Growing up, whenever I had a cold, my mother would quickly get an old diaper cloth she kept from when I was a baby. I, on the other hand, would grab the nearest tissue because it was “cleaner”, and I would dispose of it, never thinking about it again. My mother would respond with, “don’t use those tissues, they are so rough on your skin, it will dry out your nose”. She was right. My mother saved this diaper cloth, which is now over 30 years old and it is still the softest piece of fabric I have ever felt. “It works just fine”, she would say, “just fold it over and when you’re done it can be washed”. I would be so embarrassed and grossed out when she would offer it to me, thinking I don’t need it, this is why we keep buying tissues!
Little did I know then, that now at the age of 33 I am asking my mother if she has any more of those cloths so I can now use them on my children (she still has them, by the way). There’s a saying or something of the sort, where we start to become our parents as we get older and realize how dumb and stupid we were when we didn’t listen to them? My mother had a whole linen closet and chest dedicated to old cloths, yet I always turned to tissues and paper towels. I remember we’d always admire these beautiful cloths from Italy waiting to be used, yet we were still buying tissues and paper towels, why? Because, that’s what society was doing.
I grew up using chemical cleaners, paper towels were to clean glass and dispose of unwanted messes and I never thought of the consequences. Why? They were effective and convenient. Two powerful words that have changed the way we take care of our homes and live our daily lives, no matter what the cost. When Candice Batista, Eco Expert from The Marilyn Denis Show, came to my home and asked me why I use paper towels, at first, I didn’t know how to respond. I never really thought about it since I grew up using it and never questioned it prior to this moment. After some hesitation, my response was, they are convenient and I believe they are more sterile than using a cloth. This response was followed with an earful (in the most loving way, of course). It goes in the compost, it can’t be that bad for the environment, right? Well here’s the thing, what are paper towels made of? Paper. Essentially, this means that trees are being cut down to become garbage. Secondly, what is on your paper towel? Did you use it with chlorine bleach or other chemicals to wipe down the bathroom sink or kitchen counter? Where do you toss it? The answer is, the garbage.
Living in a small home has taught me how to live in a small space. My husband and I essentially downsized our living space as we were becoming a family of 4 (usually the opposite happens). When it finally dawned on me that we were creating SO MUCH garbage, it began to weigh me down mentally. I knew something had to change and that is when I decided for 2020, my goal was to live a simpler life, for myself, my family and to do my part in reducing our waste. I already had a reusable water bottle, had reusable containers, ate wholesome foods, grew my own garden, I was on the right track, right? There was still a long way to go.
I knew I was not doing enough and something had to change. Why hadn’t I made changes earlier? I just didn’t know where to start. I would turn to the internet to help guide me in the right direction and I kept finding myself on some retail website looking at costly eco-friendly products. I would then become discouraged and gave up before I even tried. There was also the uncertainty that whatever replacements I used wouldn’t measure up to the effectiveness and convenience of their counterpart. There are those words again, my how consumerism has skewed our judgement. The common argument I had with many was the fear of when replacing the bad with the good it meant spending more money on something that wasn’t as effective or convenient.
I honestly believed ridding of paper towels was going to be one of the hardest things to give up (that and plastic freezer bags) and I would quickly lose momentum and turn back to my old ways. I realized I had to become creative with how I organized myself in the kitchen and other spaces in my home. First of all, if I was going to give up paper towels, so would my husband and my daughter. It was important that everyone in the home participate, or else it would not work if I was doing it alone. Once my husband stopped asking me what he could use to wipe my son’s face after a feeding, I started to look at how I would make permanent changes in the home.
I went through a number of trial and errors until I got it right. First, I stacked a whole bunch of towels where the roll dispenser use to be on my sink, but that just created clutter and I couldn’t stand looking at it. I then moved all the larger cloths in a drawer and realized I kept piling dirty cloths in the sink and I was becoming overwhelmed. The lightbulb finally turned on and I found a small planter that fit nicely on my sink and used that to house dirty cloths. I would then empty it out into a bucket in my laundry room to soak for a few days before throwing them in the wash. On my sink, I would only house one Swedish sponge cloth or my unpaper towel, which I love to use, and the rest would be in a drawer when needed.
Then came the dreaded part of using rags and cloths over paper towels, the laundry. I hate laundry. I can’t afford household help, but if I could hire anyone to do anything in my home, it would be laundry. However, when it came to making the switch from paper towels to cloths, I didn’t really think twice when it came to laundry. I already wash dish cloths that I used prior to, as well as my bathroom towels, what difference did it make if I added a few more to the load? Nothing, it didn’t make a difference at all.
In the end, it has been 3 months into my low waste journey and I honestly don’t miss paper towels. I don’t believe I will ever buy another roll again. If I do, (remember I am a teacher), it will definitely be a more sustainable option than the beloved bleached rolls we have come to love over the years. The important piece to take out of this post is that you need to find what works for you when making low waste changes. What works for me, may not work for you because I don’t know your daily routine. It took me a couple of months until I finally had a method that worked in my kitchen and that is ok. Nothing good comes quickly, patience is key.
Here are a few items I enjoy using and tricks that work for me:
- Find cloths you have in your home already, I had so many that I really didn’t have to buy a whole new collection.
- If you want to invest in new product, may I suggest Swedish dish cloths or unpaper towels, they are absorbent and easily washable. They are great for cleaning up around the house.
- have cloths specific to use around the sink.
- larger cloths are set aside for drying dishes and pans.
- create a system to house dirty cloths if you’re not close to your laundry. I used a small decorative planter.
- have a bucket with water and a little soap ready in your laundry to soak your dirty cloths, this will help get stains out easily.
- Make sure everyone is on board in the household, it will make the transition a lot easier.
Hopefully this will help you in starting your journey to a low waste home.
If you would like to view the episodes where I was featured on The Marilyn Denis Show, click on the links below.
Episode 1: Beginning of the Low Waste Challenge
Episode 2: Follow-up after 30 days