Category Archives: Green Living

A well-mannered lap top

Here’s a question for you: Do you use paper napkins at your house?

I ask because I’ve had a nice tidy basket of cloth napkins that I keep for holidays and “for good”. These napkins rarely saw the light of day once or twice a year. (Unless you count the times I’m routing around in the basket looking for different good napkins. Why are the ones I actually want now always at the very bottom of the good napkin basket?)

I have always been a real fan of pretty table linens, but they can be such high maintenance. I do not like to iron tablecloths. So, years ago, I discovered that you can get really pretty vintage table napkins at antique stores. They are so much easier to care for than big tablecloths. Here are some of the many I have collected:

Aren’t they pretty? They kinda take you back to that time when you were taught to keep your napkin on your lap like a nicely mannered child. The fabric is so thick I really don’t have to iron them. A thorough washing is all they ever really need.

When you find these napkins in antique or thrift stores, they generally don’t come in an even set. You know how people always spill something at holiday tables. Well, I figure whoever had these before me sacrificed that one napkin when Aunt Elaine knocked over her wine or some other such emergency. We’ve all been there, right? So now you know how to find a great deal on some beautiful napkins!

But that’s not what this post is about.

You see, I do have a nice tidy basket of pretty napkins, but I no longer keep them “for good”. I’ve learned to stop saving things “for good” because we are good enough in our lives right now to use the “good” napkins. You can read more about this philosophy in this post.

Hello, color choices! You can click on the picture for the link.

I’ve also added to our napkins, because I found we didn’t have enough “good” napkins to put to work in out daily lives. I found great bargains on new ones at Overstock and Amazon. (When you need just one more thing to get the free shipping: napkins!) Here’s our basket of napkins from our kitchen.

They come in lots of colors and most of them average out to have cost less than a dollar. We just spot treat them if they are really stained, like after Indian curries or BBQ, and toss them in the wash.

But the real reason I want you to think about cloth napkins is because you only have to buy them once. This makes them a perfect replacement for paper napkins and paper towels in your home. That’s right! This is a Greener Living post!

How much do you spend on disposable paper cloth every year? I bet if you add it up it will come to more than a one-time, discounted purchase of several sets of napkins. You’re already doing the laundry, what’s a few more squares of cloth?

Image courtesy of the NRDC

The National Resources Defense Council estimates that if every household in the United States used one less roll of paper towels, we could save 544,000 trees. How many paper napkins are equal to a roll of your paper towels? How much of that paper do you throw away? When you throw it away, where does it all go?

So, just to re-cap, switching to cloth napkins:

  • Saves you money in the grocery store
  • Uses what you probably already have (Get out the good stuff!)
  • Cuts down on de-forestation
  • Cuts down on waste in your nearest landfills

Win for your wallet, win for your style, win for the planet. Isn’t it nice to know that one simple change can make such a difference? Who knew that using your good manners could help save the planet?

Want some more ideas? Visit the “Greener Living” link at the top page, in the menu bar of this website. This page has all of the posts collected together from our year-long Earth Day challenge, which you can read about right here.

Junk in your trunk

Got a little weekend project to share with you! It only takes 10 minutes, or less.

So, what’s the project?

Clean out your car.

Specifically, the trunk. Do you really need all of the stuff in there to go anywhere? Really? I know we all throw things in there to deal with later, but “later” has arrived. Wanna know how I can tell? Take a look at this:

Image courtesy of blogspan.org

All that extra junk in your trunk is making your car less efficient and wasting gasoline. An extra 100 lbs of full-car-trunk will increase your gasoline needs by 2%.

What does this mean in real numbers? Suppose you spend only $50 per week on gas. (Lucky you.) Two per cent of that is $52 a year…more of your money into the large pockets of big oil.

