This has nothing to do with the show Heroes (gaw, that reference is so three seasons ago). I just really enjoy thinking about how easy it is to positively influence other people and the whole wide world in general. Most of these things also help the environment, which means we can all wear our $30 chemically-grown and overly-processed cotton sweat-shop shirts that we had shipped to our houses via Fed-Ex Overnight Air that say “Go Green” or “Save the Humans” on them without feeling like hypocrits. Yay!
I made a few slight changes a couple years ago that not only saved me some money but have also allowed me to maintain an air of smugness, which is really the whole point of this “movement” anyway, right? If I can do these things, then anyone can, so please consider this tiny little list as a teeny challenge. If you do any of these things, or if you want to add anything, feel free to comment.
1. Bye Bye Paper Products!
So we all know about cloth bags and I’m sure you all use them now instead of plastic. That’s awesome. I’m proud of you. I’m sure many of you still have a lot of plastic bags piled up in your kitchen somewhere and don’t really know what to do with them. Aside from tiny-trashcan bags, there are a few other really awesome things you can do with plastic. Since so much has already been said about this, I’m just going to send you here to check out some funkalicious craft projects that use fused plastic.
The first and most important change I made was to stop using papertowels like they grow on trees. Most of us use papertowels as napkins or disposable kitchen towels. Cloth napkins are just as effective and they’re reusable! It’s a no-brainer.
Step 1: Go to a thrift store and buy some cloth napkins. Or, you can make your own. Just cut up some old sheets or tshirts into 12-16″ squares and sew the edges to keep them from fraying. You can hand-sew the edges using a blanket stitch, or use the zig-zag option on your sewing machine. If you have a serger, a thin rolled-hem (like you’d use on a silk scarf) works best.
Step 2. Use them. Seriously, this is the hardest part. It’s so much easier to use a paper-towel to clean up spills because you can just toss it after. But don’t do it! Keep your napkins in plain sight and your paper-towels in the cupboard. (Of course, if you have pets, you’ll probably want to keep some paper products handy just in case. I would not recommend using your cloth napkins to pick up the lovely dead mole your cat brought home to you, for example.)
You may also be in the habit of using papertowels to clean. Stop it. Newspaper works better on glass and doesn’t leave any papery residue behind. And it’s not like you can convince those local paper people to stop delivering their stupid papers to your house, anyway; you may as well put those papers to use.
If you are worried about cross-contaminating your toilet-cleaning and kitchen-cleaning supplies, well, all it takes is a tiny bit of effort on your part to keep the two separated. I have a laundry basket in the kitchen for kitchen-towels and napkins, and keep the bathroom-cleaning towels in the bathroom. See? Problem-o solved-o.
The next step is, of course, switching from paper toiletries to cloth. Ladies, check out the Diva Cup and the Keeper. Then there are cloth wipes…you can go to my friend Sarah’s blog for more information on these (toilet-paper). Sarah is quite the activist and has a lot of information and links on her website for you to check out.
A lot of people ask me about the amount of water it takes to wash my cloth items, usually in that smug “ha! I am here to rain on your parade!” kind of way. I just want to state for the record that my husband and I are billed the minimum amount for our water usage. This is partly because we are dirty, recovering-hippies who reuse our bathtowels and wear our jeans several times between washes, and partly because we take very short showers, and partly because we really enjoy saving money.
2. Stop using chemical cleaners!
Vinegar and baking soda are all you really need to clean your entire house. After you use up all of your nasty, chemical-based cleaning supplies, buy a few giant jugs of vinegar (or make your own), and a big ol’ box of baking soda. Here are some ratios/tips/whatever for using them:
A. All-purpose cleaner. Mix two parts water, one part vinegar. This can be used to clean baseboards, kitchen counters, sinks, walls, whatever. If you have a particularly gunky spot, add a little baking soda for texture.
