It’s that time of year again! Time to crawl out of the heated house into the sunlight of the natural world and start tending the garden and cleaning up the home. I always loved spring cleaning when I lived alone because it was so easy! But now that I have a house full and I’m the “house spouse” of the crowd, it is a lot more work. So I have a method of working through it while thinking about the planet at the same time, a sort of “ritual” that makes it all happen faster. I thought I’d share that method along with some great ideas that can be modified to suit your individual situations. And hopefully this will help your spring cleaning go green.
I have tackled this subject a few times in the past on this blog so you can always refer back to those previous posts for recipes . The links are in the title and in the text. If you use green cleaning supplies, either homemade or carefully chosen in the store, then you have done half the work of going green already. Just the simple process of using vinegar or lemon juice instead of chemicals is a huge step forward. By replacing toxic wood polishes with simple oils is another step forward. Green cleaning methods go a long way towards improving air quality, reducing exposure to toxins and supporting sustainable industry. When you buy green, you support green and give companies the money and incentive to keep up the good work.
Don’t forget to go green for big cleaning projects, as well. Instead of buying the chemicals they sell you when you rent the carpet shampooer, consider mixing up your own. Washing soda is non toxic and if you use the right amount, it doesn’t turn your carpet into a foam workout. Vinegar is the stuff to use if you are trying to wash out pet odors; acetic acid works natural miracles on urine. Lemon juice and water on a rag will take nicotine off of walls, coffee spatters off the venetian blinds and dried food off the side of the garbage can. If you want to add some antibacterial action to your mix, add a drop or two of tea tree oil. Use grain alcohol (drinking alcohol, not denatured!) as a base for your mix and up the antiseptic qualities. If you want to freshen the air, add a drop of peppermint oil to the lemon or linseed oil you rub the furniture with. And check out my previous post for recipes for leather cleaners and other hard to find natural cleaning solutions.
Here are some green commercial offerings:
Bissell 1400B Little Green Multi-Purpose Compact Earth-Friendly Deep Cleaner,
Find Uses for Unwanteds
A large part of spring cleaning is getting rid of the collection of junk the home acquires over the holidays and during cold weather. Tools and decorations that are never used again are often utilized once during a special party or a frozen pipe break. Many of the clothes you wore this past year are really on their last legs and are marked for the trash can, along with a lot of gifts you probably got that you just can never use. Not to mention just don’t like! So you find yourself looking through Christmas sweaters, quesadilla makers, woks, paint guns, awful movies and unreadable books, wondering what on earth to do with this stuff! First order of the day: FORGET THE LANDFILL. You just cannot keep sending this unwanted stuff to the hole in the earth that knows no end. This year, promise yourself to find good homes for most of this stuff and good uses for the rest.
This requires some thought, but it is very much worth the effort. As you go through stuff, separate it out by quality. What is usable? What is just totally destroyed? What is there that you just don’t like but someone else might? In reality, discolored, dinged or burnt cooking pans might be used by the needy. Clothing that is horribly discolored, torn or washed to rags, can be used as rags. In fact, you should be replacing the paper cleaning products in your home with rags and this includes the swiffer pads. Cut rags to fit your swiffer and rewash them as you use them. Saves big money AND lots of trees, too. Stop buying napkins or paper towels. Cut up old T shirts (cottons work better than polyester blends) and make towels out of them. This goes for old bath towels, too. They make great shop rags for the garage and the yard.
Unwanted toys in great condition should be set aside for charity. Toys that might be reused in some way should be set aside for crafts projects such as next years ornaments. Think everything through as you decide what to do with unwanteds. For instance, an ugly canister set that you just don’t want to display can be used to store foods in cabinets. Candy boxes and other high end packaging can be reused as tool caddies, thread storage or a place to keep your garden seeds. Scratched up or bent Tupperware make great storage containers for the garage; keep your nuts, bolts and nails in them instead of buying fancy chests or drawers. Use your imagination and you can make use of many of the things you don’t want or need in the present incarnation. And while you’re doing this, sort out those things are are obviously recyclable. As you collect enough of these, move on to the next step: recycling unusables.
In this process, you are going to have three piles of junk. Those things you can reincarnate and give a new life, those things you think someone else might like and those things you can’t find a use for but you think are recyclable. Many, many things are recyclable and some of them are usable in the compost pile, too. Anything made out of wood, from the broken down coffee table with the yellow stains to the fraying grapevine wreath dropping strawflowers on the carpet. Put these items right in the compost bin! Just break them down enough to fit and to give them a head start on biodegrading. This goes for paper stuff and anything made of natural food or vegetable items. Gourd table displays, for instance, are compost food, as are rotting pine swags and garlands. Wood toys are also game, just remember to remove the metal buckles and snaps first. Left over spoiling spices and herbs, like the pumpkin pie spice you only use once every few years or the coriander seeds you bought four years ago and have never used at all, are also great compost fodder. Just separate them from the jars or bottles first.