I’m only one weekend ahead of you on this project. Here’s my trunk as proof:

It is now freshly vacuumed and holds only the necessities:

  • Recycled bags for grocery shopping…more on those soon
  • A small, cheap cotton area rug…for catching any grocery spills and for impromptu outdoor seating
  • A plastic box containing: a basic first aid kit & car-emergency tools

Who among us has never had days where they felt like they practically lived in their car? Why not make it a nice and thrifty place to live on those days, just like our homes? A cleaner car is a more efficient car. The planet thanks you for the consideration!

Image courtesy of cheapgasblog.com

Got more than 10 minutes?

Tackle a few extra car money-saver jobs. Listed below are ideas and some links to help you do them. (As always, check the owners manual of your own car first and use caution!)

  • Check your tire pressure (why & how-to link here)
  • Refill your windshield wiper fluids
  • Change your wiper blades
  • Check your air filter (why & how-to link here)
  • Check your oil (why & how-to link here)
  • Dust and vacuum the car cabin
  • Wash all of that leftover salt and new pollen off your car

Image courtesy of greencar.com

Want some more solutions toward our Greener Living challenge. You can read more about this plan here or at the link in the menu bar at the top of the page. How do you Spring-clean your car? Any additional suggestions to recommend? Leave a comment!

PS  Did you know that car “trunks” are called “boots”in the United Kingdom? If you’re reading this blog from the UK, please mentally replace this post’s title with “Boot-y-licious”.

Patriotic Upcycling

Do you have this problem at your house?

We have downsized our magazine consumption in the past few years, but we still get a few favorites and can build up quite a stack. We like to make sure we read them thoroughly before we declare them “done”. I’d like to be able to blame this little enabler:

This really deep magazine basket easily holds several months worth of subscriptions and by the time we clean it out, we have this problem:

These are really nice magazines. Even if we recycle them, it feels bad to throw them away after only two adults have read them. So, Mr. CARO and I found a solution. This solution will cost you some spare change, between $13-20 based on what you want to spend. However, this project achieves many extra goals beyond recycling. This solution will:

  • Help you with your Spring cleaning
  • Put your magazines to further use
  • Help the planet
  • Support our troops serving far from home

Betcha didn’t see that last one coming, did ya?  Here is one of the two tools that make this solution possible:

This box, called the “APO/FPO flat rate box” can only be used to ship items to an overseas military address. “APO” basically stands for Armed Services Post Office, which serves all the US military bases on foreign soil, all over the world. To know that you got the APO/FPO flat rate box, look for this logo on the box:

This box is free at any US post office. (Free!) Anything you can fit in this box that weighs less than 20 pounds can be shipped to any APO address for just $13. That’s right! For only $13, the USPS will deliver this box to American soldiers in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not a bad deal, huh? Probably less than you spent on one of those magazine subscriptions.

Okay, here is the second tool:

This is anysoldier.com, a fantastic website which can connect you with US soldiers serving around the world who need a care package from home.

At the top of the page you can link to “What to Send” to see the overall guidelines for shipping packages to APO addresses.

Be sure to scroll down to the “Things NOT to send” and “Tips and Hints” sections of this page and read them carefully.

Also, at the top of the page, click on the “Where to Send” to find the (very) long list of soldiers who need care packages, either for themselves, or more commonly, for their group. You can sort through the soldier requests by current country, branch of service, gender, etc.  Then, click on the soldier’s name for more details about them.

Read what they are looking for, what they really need, in a care package. The key is to find someone who is looking for some extra entertainment to help fill the down time when they are off-duty. It won’t be hard to find this need. Choose your soldier and then ask for their address. This step really commits you to really sending a care package.

I’m guessing you can figure out the next step:

If you have kids, try getting them in on this project, too. This can be an ecology and patriotism lesson in one. Kids can help gather up the magazines around the house and pack the box. Be sure all of your magazines don’t show your home address and are in nice condition when you pack them up.

