Posts Tagged by Simplicity
|June 1, 2010||Posted by Issa under Simple-Eco-Happy|
I recently switched over to using cloth in my bathroom, instead of toilet paper. The guest bathroom and Joshua’s bathroom still have toilet paper, but I’ve been enjoying cloth in my own. Like the switch from paper towels to washcloths in the kitchen and the switch to reusable menstrual products, switching to bathroom cloth has been equally satisfying. Here’s a little 101 on the whole idea.
The basic idea is that instead of using toilet paper, you use small pieces of fabric instead, toss them into a container after use, launder them, and reuse them. That’s it – a pretty simple idea, although the details can vary based on personal preference.
If you want to go Googling around for more information after reading this post, it’s usually called “family cloth” instead of bathroom cloth. My guess about the reason is that a lot of the online “crunchy” blogging comes from mothers. There’s cloth diapers for the baby. Then there’s cloth menstrual pads for mom, which are often called “mama cloth”. Then the cloth in the bathroom gets called “family cloth”. I don’t like using “mama cloth” – not every menstruating woman is a mother, by a long shot! And for the same reason, I don’t like saying “family cloth”. You don’t have to be in a family to use it, and the whole family doesn’t have to be on board. “Toilet cloth” and “bathroom wipes” are other terms used, but I think “toilet” and “wipes” are weird words, so I go with bathroom cloth.
Why do it?
I’ve replaced a lot of disposable paper items in my home with reusable, washable cloth, so using cloth in the bathroom makes a lot of sense for me, personally. If you’ve not switched over to cloth in other areas, bathroom cloth might not be the ideal starter move! Replacing paper towels in the kitchen is a comfortable place to start.
All of my decisions to switch to cloth begin with environmental concern. Here are some stats from this article, via Crunchy Chicken: Americans average out to using 57 sheets of toilet paper a day, 6 times the worldwide average. We like the fluffy kind, too. One and a half million tons of office paper and newspaper are thrown away yearly, even though it could be recycled into toilet paper. No one likes recycled toilet paper, though. We can’t even stand one-ply. It’s gotta be fluffy. Using cloth reduces the resources used to make the toilet paper, though it can’t do anything about office paper and newspapers (that’s another post!)
Environmental stats can never be the end of my thought process, though, because “helping the environment” is a huge topic with lots of interwoven aspects, and I’m not usually up to the math. In my Washcloths in the Kitchen post, I said, “The truth is that I don’t know for certain how this single choice stacks up environmentally. For example, am I wiping out all potential environmental benefits of reusing by washing them in hot water? I don’t know.”
I do know a few things, though. I know that I want to spend less money, which reusable products help me do. I know that I value simplicity, and having the things I need right on hand instead of having to continually shop for them brings simplicity to my life. And while for any individual action it may be hard to count the environmental costs, I strongly believe that over the course of all our small decisions, reusable is infinity better for the health of the planet than disposable.
Isn’t It Gross?
That depends entirely on you. I don’t find it gross at all, but I’m a dirty hippie, so your mileage may vary!
As far as touching body parts goes, using cloth doesn’t get your hands any closer to anything than they were before, unless you’re one of those giant wad of toilet paper people. 57 sheets a day! When Joshua used the cloths I made, he thought they were awkwardly small, but they seem just right to me. Picking the right size might matter for your comfort level.
The other concern some people have is that now there’s a container of soiled cloth sitting in your bathroom. Some people choose to use a non-airtight container, like one of those little trashcans with the flipping lid or a hanging bag (which you can hang from the now empty toilet paper holder!) Using a non-airtight container means that the cloth isn’t in there collecting an increasing smell in the container. Since many people use cloth only after urination, I’m not sure if those using it for defecation as well are using this method. Cloths used after urination have very little liquid left on them, and it seems reasonable to me to just toss them in a non-airtight container.
