You’ve done it so long, it’s more than a habit. It becomes a bit of your psyche.
Growing up, my family always drove somewhere instead of flew. We ate canned soup instead of homemade. We cleaned our own home instead of hiring it out. And we always, without exception, used a paper towel to clean any wet messes in the kitchen.
Why is it so hard to notice the simple things we could do better? Because they’ve been with you as long as you have known yourself as you. And it takes exposing yourself to different mindsets to see beyond your formative household. Like that Humanities class in college I hated until I realized it was good for me.
I don’t remember when I came across the idea of jettisoning paper towels from my shopping list. Maybe it was after someone’s blog post or possibly reading Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home. After 30-odd years it was time to hide the paper towels and start going paperless in the kitchen.
Switching to dishcloths was truly a Zero Waste move for us because we already owned a bunch of
cotton rags. Which, for the record, is also why my kitchen will never be “House Beautiful” material. Colors across the 70s-kitchen spectrum, more patterns than the robes my mother used to sport in said kitchen, and if I’m not mistaken, a day of the week might be found on six or seven of them. If I ever find myself actually using the right rag on the right day, I think it might be all I need to treat myself to a cupcake.
Of course any big box store will carry cotton towels, or even microfiber. But don’t over look thrift stores or garage sales. Sometimes you can find new towels still in the packaging. If your towels are bigger than say, a laptop, and you are handy with a sewing machine, I would quarter them to aggrandize your collection. They don’t need to be big–they need to be handy. Because success here comes from ample supply. Like cloth diapers, if you run out, you’ll be looking for the disposables.
We developed a system that keeps things efficient:
1. First a towel is used to dry hands. I live with chickens and a toddler that keeps pooping in her diaper even though I’ve asked her to stop. So I’m washing my hands quite often.
2. That towel can then be used to dry hands again or maybe placed on the countertop to let the hand-washed dishes drip dry.
3. Finally we’ll try to use that towel at night to clean the countertops with a vinegar/Borax solution. A 90 degree left turn to the laundry room and in it goes, to the washer. Or least a close as my free throw can get me.
If there’s a spill, we grab whatever is closest. Could be the hand-drying towel, could be a new one, could be my toddler.
“But wait!” What’s this here, sandwiched between the stand mixer and the bananas? With my head hung in shame, I show you our roll of paper towels. A roll my husband insists on keeping around. For what? Cat puke? No. A good reason but we don’t have a cat. No, he keeps it for:
1. Cleaning when things must be 100% sanitized: like the drying of one jar for canning, yogurt or some (beer) brewing apparatus.
2. Cleaning up copious amounts of grease. He doesn’t want that to be transferred to the washing machine.
Since I love my stackable set almost as much as I love him, I’ll let him have a roll or two.
Now, if anyone has solved the sponge vs dish rags dilemma, please let me know ’cause I’m still fighting that battle.
*To the argument that it makes for more laundry – I wash about five times a week and we’re only talking one or two towels a load. Now it you live in an apartment and have to use those tiny washers at some exorbitant fee, I can see this cutting into your lifestyle a bit.
**To the “What do I do with bacon?” crowd – I started cooking my bacon in the oven because I HATE cleaning up the stovetop after Sunday breakfast. I have read some folks use an old grocery bag? Do you think that’s clean enough? I also read about the inside of an old cereal box?