Lighten the load. Go paper free!

by andrewodom on May 5, 2011 · 9 comments


I have been reading UpcycledLove for quite some time. Written by Lynn Fang, a shameless idealist, social change and nature nerd, and organic gardener in training, the site strives to empower and inspire you to realize that you have what it takes to make a difference. And as blog luck would have it I came across her recent post on going paper-free in your home just as I was finishing DVD backup disks of some photos I found in my momma’s house.

Now in our quest to live a more simple life we have outlined our ideas for filing digital photos, our desire to stop holding on to receipts and other paper statements, and our refusal to print….well, anything. What we haven’t done is complete our quest to go paper-free or even curb our addiction to paper towels (or should I say, my addiction). As Fang points out, “I dove into going {disposable} paper-free without thoroughly preparing for it. Let me just say that if you want a smooth transition, research and prepare yourself!” I guess the question still on the table is why all the fuss about going paper-free anyway?

Quite simply, paper is made from trees, with chemicals and lots of carbon energy for production and distribution. It is neither organic nor truly bio-degradable. Disposing of it causes extraneous use of trash bags (which end up in the landfill) which then causes a larger empty spot in our pocket books. It goes against everything in regards to sustainable living, organic living, and even tiny house living. Honestly, when living in less than 200 sq. ft. who has room to store extra toilet paper and paper towels?

The first task is to survey your home for places that currently use disposable paper product. That includes Kleenex, paper towels, T.P., napkins, Post-It notes, scratch pads, magnetic To-Do Lists, etc. The second task is to figure out how your lifestyle would be effected by limiting your use of such products or eliminating them altogether. To that end, I offer a few tips.

Get “fancy”
Perhaps the easiest paper to eliminate is the napkin. Granted many of us take pride in our vast collection of fast food and take out napkins (colors deserve extra respect, of course), they only add to the clutter and trash. Try to get a little fancy, as it were. Replace paper napkins with cloth ones. You don’t have to use expensive cloth from boutiques and gourmet stores. In fact, you can be cavalier by buying some cheap bandanas at the five-and-dime or you can be a bit more creative and sew your own. Can’t sew? Try this method then.

Post-It permanently
Post-It notes are expensive. Convenient and colorful? Yes. Expensive? Oh yeah. Wasteful? Um, yeah. How about trying a blackboard or a whiteboard instead. We used chalkboard paint on the outside of our bathroom door (which is conveniently open to the main room of our bungalow) to leave each other notes, take phone messages, start a grocery list, etc. We have already planned out a small whiteboard for the Tiny House to do much the same thing. They are small, affordable, and available almost anywhere!

Bill me later, please
One simple thing you can do to reduce your paper footprint is to say no to paper bills. If you already pay by direct debit or standing order, then making the switch is simple. In fact, some banks are offering monetary incentives for this such as reduced fees, so it’s a win-win.
If you don’t see the option on your current paper bills visit the companies website and check the FAQs.

Cleanliness is next to….well, cleanliness
All bathrooms needs to be cleaned. Perhaps using paper towels on the mirror, TP on the toilet seat and some Kleenex for left-behind dust may not be the most eco-friendly answer though. Instead, try using towels. Old tshirts, socks, or even, well, towels, make for great cleaning towels. Use one for the toilet and keep it separate. Then have one for washing/scrubbing and one for drying. You can easily throw them into the washer on HOT to clean them and prepare them for reuse.

Welcome to the digital age
No one wants to throw away greeting cards or middle school love letters or even college term papers. So why do it? Instead of holding on to all the paper stock or even using it in the first place, consider your digital options. There are a number of websites now that offer free and minimally priced memberships to greeting card services. Don’t believe me? Check it out. As for essays and papers, ask your teacher or professor if they will accept a copy of your paper on CD/DVD of if you can email them a PDF. What teacher wouldn’t want to minimize her load to carry to and from the classroom? You might be surprised by their answer! And lastly, if you have those paper copies lying around, invest in a great scanner and make digital versions (either PDF or .jpg) of the document. You can then file them away, save them to disc, back them up on external drive, etc.

I will not pretend it is easy to make the transition. Most of us don’t know life without paper product. But is that the heirloom we want to leave for our children? Do we want them to live in a world that continues to bury itself in dead, stripped, oxidized trees? What do you think? Are you paper-free already or are you trying to reduce your paper consumption? What stumbling blocks have you encountered? What suggestions do you have? And as always feel free to share this post on Facebook or Tweet out the link to show your support for living a more simple life!

  • http://www.scissorsanddrumsticks.com Kevin Gilkes

    Great post Drew. Very rarely do we print anything anymore unless it’s for one of the kid’s school projects. But, they try to do as many digital presentations as possible these days. Kinda funny seeing 5th graders and up carrying thumb drives around their necks. Imagine if we could have done that in our school days.
    I like the idea of tossing the paper napkins and going with cloth. Nadine won’t like it as she already does a tone of laundry for five folks. But, it is a better idea.

    • anotherkindofdrew

      Another good idea for napkins is using the paper towels that have the perforations every 5 or 6 inches. Or maybe even rip a napkin in half. Oftentimes we use napkins just ’cause they are there.

  • http://profiles.google.com/whetzelmomma Rachel Whetzel

    I bought flour sack towels and cut them into fourths… no hemming, just cut them and washed them… They replaced our paper towels, with a small “trash” can filled with borax and water (like people use for cloth diapers) to hold soiled ones until I have enough for a load. They are the same size as a paper towel, and I love them. Recently, I started buying cloth napkins at the thrift store when they have them. I still have a couple rolls of paper towels for the really nasty stuff… (can you say dog pee?) But rather than going through 8 rolls of paper towels in 2 weeks, I go through about 2 in a month. :)

    @Kevin, I do laundry for five people, and really, the extra towels fit into other loads without much notice!! IF they don’t, it’s towels… and to me, they are the least least favorites of mine to fold… so I don’t mind them as much as I thought I might!

    • anotherkindofdrew

      Awesome response Rachel. What a fantastic idea!!!!

  • http://www.smashyourtelevision.com Laura M.

    I just found her site a couple weeks ago and fell in love with it! Glad you enjoy reading her, too!

    Anyway, going paper-free has been on my mind a lot lately, especially with an upcoming tiny house project in the near future. The only disposable paper products that currently remain in my home are toilet paper (which double as tissues – why buy a separate box of paper for the nose??) and paper towels (which doubles as napkins, I suppose). But still, I could do with less. I’m thinking I should cut up some old shirts to recreate tissues (in a basket, in the bathroom), cut up more rags as paper towel alternatives, and get a whiteboard. That would help a lot. Toilet paper? Haven’t thought of a pleasing alternative yet.

    Post-it notes? Ah, I have to admit – that will be the hardest for me to let go. I LOVE leaving notes (like this and this) although I am aware that they usually end up in the trash. Maybe I’ll carry a small container of chalkboard paint with me wherever I go and use that instead. ;)

    Thanks for the reminder!!!

    • anotherkindofdrew

      When you mention toilet paper you mention a “pleasing” alternative. Yeah, I hear you. I can’t think of a “pleasing” alternative yet either. Hm……

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