The other option is using a container that’s sealed. I prefer this method, since I use cloth for both urination and defecation, and I don’t personally like the idea of that sitting out. I use a container that’s easy to sanitize – a large re-purposed pickle jar. It has a wide mouth and is easy to screw the lid off, put the cloth in, and put the lid back on in the space of a single breath. If I had to hold my breath because of collecting smells, either at the time of use or when dumping the cloth into the washer, I would consider that an acceptable trade-off to having the used cloth sitting out. However! I have noticed that the jar doesn’t actually smell. It seems like it would, but mine doesn’t. When I’m washing the cloths, I rinse the jar and then spritz it down with a light bleach-water mix to sanitize it.
Like other cloth products, I’ve found using cloth in the bathroom to be a much nicer experience for my body. I’ve always used economy, one-ply toilet paper, just because the rolls last longer and I didn’t have to buy as often, so comfort has never been my priority in this area. However, even compared to the extra-fluffy variety of toilet paper, cloth is a better experience for me. It’s very, very soft. After defecation, the cloth cleans more efficiently than paper. Plus, there’s no chance of paper bits being left behind.
For use after defecation, some people have a spritz bottle on hand to spray the cloth with before use. Some use water. Some use home-concocted mixes with things like lavender and Dr. Bronner’s stuff in the mix. I put a little spray bottle near my toilet in the beginning, but I found that it was an unnecessary step for me. The cloth cleans fine on its own.
A Little or a Lot
I’ve read several other people online who want to switch to cloth or they have switched, but they have other family members who aren’t behind the idea. I hear, “I want to switch, but my family never would,” or, “I made everyone switch, but they’re all mad at me about it.” Everyone in your household doesn’t have to be on board in order for you to switch yourself. If you have multiple bathrooms, you can switch just one bathroom in your house, like I did, and leave the others with toilet paper. You can have both available in the bathroom – cloth for you and paper for others. With both of these options, you still have toilet paper on the shopping list, but you are still getting the other benefits, like comfort and reducing some paper usage.
Also, please don’t worry about whether or not you’re doing enough. Do what works for you. It might work for you to only use cloth for after urinating. You might try it for awhile, not like it, and give it up. You might use cloth sometimes and paper other times. The idea may not appeal to you at all! I always try to talk about these things from the perspective of what seems useful and fun to me, but nothing more.
My preference for making the cloths is to use discarded material that I already have on hand and re-purposing it. Others use material from thrift store items. There are some options available for buying pre-made cloth just for this purpose, but for me, that’s the least attractive option.
I use cotton knit shirts that have been eliminated from my closet due to a hole or stain. I simply cut them into rectangles, set them near the toilet, and that’s it. You could use old blankets or any number of other discarded material choices. Thicker materials that have a tight weave are better, but you probably don’t want fabric that’s stiff. Choose something soft. Also, I prefer something with a little bit of texture, like flannel or cotton knit, as opposed to something like cotton sheets or dress shirts that are very smooth.
As far as size, I’d recommending just cutting up a handful, seeing how you like it, and then readjusting as needed. You could try starting somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter the size of a washcloth.
Don’t forget you need to find a container for the used cloths. I delayed my switch a few days as I searched for something we already owned that I could use, before finally settling on the pickle jar. Also, some people recommend having a pair of tongs nearby when you first start out. Given the lifetime of previous habits, you might very well drop some in the toilet the first few times!
When it’s time to wash them, you need to use a wash method that sanitizes. Hot water or bleach are the two that I prefer, and I alternate between them. There may be other good sanitizing methods that I don’t know about.
How About You?
Have you tried using bathroom cloth? How did it go? Do you have any other questions? Let me know in the comments.
|December 21, 2009||Posted by Issa under Simple-Eco-Happy|
I use washcloths exclusively in the kitchen. Joshua feels strongly about having paper towels on hand for a couple of specific tasks. I feel strongly about paper towels not being visible in my kitchen, so that they do not accidentally get over-used. The end result is that there is one lonely roll of paper towels hidden in a little-used cabinet, but I personally only ever use washcloths.
Originally, this choice related primarily to environmental concern. Paper towels are single-use items, which seems especially grievous for a small task like hand-drying. Over time, I have become less vocal about attributing certain choices to environmental reasons, though. The truth is that I don’t know for certain how this single choice stacks up environmentally. For example, am I wiping out all potential environmental benefits of reusing by washing them in hot water? I don’t know.