B. Laundry. Baking soda works just as well as All or Tide or whatever else. Also, you can use about 1/2 cup of vinegar as a fabric softener and you’ll never have to use dryer-sheets again. If you insist on using scented laundry detergents, you can add one or two drops of essential oils to for yummi-smelly-ness.
C. Weed-killer. In a spray-bottle, pour 2 parts vinegar, 1 part water, 1 tsp salt, and the juice of one lemon. In the late-morning (before the sun is high), spray the vinegar solution onto the leaves of the weed. As the sun gets higher the plant will absorb the liquid into its root system, and it will dry the plant out at the root, essentially starving it to death. This works way way way better than a chemical killer and it won’t hurt your pets or other plants.
D. Drain un-clogger. Boil 3 parts vinegar and 1 part water, then pour down a clogged drain. (I usually let it sit in the sink for a little while first to let the solution remove any hard-water buildup or stains from the sink before going down the drain.)
E. Wood polish. Mix vinegar with a few drops of linseed oil and use in place of Old Gold or Pledge.
There are seriously hundreds of other uses for vinegar & baking soda. Hundreds! But these are probably the most common. You can use vinegar to wash your hair, clean carpets, polish chrome, and keep your pets from scratching the furniture. Baking soda can also be used to clean carpets, deodorize appliances, or as a de-greaser. The possibilities are endless.
3. Plant a garden!
Even if you only have a tiny little porch, you can grow some veggies. If you’re too scared to try to plant something from the seed, you can purchase small plants at a nursery that are ready to go in the ground (or at least into a bigger pot). It takes a certain amount of dedication to grow your own food, and even more to do it without miracle grow and pesticides. You’ll have to take time to water it, de-weed-ify it, and keep it (naturally) safe from critters and creepy-crawleys. (More on that here.) But I promise you that it is worth it. Cultivating your own food is pretty incredible. Not only does home-grown produce taste better, it is better for you, and (sorry for the cheese) growing your own food is good for the soul. You’ll feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that your food was not chemically treated and shipped from who-knows-where to a big-box store where it sat in a crate for a few days until you wasted money on it.
4. Buy used.
I buy nearly everything second-hand (I did buy a hoodie and two pairs of new jeans the other day, and I am dealing with the guilt, but seriously they were the first new-clothing items I’ve bought in well over a year! Doesn’t that count for anything?!). After comparing my paycheck with the cost of everything in the world, and then considering how many people on this planet live on less in a month than I make in an hour, I realized that I am spoiled, selfish and totally wasteful. And I don’t want to be any of those things.
There are three fantastic reasons to buy used: you will save money; you will save resources; you will save other people (because you are not spending $60 on a pair of shoes made by a 5 year old, or because you will now have more money to spend on people in need!). It’s a really good idea to start thinking about how all of our shiny new things were made, and by whom, and how much food you could buy for the cost of that item. (I like to think of each of my purchases in terms of CFA, as in “dang, these jeans cost approximately 4 chick-fil-a sandwiches!”)
Oh! oh! Another reason to buy used is because it is so very much fun. There is nothing like the thrill of the hunt to turn shopping into something that is actually enjoyable. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome it is to scan Craigslist and thriftstores and yardsales and Freecycle when I’m looking for furniture, craft supplies, clothes and gifts. And then! Oh! When you get those two new-to-you end tables for $5, or that perfectly distressed bookshelf for $10, or fifteen bags of yarn for FREE….ohhhh my goodness.
If you are really interested in making this world a better place for everyone that currently lives (or may someday live) on this planet, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. I’m sure you have already done all kinds of awesome things and I can’t thank you enough for being so freaking wonderful. There are hundreds and thousands and possibly even trillions of other steps we can all take and I would love to list them all but, seriously, this blog post is soooo freaking long and I’m tired. At any rate, if we all took some steps to learn more about who we are in relation to the world around us, maybe we’d also learn to care about each other and help one another out. And we really could save the world. That’s pretty cheesy but I like it.