During the chilly winter season I find myself spending lots of time staying cozy at home. With the holidays just around the corner, even more of that time is spent in my kitchen participating in two of my favorite activites - cooking and baking.
But I find the modern world I cook and bake in a far cry from ones of my mother and grandmothers…today’s world seems to be all about cheap convenience and disposability, with an emphasis on how fast something can be done instead of the quality of the experience. Which, don’t get me wrong, sometimes is GREAT (the food processor certainly makes churning butter a breeze), but there’s still a big part of me that longs for the time when just about everything had a little more integrity and everybody respected craftsmanship & hard work.
The disposable, bottom-dollar economy of today is finally creeping up on us, spelling big trouble for the generations of both today and tomorrow. I can’t fathom the amount of waste the human race must create, a problem that increases exponentially in developed countries where people consume at an alarming rate. And we don’t pay nearly close enough attention to the things that we're using & consuming, coming into contact almost daily with all sorts of man-made aberrations. People are living longer but their quality of life is generally lower, riddled with all varieties of disease brought about by mankind’s endless meddling in the natural order of things.
Because of all this, I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to not only scale down my household’s consumption but to create the least toxic environment while doing so. Some changes I’ve made over the years have been big, but most of them have been small alterations to my regular, everyday habits.
Yet despite having such a small impact on my daily life, these changes make a huge impact on my family’s health, as well as significantly reducing our reliance on store-bought disposable products (that would cease to exist in any SHTF situation) and simultaneously reducing the environmental footprint we’re leaving on this planet.
If you’re interested in following a similar route, here are some of my favorite tricks, tools, and wisdom I’ve used over the years to develop a healthier home and to become more self-reliant/less wasteful.
Moving toward zero waste
Rags for kitchen & cleaning
Paper towels…what a great way to keep people buying something over and over again that should be re-usable. Years ago I can remember when I used to buy the big six packs because we went through them so quickly.
Now we have two buckets - one for cleaning rags and one for kitchen/food rags. And since you can pick up a stack of rags at Walmart or your local hardware store for less than $10, it’s a no-brainer. Despite the price, they last forever (we haven’t had to throw any out yet)…but I’d advise getting two different styles - one for food and one for cleaning - so that you can easily tell them apart should they get mixed up in the laundry.
Ok, this one definitely took me a minute…blowing my nose into cloth for the first time was a decidedly odd experience. But the next time you have a cold, notice the overflowing waste bin of tissues whose ultimate destination will be a landfill. Or simply stop and notice (like I did) that you’ve quite literally bought into the consumer mentality when you’re buying tissue boxes to match your bathroom.
Handkerchiefs are not all that hard to find; I bought all of mine as a couple of vintage sets on Ebay. I’m pretty sure you can also find all varieties of new ones on Amazon if the idea of pre-owned hankies freaks you out.
Silicone baggies & covers
I cannot convey just how much I have come to love these. All that plastic wrap that we use once goes into the trash and, since plastic never breaks down completely, makes for a really nasty hit on the environment.
These covers have worked great for me, I haven’t used a single piece of plastic wrap to cover a dish since I bought them. These silicone baggies by Stasher are great too, my only complaint is that they currently don’t come in more sizes.
Switch to wax paper
Basically, use recyclables instead of things that go in the trash. People were using wax paper long before plastic wrap was around, and it’s actually great for wrapping up things like sandwiches or things you’re putting into the freezer to store, but comes without the hefty environmental price tag of plastic wrap.
Buying used instead of new whenever possible
I saved the biggest one for last, and this is indeed a change that really can make a HUGE impact. Whenever you’re looking for things like clothes, pots & pans, dishes, etc., always ask yourself, “Could this be purchased used?” I think just about everyone in the country has a nearby Goodwill store, and you can find some of the greatest stuff there! I’ve discovered vintage stainless steel pots, beautifully seasoned cast iron skillets, mason jars big & small, full dish sets, and more, all for incredible prices (great for me) and all stuff that now won’t be going into a landfill (great for the earth).
Take clothing for instance…did you know clothing waste is one of the biggest trash problems we have?
“Disposable fashion”….I just can’t get over the silliness of the concept…or the concept of fashion in general for that matter, as in my mind clothing ought to primarily be at least functional first.
Of course, I’m still learning to buy used myself as it’s incredible to me just how hard it is to overcome the consumer mindset that has been ingrained for so much of our lives. I read an inspiring post last year on how to buy used whenever possible, which I’ve had hanging on my wall ever since as a continual reminder. Some days it works better than others.