What I do believe is that more complexity, in general, doesn’t do me, my money, my health, or the planet any good. Using cloth in the kitchen remains a simple, easy, life-lived-lightly choice for me, and I simply enjoy it.
I enjoy not having another item to buy. I’ve been in some houses where the paper products to be regularly purchased really stack up in their variety. There’s paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, paper plates, wrapping paper, etc. Paper towels are one thing I’m happy to have permanently checked off my list. Wrapping paper is another. Toilet paper may be coming soon!
I especially like the feel of cloth over paper. For drying my hands or for using as a napkin at the dinner table, cloth is so much nicer on my skin than paper towels. Paper towels used in the kitchen often end up greasy, meaning they can’t be composted. I like that cloth means I have less kitchen waste. When kitchen clothes do fall apart, they can be re-purposed into garage cloths, diaper inserts (if we ever manage to make a baby!), or even composted.
And finally, I just like the simplicity. This is related to not buying things. When I need more kitchen cloths, I don’t have to buy anything or even leave the house. I just have to do laundry. This is a home activity I already do, so procuring more cloth for the kitchen fits seamlessly into my day. This results in me never “running out” of an essential kitchen item.
There are two or three things that tend to pop up when people consider moving away from paper towels in the kitchen. I’ll give you my solution for those.
What about microwave items that say to be wrapped in a paper towel?
I eat a few items like this, so this is something I had to tackle. I like to make on-the-spot baked potatoes – stab it with a fork a few times, wrap in paper towel and zap for 5 minutes. I also like frozen burritos heated up for breakfast, which also needed to be wrapped. What to do?
The reason for wrapping in paper towel is to hold in the moisture and steam the item a bit. For most things, I simply zap them in something with a lid. The burrito or baked potato goes in a bowl and I put a small plate on top of the bowl for a lid. Or you can use plastic ware with lids if you have that in your kitchen. For some items that are well-contained (not messy) and only need a small amount of heating (like some burritos, for example), you can wrap them in a washcloth just like you would have with a paper towel.
What about de-greasing items like bacon or ground beef?
My first step for these items is to put them in a mesh strainer. Much of the grease simply strains away, which I save for use in other dishes that call for oil/fat. If you need further straining than that, go ahead and use a washcloth. If you’re washing them in hot, a little grease is not going to be a problem.
What about pet messes?
This is where a multi-cloth system can come in handy. You might not want to put a washcloth that’s been used on a pet mess back in the kitchen. But you can have a second set of cloths for this kind of messy purpose and still not need paper towels.
I have found that in kitchens using washcloths, you use a lot. You won’t just get out one cloth in the morning and toss it in the laundry at the end of the day. If you do a lot in your kitchen, you’ll have one “clean” one you’re drying your hands with, a messy one you cleaned up some spill with, one that the dripping ladel is resting on, a couple on the table that have been used as napkins, and a miscellaneous one or two here and there.
At The Wallow, we keep a small bowl near the stack of clean washcloths. When a washcloth is ready for the laundry, we simply toss it into the bowl. This gets dirty ones out of the way so you’re not accidentally going to dry your hands on something icky. It puts all the dirty ones in one place, ready to be whisked to the laundry when the time comes.
You will have to wash the cloths in a way that sanitizes. This means hot water, bleach, or some other sanitizing method. Otherwise, your clean washcloths will smell bad, which means there’s still bacteria lurking on there. I usually wash in hot water, occasionally running my washer’s “sanitize” mode (which is extra-hot) or the “silver care” mode that does some ions/magnet/magic sanitize thing that I don’t understand. I used to try to wash my kitchen cloth on cold like I do everything else. Nope. Not if you want to be able to dry your hands without holding your nose!
Simplicity and Satisfaction
This post could be categorized under Homesteading/Kitchen. It could also go under Being a Hippie. I don’t talk about simplicity a lot, even though it’s something that’s so important to me. Simplicity seeps into all my choices, so it can be an invisible value sometimes. I’m going to go ahead and file this one under Simplicity, because environment aside, using cloth in the kitchen is just simpler for me and easier on my mind.