And then, of course, there are the things you can’t put in the compost but that you can recycle. Check your local city website for the items they accept in local recycling programs and set those materials aside. Most cities recycle glass, paper and plastic. And this usually includes all forms of glass and paper, such as candle holders and paper food boxes. In the case of cardboard boxes, just take a moment to break them down first. So anything plastic or made of glass should be tossed in the recycling bin and put out by the curb. Please contact your local city officials for information on what to do with hazmat items like batteries, old paint, human or animal waste and hazardous chemicals in containers. DO NOT just leave this stuff out by a curb; you are asking for trouble in the hood this way! In the case of used, unwanted or broken electronics, the same method applies. If you can’t give it to a friend, sell it a yard sale or auction it on ebay, then you MUST recycle! Read my post on recycling electronics and follow the suggestions there. For older electronics that are no longer accepted by the manufacturers for refurbishment, then consider there are other options. Take it to a used computer store and leave it; they have techies who love tinkering with older equipment and can make use of the parts. Or donate it to your local school or library. Often, schools have electronics students and they need old equipment for labs or class projects. They also have techies who can bring old stuff up to snuff and make use of it in admin to save county money.
At this point, you should have cut your pile of junk down to a third of where it was and what you have left is stuff you can give to charity or stuff you just must throw away.
You are now down to a pike of stuff you can’t reuse, you can’t toss in the compost and you can’t send off to recycle. This probably includes ceramic dishes, kitchen gadgets, used but usable clothes, books, magazines, non wood toys, home decorations like pictures or collectible plates. Some of these might be good enough to sell on ebay. I will leave that judgment up to you. But, in truth, all of these items could find a second life with someone else. If you need to just get rid of the stuff and get on with other projects you can drop it all off at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. They will be so happy to see the stuff, it would make you smile to know that! But if you want the projects and if you’re slightly more patient, try offering items for sale or barter on Craigslist or ebay, turning your goods over to an artist or craftsman to use in their work, donating some of it through Freecycle, or seeing what you can get for that collection of comic books at a yard sale. You get rid of all that junk and maybe make a buck or two. You’ve also spared someone else from buying new or throwing out the old and, best of all, you’ve left the landfill out of the equation. The earth is thanking you already.
Plan for NO MORE Clutter
Of course, there will always be a pile of stuff you just have to toss out. There is no other use for it, it has no second life, no one on the planet would want it. Don’t feel bad, this pile is now a mere shadow of what it has been in years past and you should pat yourself on the back for it. The effort is really noble.. and so frugal, too! But do you really want to keep doing this? Piling on the garbage and then working like a dog to make use of it? Reconsider how you spend your money and your time throughout the year and find ways to not accumulate. Go paperless. Buy everything in natural packaging and eschew too much plastic. Make deals with family to give non material items at Christmas and birthdays; by this I mean movie tickets instead of DVDs, a gift certificate for a day at the spa instead of a gift basket. You get the idea. And don’t buy stuff you don’t need. Many of us do a lot of “impulse” buying, which translates into closets full of “cute little porcelain bunnies” and clothes that are “too skinny” but that we are “going to lose the weight so we can wear” and fuzzy Duck slippers that were cute on Easter but are now simply stupid and useless. Don’t buy new costumes every Halloween; learn to make due with old stuff or better yet, create imaginative originals out of things you already own! Challenge yourself to be creative and expressive. Make your world more of your “own” and less of a “room to go” and you will hang on to things longer, love them a lot more and even pass them on to people who will cherish them as a memory of “you”. And when you do decide to buy new stuff, make it green by buying natural. Choose wood over plastic, cotton over polyester, fresh over processed. Make your own cleaning supplies, cosmetics, first aid remedies, etc… and stop buying bottles and tins of noxious chemicals. And always choose renting over buying. Rent movies, don’t buy. Swap books for books and keep them moving. Rent the big stereo the kids want for the grad party and take it back when you’re done. Use your local library and really save money and time. And if you must buy, then buy used more often. Sell off your cast offs at yard sales and consignment shops. There just is no better way to save money and save the planet at the same time. Spring cleaning can be green cleaning starting with this year.