Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. Everything feels new and there is something very refreshing about sitting back and seeing things literally spring to life. One thing that does need our assistance, however, is our home. Unfortunately there is NOTHING refreshing about a house that has been closed for months on end.
The problem is that, while we attempt to do our spring cleaning, we can actually create some heavily toxic air inside our homes and create a lot of waste. Here are some tips on how to avoid this:
- Open windows. Let the fresh air come in. It does wonders!
- Buy distilled white vinegar – and lots of it. The uses are amazing… everything from cleaning and sanitizing to disinfecting and stain removal. Check out vinegartips.com for ideas, but whatever you do, do NOT use commercial household cleaners… they are harsh, harmful and unnecessary.
- Buy baking soda – fantastic for cleaning but also for removing odors from rugs and carpets. Sprinkle some on, let it sit for 30 minutes and vacuum it up… nice and simple.
- Skip paper towels and sponges – gather old t-shirts and towels (not suitable for donation) and put them to work. Skoy cloths are another favorite of mine, and they can all be washed and used again for later cleaning projects.
- Recycle – magazines, mail, catalogs, any needless papers, packaging….the list goes on and on. Don’t just put them in the garbage can. Put them in the recycling can.
- Food cupboards – you thought you’d need it, use it, want it, but alas you did not. Donate it to a food pantry if it hasn’t expired; otherwise make sure the packaging, cans and containers get recycled as well.
- Donation boxes – inevitably you will find lots of things that no longer have usefulness for you but that doesn’t mean they’re not useful for someone else. Clothing, shoes, household items, books, furniture, toys, anything and everything. Pack up these items and donate them to a charity, list them on Freecycle or Craig’s List. But never throw away anything that still has “life” left in it.
- Proper disposal – motor oil, paint cans, aerosols… check Earth911 to find out where these toxic products can be dropped off for proper disposal. Same goes for electronics. If they can’t be given away check local resources or again Earth911.
- Consider air freshening in a less harmful way – If you MUST put the scent of spring in the air, forgo the aerosol air fresheners and instead fill a spray bottle with a combination of water and essential oils, and “spray away!”
- Consider some “Spring Resolutions” – no more antibacterial soaps (their harmful effects can be greater than their benefit), no more harsh cleaners and chemicals. Vow to replace them with eco- and health-friendly products. Put CFLs on your shopping list and use them for every bulb that needs replacing from here on out! And when you buy these products, make sure they get placed in reusable bags!
Start stretching, limber up and let the green cleaning commence!
Ahh… the holiday of romance!
Valentine’s Day is the day to share your feelings and express your love to the special ones in your life, but if you want to share some love with the environment and add a little bit of “green” to the occasion too, consider these wisest of choices:
- Cards – did you know that the purchase of Valentine’s Day cards ranks #2 just behind Christmas?!? One BILLION cards per year, in fact! So consider buying only cards printed on recycled paper or paper alternatives (hint: the backs of cards reveal their content).
- Chocolates – always a favorite, make sure those you purchase are organic and fair-trade so you’re assured that there hasn’t been destruction and risky/unfair practices used in order to give your beloved a sweet treat.
- Flowers – buy locally-grown flowers and those you know haven’t been doused with harsh pesticides and chemicals that are harmful to the environment and growers, or have been flown in from some other region of the globe. When the recipient takes a whiff, you want to be sure the scent is pure sweetness and it isn’t covered in chemicals and preservatives from its long, long trip to your florist. Also consider live, locally-grown plants as another option.
- Body products – pick products that are made with organic & natural ingredients and minerals (like Kiss My Face), instead of those containing harsh additives, colorings and chemicals.
- Jewelry – forget the mass-produced jewelry found in commercial jewelry stores and instead opt for something that is locally-made or a choice that helps others through your purchase (see Hands Up Not Hand Outs to see exactly what I mean!)
- Soy and beeswax candles – avoid pollutants and toxins expelled by many candle products and choose only soy or beeswax options.
