What does "green" look like? 25 Way to go green today!

For those of us that were fans of The Lorax as kids, or have gotten on the green bandwagon, the concept of environmental consciousness is easy to grasp.  I advocate for eco-friendly choices both out of an OCD need for things to be clean and pure, and moreover, because I'm cheap.  You read that right:  going green saves green!  Here are the top ways my family does their part in stewarding the environment, and our retirement savings:

  1. White vinegar.  I keep several bottles of a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water throughout the house.  This multi-purpose cleaner literally tackles just about every job in the house, from windows, mirrors, after-shower spray (to prevent mildew and soap scum build-up), disinfect all bathroom surfaces, disinfect all kitchen surfaces, spray on a cloth (microfiber is ideal) to handle any dusting, spray over pet messes to remove odors, add a cup to laundry wash to replace liquid fabric softener, bring shine back to stainless steel appliances, and run it through your coffee maker if your morning brew is lackluster.  There are literally thousands of uses for vinegar - it's practically the only thing you need to clean the house!
  2. Borax/Baking soda.  I keep a tub of this 50/50 mix to use as a laundry booster, carpet powder, to scrub toilets, and any other task you would use Comet (or similar powder cleanser), you can even use it as automatic dishwasher powder.
  3. Craig's List.  Nearly all of our furniture, baby gear/clothing, and cars have been purchased used, and turned into awesome!  See my post on how to shop Craig's List for more info.
  4. Cloth diapering.  We use a fairly expensive cloth diapering system (gDiapers - most of which we bought off Craig's List), and accounting for all the upfront costs and slight increases in heating and water bills, diapering our son has cost a mere $25 a month.  Not to mention that we can continue to reuse the same diapers for future children, reducing the cost of diapering to as little as $8 a month if we end up having four kids.  While not for everyone, if you stay home with your child full or part time, the savings on cloth diapers will add up quickly!  Take the money you save and invest it into a college fund for your baby!
  5. No heat.  We almost never turn our heater on.  Even in the freezing cold throws of winter snow, we keep our house at a balmy 65° F!  We keep plenty of comfy blankets in every bedroom, draped over furniture, and in a trunk in the living room.  We have socks and slippers.  We have comfy sweaters and hoodies.  We use them.
  6. Cold wash.  If it's not bedding or diapers, it gets washed in cold water.  You're welcome!
  7. Hydrogen peroxide.  While more expensive than chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide makes for a color-safe, non-toxic bleaching agent for laundry.  You can even use it to disinfect toothbrushes, cutting boards, brighten tile grout, etc.  For more uses, check this out.
  8. Turn off the lights.  Ever since I was a little kid, I remember going through the house and shutting off lights!  Now, one of the first things I do in the morning is open up the blinds to let in as much light as possible (which helps wake me up), and go through the house turning off TVs, computer monitors, and lights that are often left on in the morning by my husband.  Also, try unplugging cords when you're done using them - apparently, even when items are "off", they lead secret lives as electricity vampires
  9. Coconut oil.  If you want to cut back on the chemicals you are exposed to, coconut oil is a must-have in your life!  It can be used for everything from cooking and baking, to massage, hair treatment, facial moisturizer (it makes a great makeup primer), sunscreen, even diaper rash ointment.  Add essential oils to better tailor coconut oil to specific use (I add tea tree oil to my son's diaper cream, and lavender oil to my summer facial moisturizer).  It makes a fabulous sexual lubricant, so keep that one in your back pocket!
  10. Cleaning cloths.  Limit (or eliminate) paper towel use by using actual towels - many swear by microfiber towels (they are not all created equal - get the right kinds for your various cleaning jobs), and a microfiber duster can replace a Swiffer duster without ever looking back! Or just use cheap bar mops and wash rags. Done.
  11. Get real about fashion trends.  We all like to look good, but who wants to look back on their pictures 20 years from now and say, "what was I thinking?"?  Build a wardrobe with great "bones", timeless, well-made pieces that take you from season to season, year to year; and leave room in your budget for creative accessories.  Better yet, upcycle items from the forgotten corner of a friend or family members closet, or local thrift shop (we've all heard that Macklemore song by now, right?).  When it comes to kid's clothes, buying used is a no-brainer!
  12. BYOWB.  Bottled water is one of the biggest consumer pollutants - and how freaking easy is it to carry a reusable water bottle with you?  Need more convincing about the evils of bottled water?  See for yourself.
  13. Boxed wine.  What was once a white trash red flag, boxed wines have escalated in quality (Bota Box and Black Box are my personal favorites), they use a third of the resources of bottled wine; and if you want to both enhance the flavor of the wine and make it look classy, buy a decanter for as little as $12.
