marriage, and without any conversation about it, it was established that I would be the one solely responsible for changing the bulbs. Probably because I’m the only one who’d be bothered by a burnt-out bulb. I don’t mind, but I’m not looking to climb up high on a ladder more often than is necessary and the longer the lights burn the faster I’m going to find myself back up on that ladder.
After years of chanting, “Don’t forget to shut your lights” on what feels like an endless loop, there is still a high incidence of noncompliance. If I close my eyes and listen very closely I’m sure I can hear my father, up in heaven, snickering at me with great satisfaction.
Not one to back down in the face of a challenge, I came up with what we now refer to as “The Light Jar”. If I pass by someone’s bedroom and they are not in it but the light is on, they have to cough up £1.00 (approx. $1.30). AND they have to go upstairs and switch off the light themselves.
I placed the jar prominently on the kitchen island above the snack cabinet, figuring that a visual aid combined with the desire to avoid parting with their pocket money would quickly solve the light problem.
And it more or less has, for 3 out of my 4 kids. Since its debut one month ago, the Light Jar has seen revenues totaling £19.00 plus 10 US dollars. (More on the dollars in a minute). $10.00 is the equivalent of roughly £7.00 which means that I’ve found the lights on in an empty room at least 26 times since the end of January. I say “at least” because I let a few transgressions slip by, further asserting my power through benevolence.
What will we use this money for? I’m open to suggestions, but I rather like the thought of it all going to a charitable organization that has the word “light” in its title. Or a spa day for me.
I don’t keep track of how many times each of them has had to pay, but I can safely estimate that around £9.00 in the jar came from 3 of my kids combined—the kids who this ingenious, reformative program is working on. The remaining £17.00 were the contributions of one child alone. I’ll say he’s a male child, but that’s all I’ll say. That child ran out of Great British Pounds and had to dig into his US dollar reserves so now I’m in the business of running a currency exchange desk, it would seem.
The looming threat of the Jar is no match for the teenage brain that’s got more pressing matters to deal with, and I doubt that at his age I was any better, but other than removing all of the lightbulbs from his bedroom and making him buy them back one by one, I’m fresh out of ideas.
Then it’s just a matter of me waiting for the circle of life to turn enough so that I can, hopefully, see my grandchildren carry on our great power-wasting tradition while do my best to contain my own snickering.