- Create something – no one ever said you needed to buy a thing to express your love, so make a card, write a poem, create something special and it will often mean more than anything you could buy, and you often need look no further than your own home!
- Wine – choose organic and/or locally-produced wines. They do exist, and all you need to do it ask!
- Organic dinner – dine in and make a completely organic dinner. When you select the ingredients, you know that there is only “goodness” contained in your meal.
Ahh, yes… Valentine’s Day. The holiday of love… just make sure your expression of “red-hot love” has a little bit of “green” intertwined too… what you do after that, well… you’re all on your own!
Mother Nature has been furious lately. It’s been cold, blustery, snowy and frightful all around the country. Even southern states canceled school because of a quarter inch of the white stuff!
The downside (aside from the obvious) is that it’s giving all global-warming/climate change naysayers fuel and ammo for saying that “it” doesn’t exist. I will leave that portion of the conversation out of this post and it will have to suffice to say that climate change creates the EXTREMES!… whether it be sweltering or freezing, blizzards or severe drought… THAT is the effect it creates.
Anyhow, it’s also fairly likely that furnaces are being cranked up all around the country as well. That in turn means extra energy consumption which snowballs into a lot of extra pollution too.
So, keep these tips in mind for keeping warm… while staying green:
- Actually USE storm windows – make the time to install that extra layer of glass and it’s like you have triple panes. It can increase energy efficiency by up to 45%!
- Adjust the thermostat – just one degree lower in the winter can save 3% on your usage. That adds up!
- Arrange furniture away from heating ducts and exterior walls – it allows for better circulation of heat.
- Check out tax credits to help fund needed improvements. See what’s available here.
- Close the damper on your fireplace – leaving it open is equivalent to leaving a 48 inch window wide open in your home all winter long! This can amount to hundreds of dollars in heat loss in a season. Also consider glass doors on your fireplace as opposed to screens.
- Cover floors – hardwood and ceramic look fantastic but they actually cool a room. Add area rugs, even if only temporarily.
- Do the “feel test” – feel around windows and doors. If you feel the cold coming in, the heat is also going out. Buy some weather stripping and put a rolled towel at the bottom of drafty doors.
- Give your furnace a “check-up” – just like anything else, they sometimes need a little fine-tuning to run most efficiently.
- Give ventilation fans some time off – a kitchen or bathroom vent fan can expel enough warm air to fill a whole house in only ONE hour!
- Heat only the rooms you use – shut the door, close and seal the vent and stop heating vacant rooms.
- Insulate, insulate, insulate – if you can afford one improvement, add insulation. The heat that escapes due to lacking or improperly installed insulation is outrageous! (This one qualifies for tax credits too!)
- Open blinds and curtains in the daytime and close them at night – the sunlight can help warm our home and covering windows in the evening can help insulate them.
- Properly seal ducts – statistics say that up to 30% of heat can be lost through improperly sealed duct work!
- Replace your air filter and clean vents and ducts – too much build-up prevents the heat from even reaching your rooms.
- Reverse ceiling fans – heat rises, so run them on low in reverse and bring the warm air that rises back down to where it’s needed.
- Turn down the thermostat when you’re away from home for an extended period or during overnight hours – if you have a programmable thermostat, put it to work.
So “fight the freezies” and “battle the brrrr”, but just make sure to “check the checklist” to keep it green. And if all else fails to keep you toasty enough, grab your favorite sweater and snuggle up! (A bottle of nice organic wine does wonders too!)
By now, the gifts should be purchased and the wrapping is underway! So, while you’ve certainly paid special attention to what you’ve selected, how you “present the present” also needs special attention too.
The average household output of trash actually increases by 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, due in part to wrapping paper, packaging, boxes and all of the waste that results from the holidays. Gasp! I fully intend NOT to be one of those households and will recycle everything in sight, but while you can manage what happens with the waste from the gifts you receive, you can’t guarantee what the recipients of your gifts will do…
So before you unroll yards and yards of wrapping paper, ribbons and massive bows… halt!… and consider these better ways!:
- Buy recycled wrapping paper if you absolutely MUST wrap with paper (yea, I understand that kids love to unwrap!)
