Monday, May 14, 2012

Paper Towels

I was so happy to read this article about how everyone can (and should) get rid of--or at the least, reduce the use of--paper towels. It's really not as hard to break the habit as most people think.
The biggest suggestion in the article, and one that I inadvertently follow, is to keep paper towels out of sight. We sometimes have them on the roll in the kitchen, but when we finally do run out of a roll we don't replace it until we find a "need" for another paper towel. (Yes, I know, they're not really "needs", but there are some uses for which paper towels are just easier. Like draining cooked bacon on.) This means that we'll often go weeks without a visible paper towel roll in the house (we keep the bag of them under the sink, and I haven't had to buy any for about a year now) and it encourages us to first reach for rags, which we keep in a fairly open spot. We keep kitchen rags (formerly "dish towels") all over the kitchen for cleanup. Next time I go to Value Village I'll probably try to find some newer, cleaner looking dish towels but it doesn't really matter if I don't find any. We use the dishwasher for most things, and when we do hand wash dishes I pull out a clean rag from the drawer to place the clean dishes on to air-dry. Once the rag has been used for that, it gets set on the towel rack by the sink to help clean up spills and from there goes into the "dirty rag" pile for washing.
We also have a pile of non-kitchen rags which we keep in an old milk crate (found somewhere for free) that we keep by the door. These are mostly used for pet messes and other household cleaning. What rags do I use here? Pretty much anything. We got our couch for free and when we looked under the cushions we found several old towels and a pillow case. The pillow case has been washed (several times) and gets used to hold bread in the freezer. (Even gallon-sized plastic bags can't hold an entire loaf of bread. The pillow case holds several and keeps them from getting freezer burned, and I cycle the bread through fairly often.) The towels went into the rag bin and are most often used to clean up pet messes.
Socks with holes in them are frequently used to dust--I dampen the sock, put it over my hand, and run my hand over whatever needs dusting. Super easy. One of my brothers mocked me for this thrift saying, "Oh, you Alaskans. You know you can buy things called sponges, right?" I shot back with, "Yes, but these are free Mr. I-Had-To-Take-A-Second-Job." At the time, both of our spouses were out of work. We have similar rents, and my high utilities pretty much make up for his more expensive commute. But he had to take a second job, whereas I didn't. Don't underestimate the power of thrift.
The socks are also useful when the dog's paws are hurting her. After I spread the Bag Balm on her pads I sometimes put an old sock on each foot so that she doesn't wipe or lick off the ointment and so that she doesn't get it on the carpet or the bed. About the time the socks start falling off they've done enough that the ointment has done its work.
Old clothes which have fallen apart, or which have been deliberately destroyed (some VV shirts got turned into a Halloween costume, and the leftover bits couldn't be worn anymore) are also tossed in there to be used as rags for assorted cleaning. I even clean the bathroom using just rags. If you're worried about contamination from these rags getting onto clothes in the wash, like I am, the solution is easy. I do a separate load of laundry that I think of as "gross" laundry. We have enough rags that I don't need to do this often. Maybe 4-5 times a year? But into this load go the pet towels, the kitchen and bathroom rugs, and any household cleaning rags. (The kitchen ones go into clothing loads, so that we're not accidentally spreading what got onto the rags used to clean up pet messes all over the kitchen. I might be paranoid about that, but better safe than sorry.)
Rags like these can also be used in the garage to clean up messes like oil, or to wipe hands on when you've been working on an engine. For those, though, it might be better to pick the oldest, nastiest rags you have so that you don't feel bad about simply throwing them away after using them, rather than trying to wash them.
It really is easy to reduce your dependence on paper towels and other paper products. And don't be afraid to get your kitchen towels dirty! That's what they're for! The last time we had J&L and their baby over, Baby spit up. I handed L one of the kitchen rags and she asked, "Oh, you don't have a paper towel or anything? I don't want to get this dirty." Ummm...that particular rag already had a big hole burned in it from our former roommate. I don't think a little baby spitup is going to hurt it, do you?
We're conditioned from a young age to think that cloth is "special" or "for nice occasions". But cloth is what people always used to use to clean up, and it was far more expensive in the past than it is now. As with so many other things, we've put it on a pedestal and used it as an excuse to justify disposables. People don't want to use cloth napkins, placemats, and tablecloths because they're "too fancy". Who says? And even if they are "fancy", don't you deserve that? Doesn't the dinner you lovingly made deserve to be elevated to a special occasion? Believe me, time with your family is so special, and it deserves to seem that way too. If we celebrate the small things in life, we're much less likely to be discontented with what we have, and less likely to "splurge" on things we don't need.

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