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Keeping Mindless Conveniences in Check: Our Mission to Kick the Paper Towel Habit

I realized recently that we are throwing some of our money away. There’s an item that makes it’s way onto our shopping list far more often than I like because we seem to go through it faster and faster. I found myself scratching my head and trying to consider how to stop this small, but irritating loss as I tossed out yet another center cardboard tube left by the paper towel roll. How had we gotten to the point that one roll of paper towels was lasting only 2 days in our house?  We’d developed a bad habit of grabbing paper towels at the slightest need and were mowing through them at an alarming rate. As I mulled this over, upon tossing that recent cardboard tube, I wondered how paper towels even became such a staple in homes today. This is, essentially, a convenience item. What did they use before paper towels? There had to be a way around this. After all, I told myself, I’d figured out how to make my own laundry detergent, and I use cloth diapers and wipes and make my own cleaning spray for my kiddos bottom. There just had to be some way to stop this waste. I did a little research and sure enough, there are plenty of people just as irritated about this wasteful grocery list item as I am. The answer? Rags and dishtowels. Re-use them. Wash them. The challenge was on!

So where to start? First I took a few minutes to assess the paltry collection of dishtowels and washrags I had in my kitchen drawer. Most were in sore shape and, really, I didn’t have nearly as many as I thought I did. Clearly I needed to bulk up my supply if this was going to work. On that next shopping trip I managed to collect some bar-mop style towels in 5 packs as well as packs of inexpensive dish rags for what I usually spend on a big pack of paper towels.  I now had a good solid start to my cloth towel and rag stockpile. During this shopping trip I allowed myself to buy only a 2 pack of paper towels. Like most habits, it’s easier to wean than go cold turkey.  I came home and announced that we were on a mission as a family to wean ourselves from the overuse and waste of paper towels.

Our goal for week 1: To get through seven full days on one single roll of paper towels. When we can achieve this, we’ll graduate our attempts to getting through two whole weeks, and so forth (I’d read about one woman who uses only one roll or so a year! Wow.). So far, we are a week into this experiment. I can’t believe how ingrained my first instinct to reach for a paper towel has become. I’m having to retrain myself to reach for the dishtowel instead.

Now, in the grand scheme of my grocery budget, is changing my paper towel habit going to save me untold riches this year? Probably not. I do realize, there is still a need for paper towels to some degree in our house and that paper towels can, on occasion, be the better choice. But I’d been suckered into a mindless convenience and it was costing us. That bothered me. I’ve found, as with my cloth diaper adventure, I am saved the aggravation of running out completely and needing to make a trip to the store since all I have to do is toss them in the wash. It’ll save me about $10-15 a month (yes we had a REALLY bad habit) which translates to about $120-180 a year in savings. I can even help keep some waste out of the landfill with this new habit which is a nice thought. But really, for me, it’s part of unravelling the real challenge of finding the little habits of convenience that sneak into my life that add up. Are these conveniences really worth the cost? So far, I’m loving the dishtowel and dishrag upgrade to our kitchen. They work much better. I’m finding this is, indeed, a good habit for us to break. It’s good for my grocery budget, and, if you are so inclined, it’s “greener” living. It’s a frugal, budget friendly solution. I have a feeling we won’t be going back.

Making the shift from paper to cloth


6 responses »

  1. Those brown towels look like re-used Army towel…we have a few too! :o)

    I so know what you mean about the overuse of paper towels. I buy mine at either Costco or Sam’s Club because we go through so many of them it would cost Austin’s education to buy them 1 at a time at the local grocery store. Even still, I think I like your idea & I’m going to give it a try too! I’ll keep you posted on how my household survives!

    I’d love to hear about your “baby bottom cleaning spray.” Why did you decide to use it & how did you come up with the recipe? Will you share it?

  2. You made me really start thinking about this and about paper napkins. When I was a kid (way back in the dark ages) my mom put the silverware right on the table without napkins and always had a kitchen towel nearby and while we had a roll of paper towels “hanging” up from the old hanger under the cupboard we tended to use dishrags and dish towels for most things and used old newspapers to clean the windows with white vinegar. I have to admit that I use paper towels a lot but if I run out, I don’t really miss them…I use dishrags and dish towels just like my mom. Reading your blog brought back some old memories. Now I wish I could just figure out why the heck she always put the turky in the oven at 6:00 am for Thanksgiving dinner.

  3. Paper towels are in my home for one purpose: cleaning out the cast iron skillet. I can manage dish towels for all other household tasks, but I haven’t gotten around this one. Any brainstorms?

  4. Hi Tara! I have also been known to go through a ton of paper towels too! I am working on cutting down on those as well as ziploc bags. I found this tutorial on how to make cloth ziploc bags and thought you might be interested? I thought it was clever!


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