- Use, save, reuse, reuse and reuse gift bags. They can have an amazingly long life. Try to choose uncoated paper though… it simply recycles better when it finally comes to the end of its use.
- Put the gift in a reusable bag. You can often score a reusable bag for less than the cost of a gift bag, and then it becomes a gift in and of itself!
- Use part of the gift as the wrap. Scarf? Towel? Basket? Bowl? Wrap it around or put it inside.
- Wrap with fabric scraps and biodegradable raffia. Simple as that!
- Skip bows and opt for berries, pinecones, evergreen clipping, twigs or a real flower instead. These natural embellishments can even make brown craft paper look festive!
- Before you toss out this year’s wall calendar, use the images for wrapping smaller packages.
- Use old holiday card photos or images to create your gift tag. You have ‘em, so use ‘em!
- Reuse, reduce, recycle. Save the materials you receive to be reused (gift bags, bows, ribbon). Reduce the amount of materials you use for your gift giving. Recycle all of the paper and packaging from your gifts and make sure they go in the bin, not the trash can.
- (You can also choose not to wrap anything it all! My mom told me “in her day” her Christmas gifts from Santa weren’t wrapped! They appeared under the tree “au naturale!” Hmmm… makes you wonder how and when Santa changed his policies!)
This will all be over before you know it! Take a deep breath, grab your green supplies and see if you can join me in avoiding that 25%!
The next few weeks will be high time for parties! (I love parties! And I mean for any and all occasions!)
And of course, who DOESN’T love a party!?! BUT, they can also become occasions for an abundance of waste and trash making. Whether you already have a party planned, are helping to host a party or might just throw together an impromptu soiree(!)… here, once again this year, is my standard list for keeping it turned toward the green end of the dial:
- Try evites or create your own electronic invitations instead of mailing the paper store-bought version. Sure, you might have a few guests who aren’t email users, but where you can minimize… minimize! (Be careful if you mention your party on Facebook… your guests list may grow exponentially!) For guests requiring mailed invitations consider using last year’s holiday cards and turn the front of the card into a postcard.
- Decorate using live plants and maybe even give them to guests at the end of the night. Toss pine cones or evergreen clippings from your yard (or your neighbors!) into a bunch of beautiful bowls or vases you already own.
- Turn off an excess of lights. Blaze up the soy candles. It creates great ambiance too!
- Turn down the thermostat. Bodies = heat, so set it to the cooler side!
- Use your real plates, serveware and glassware. Or, if you don’t have enough, consider buying biodegradable and/or compostable tableware. Eco Products offers a variety of tableware made from corn, sugarcane and paper. Or check out Verterra for tableware with some real character – made of leaves! Orrrr, if it’s in your budget, rent real tableware and utensils… not in my budget, but maybe someday!
- Hit a dollar store for linens. (I bought four-packs of cloth napkins for a dollar last year!) Skip the poinsettia print. Pick flat colors so they can be used for many other occasions.
- Consider local beers and wines (if you have local choices) or locate organic choices… not always easy to find, but they are certainly out there!
- Buy organic fruits, veggies and meat-products. I know that is an expensive proposition, but as many as you can afford is better than none at all (consider the “dirty dozen” and the “clean 15” if you need help in making the choices too!).
- Set up a receptacle for recycling. Clearly mark it and ask everyone to jump on board.
- If you feel comfortable with the group of guests, ask them to remove their shoes. Shoes track in some really nasty and unhealthy things, believe me! (Read more here).
- Set up a numbering system where only “every fourth guest” who uses the bathroom flushes. Haahaa! Obviously, this one is a joke! I’m not that crazy!
But sincerely, just do your best! Many of the choices aren’t expensive and can actually be less expensive in the long run when you weigh all of the factors. And if your prep and set-up has all of the best choices in place, you will be able to “eat, drink and be merry”… and content that your party is a little greener.
And seriously… for the second time!… STOP considering that numbering system… it was a joke…(yea, kinda gross!)