Sunday, February 13, 2011

Paperless Kitchen

You may have noticed we've been MIA this weekend. We were busy scrambling from one theatre to another (for Miranda's showcase and Olivia's turn as Helen Keller in the Miracle Worker) and enjoying the company of good friends...

Connie, Andy and their daughter Erin drove over from Atlanta for a visit. It was the first time they'd been to our new home, and we think they were surprised (and a bit perplexed?) by some of the changes. You don't really notice them until you're in the kitchen.

First, Erin asked for a napkin. We handed her one of these:

She looked really confused. And who can blame her? We also grew up in houses where the cloth napkins were reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners or if someone really special came to visit.
(Erin, you are really special! But we do this for everyone)

Then, Andy (who plays a very capable breakfast sous chef!), needed a paper towel for a spill. We handed him one of these:

"Okay," he said. "What's up with not having any paper towels or napkins?"

We explained that we went paperless nearly four years ago. We did it for several reasons:

  1. We were tired of kids pulling waaaay too big of paper towel streams off the roll for tiny spills. 
  2. We were sick of paying lots of money for something we were going to use once and throw away. (okay, it's not lots of money. But every penny counts, right?)
  3. We wanted to reduce the amount of waste we were producing and this seemed like an easy fix. No packaging, less trash.
And it's worked out pretty well. In the last four years the only time we've have paper towels or napkins in the house is when one of our mothers comes to visit (and brings them herself. They still don't get our refusal to use paper) or when we've bought them for a school party or Girl Scout camping trip. 

Otherwise, we use the cloth napkins we got on sale for 25-cents each or the rags we've picked up on clearance. 

There are two instances when we miss the paper versions. Okay, maybe three. When blotting the grease off bacon. When compressing the moisture out of tofu (though we now have a white dishtowel that's our Tofu Towel). And when the cats or dog pukes. 

That latter scenario necessitated our "Color Coding System": White rags for kitchen countertops, cleaning appliances, etc. Yellow rags for nasty stuff. Blue rags for cars. Works like a charm!

It was such an easy change for us to make. It just took a little attitude adjustment and a plan. And it's saved us money and, in a small way, helped save the environment. You can learn more on's Paper Towel Challenge.

Give it a try! Your Mom may think you're weird. But what's new?!?


  1. I love your paperless kitchen idea. We're almost there. We use cloth napkins and don't use any disposable dishes. We've cut back on paper towels A LOT. (but they really are my pick for cat vomit)

    The difference in our kitchen waste once we started composting, recycling and reducing paper towels was amazing.

  2. I've considered paperless, but I don't have a partner I can count on that won't wipe up raw egg or other and then hang the dishtowel to dry... then I reach over to dry my hands after washing... ugh! Question: Does the extra laundry (water, detergent, electricity) not counteract all of your paperless good? Truly do not know, and thinking about it kept me from pursuing it. I would appreciate more recycled paper towel options. Nothing but bleached white as far as the eye can see!

  3. Christy - Cat puke sucks, doesn't it?!? We've found the same thing with the composting. Though right now our composting system's in a bit of chaos as we're trying to put something towards the vermicomposting and some towards the regular compost. Still trying to figure out a separation/storage system that won't look like a waste management facility on our kitchen counter!

    Jennifer - Ick! You gotta get your partner on board, for sure! Jason was resistant at first, but now he's the "king of the rags" (in fact, he came up with the color code system).

    As for the water, etc. We just rinse out the rags at the end of each day, lay them over the sink divider to dry, then throw them in a wicker basket we have in the kitchen. They get added into our regular laundry at the end of the week. So we're not doing most loads of laundry daily. It does require quite a few rags.

    I haven't counted, but if I were to guess I'd say we have roughly 40 napkins, 20 white rags, 15 yellow rags, and 10 blue rags... give or take. And when a regular dishtowels gets too discolored or raggedy we retire it to the rag collection too.

  4. Okay, you've inspired me. Back out with the stack of cloth napkins to start (though this gets burdensome when you're hosting gatherings weekly). If I can get us back to the napkins, then I'll work on the paper towels (we've got lots of clean-up towels, but somehow they get used up soooooo fast!). Just don't expect me to opt out on the paper plates when guests are over...we just don't have enough plates to go around! ;)

  5. Sounds like you entertain a LOT! What's the occasion?

    I'm jealous. I love to have people over, but we're usually running 'round like maniacs. That's the part of the "living mindfully" that we're not as accomplished at. (yikes, the editor in me wants desperately to rewrite that as " which we're not as accomplished")

    Good luck on the napkins... you can do it!