How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three

Two years ago, in April, Kristl and I decided that it would be a good idea to start a blog about the way we live. A lot has changed in two years. If you are feeling like you could never live a more sustainable life, like it's too expensive or time consuming, consider that it took us almost three years living together to start living the way you see us today. Sustainable living takes a little while to get used to. It's a transition! So, in honor of Earth Day, we give you How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Three! (For the 2013 installment, click here, and for 2014's version, click here.) Last year, we used a system of colors, bold lettering, and strike-throughs to communicate what we had changed. Let's be real, it confused all of us more than it was worth. This year we are going to start from scratch, but follow the same pattern. So, if you go back to previous years, you'll be able to follow our progress pretty easily. If you don't, you'll still get the picture.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Cleaning almost exclusively with products derived from white vinegar or Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap Baby Mild
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - When appropriate, which is most of the time except for when pets are involved
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and recycled aluminum foil - We used to roast veggies on foil, but now we roast them on our Sil-Pat, which is easily cleaned and infinitely reusable, so we rarely use foil anymore.
  • Downsizing our apartment and purging in the process - We moved last summer and definitely got rid of furniture and lots of stuff we didn't need
  • Not buying anything we don't need, especially clothing, books, gadgets, etc
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible - The less you bring in, the less you have to recycle or trash
  • Still using the same homemade washable swiffer cloths, because they are totally reusable
  • Simplifying and organizing our stuff - We hired a personal organizer to work with us a couple times to streamline our stuff. Organizing and downsizing frees us from clutter and helps us focus on the things that matter.
  • Running full dishwasher and laundry loads to conserve water
  • Recycling, obviously - our building separates paper goods from containers, because we are a six-flat and have to contract our own recycling service. Thanks, Chicago.

Projects related to self-care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - Works like a charm
  • Using homemade deodorant - We finally settled on a recipe we really like
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil
  • Using Chinese medicine/chiropractic/massage/Reiki/nutritional supplements in addition to Western medicine to keep us healthy - It would be weird if we didn't use alternative medicine, Kristl is an acupuncturist, after all.
  • Using Oral Wellness HealThy Mouth Oil and EarthPaste to clean our teeth - No cavities and no added sweeteners.
  • Daily meditation practice, exercise, and reading - Healthy body, healthy brain.
  • Eating "Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition" for good health - See our blog about How We Eat
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products 

Projects related to food:

  • Making at least one batch of bone broth in the pressure cooker per week - Gives the crock pot competition
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things - Butter and avocado oil tend to be our go-to fats these days, but bacon fat comes free with the bacon, so we totally use it.
  • Meal planning for the week, and buying groceries based off the plan - Helps us keep in our budget and limit food waste.
  • Planning large meals or doubling recipes that we can divide them out over 2-3 days so that we don't have to cook every day
  • We carbonate our own water with our Soda Stream and add lemon or lime to it - Our days of making syrups, infused liquors, and shrubs are pretty much over.
  • We definitely make mustard from scratch
  • We make our own mayo with the immersion blender - Keep an eye out for a video on that trick!
  • We cook 95% of our own meals - Try this at home, but remember, it took us a while to get to this point.
  • Participate in True Nature's meat and egg co-op  - $5/dozen for pastured eggs? Yes, please.
  • Participate in C&D Farm's meat co-op delivery - Part of a wedding gift that just keeps on giving
  • Buy produce from farmer's market or local farms in season
  • Buy local food and local products because we care about local business - See these posts for our restaurant and local products recommendations

Projects of the miscellaneous variety:

  • Not buying cable - It's really easy now, because one of the things we sold when we moved was our TV.
  • Making our own gifts - Much like Christmas 2013, we didn't spend too much on gifts for 2014. We would rather have good experiences with our friends and family than get things for and from them. When a gift is appropriate, we'll make it.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw food
  • Using backyard (and maybe community garden) to grow food - We missed out on our old community garden plot this year, but not to worry, there are always locations to grow vegetables. Rachel has plenty of offers on the table and she's making plans.
  • Using mason jars for storage - We cut back on our random glass jar collection when we moved. Now we mostly use Mason jars and it does us just fine.
  • Worm composting - We didn't do the best job of worm composting on our own, but our current living situation pays someone to worm compost in the basement. So we totally take advantage of that service our building offers.
  • Budgeting with You Need A Budget (YNAB) - Our commitment to use YNAB keeps us on budget and honest about the money we have coming in and going out. Confused how this relates to sustainability? Sustainability is all about using resources wisely. Money is a resource, and if you are using your money wisely, that will allow you to use your other resources in a sustainable manner. (And if you use the link above, you save 10% off the purchase price!)
  • Donating to people and projects that are actively working to make the world a better place - If you want to play along, we have some suggestions
  • Working at home/within walking distance of home - This is a transition that has made the next point possible
  • Living CAR FREE - We sold our car almost two months ago, and have adjusted just fine. We use the CTA more, we signed up for Enterprise CarShare, and we just bought Rachel a new bike to help with the transition. However, day to day, unless we are getting a huge load of groceries or going way out of our neighborhood, we don't really notice the difference. The best part is we don't have to worry about parking, street cleaning, city stickers, insurance, etc.

