Kicking my 30-year habit

by Franke James

newspapers photo by Franke James

Society says “It’s so hard to change.”

But curiously it wasn’t that hard for me to break a 30-year habit… (And one that I loved passionately.)

Perhaps because I viewed it as an “experiment” that I could stop at any time? Or, was it because I viewed “kicking the habit” as a game — and I chose to observe my behavior like a scientist and take notes? Or maybe the real truth was, I was just sick of the mountains of recycling it generated (and also wanted to save some cash).

Whatever, the explanation — I was ready for a change. And it was surprisingly easy and fun.

head illustration by Franke James

On January 21st, I stopped our two newspaper subscriptions (after 30+ years) and embarked on a “No-Newsprint Diet” where I would only read news online. This was a huge change that I could not have seen myself making one year ago.

newspapers photo by Franke James


It all started with dissatisfaction: “I’m not reading all these papers –- and I’m recycling 13 newspapers a week! There has to be a better way.”

newspapers photo by Franke James


My desire to go paperless was helped along by the many media stories about the imminent demise of the newspaper industry.

Text illustration by Franke James, Tombstone photo: istockphoto by LordRunar

I figured it was just a matter of time before they gasped their last breath, so I’d better jump into the online news-world right now. I’m almost at the three month mark in my “No-Newsprint Diet.” How has the experiment worked?

laptop photo by Franke James

Tangible Benefits

1. Reduced waste dramatically -– our recycling bin is no longer bursting.
2. Saved money — $60/month. (But I’m sure the newspapers will start charging, and I wouldn’t mind paying… honestly!)
3. I enjoy being my own news curator. Now I read articles from all over the world, with no editorial filter. (And I read way more articles about the environment than our Canadian papers run.)
4. The news is more interactive now as I tweet the interesting articles I find online.
5. I enjoy reading the news on a laptop — and haven’t spilled coffee on it yet!
6. I finally taught myself how to use the multi-touch trackpad – a big victory! And freed myself from the tyranny of the mouse.

screen shot of Mac trackpad demo

And I actually read (and finish) more books! I recently read SWITCH by Chip and Dan Heath. It is a terrific book if you’re looking for ways to make change happen. It can help you understand what’s blocking the change you want — and how to go about removing those roadblocks and making change happen.

books photo by Franke James

But the unexpected benefit from this small victory is that it gives me confidence to tackle other bad habits that are bothering my green conscience.

no junk mail collage photo by Franke James

I put up a “No Junk Mail” sign.

no junk mail collage photo by Franke James

While it’s not pretty, it does work! Our home is so much cleaner without the piles of newspapers and junk mail. I can’t imagine going back. And besides, with all that money I’m saving maybe I can buy….

no junk mail collage photo by Franke James

But then again — this inaugural version will be e-waste in no time. I think I’ll hold off until it’s absolutely essential and I can’t resist any longer. Buying tech toys is another bad habit I have to kick.

Or maybe I should buy it? Digital is the future of publishing…

And THIS will shake up the book design world…

Kicking my 30-year habit © 2010 Franke James, MFA
Writing, illustrations and photos by Franke James (except NASA earth, the graveyard photo by istockphoto, and the screen shot of the trackpad demo).

25 Responses: 7 Comments and 18 Tweets

  • Daharja says:

    E-waste is about right.

    I bought my first PalmPilot in 1988.
    My next in 2000.
    And my next in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

    No, I wasn’t just junking them – they were junking me. They kept going deceased on me – screens would fail, memory would keel over, they got broken and just DIED.

    I remember reading about planned obsolescence. And when I finally saw the light, and worked out I’d spent over $2000 on Palm Pilots in less than a decade, I realized it was about time I planned the obsolescence of the PalmPilot.

    So I went and bought myself a little hardcover paper diary.
    Cost $8.

    I’ve replaced it every year.
    Cost each year: $8.
    Sometimes less.

    You know what I think of those IPads and other e-lusties?
    I think they’ll be e-garbage before their e-owners can blink.