Have extra room left over in your box?  Consider tossing in:

  • More magazines: Can you help your neighbor’s with their Spring cleaning? You’ll be surprised how many people will contribute when you explain your cause.
  • Good paperback books: Does your book club want to donate some great books? Maybe you can find some great ones at your favorite used book store to include.
  • Snacks to share: try a mix of salty and sweet snacks to please everyone’s cravings. Be careful of sending snack things that can melt in warm temperatures, like chocolate or hard candies. (No home-made food is acceptable, for safety reasons.) Pack the snacks in Ziploc bags to ensure no spills in the shipping and the ability that your soldier can keep them fresh in country.
  • A letter of appreciation: Those of us having a hard day at home often can not imagine what a hard day is like in a combat zone. Even just a few words of thank you and appreciation for their service may make a soldier’s hard day a little more bearable. Tell your soldier a little about yourself and that you’d love to hear back from them, too.
  • A pre-addressed, non-stamped (overseas soldiers get free letter postage) note card and envelope. Help make it easy for your soldier to write back. Be patient, their job is very busy and their post office is often not as conveniently located as your post office is.

Now tape that box up like you mean business. Cover every box edge with tape, so there are no shipping accidents on the way. Drop this box by your US Post Office, pay your $13 and you have:

  • Helped the planet by upcycling paper goods
  • Made a soldier’s day by sending them some love from home

Which one of those achievements feels better? Hmmm. That is a hard call. Try it and decide for yourself. You can do all of these steps in less time than it has taken me to write this post!

Do you like this Green Living idea? This post is part of the year-long Earth Day series started last week. You can read about it in this post. For some budget-best-friendly Green Living household solutions, check out this post and this post. Do you have a great Green Living tip? Post it as a comment to share!

Every day is still not today.

Image courtesy of NASA

You probably already know today is Earth Day.

You can always tell Earth Day is coming up on the calendar because all of the tv networks get all warm and fuzzy about ecology. Green logos sprout from everywhere. PSAs show up, featuring stars you just watched cruising LA in their SUVs on TMZ. The rest of the year, the tv networks are on to other more fashionable causes. You know what I’m talking about, right?

Here is an example of the US government reminding us to be more “green”:

Image (not to scale) courtesy of the United States Postal Service

These stamps just came out this month, just in time for guess-what-day. You can buy them in your US Post Office now. Now, you know I’m a true fan of stamps as art, but I can’t help but notice that none of the above stamps says “Save trees and energy by paying your bills electronically.”

So, what have we confirmed (because, in our hearts, we really already knew this)? We can’t rely on businesses to do the real work on this issue. They all have their own agendas. It is up to us, friends. And sometimes, it seems like an insurmountable task.

Deforestation in progress

As I was thinking about this, I looked at those green stamps. Is there anyone in 2011’s America that doesn’t know they should recycle? What we need is a list of practical new tips that can be accomplished once and hold their eco-friendly value. Tips that can be done quickly…in under 10 minutes.

Challenge accepted!

Twice a month, I’ll post a new idea for Green Living for real life. Quick, mostly cheap things you can do that will make a difference. I’ll do the research and pass it on to you. I’m gonna keep it real and let you know some things we do in our home, too. (There are already some examples here and here.)

How many 10 minute projects would you be willing to do to make your home life better for the planet and better for your conscience? How many over the span of a year? If you try only half of my ideas, you will have made 12 changes toward a better home by the next time Earth Day rolls around.

We’ll start this series next week with an alternative idea for some Spring cleaning and “up-cycling”. I’ll leave you today with a PSA from a real eco-warrior:

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” ~Henry David Thoreau

Do you have a green tip for real life?  Share it in the comments section for everyone to see. All solutions are welcome!

Save money and trees as you clean

Psst! How much do you spend on paper towels?

Yes, you. How much do you spend?

The very best deal I can find on a regular basis is around $10 for a 8-pack of “big-double-roll-select-a-size” paper towels.

I hate having to buy paper towels over and over again. And I hate unpacking them from that big plastic pack because I hate the smell. It smells all petroleum-ish and I think, “Who am I paying here? How many trees died for this pack of paper towels?” (Try it yourself. Press your nose to a new roll of paper towels and inhale. Mmmmm: oil-companies-getting-rich and deforestation.)

