A vow to action by a trepidatious suburban Greenmom...
Okay, it's official, and I'm trying it. After taking the past year to methodically and deliberately excise most processed, artificially flavored, and convenience foods from my kitchen (with the exception of pasta and white flour; I can only do so much!), it's time to take the next step.
Paper towels. We use too many of them. It's nuts. We use them as napkins, we use them to mop up the counter, we use them to wipe up spilled milk, we use them to blow our noses, we use them way too much. To our credit, we have cut down to the "select-a-size" ones, and we each only use half of one of those as a dinner napkin, but even that's just dopey beyond belief. You'd totally laugh if you saw our dinner table with these little 5x5 pieces of paper towel.
So today, here, publicly, we are taking step one: table napkins. Napkins are weird things--unless you're a really messy eater, often you can get through an entire meal without touching it, or maybe touching it once or twice...and yet we tend to sort of put them out automatically, without thinking. (For the record, I'm a fairly messy eater.)
When I first came to Chicago I did one of those volunteer service year things--lived in an old convent building with 14 other recent college or grad school graduates, each of us with a job in an underserved neighborhood in the city somewhere, for room and board and something like $100/month. (Even in 1992 that $100 didn't go very far.) We cooked and cleaned on a rotating schedule (some of us who were better cooks got out of some of the cleaning duties...) and ate in this giant dining room with a huge table. And we used cloth napkins every night. The system was actually pretty cool--each of us as sort of a "housewarming" gift got our own distinct and somewhat funky napkin ring. (Mine was a pewter pig. Very cute. I still have it.) We had a napkin in that napkin ring, and that was our napkin for the week or until it got too grimy and we wanted a new one. On taco night most of the napkins got replaced, needless to say...We put dirty ones into the laundry basket and got a new one as needed, but often you could get through a week on one napkin without even trying, and you knew no one's germs but yours were on your napkin. And again, this was in 1992, long before we were paying attention to cutting back on garbage--I think it was primarily a cost saving thing.
So I'm trying a variation on this with my family. Not the napkin rings per se, but individual napkins in specific prints, stolen from my fabric stash. I cut about 20" squares of four different fabrics--butterflies for my daughter, moons and stars for my son, funky sunflower batik for me, and the aztec print for my husband--and hemmed the edges. I'll make four of each (so far I've only done two apiece, but it doesn't take too long once I get going), and we can each use our napkin until such time as it's goopy and needs replacing. We have a few miscellaneous other cloth napkins around, for guests as needed (we seldom have guests anyway), and hopefully this can cut down on the biggest use of the paper things.
The second big area we'll need to deal with: cleaning rags. I am thinking I can cut up and edge-finish some of our old beat up towels for bigger jobs, and/or some of my husband's sub-shredded t-shirts for small ones. Once we find a storage space for these, I figure we can start using them for basic mop-ups, and create a hanging laundry bag in the kitchen somewhere so they can be tossed in there as easily as we currently toss paper towels into the garbage, and periodically washed. If we had to work hard to dispose of the dirty ones, I know no one else in the family will go along with this...
The switch to "real" food took us probably 4 or 5 months to make official and automatic, and the months after that were when it settled in to the point where we don't even really notice that we're doing it. (Except when the kids see the brightly colored "Go-Gurt" packages on our rare trips to the regular supermarket, and of course they beg for them...) I figure it will take us at least as long to make this adjustment...but here and now, I'm starting it. Not all at once, and I won't beat myself or my husband up if it doesn't go easily right off the bat. But we'll do it.
Y'all who've already taken this plunge--does this approach sound sensible? Any other ideas or thoughts, pitfalls, whatever, that might drop added challenges our way?
--Jenn the Greenmom