There you have it, our lives in sustainability this year! There are probably things we do that we don't realize. We are in deep, folks!

Sustainable living, especially in the city or on a small budget, is not a competition. It's not about keeping up with anyone; every little bit counts. Tell us what you are doing to live the sustainable lifestyle! Comment below or on our Earth Day post on Facebook

Reusable Swiffer Sweeper Cloth Tutorial

Hi friends! Rachel and I are skipping town for a bit, but wanted to get a post in before leaving. We'll be in Hawaii for a week (we know, poor us!), so keep an eye on our Twitter for updates on our trip! I don't know about you, but I tend to go into a major cleaning mode right before a big trip. Usually I wait until the night before I leave, but Rachel is a good influence on me and got me to help her clean on Sunday, a full 3.5 days before our departure. Amazing. I have a Swiffer sweeper which I purchased probably 7 years ago, when I moved into my first Chicago apartment and was not nearly as committed to sustainable living. I've dutifully kept it with me, occasionally buying refills, but usually just letting it sit in a corner. Last year when we were moving out of our condo and into our new apartment, I bought some Swiffer refills to easily clean the floor between showings.

Aside... 1. My goodness, if there is ever a time when sustainability manages to fly out the window, it's during moving. We probably used more disposables that week than we normally do in a year. 2. The refills I bought were Febreeze-scented and gave me a headache every time I got near the box. Seriously. I had to seal the box in plastic to avoid smelling the fumes. I swore that I would make some reusable, fragrance-free Swiffer cloths the next time I needed them.

That brings us to Sunday. We were cleaning and I needed to dust. We were out of Swiffer cloths and I said (yet again), "Dammit, I really need to go get some fleece so I can make more Swiffer things." Rachel went into her room, rustled around a bit, and returned with a spare bit of fleece she had leftover from some previous project. It was perfect!

Navy fleece scrap
Navy fleece scrap

It measured roughly 27.75"x17". I was able to get four perfect cloths and one slightly small cloth out of it with just a square leftover (for which I'm sure I'll find some project or other).

Place the Swiffer to get an adequate size pad
Place the Swiffer to get an adequate size pad

I placed the Swiffer's edge flush with the edge of the fabric, then lined up the yard stick about 1/8" away from the other edge of the Swiffer, and drew a line with a Sharpie. I then moved the Swiffer so the left edge was flush with the line and drew another line. These would be my cut lines.

Lines drawn
Lines drawn

I figured that if I just cut down those lines and then cut the resulting pieces in half, that would suffice, but to make sure, I placed the Swiffer back on the fleece and folded up the edge, to make sure the cloths would be wide enough to tuck into the little holes.

Fold the fleece over to make sure there's enough to grab
Fold the fleece over to make sure there's enough to grab

Success! I cut down the marks I made, then folded the pieces in half and cut down the center. I was able to get one more out of the smaller piece of fleece that ended up on the right, but I'm not 100% convinced it will securely stay on the Swiffer.

Navy blue cloth on Swiffer
Navy blue cloth on Swiffer

I tested out the cloth that night and holy crap did it pick up a lot of dust. I will oh-so-thoughtfully refrain from showing you an "after" picture of the cloth, mainly because I don't want you to know how dusty our house was. I picked off the larger clumps of dust and then rinsed the cloth out in the sink to see how well it cleaned up. Answer? Really freaking well. I think I'll rinse them in the sink after each use and then toss them in the washer for a deeper cleaning when I do towels/rags/rugs/etc.

Navy blue cloth on Swiffer - back
Navy blue cloth on Swiffer - back

So, in a matter of minutes and for a cost of $0 I made 4-5 reusable, fragrance-free Swiffer cloths. I can tell you right now that our house will be a lot less dusty from here on out.

Swiffer Sweeper Cloths

(For my Swiffer, each cloth ends up 10-10.5"x8-8.5", but make sure you measure your Swiffer to be sure of the size you need. Then you can determine how big a piece of fleece you need by how many cloths you want to make.)

1 piece of fleece (the one I used was 27.75"x17")

Sharpie or other way to mark the fleece

Yard stick