  14. Go semi-vegetarian.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE meat (and milk, cheese, eggs, cheese...did I mention cheese?), but from everything I have learned thanks to Netflix foodie documentaries, it's best for the animals' health, consumer's health, and environmental health if the animals are raised and cared for in an evolutionarily appropriate ecosystem (not a feedlot).  Unfortunately, animal products responsibly produced are expensive.  This is why I have adjusted our meal planning to be roughly 50% vegetarian, and the meals that do include meat use it more as a seasoning than the main dish (think Bolognese sauce over pasta or risotto with bacon).  Maybe one dinner a week is meat/seafood-centric, and nearly all breakfasts and lunches are vegetarian.  This strategy saves lots of money, and I like to think we're helping reduce our carbon footprint, too.
  15. Re-think showers.  Please shower daily.  But maybe you don't need to wash your hair.  Maybe you can even skip the soap and just get a good, quick rinse.  Meanwhile, brush your teeth while showering (rinsing off, conditioning your hair, etc.).
  16. Re-think laundry.  Get a good towel hook/rack so you can reuse the same bath towels several days in a row.  Don't eat in bed (or keep the bed made if you do) so that you only need to change your bed linens weekly.  Wear undershirts when you can to try to get several wears out of your shirts (if they need refreshing, run a steamer over them, or hang them up in the bathroom while you shower).  Are those pants really dirty?  When drying clothes, use the coolest setting on your machine.  (Is there really a good reason to dry on hot? Just think of what it does to your hair, much less your clothes.)  Challenge yourself to cut your laundry load down each week.
  17. Be water-conscious.  Run your dishwasher only when it's full.  If you have a newer dishwasher, you don't need to pre-wash your dishes - scrape off food bits, fill the soap dispenser half-full (if you have hard water, fill up the soap container), turn off the heated dry, and run a regular cycle (pots and pans is usually unnecessary).  Adjust the water level in your washer to fit the load size.  Choose showers over baths.  Take shorter showers.  Turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth.  Use lower water pressure/temperature when rinsing dishes, etc.  Use a bucket to collect rainwater to reuse on indoor/outdoor plants.
  18. Fresh air - Nature's air freshener.  My family moved into a newly constructed house.  During the final walk-through, the building foreman pointed out the ventilation system in the laundry room.  As you can expect, running a washer and dryer creates quite a bit of humidity and heat, which has to go somewhere.  For the first two months, we kept the system on, running automatically as it was designed to do.  But this is also the room where we keep my son's changing table and the bin for his soiled cloth diapers.  The room smelled.  Constantly.   I was on the verge of buying on of those plug-in "air fresheners", made of unholy who knows what, when the most elegant solution had been right in front of me the whole time:  open the window.  That did it!  I haven't closed that window since!  I even started keeping the small window in our master bath open for the same reason (and can skip using the fan in there, too).  Also, because we're in a newly constructed house, there is quite a bit of off-gassing, so every day where it is warm enough to do so, we open all the windows in the house to get rid of the toxic "new house" smell.
  19. Ditch the desktop.  Desktop computers use more electricity (and create more e-waste) than laptops.  I phased my desktop out over a year ago...then my husband got extra monitors for his machine.  HAHAHA!
  20. Brown bag it.  But skip the brown bag and go for a reusable thermal lunch tote!  You'll save money (and calories) by eating your own food, and you won't be contributing to the epidemic of food waste.
  21. Eat locally and seasonally.  If food is produced sustainably, and doesn't travel very far from where it is grown to where it is enjoyed in your kitchen, then it is not only good for your health and the environment, but also good for your wealth.  Eating locally/seasonally is a built-in mechanism for ensuring diversity in your diet throughout the year, and foods that are in season tend to be less expensive due to the basic concept of supply/demand.  Plus, if you know how to can or utilize your freezer, you can extend those savings throughout the year.
  22. Buy a Foodsaver...and use it.  This baby vacuum seals food into special bags and containers, but can even seal glass jars, extending the life of whatever you may store in them for up to three times their normal shelf life.  Moreover, I can create entire meals, freeze them, and reheat them for a quick dinner anytime.  Less food waste = savings for the world and your wallet.
  23. Learn to love slow cookers.  This throwback appliance that uses less electricity than a light bulb can turn a tough, unyielding, but cheap piece of meat and ordinary vegetables into an extraordinary meal that lends leftovers for days.  It's a beautiful, energy efficient thing.
  24. Compost.  Food waste is inevidable, even if it's just coffee grounds and egg shells. Put them to good use as compost, which you can use to fertilize your garden.
  25. Share! There is a burgeoning "share economy" growing through services that allow you to borrow everything from movies and games to clothing and cars for a small fee. How much stuff do you have that you only use once or twice a year?  That carpet cleaner?  Let your neighbor borrow it!  Need serving pieces for a holiday party?  Borrow from your wannabe Martha Stewart friend (everyone should have one)!  Save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and connect more with your community:  win, win, win!

What have you done to "go green"?  What are your goals for reducing your carbon footprint and chemical exposure in the future?  What can you do today to make a difference?