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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


Do You Read the Box? A Tip on Finding…Tips!

As a kid, I remember sitting at the table early in the morning before school reading the cereal box as I munched on my breakfast before heading out for the day. Over and over again. To make sure I’d read all the words on it (Yep. I’m a reader.). Even the ingredients that I often could not pronounce (and if I were still eating some of those cereals it’s likely I still couldn’t pronounce some of those ingredients!). As I’ve gotten older, and truthfully, since I’ve become a mom, I’ve had a lot less time to read the box. I do scan the ingredient list when I’m in the grocery store. I’m pretty careful about making sure we try to keep things simple and healthful (while we don’t actually use too many prepared foods-I do manage to check the lists on what we do buy). But the other day I found myself with some quiet time while I was making a batch of waffles (I’ll post about my batches of waffles later-I promise!). I found myself reading the back of the Clabber Girl Baking Powder Can. There was a recipe for biscuits. I found myself thinking it was probably a darn good one. Biscuits are the one thing that I never managed to master that my grandma could do with her eyes closed (it was hard to get it just right when she had the art down to a “handful of this and a pinch of that”, I suppose). I haven’t tried it yet, but it occurred to me that if it’s on the back of the Clabber Girl can it might just be worth trying. As I put away the tin of baking powder I curiously pulled down my Arm & Hammer baking soda box to see what was on that one. I’ve been using baking soda for all kinds of things for quite some time. I make cleaning products for my home using it. I’ve had giant boxes of it in my possession. But I hadn’t really read the box. Now looking it over I saw a list of uses for it I hadn’t noticed before: Relaxing bath. Fuller, more manageable hair. Invigorating yet gentle facial exfoliant. I scratched my head thinking “really?” Cool! Very curious now, I pulled out my giant bottle of white vinegar. I use vinegar all over the house too. I clean windows with it. It’s one of the ingredients in my homemade all-purpose cleaning spray in my kitchen. I use it in my laundry. I found a tip for marinating beef and for keeping cut fruit from darkening. Wow. I’ve read long lists of vinegar use tips but hadn’t seen these before. So the next time you have a few extra seconds with that box or bottle in your hands-even if it’s something you’ve used a hundred and one times-take a look at it. You might find a great new practical tip you hadn’t found before!

Check the back of the box-you might find some great tips there!

Do you DIY? 7 Questions to Ask Yourself First

I’ll admit it. Back when I had cable, I was seriously addicted to any channel that smacked of Do It Yourself kinds of projects. I loved This Old House. I loved TLC’s Design on a Dime. I loved HGTV. I was very fond of anything fix it associated with the home. It was so easy and natural to assume that what they made look so simple actually was! And being practical minded, who wouldn’t want to have some great stuff on the cheap?

I remember my first DIY project: to spruce up an old dresser in the white Shabby Chic style that was popular at the time. Did it go well? Well. It’s still white. But looking back on it, no. Not particularly. I learned pretty quickly how miserable hand sanding an old dresser can be in an Alabama summer (since that’s where we lived at the time) and how humidity can make paint take days and days to dry. Not to mention the “kit” I bought to make it easier on myself was, as I’ve learned all these years later, basically junk. Flat paint on any furniture is not a good idea. Later we bought a home in Tennessee knowing we’d need to pull down ugly wallpaper and paint some of the rooms. The Design on a Dime crew made it all looks so easy. I could do that! And of course, our realtor enforced this with the “it’s only cosmetic” mantra I’ve heard many realtors espouse. We loved our house. We really did. But by the time I was on the third room of hideous wallpaper,and had made several trips to the store I was really sick of DIY’ing and we still had to prime and paint!!

Now you may be curious. Does she still DIY? Yep. I still do. I’m happy to say that I’ve come a long, long way in my expectations and my approach to DIY projects and I’ve gained a great sense of humor about it. I’ve learned to ask myself a few things before I begin the process:

1.) Do I have the patience to see this through? (in other words, the cool factor of the item in question)

2.) Will it really save me money?

3.) Can I find this already made for about what I’d spend to make it?

4.) Am I willing to invest in the tools and supplies if I don’t already have them? Can I even find them locally? (or does this use some obscure item that can’t be substituted easily?)

5.) Have I done enough research to be reasonably sure I’m going to make only one, maybe two trips to the hardware store?

6.) Am I ok with this occupying my garage if it takes longer than I expect (which it almost always does)?

7.) Am I willing to laugh at this experience if and when I come up against something goofy about it or if it plain old doesn’t work out?

I’ve done a few great DIY projects in the last couple of years. My favorite was not actually a piece of furniture or painting a room but actually fixing an old riding lawn mower we’d purchased used that was a must have for our home in Tennessee. My husband was gone on a military deployment and I had an infant. And I needed to keep my grass cut. It took a lot of patience and about two weeks (which is an eternity for the lawn going un-mowed in a wet Tennessee summer) since I only worked on it during nap time. I’m happy to report that it was a great and practical success and cost me less than $10. I was actually sad when I ended up selling it with the house for an extra couple hundred dollars a few years later. But it gave me some serious confidence in my resourcefulness. And it taught me that DIY’s can be great, practical and save money too. You just have to be aware that it may not go as fast or as easily as you expect. And you have to be willing to laugh along the way.

So dear readers, do you DIY? Why or why not?

The trouble with fast and easy

We are an instant gratification society. We want it now. We want it fast. We want it easy. But this isn’t always very practical or healthy. Recently, my son was impatiently wanting a movie to play before the DVD player even had time to get the disc into the machine. I tried to explain that when I was a little girl we didn’t even have a VCR and that we had to wait for movies like Mary Poppins and The Wizard of Oz to come on once a year on regular TV. This of course, led to a look of bafflement and pity from his sweet little face. He got really thoughtful. I happily thought that I really must have helped him understand the need for patience. Then he frowned and said, “but Mom, what’s a V-C-R?” Good grief. The point, of course, that I was trying to make with my five year old is that not everything can or should happen instantaneously. The best things take time, effort, and commitment. Whether it’s cooking a decent healthy meal (which really can happen in 30 minutes but often not in 10), making a new friend,  learning to do a new thing (like getting your budget written and working for you), finally and completely getting out of debt (it’s taken us more years than I like to admit but we’re ALMOST there!) or waiting for that favorite movie to load into the machine. We have come to expect things worth having to come easily. We throw in the towel too quickly when something doesn’t give us results as fast as we think we should be getting them. As technology drives us faster and faster, we think those results should be coming at an even more rapid clip. But things that happen too fast and too easily often don’t hold our hearts or give us a sense of accomplishment or gratitude. Things that stick with you take work and take time. As a favorite singer of mine says, “if it all just happened overnight, we wouldn’t know how much it means.” If you’re trying to make some positive and practical changes in your life and your struggling with it because it’s not happening quickly, whether it’s trying to be a little healthier in the kitchen or with your wallet, or any other endevour that’s pulling your heart, take your time. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But it also ends at the END of the thousandth mile. If you stop on step three, you only have a journey of three whole steps. Keep going. Whatever it is, all those steps will make it well worth it and it will hold your heart all the more for it.

So, what goals are you impatiently struggling with today? What helps you stay the course?

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