So, I did something about it. And it saves me lots of money. (Do I have your attention now?) It also saves trees. Here’s what I found:

These are microfiber cloths.

Oh, I know you’ve probably heard of these before and seen certain brand versions of these for dusting. But these are different. You can do a lot more that dust with these babies! I’ll show you how. First, let’s go to a store we all have nearby:

Image courtesy of Target

We can all agree on Target as a common store in our lives, right? Now let’s go find some microfiber cloths! Here we are in the mop-broom-dish-brush aisle and here are some microfiber cloths for cleaning:

Okay. There are 4 of them for $10.29. Hmm. I will wash them and re-use them, unlike paper towels. They do come in pretty colors. Is this really the best deal? $2.57 per cloth? Oh wait, there’s another option closer to the dish sponges:

Okay, now that is a “3-in-1” cloth, whatever that means. The packaging seems to suggest I can use it on multiple surfaces…3 of them. It’s still one cloth, though, isn’t it? One cloth for $3. Yeah, that is not a better deal. And I don’t really need the cloth to look green to know it is a green alternative for cleaning. Is that why this one costs more? Let’s look in that one other place I know about:

Now, here we go!

12 towels for $10?! That is more like it! 83¢ a towel is a much better deal!  And they are just grey and white…which is the exact color of the dust buffalos I chase out of the back of the bookshelves. And these are much bigger, too! Twice the size of those other towels. Why are these such a deal?

Oh.

We’re in Target’s Automotive section. These towels are for detailing a car. And they are in ANY store’s automotive section.

Here they are in Wal-mart’s Automotive section:

15 towels for $9.87, which is 66¢ per towel.Remember the first set of four towels we found at Target? Those were $2.57 per towel. Aren’t those marketing people clever?

Well, if you can detail a car with one of these towels, I can really scrub my kitchen with one! And I won’t have to buy more of them every month. And there won’t be anymore paper towel lint caught on my fridge doors when I’m done.

You can use these cloths, any microfiber cloth, with any cleaner. Put some elbow grease into the cleaning and the cloths will solve most challenges. I use a very little amount of water on one to clean my laptop and tv. We use them with furniture polish on the hardwood floors. We’ve even scrubbed the cooking surface of our gas stove with them. Here’s my stack of microfiber towels with its regular companion, my bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s. (You can read all about this little cleaning gem here.)

There are only two things you can not do with these cloths:

  1. DO NOT USE FABRIC SOFTENER ON THEM! It takes away all of their magic-clingy-ness forever. (Yes, that is the scientific term.)
  2. Don’t put them in the dryer. They will shrink in a hot dryer.

How is this solution sounding to you now? It would be cheap to implement, since you were gonna blow some money on those disposable paper towels anyway.

Let’s recap:

  • Cheap purchase price for lots of product
  • Saves you money from future purchases
  • Saves you carrying bulk pack of paper towels to car & house
  • Saves trees
  • Less money to mystery petroleum & tree killing companies
  • Less garbage/recycling to put out on trash day
  • Multiple surface uses
  • Multiple cleaner options
  • Washable
  • Stack nicely in a smaller area in your cupboard

Wow!  Win-win-win-win-win. Do you even need another reason?

Okay.  I’ll leave you today to think about this:

Image courtesy of NASA

Earth Day is next week.

Are you doing anything to pitch in and help this year?

Save your jean pool

Jeans: can’t live with out them…can’t get them dry on “low” in under 2 hours.

Ya with me?

A good pair of jeans can be expensive. We are a family of tall people, so even finding a good pair in the right length can seem like a quest worthy of Tolkien. When we do find a good pair, we try to make them last. Risking the shrink factor in the dryer is just not on the table for us. So, we air-dry all our jeans. This saves on our energy costs, so we count it as a greener living choice, too. But, oh,*sigh*, the waiting….

