Making the switch from disposable paper products to reusable cloth products can be a long  - but worthwhile - process.

By Hilary Bernstein, Contributing Writer

It’s safe to say that until a couple years ago, I had an obsession with paper products.

  • As I cleaned my home, I HAD to use paper towels. Paper towels for my windows, paper towels for my bathroom (sinks, bathtub and toilet), and paper towels for my kitchen — used to clean countertops and to dry freshly washed produce or hands.
  • I frequently replenished the boxes of paper tissues in my bathroom, and restocked our toilet paper with the cushy, quilted, multi-ply varieties.
  • I used paper napkins at each meal, mindfully choosing the colors and designs to either match the season or décor of my home.
  • And I stocked up on disposable feminine hygiene products by faithfully using coupons for pads and tampons.

I thought all of that paper consumption was completely normal. After being raised in a home that was filled with those products, why wouldn’t I use them in my own home?

What else would I even use?

I remember having dinner with friends about 15 years ago and as I washed my hands in their kitchen and tried to dry them, I looked for paper towels … they were nowhere to be found. Surprised that my only option was a cloth towel, I dried my hands and wondered why in the world they didn’t use paper towels.

Stumbling into cloth napkins

It wasn’t until 6 years ago when my firstborn was toddling around my home that I began to change. My son discovered our stash of paper napkins and successfully shredded all of them. Whenever he would spy paper napkins, he would shred them with pure joy. I couldn’t stand the mess, I couldn’t stand the waste of money, and I couldn’t figure out a way to make my 10-month-old truly understand that you just don’t annihilate napkins.

Making the switch from disposable paper products to reusable cloth products can be a long  - but worthwhile - process.

So I threw all the shredded napkin bits away (I should have tossed them in our compost pile!) and dug out a dozen cloth napkins that had been a wedding gift. They had spent five years in storage and still looked and felt brand new – and when my husband and I used them, we were amazed at how much better they were than paper napkins.

They didn’t rip or crumple. They could clean off sticky hands and mouths. They washed clean and looked as good as new.

Why on earth had we not used them before?

Before long, I noticed that my local discount store had a sale on a dozen cloth napkins for $6. I bought a pack and doubled our stash. We happily stopped using paper napkins and started saving money.

Easing out of tissues

A couple years later, my aging grandma downsized her home and gave many of her belongings away – including dozens of her like-new handkerchiefs. Delicately embroidered, her hankies were like nothing sold in stores today.

Making the switch from disposable paper products to reusable cloth products can be a long  - but worthwhile - process.

When no other family member wanted them, I happily took a handful. I added them to a collection of handkerchiefs I had been gathering for years – including one of my dad’s monogrammed hankies and gifts from a Swiss pen pal and an elderly prayer partner.

I figured that instead of just storing my handkerchief collection, I might as well start using them when I had the sniffles. And so I did. They didn’t rip like paper tissues, and I found that they washed clean just like the cloth napkins.

The rest of my family wasn’t so sure about switching over, so I keep a box of paper tissues for company and my husband, and use handkerchiefs for myself and my kids.

My resistant feminine hygiene change

I may have happily used cloth napkins and cloth handkerchiefs, but I was not willing to switch from disposable feminine products. It wasn’t until many of my Accidentally Green readers began telling how much they loved their menstrual cups and mama cloth that I decided I should at least try something new.

So I eased in to the world of cloth menstrual pads. After a steep learning curve, I finally started to prefer them to disposable ones. They didn’t crinkle. They weren’t uncomfortable. I didn’t have to worry about running out of my supply.

Just last spring I tried a menstrual cup and after another steep learning curve, I appreciated how I now could use only reusable products. No more tampons. And surprisingly, no more cramping.

Making the switch from disposable paper products to reusable cloth products can be a long  - but worthwhile - process.

This year I’ve added sea sponge tampons into the mix and love them. They were the easiest reusable feminine product to get used to, and now I use all three – pads, menstrual cup and sea sponge tampons – during my time of the month.

My paper towel hold out

One paper product I did not want to give up was the paper towel. How could I clean without them? How could I run my kitchen without them?

When I discovered Norwex two years ago, I quickly – and happily – stopped using paper towels when I cleaned. Yet I still thought I needed the towels in my kitchen. I was used to cooling cookies on paper towels – what else could I use?

Finally I realized that rationalizing paper towels just for freshly baked cookies was pretty ridiculous. So I stopped buying the towels and decided to go paper-free in my kitchen. Now when I bake cookies or fry bacon, I cool them on an old linen tea towel. It works perfectly.

Making the switch from disposable paper products to reusable cloth products can be a long  - but worthwhile - process.

The paper product my family will keep using

There’s one paper product my family will keep using – toilet paper. While we could use family cloth, it’s one thing my husband refuses. And, to respect his wishes and not seem excessively green to our frequent guests, we’ll stick to toilet paper.

I’ve changed to a single-ply, septic-friendly variety, and I try to cut down on our use with Control-n-Roll, a cushioned roller that rations toilet paper waste. I’m happy that I only have to shop for one paper product now – and I’m happy to know that I could overcome my dependence on and obsession with paper products.

What paper products do you use in your home? What reusable products do you use instead of paper?

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