If you learn anything by walking into my house, you’ll learn that we’re terrible at recycling. We go through a massive amount of trash every week. I’m constantly decluttering and getting rid of stuff because I hate all of it covering up every single surface in my house. Where does that stuff go? Straight into my basement to clutter my storage area, in hopes that one day it might be sold or sent to Goodwill, or thrown into the garbage. If you read my post yesterday, 5 Household Changes to Save you Hundreds, you’ll also know that I’m a paper towel addict. Where does that go? In the trash, of course. When we ran our wood burner through the winter months, as our primary heat source, we had a little bit of a plan. Paper items usually were thrown into a box for kindling. It was pretty solid method for getting rid of the mail that had our personal information on it, and even some chemical-free, paper towels and old notebooks. With the idea of wonderful natural gas in our near future, however, I knew this wouldn’t be an option for long. Now that we do primarily heat our home with natural gas, we’ve proven my theory. Trash piles up faster than ever. Besides filling landfills at an alarming rate, these use-hand-toss items we’re a huge budget strain. The convenience of consumables isn’t exactly cheap. So, what was the solution to our dilemma, but to stop using them. The whole process turned out to be a lot easier to begin and grow accustomed to than I initially thought. While we’re still in the process, here’s just a few of the ways we’re replacing our never ending garbage collection, and easing our budget at the same time.
1. Paper towels
We no longer purchase paper towels. While walking through Target one evening, I stumbled across a great product. These felt rags we’re the perfect way to replace our paper towels. The ones we found only came in an 4 pack, and I’ve since discovered that there are a ton of different kinds of these. These ones, are by far, the best deal I’ve found on them. We bought a 1 Gallon jar, and keep them on next to our stove. They even take up significantly less room, and look a lot better than our paper towel roll did. For cleaning purposes, I would have a couple of microfiber rags on hand too. They work wonders on windows, appliances, and other semi-shiny surfaces. It was a little difficult at first, not being able to toss them away for particularly gross messes, like the first time my cat got hold of a mouse after we switched. I would have like to have thrown out that particular cloth, but I didn’t, and it has been so worth it. Replacing paper towels has been the easiest transition we’ve made so far.
This is still a project in progress. I’m definitely leaning toward hybrids, pretty much because they’re the least amount of hassle, but they’re also the most expensive. We have two in diapers. Though my 22-month-old uses significantly fewer diapers since potty training, we still go through a ridiculous number. My 6-month-old is going to be in the diaper phase for at least another year. Luckily for me, there’s this really great site called Diaper Swappers. The idea is that parents sell gently used cloths at a fraction of the price. What you may be able to get brand new in stores for around $1,000, you might find there for $300. It’s a great option if you’re looking to make the switch.
Wipes are another work in progress. Initially, the idea kind of freaked me out in a way that cloth diapers never has. When I really consider the matter, however, what’s the difference really? They all touch the same bodily fluids that cloth diapers do, they all go into the same pail, and they can all be washed the same. The nice thing about cloth wipes, is that they’re ridiculously easy to make for yourself and don’t take a lot of fabric. This tutorial from Making it at Home, gives step-by-step instructions on how to do it yourself.
4. Food Containers
We don’t buy many foods that come in plastic containers. Our creamer, however, is our Achilles heel. I just really discovered awful, high-calorie, high-sugar creamer a couple months ago and now we’re addicted. It comes in these translucent bottles that we go through at least once a week. Instead of tossing them, I fill them with rice and quinoa. I make my own dog food and eat rice with nearly every meal, so we go through a lot. We also don’t have a lot of room on our open pantry, so it’s really nice to buy in bulk, and not have that huge bag of rice hanging around. They also work well for dry beans, and smaller ones for sugar shakers. I like to keep my pantry organized, so storage containers are essential. I have a few store-bought ones, but my containers are primarily made up of other food containers, and food that doesn’t yet have a designated container.
5. Toilet Paper
Just kidding, our toilet paper is with us for the long haul. They do have really sweet biodegradable and organic options, as well as feminine products like this Seventh Generation toilet paper, though. These choices aren’t exactly cost effective, but if your primary goal is to save the environment, they might be a good option. I’m sure, if you’re really dedicated, you could use the same idea as cloth wipes, we’re just not going that route.
You can’t really get away from this one. Friends, family, and some companies are going to be dead set on sending you paper and cards through the mail. Besides, it’s fun to get mail sometimes. You can, however, make a huge dent in your mail pile-up by switching to paperless billing with many companies. Saving the environment is a trend that even smaller companies are jumping on. Online billing is both environmentally friendly, and in our situation, at least, cost efficient. We don’t have to buy checks and we worry a lot less about late fees by viewing and paying our bills online. Some companies are going so far as to charge processing fees with paper checks or offering discounts to “paperless” subscribers. This also works well with bank statements and direct deposit. It’s also wonderful not to have to worry about whether our account numbers, addresses, or social security numbers are going to be misplaced and fall into the wrong hands.
