In a perfect world, our household would be waste-free. We would compost all of our food scraps, recycle everything else, and forego the disposable diapers and toilet paper for cloth . . . Well, some of that anyway. In our home, we do our part to have a (somewhat) green living lifestyle without going completely off the grid. My husband and I started this before we had kids—or even a dog. Shoot, we started before we were even married. Over the years, we’ve adapted our lifestyle to these changes (read: messy dog and messy kid) but still maintained our goal of “kinda” green living.
The first thing we did, many years ago, was stop using paper towels. We invested in a bunch of flour-sack dish towels and microfiber cloths (similar here and here) and used them for everything. Cleaning up spills and wiping down countertops is (I think) easier with the cloth, and I never feel badly about using a few cloths like I did when a spill took four sheets of paper towels. We store dirty cloths in a wire basket in the kitchen. When it gets full, I throw them all in the wash. If there is a particularly heavy spill, I rinse the cloth in the sink and hang it before it goes into the basket to head off any of those nasty, musty damp-cloth smells. After we got a dog, the same rules applied. Unless it was poop . . . When it came to that particular mess, it was wiped up with toilet paper first. Along the same lines, when our son was born, though we had every intention of using cloth diapers, it just wasn’t for us. We compromised by using Honest Company organic diapers and wipes. They’re better for the environment, and I don’t have to hose off a diaper at 3 am. (Props to you mamas that do!) I also just bought a pack of (these) un-paper towels off of Etsy to use to wipe messy faces and hands.
The next “kinda green” step we took was to get rid of all of our plastic containers. My mom is the Tupperware queen. She had an entire half a pantry full of them when I was growing up, and—like many of my friends parents’—the lids were never to be found. After college, my husband and I had accumulated a ton of those containers, lidded as well as lidless. We donated our entire collection to Goodwill and started picking up Glass Lock containers (similar here). When we got married, we registered for a whole set—which we still have three years later. They last longer, aren’t made from chemicals, and don’t take on food smells/stains like plastic does. I do, however, still lose lids occasionally. We invested in glass (here) or stainless (here) water bottles, and before we had a water filter in our fridge door, we used charcoal sticks (tutorial here) in glass pitchers to filter our water, replacing the need for a Brita filter. We bought Lifefactory glass baby bottles (here) when our son came along. One set of two large and two small glass bottles lasted us his whole bottle-feeding span, and we’ll definitely be able to use them with any future kids. Our son also got a stainless steel lunch box (here) for school—preemptively replacing any plastic or brown bags we would use.
Another step that I feel was major for us was buying dry goods in bulk. We found that we were constantly bringing home boxes of rice, beans, grains, and cereal. The boxes would just sit there—usually not keeping their contents particularly fresh—and I would have piles of cardboard to recycle. I started filling my own glass jars (here) at the market, and effectively cut out the cardboard piles. Plus, I feel like the sealed jars keep items fresher longer, and we subsequently throw out less, because the goods are lasting long enough to be consumed. (Plus, we had an ant problem at our house in California, so glass jars definitely helped keep out the bugs.) My husband does his part by getting his beer in reusable glass growlers. This is something he couldn’t do in California, and he’s pretty darn excited about it here.
Lastly, we try to use (mostly) non-chemical cleaning products. I have really bad allergies, and aside from that, I’d rather not bring a bunch of chemical-laden products into the house—especially with a kid and a dog. I’m a big fan of vinegar and lemon juice, but the products we do buy lean heavily on the natural side: Seventh Generation laundry detergent, Mrs. Meyers or J.R. Watkins dish and hand soap, and Method shower and toilet cleaners. Disclaimer: we do use a regular brand of dishwasher detergent, because the natural ones just weren’t working for us, and I felt like I was wasting water re-washing everything.
I know it’s not perfect, and there is definitely more that we can do. We don’t compost—yet. (We finally have our own yard, so it’s in the books.) We do, however, recycle anything we can. We try to keep our energy usage low, and we conserve water as much as possible. (Californians are really good at that!) I do have my limits—I’m not ready to start taking a three minute shower or reuse my toilet paper any time soon. I’m still looking for a good plastic wrap replacement (maybe this cool bees wax and cloth thing here?)—any recommendations? I know there are other things we can do, and—over time—we hope to integrate more of them, but for now, our “kinda” green living works for us. Let’s call it Mint Green. Totally on trend, right?