I like doing things around my home that bring me simple satisfaction. When I buy a roll of paper towels, unwrap it, and place it in my kitchen, I get no sense of pleasure. However, this post came into being because today I washed the washcloths for the kitchen at The Wallow. I took them out of the dryer and carried them upstairs, where I put the bundle on the counter. I folded them all and made a nice little stack at the end of the counter. A little tower of clean cloth now awaits me for my various kitchen tasks. The very act of creating this pile strikes me as clean and fresh and satisfying, and I think I’ll keep it.
|November 7, 2009||Posted by Issa under Simple-Eco-Happy|
Shortly after moving into The Wallow, Joshua and I had to go grocery shopping, of course. We went into town seeking a grocery store, and one of the first places we found was a Whole Foods-type place. It was a large, well-stocked grocery store with a focus on organic and “natural” foods. Joshua and I share those values, to some extent, so in we went.
We were able to find much of what we were looking for. I also ran across something that I wasn’t looking for, but that I stopped for to have a good chuckle.
First up, VerTerra Dinnerware. VerTerra makes plates and bowls “made only from two products: fallen leaves and water”. They say their products are compostable at home within two months. According to their website, you can use hot and liquid foods on these dishes, can microwave them for up to 2 minutes, and they won’t be affected by the sun, so you can use them outdoors.
I found an article on VerTerra over at TreeHugger with lots of great quotes from a VerTerra representative:
“Our entire process is run in concert with nature, which is why we use fallen leaves, and recapture over 80% of the water that we use.”
“The leaves are collected from plantations by the owners, traditionally the leaves were burned on the road side. Instead of burning them we thought it better to utilize them so we got permission to pick them up from the plantation owners and started truck (or cart) routes.”
“At no point are any chemicals, liquors, glues, bonding agents, or the like used.”
Sounds good, right? If you’d like to check them out yourself, they are even available at Amazon.
Then there’s Bambu Veneerware. Bambu boasts party-ware made from organic bamboo. The product line includes plates, trays, and utensils. They recommend that you not use them in the microwave and that you only use them once.
Bambu, of course, is also available from Amazon.
These products are clearly being marketed to me. I walked past the display in the grocery store and they caught my eye quite well. My brain was right in step as well – “Oh! Plates made from leaves! Bamboo! So eco-conscious!” The products and their packaging have the look that I like – a minimalist, nature look that I first noticed in yoga-commerce.
I also appreciate the idea that if there’s something that I really want to do, I should be on the lookout for ways to do it that take my larger environment in mind. Making useful products out of leaves? Who wouldn’t approve of that?
So why did I get a laugh out of these products? Mainly because the eco-consciousness is out of sync with the actual product. Disposable is not responsible. Is it better than making disposable plates from plastic? Yes, of course. But it’s still furthering the idea that it’s okay to eat off of a plate one time and then throw it in the trash.
I haven’t used disposable dinnerware in a long time. I have glass and stone plates, regular metal silverware, and glass storage bowls. When I take food to a friend’s house, I use my glass bowls. When I go on a picnic, I use the same dishes I use for everything else, or I wrap the food up in cloth. I’ve never understood having special, trash dishes.
If someone can buy one of these products and get a little further away from completely disposable dishes, that’s great. If they buy one of these and then compost them, perfect. If they buy one of these and then reuse them several times, that’s also great.
The danger in these products is if someone uses them to not make any changes at all. Someone who wants to get away from disposables, but uses these products as an excuse to keep doing what they’re doing. Or someone like me, who hasn’t used disposable in years, but saw these products and had an “Ooh shiney!” reaction.
Besides being an environmental issue, this all ties into simplicity for me, too. I just don’t need more stuff. I don’t need a greater variety of stuff. The people and companies who try to talk me into buying more and more stuff do not have my best interests in mind, regardless of how much “green” is on their packaging.
Remember folks, marketing works, but chances are, the choice that’s good for the environment and good for you involves buying LESS not buying MORE or even buying differently.