For a long time I felt that being environmentally conscious or "green" was out of my reach. We couldn't afford to buy 100% organic everything or install solar panels on our house and I felt like there wasn't much else I could do.
To make myself feel better I focused on the things I was doing and tried not to think about all the chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides that were making their way into our home via cleaning products and non-organic food.
We still can’t afford solar panels. However, through my efforts to simplify our lives, I've realized there are a lot of little things I can do myself every single day to make our lives a little greener and a little healthier.
Here are 8 things you can start doing right now to make a difference for your family and the environment. Don't be overwhelmed. You don't have to start doing all 8 today...pick your favorite as a starting point and go from there!
1. Eliminate paper products. Production and use of paper products have a substantial environmental impact. Challenge yourself to stop using paper towels and paper napkins. Go cold turkey! Don't buy them! Instead of reaching for a paper towel, grab a wash rag or a hand towel. Everything you wipe up with paper can be wiped up with a rag. Don't be afraid to get a wash rag dirty. The rag or towel will do a better job than paper and you can wash it when you're done!
Instead of using paper napkins at meals, use cloth napkins. Cloth napkins aren't just for fancy restaurants. You may have to remind your guests that it's okay to actually use the cloth napkins. If you use a lot of paper towels and don't think you have enough wash rags and towels to meet your needs check the clearance racks at your favorite stores for cloth napkins or make a run to the dollar store to stock up on extra wash rags. If you sew, make them yourself. Please be aware you may become addicted to super cute napkins and start eliminating paper in other areas of your life.
2. Wash laundry with cold water and line dry your clothes. Most items get just as clean with cold water as with hot and there are numerous benefits to line drying your clothes. Did you know the sun is a natural sanitizing and bleaching agent? You’ll be amazed when that lingering stain on your favorite shirt disappears after an afternoon in the sun. Pick up a clothes line and clothes pins at your local grocery store for just a few dollars and start drying. I run our clothesline from our house to the fence like so.
If you can’t hang your clothes outside, hang clothes on a drying rack in your laundry room (or living room) or just on hangers. You can find examples of the wide variety of drying racks here. Drying racks can be nice outside as well as you can move them around to follow the sun. And, if you really feel adventurous you can make your own affordable eco-friendly laundry detergent. I promise it's quick and easy. Add 4 Tbls. of white vinegar to your washing machine's rinse cycle and you've got yourself a chemical free fabric softener.
3. Make your own household cleaners. Take the first step toward eliminating chemical cleaners by making your own natural cleaning spray. Mix 1 cup of white vinegar, 1/2 tsp. castile soap, 1 cup of water, and a few drops of essential oil in a spray bottle and you're done--you've got an eco-friendly daily cleaning spray. Check out Simply Clean for recipes for homemade cleaners for every room in the house and tons of information about using natural products to clean and disinfect.
4. Make your own beauty products. In less time than it takes to find a "natural" facial wash at the store, you can make one at home using stuff that is probably sitting in your pantry. I loved the Oil Cleansing Method until my pregnant, hormonal skin decided I needed something oil free. I switched to raw honey, which has antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and my face cleared up in a day. I love that one or two ingredients I have in my kitchen can replace facewash, make-up remover, and face lotion. But don't limit yourself to facewash. Indulge in a sugar scrub (or a salt scrub) and experiment with homemade body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and hairspray.
5. Buy used. If you need to buy something, see if you can find it used first. Buying used reduces the need for resources used in production and transport of an item and it also keeps more stuff out of landfills. It's possible to find almost everything used (or pre-owned, gently used, previously loved, whatever term you prefer) at local thrift and consignment stores or online. If you realize the weather is warming up and your kids don’t own any shorts that fit or you need a new kitchen table or a bicycle or anything else, check Goodwill, consignment shops such as Once Upon a Child (or your local equivalent), Craigslist, Freecycle, and threadUP. If you need something to read and don't have a good local option for used books check out BookMooch.
6. Avoid bottled water. There are numerous reasons why not buying and drinking bottled water is better for the environment, your health, and your pocket book. Read about nine reasons to ditch the bottle and watch The Story of Bottled Water for more. Use a BPA free reusable water bottle and fill it with tap water (or filtered tap water if you prefer). You'll save money, drink higher quality water, and help decrease the number of plastic bottles finding their way into landfills and our oceans.
7. Shop at your local farmer's market or CSA. While organic food may seem super pricey, that's not always the case. Many small, local farms are pesticide free without the organic certification and the price tag. Others offer affordable weekly or bi-weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes. Check out Local Harvest to find a farmer's market or CSA near you. You'll be eating wonderful pesticide free fruits and veggies while supporting local business and environmentally friendly farming practices.
8. Be picky and choose food wisely. If, like me, you still can't afford to buy everything organic and/or your access to farmer's markets and CSAs is limited, make informed choices at the grocery store. Use the Environmental Working Group's "Clean 15" and "Dirty Dozen" lists to prioritize what you buy organic. By using the lists you can stay within your budget and minimize your pesticide intake at the same time.
What little things do you do every day to make your life more green?
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