I don’t know that I would consider books a consumable item, but they sure do take up a lot of space. You can condense your stash by downloading them to your Kindle, iPad, or other electronic reading device. Some people just like physical books, which is okay, books, in their original binding, are an art form, but there are other options if that doesn’t bother you. Textbooks are where I really save time, money, and space. With my husband and I both in school, we go through a lot of text books. Most companies offer them as an e-book. Some people don’t learn well from e-books, but for those who can tolerate them, they’re awesome. I never have to run through the house to gather up my materials before beginning my homework. They’re always sitting in one place when I need them. I don’t like to rent physical books, especially as an online student. I would most definitely forget to send them back. With many of the text books I need that are available on Amazon, however, I can rent them for the length of my course and then they’re automatically removed from my library. In the past, I would have never consider them because I write heavily in all my books, but with the way e-books are now, I can highlight and note in them using the Kindle app and they never lose value, which happens to usually be more than 30% less than traditional books. Sometimes e-books are even included in course costs. Libraries often have a on online program as well. If you have a library card, you can rent from their online book collection without even leaving your house! If you’re a homebody like me, with children that can’t walk, and regularly trip over cracks in the sidewalk, this might just be the answer to your prayers. Bye-bye late fees!
8. Instructions and Manufacturer Warranties
Most companies offer electronic versions and electronic registration. You can download them to your phone, e-reader, or tablet. If not, you can always take pictures of the pages and save them to your cloud. We had a massive box of guides that we will probably never have looked at again, now, on the off-chance we need to, we have them without the mess.
Movies and music are another thing that I don’t know if I would consider “consumable” exactly, but their storage devices go out of style pretty regularly. I have VHS tapes in my basement for goodness knows how long. I have DVDs and Bluerays that are going to be completely obsolete in a couple of years too. A lot of DVDs have free movie downloads of the electronic versions that I will probably take advantage of, but for the most part. We just stopped buying them. Music, video games, and movies can all be downloaded electronically for the same price of buying them in stores. Library rentals are usually available online as well. If you have a reasonably fast internet connection, these options are open to you. Dying to see a popular movie the day it comes out? There’s no worry whether they’re going to be sold out at Walmart anymore.
10. Paper Dishes
Paper and plastic flatware is no doubt, convenient, but it does get expensive. This one is a little bit of a Catch-22. While we do save a ton of space in landfills, we waste a lot of water running the dishwasher. We don’t have a dishwasher and could potentially use the gray water to water the garden, so while it’s a little better, it definitely puts a big hit on convenience. Worth it, however, is the ton of money we save by not having to go out and buy more every time we run out.
11. Cleaning Products
I like to make our cleaning products. It saves money, it’s saves a call to poison control with my kids and animals always running around, and it’s just as effective. We buy reusable bottles to put our cleaners in so we never have to buy more. [CAUTION: NEVER mix cleaners, even if they’re homemade. Unless you’re absolutely sure that the ingredients are safe to mix, get a new bottle. It’s better to be safe than economical and sorry.]
12. Dry Animal Food
As I said before, we make our own dog food. Cat food is a little bit more labor-intensive, as they have digestive systems are way different from ours and I have no idea where I would begin to keep my cat healthy on homemade food. Those big bags are a massive waste of space. Every week, I make a new batch and store it in the fridge in a large Tupperware. We use the cooked version of what could potentially be a raw diet because I can’t have raw chicken contaminants on the floor where my kids can reach. [CAUTION: Make sure you’re talking to your vet when switching to homemade dog food to ensure your pet is getting the nutrition he needs to stay healthy.] Be on the look out for my post on our recipes and methods for homemade dog food.
13. Printer Paper and Ink
Sometimes you can’t get around printing certain things. In a lot of cases, however, you can use your documents electronically. Going “paperless” is especially a good idea for small business owners. With the way technology is now, you can write, fill, and even sign documents all from behind the computer. There’s no need to use more paper than necessary.
This one’s a very popular choice. Reusable bags, of course. They’re a dollar or less at any grocery store, and if you’re a big Aldi’s fan, they’ll save you money on bags as well. We use plastic bags for litter box clean up and cat feces can be dangerous, so we have yet to come up with a good alternative for that, but I’m working on it.
We will undoubtedly come up with more ideas to make our house [mostly] consumable free. Until then, this is a great list to get you started on your project to save you money, space, and make the world just a little bit more green. There is an alternative for almost every consumable, or better way to buy consumables at the very least, it’s just about taking the time to find it.
(This article contains affiliate links. The products linked, however, are of my personal opinion and recommendation.)