Creating a home that’s non-toxic
Cleaning is really not as complicated a process as the chemical companies would have us believe. I, personally, love vinegar and find it’s endless cleaning properties fascinating. Therefore it comes as no surprise that it’s an ingredient in most of these awesome do-it-yourself cleaning recipes. Why go out and buy it when you can make it better & healthier right at home? When I do have to buy cleaners, I do my best to read the ingredients and buy those which will have the most minimal impact as possible.
It’s no secret I love to cook, and my favorite recipes are the old-fashioned, down-home cooking kind that make enough to feed a small army. So of course, Tupperware is a must in this household!
But man, that cheap plastic stuff is pretty nasty, especially when it comes to hot food, acidic food, and proteins. I’m working hard to get most of it out of my kitchen. The problem with plastic Tupperware is that the plastic eventually breaks down and gets into your food. Even the ones that say “BPA-free” and the like are not necessarily better. Think of it this way, would you want to eat that plastic? Let it digest in your system? I thought not.
Earlier this year I picked up up a really nice multi-piece glass Tupperware set that has served me very well and would make a great set for someone who’s trying to switch over on a budget.
Stainless steel & cast iron for cooking
This follows along the same lines as the Tupperware, but instead of plastic it’s the Teflon coating that’s the villain. And again, the fastest ways to break down Teflon (besides scratching it with metallic utensils) are proteins, tomatoes, and heat.
Everyone likes non-stick pans because of the convenience, but there are two problems with that idea: one, most non-stick pans are downright dangerous for your health, and two, there are better options for cookware that food won’t stick to. There are a couple of wonderfully informative articles on good versus bad cookware by Mama Natural and Healthy Holistic Living, as well as one that specifically addresses bakeware by Empowered Sustenance.
I wasn’t lucky enough to have cast-iron skillets handed down to me, but I love Lodge’s cast iron skillets (I have the 5-inch, the 8-inch, and the 10.25-inch), which are made in the USA and affordably priced. For bigger pots, I go for vintage Farberware stainless steel, which are high quality and have easily withstood the test of time - I know this for a fact because my mother has had her set for 30+ years. I’ll generally poke around for these on eBay or at Goodwill.
Wool dryer balls
To be honest these were a recent discovery for me. I had previously been using one of the unscented, chemical-free varieties of dryer sheets. But I still had a problem with the fact that, again, this was something I was using once and then throwing away.
I have since started enjoying the use of these handy little guys, which are supposed to have a longevity of about 6 months and BONUS can be scented with your favorite essential oil! The only downside I’ve discovered is that they’re far less effective with static IF you’ve got a lot of synthetic materials together in the dryer (read: microfiber, which I've discovered apparently isn’t supposed to go in the dryer anyway...), but otherwise these have been a great change for me.
Ditch the scented stuff
Have you ever walked into a person’s home and immediately been overcome by the smell of that scented stuff that plugs into the outlets? Then you see them, like little carcinogenic creatures perched at intervals along the walls….I have to fight the urge to walk around with a bandana over my nose when this happens.
People use a lot of stuff to scent their homes, and most of it ain’t good. Those seemingly innocent plug-ins actually put something called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the air, which trust me are NOT something you want in your lungs (I hold an M.S. In Atmospheric Sciences, so I can speak with some authority on the subject). In fact, pretty much any time you can smell something, it is because there are tiny particles of whatever created that smell in the air.
A lot of people like candles too, which can be better depending on the quality of the candle and the wick. Those cheap ones on the shelves at your local Walmart? Yeah….no. Still, when you burn a candle it's the same basic concept of putting solid matter into the air, which in turn enters your lungs.
What kind of air do you want to breathe is the question. And the second question is….why do you need it to smell all flowery? If there’s a truly unpleasant smell in the home, I’d say it would behoove the owner to look into that first. I find when my home does have a smell, it’s a pleasant (if sometimes persistent) one of something I recently cooked or from the wood fireplace burning. But really, all that scented stuff going into the air via unnatural methods is just unnecessary.
Don’t forget the most important rule….
We’re all interested in living a high quality and healthy life, but do you know what the most important part of that equation is?
To enjoy your life. Period.
Too many of us (and I can occasionally be one of them) get stuck on rigidly maintaining standards of living when it comes to things like this. And while it’s good to have those standards, it’s also good to loosen up once and a while and go with the flow, otherwise the stress of it all will be just as detrimental to your health as if you weren’t doing it in the first place. Mama’s rule was always everything in moderation!
How do you like to reduce waste in your home and keep it non-toxic?