Simplify, simplify, simplify. This has been my song of late. I’ve been working hard to pare down our belongings and, in the process, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about living cleaner and wasting less.
Waste not, want not. That’s the refrain that I hum in a round with the first tune, wondering all the while how I got to be such a child of the disposable era. My grandparents are incredibly frugal, and my great-grandfather most of all; a trait he held onto from his Depression-era childhood, no doubt, and he is waste-less to an almost frustrating extreme. My family likes to tell the story of one Christmas in which we got him a new horse blanket to replace an old one ridden with holes and worn to shreds. A few months later my dad found the new one in the barn, still pristine in its original packaging – my great-grandfather was intent upon using the original until it could be used no more.
Instead, I’m tossing out things left and right – single-use containers, old things of mine that are still useful but no longer desirable, food scraps that have plenty of potential for nourishment. Since when did it become acceptable to discard paper plates and napkins and towels like it all just disappeared into thin air?
There’s enough potential discussion here for an entire blog post – instead of continuing with the rant, however, I want to share a few ways that I’m making our household a little greener and cleaner, a little simpler and a little less wasteful.
When citrus was in fine form this winter I started thinking about how I could get some use out of the vibrant, fragrant fruit peels that I had been previously tossing in the trash. A quick web search gave me the idea to steep them in vinegar to make my own citrus-infused, all-purpose cleaning solution. Now I have a collection of citrus-infused vinegars – lemon, lime, orange-grapefruit – that I use for all manner of things around the house.
A quick spritz from a spray bottle cleans my bathroom surfaces, while a splash in my dishwater keeps hard water spots at bay. I add some baking soda to scrub my bathtub, and use the same mixture to clean the toilet. The same vinegar goes into my laundry to make everything super-soft and add an extra dose of disinfectant.
We don’t have a dishwasher, so cleaning the pots and pans is an in-the-sink ordeal every day. Add to the equation the local water – it’s infamously bad – and I have a potential for grimy dishes all day long with a lot of my money going to Dawn dish soap. But I’ve found an alternative in Dr. Bronner’s Sal’s Suds – an all-natural, super-strength, multi-purpose soap. A couple teaspoons in a sink of hot water, plus my vinegar, makes for an inexpensive and eco-friendly dishwashing alternative.
I use Sal’s Suds around the house for anything that needs a deep clean, particularly the floors. Again, the formula is simple: soap + vinegar + water. I recently invested in some reusable cleaning cloths from Natural Linens on Etsy to replace my disposable Swiffer wet mop pads. A couple of these soaked in my cleaning solution and tucked around a Swiffer mop is just as easy as conventional mopping, only instead of contributing to my week’s waste at the end I just toss the cloths in the laundry.
I also make my own laundry detergent, and have been for a couple of years now. I use this recipe and like the combination of citrus and lavender-scented soaps in the mix. I’ve been considering switching to Soap Nuts but I hear mixed reviews. Any thoughts?
I’ve been slowly but surely working through a bulk box of scented dryer sheets, and hoping to find a less wasteful alternative once that batch is used up. However, in the interim I’ve been finding new uses for my spent dryer sheets – like polishing the stainless steel hardware in my kitchen and bathroom. The waxy finish the dryer sheets leave behind help keep fingerprints and watermarks at bay for a little longer than usual, and I feel better getting some extra miles out of what would have been a single-use product.
I’ve been learning more about homemade cleaning solutions made from essential oils, and hope to implement more of those formulas in our new home. (I don’t want to make a batch of cleaners that I can’t take with me before the move.) Some key players in the world of essential oils-cum-cleaners include: clove, rosemary, tea tree and thieves essential oils. All of these are antimicrobial and have disinfectant properties, plus smell like a garden. Bonus!
In other parts of the home, I’m working toward making greener shifts. I prefer burning pure beeswax candles over anything else nowadays – they don’t release any toxins, unlike many synthetic fragrance-laden candles, and instead clean the air and impart a warm, honey aroma. I’m hoping to invest in one of those cool rolls of reusable “paper towels.” I’ve seen a few on Etsy that are made of absorbent fabric, in which each sheet is affixed together with Velcro or snaps to mimic traditional paper towels. It’s defying convention while still appearing to be a conventional product!
I’m slowly switching from plastic sandwich and snack bags to reusable cloth bags for packed lunches, and I’d like to get my hands on some Bee’s Wrap after I go through my store of aluminum foil, plastic cling wrap and waxed paper. I just ordered these to replace my oft-used plastic freezer bags. I’ve always used glass Pyrex containers and mason jars for storing leftovers and packing meals to-go, but there are certainly many ways where I can improve in the realm of food storage.
We are big believers in using reusable tote bags for grocery shopping around here, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much plastic I still consumed with produce bags. Even when I buy my fruits and veggies at the farmers market they still want to give me a plastic bag to store everything in! The solution? Reusable bags, just like those I use for shopping, but smaller and breathable. I’ve found a few organic cotton muslin options online that I’ll be investing in sometime soon.
Another “to do” item on my green home transformation list is to purchase some houseplants that purify the air. Peace Lily, Mother-in-Law Tongue, Boston Fern, English Ivy and Rubber Plant are just a few that do double duty in the home. For outdoor living, I’d like to make a big batch of homemade citronella candles. Mosquitos love me – I’m sweet! – and there’s nothing I’d like more than to stir together a big pot of beeswax and citronella essential oil to make sure that those pests stay away.
Are you making any changes in your home this year? This journey has been a gradual one, but it’s been rewarding to know that my home is simpler and cleaner in a healthy, wholesome way, all thanks to a little effort and research and the work of my own hands.