It used to take 2 -3 days for our jeans to fully dry.

Enter my husband. We’ll call him Mr. CARO.

Mr. CARO is the Laundry Czar at our house. Through years of noble laundry experimentation, he has developed…nay…perfected a jeans playbook for all seasons. In the interest of saving the life of even just one pair of jeans out there, I share his 3 best jeans tips with you here:

1. Wash your jeans inside out, with the buttons and zippers closed. The jeans manufacturers use the friction between pairs of jeans to help give them that trendy I-wore-these-building-railroads-in-the-1850’s faded look. To keep your jeans the same color you bought them as, turn them inside out.

2. For the fastest air drying, use the hanger technique shown below.

Get a few of these types of hangers:

They are often called “skirt hangers”. We use them for jeans, too. Clip the bottom row of clips, to the top row of clips. Like this:

Bottom clips to top clips...

...clip #1...

...clip #2.

Now, clip your wet jeans by the waistband, using all four of the now-bottom clips. Like this:

Clip the back of the waistband...

...clip the front of the waistband...

...done.

This allows more air to the waistband area, which always takes the longest to dry. This also allows some air down the legs of the jeans. Hang the hanger anywhere you like for drying. Your jeans will dry much faster than you expect.

3. Use those fancy new hangers to make more room in your closet.

Fold #1...

...fold #2...

"...clip the jeans onto the hanger along the folded leg seams...

...to get 4 pairs of jeans on one hanger.

A big thank you to Mr. CARO for his fab hand modeling! Do you have any laundry tips you can share with the rest of us? Any other going-greener laundry fans out there? Leave a comment!

Problem solver: Green Cleaning

The “Problem solver” series deals with little real life problems around the house. We’ve talked a little about real living (you can read that earlier discussion here), so it should be fun to share some real problem solving ideas for the home, too.

Image courtesy of Scientific American

Does this scenario seem familiar?:

You have to clean your house. You want to use greener/less toxic cleaning products because you know it is the right thing to do. You want the house to be truly clean when you’re done cleaning. You don’t want to spend a lot of money in a whole new set of cleaning products. You wish you could just find something that cleans everything.

Believe me, I have been there, too. And I found an answer:

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day All Purpose Cleaner

Image courtesy of Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day

Hold on!  If this is starting to sound like a big commercial, let me assure you it is not. I do not accept any compensation, monetary or otherwise, to mention any products or services on this blog. (You can read my detailed position on this in the “About” section of this blog, linked here.) I only mention products on this blog because I really like them. Now, back to the cleaning discussion…

The 32 fl.oz. bottle pictured above is a concentrate. It runs about $8 per bottle in Target, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Amazon and many other stores. I know what you’re thinking, “What happened to ‘not spending a lot of money’?!” Take heart, that bottle on your screen makes 16 gallons of cleaning solution. 16 full gallons. When was the last time you bought a gallon of cleaner?

To make the most commonly used solution, you mix 1/4 cup All Purpose Cleaner with 1 gallon of warm water. Clean anything:  Wood furniture, stainless steel surfaces, toilet bowls, kitchen floors, door handles, tv remotes, etc.  They really mean “all purpose”. When you have used up your gallon of cleaning solution, mix up another one. That’s all there is to it. (You can even use this bottle undiluted for really hard stains, except not on hardwood floors or natural stone.)

Oh, and it smells good, but the smell doesn’t linger forever, either. They have all kinds of scents to choose from (basil, lavender, lemon verbena, geranium, baby blossom, honeysuckle and apple), including an unscented version. We love the lemon verbena!

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day make lots of different products. They all have the good-for-the-planet-ness that we should all look for, too. Full disclosure: the All Purpose Cleaner does everything at my home, so I’ve never tried the rest of the products. Here’s my bottle in every day use:

Does this suggestion help?  Do you want more green cleaning ideas? (I have them to share!) Do you have some handy around-the-house tips you’d like to share?  Leave a comment!

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