In the last six months, I have been trying to cut down on the number of waste products we use in our home. Since we already cloth diaper, I was seeing the huge savings and wondering what other areas I could apply the ideal of reusable is greener and reusable is cheaper. However, my husband and I have a deal. I can make green additions to our lives as long as they cost the same or less than what we are already doing and as long as I don’t require him to participate. He has jumped right on board with the cloth diapers and has supported my decision to cut down on paper towel use, but he hasn’t joined all of my green/frugal living projects.
Below are several of the ways I have found to save waste and save money. These are not my unique ideas. In fact many of them are old ideas from a previous generation now being recycled and called “green” when at one time they were the standard way of living.
Bring back the hankie
There was a time in the past when a well bred lady or gent was never without a clean pocket hanky. While that time has mostly past, however, I think it still has great potential for both green living and frugal living. Thanks to the low daytime temperature of our home, runny noses are a daily reality and we go through boxes and boxes of tissues. The generic work OK, but they are definitely rougher on the nose than the nicer name brands. Last winter, the constant wiping of my nine month old daughter’s nose with tissues seemed a ridiculous waste. So I started using extra baby wash cloths. Soon I found myself carrying one or two in my pocket or my purse for nose wiping on the go. Even better, if I forgot to empty my pockets there was no inevitable white tissue explosion in the washer and dryer. I took a tip from Cheap Like Me and decided to cut up some of my own “tissues” out of old T-shirts I was going to turn into rags. I can also grab a cloth wipe in the pinch, though they are bit thick. At some point I would also like to invest in some old fashioned style hankies to carry when I’m out of the house. I’ve been slowly decreasing our household tissue use to the point where I hardly ever have to buy them. This however, is something that only my daughter and I do, as my husband finds it gross.
Ditch the disposable napkins
I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner. I always said I wanted to get cloth napkins but when I compared what we paid for our store brand paper napkins to the cost of buying cloth it would have taken us two years to break even. But when my grandmother was breaking up her house I was gifted some linen napkins that she didn’t use anymore. They aren’t the easiest to care for, and they probably should be ironed (something I really don’t do), but they do work. It has been a bit hard for my husband especially to get used to. They do seem too nice to use and he keeps worrying about staining them. But I haven’t purchases paper napkins since we got them. I do still have a small stash in the cupboard that he digs into occasionally, but I try to pretend they aren’t there. Once those are gone, I have my eye on a set from Sam’s Club. I can get 24 napkins for between $16 and $19, which is cheaper than I’ve seen anywhere else. Though my sister recently purchased some at Goodwill, four for $1.
Reduce Paper Towel Use
I’d like to give these up all together, but my husband reminds me of the few cases where we might really use them, such as working with raw meat or cooking bacon. We have cut back on both of those things thanks to our smaller grocery budget, but his point was taken. So I bought one large pack at Sam’s Club last fall and my goal is to make it last until next fall, if not longer. The rest of the time I use old wash cloths and rags for cleaning. This was again inspired by my daughter. When she began eating solid foods, I could foresee how many napkins or paper towels we’d be going through a day so I pulled out a pack of cheap wash clothes I had bought for wiping her up during the spit up days. I used these to wipe her face, hands and high chair tray after meals. Soon I started digging through drawers to find other old towels, micro-fiber cloths and rags to use for cleaning. I have almost completely eliminated paper towels from my cleaning routine. The key is accessibility. If the paper towels are in a hard to reach place but the cloth towels are nearby, I’m sure to grab the cloth towels first. Then I just do a load of cleaning towels (along with hankies and cloth napkins) at the end of the week with hot water and a small squirt of plain blue Dawn dish soap, so I know everything gets clean.
Green your cleaning products
The first portion of greening your cleaning products is to use rags or towels instead of paper towels. However, there is more that can be done. Our culture has hooked us on disposable cleaning products and highly toxic cleaners. I’m not against preventing disease by good hygiene, but we’ve become near germaphobes. Every cleaner has to be guaranteed to kill 99.99% of germs and better yet have bleach in it, or we don’t want to use it. But, it really isn’t necessary to use such strong chemicals for simple household cleaning. Lately, I’ve become more concerned about the strong chemical fumes produced by theses cleaners than the germs that might be missed if I used a milder cleanser. Recently a friend told me that she using vinegar, baking soda and water to clean almost everything. I thought she was crazy, but I figured that if she could do it, (she is a major germaphobe) I could. But there are also other cleaning products you can make at home. I found some great recipes here. I use a lemon thyme herbal cleaner in my kitchen for general cleanup. Baking soda and vinegar unclog my slow shower drain. A sprinkle of baking soda and a swish of the toilet brush every few days keep my toilet clean. I only rarely pull out the bleach based cleansers anymore, and that’s when I’m dealing with possible raw meat contamination or serious mold. But I’ve discovered, that like so many other things, if I keep up with the cleaning, less work is required, and milder cleansers work just fine.
I got totally hooked on Swiffer Wet Jet last year. It worked much better than the Clorox Ready Mop I had been using and was approved for use on hardwood floors. But I hated buying the pads and dreaded when I would need to refill the spray. But I found a couple of old micro-fiber towels under my sink that I had totally forgotten about. These work perfectly with a wet or dry Swiffer and I just wash them afterwards. I’ve given up buying the flushable toilet brush wands and have gone make to using a traditional toilet brush. While I haven’t tried it yet, I’ve been told that a solution of vinegar and water works as well as the Swiffer wet solution.
Living green or living frugally is not an all or nothing proposition. Every small step made makes a difference. You just need to figure out what works for your lifestyle and your budget.