    (typing away merrily on a 4 year old, secondhand PowerBook G4)

  • Suzanne Long says:

    Love your visual essays! Thanks.

    I’ve done the same thing, haven’t had a newspaper delivered in several years. I don’t often miss them (except the occasional NYT magazine and Globe’s Saturday Birth and Deaths…) but controlling my consumer lust for sleek gadgets is much harder.

    On another semi-related note, I wonder now long it will be before folks come to look at excessive email (spam, bacn, topposting etc.) as we now look at our bulging recycling boxes?

  • Andreas says:

    As much as I like Your visual essays, I beg to dissent.

    You are reading your online papers on a laptop connected via … wifi/wlan/broadband? Although the laptop itself is quite economical in terms of energy consumption, the whole IT environment sits there all day and the meter is running. Running at quite an environmental cost.

    I found out, that nearly 30% of my total electricity-bill is due to computing. (OK a bit more equipment than just one laptop, but still … before my measurements, I expected only some 10%).

    Electricity has quite a large environmental footprint in most countries (atomic energy, coal power plants anyone?) that may even exceed the footprint of a daily paper, which can be (and is, in my case) recycled after having been read by at least 3 people. I did not do the maths on this, but online/paperless does not come for free. If you start counting the (environmental) costs of all these gadgets, that have a lifetime of 3-4 years max (if you don’t spill coffee on them earlier) the balance might really tip towards traditional paper.

    So, my premium habit to drop (or cut down) would be to drastically reduce my computer time. But I will certainly keep my daily paper. It is readable in bright sunshine at the pool, while commuting and with candlelight, if necessary. And – cheers Daharja – I too keep a paper calender (size of a Palm, but far more robust).

    Best regards from some few thousand km east, Andreas

  • Franke James says:


    Thanks for your comment. Yes — I have come across the IT vs. Paper hypothesis. I think it’s rubbish ;-). To me, the sheer volume of newspapers we were recycling each week was obviously wasteful.

    I will never be able to go 100% paperless. I love books and reading some material in hard copy. Newspapers are not in that “essential” category for me any longer.

    Digital is the future. Most people already have devices to read the news online.

    My purpose in telling people about this experiment is not to get everyone to stop reading newsprint — but to encourage people to look at their habits and consider which ones could be altered to live more sustainably.


  • Quote of the Week: Breaking Habits

    “This week’s quote encourages us to break habits (our habits) to change the world. It’s poignant, direct and action oriented. Coming from Franke James, author of “The Real Poop on Social Change” and active changeblogger:

    “As social marketeers, we are often focused on working to change others’ behavior. But, when we look our own mirror, what behaviors do we as individuals need to change to live healthier lives–and build healthier communities?

    “James talks about how she broke her 30-year habit: ending the subscription to new newspapers. Why? Because it got to a point where she was recycling 13 newspapers a week–and she was tired of it and thought there had to be a better way. Thus, she entered the world of being an online news reader–and created a new habit.

    “From changing her habits, James identified six benefits–from reducing waste to saving money. These benefits inspired her to find more ways to make changes. So, now, it’s your turn: What habits could you change to help the world? (Or, what new ones could you form to make a difference?)”

  • Franke James says:

    Do you think the printing companies are afraid of the paperless trend?
    Read this from Treehugger

    “TreeHuggers have been bashing printers for years, putting those “Think before you print” messages on the bottom of our emails. John Williams of Domtar, a big paper company, says they are “just bull” and is starting a marketing campaign- “Put it On Paper!” to promote printing, particularly among young people. He told the Canadian Club:

    “Young people really are not printers. When was the last time your children demanded a printer? They want the electronic device. We’ve got to do some work about having them believe and feel that printing isn’t a sort of environmental negative.”

    @lloydalter Stupidest. Marketing. Ever. Paper Company Starts Campaign To Promote Printing of Email

  • […] To peruse another blog on the topic of ‘paperless’ news, see Franke James’ essay: ‘Kicking m… Share this:EmailPrint […]

Twitter: 18 (Showing 18)