I hate throwing money away.
I mean it. I hate it. And I don’t use the word hate lightly.
Is a frugal living blogger really writing about how she dislikes wasting money?
I know, groundbreaking stuff.
But seriously, it’s the worst. A big part of our goal to have more freedom in our lives is to reduce the amount of money we need to make to survive each month.
Why would I commit my time to working to make money only to turn around and throw that money (time) away?
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I’m talking about consumable products, specifically paper products. Things that you buy, use once, and throw away. Things like paper plates, silverware, napkins, paper towels, and, yes, even toilet paper.
When you buy these you are LITERALLY throwing your money away.
And if you are dependent on them, you are throwing your money away month.after.month.
I know what you’re thinking:
Who in the world would ever go without toilet paper?
Bear with me – I know it sounds crazy, but it is actually a thing.
Let’s Do the Math
Let’s assume your family uses reusable dishware but typically goes through a package of paper towels, a package of napkins, and a package of toilet paper in one month’s time. You’ve thrown around $30 away that month. Thirty dollars is no big deal, right?
Wrong, my friend.
When you’re simplifying your budget, every dollar spent is a big deal.
Especially dollars that require you to continue to spend month after month.
If you continue to use these paper consumables you will throw away $360 in the course of a year. It sure would be great to have an extra $360 each year to do your holiday shopping, amiright?
And what if you give up these paper products for five years? You’d have saved just under $2,000. That’s enough for your family to take a nice little frugal family vacation, or a good amount to put towards paying off debt and buying your freedom.
How We Do It
The beauty of giving up paper products is that it isn’t an all-or-nothing scenario. Transitioning to a paper-free house has been a gradual process for us, and we still aren’t all the way there. Every time something is reused, though, it helps.
The Basics: Plates and Silverware
This one is a no-brainer. If you’re regularly using paper plates, bowls, forks, knives, or spoons, go out and get yo’self some dang dishware! We use (and love!) Fiesta brand dishware. It is easy to find on sale, and even easier to find used on eBay or at garage sales.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t need to match, and you don’t need a 12 place setting set of dishware. However, at least one plate, bowl, fork, knife and spoon is a basic necessity for each and every person who resides at your home.
Get them on eBay, at a thrift store, at a garage sale, or out of a dumpster, but PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY STOP EATING OFF OF PAPER PLATES ON THE REG! You are throwing your money away.
Glad I got that off my chest.
Next Up: Napkins
Cloth napkins are widely available and a good first step in your unpaper journey. Plus, when you use them you can feel like you’re eating in an upscale restaurant in your own home.
We were lucky enough to be gifted a huge amount of cloth napkins by my sweet mother-in-law, which she hand-embroidered to use at our rehearsal dinner. At last count we had 28, which has been more than enough for our family.
If you don’t have a generous and crafty mother-in-law, pick up some cloth napkins next time you’re at the grocery store, or buy some online. It’s a small investment that will quickly pay for itself.
Once you’ve got yourself a legitimate place setting and some cloth napkins, it’s time to ditch the paper towels.
Think of all the things you use paper towels for in your home: cleaning up spills, cleaning counters and windows, wiping little hands and faces, as tissues, etc. I know I used to use an exorbitant amount of paper towels. Ninety percent of the time, though, you can use cloth instead. It’s just a matter of having some rags on hand.
We used to buy paper towels monthly, but after I made some unpaper towels available around the house we rarely buy the paper kind. Once a year, if that.
Kitchen cloth or unpaper towels can be any old cloth you have lying around the house, too. You just need something that is semi-absorbent. I bought some flour sack towels to cloth diaper Baby Bear with but ended up using them as unpaper towels instead.
Another idea is to cut up old towels into smaller pieces and serge or do a zig zag stitch around the edges.
There are a ton of tutorials on how to make your own reusable paper towels online. You can make them so they even fit on a paper towel dispenser and snap off! (Confession: I purchased the fabric and materials to make these paper towels but never got around to actually sewing them because I’m so LAZY.)
Or, if you prefer to buy, there are a lot of crafty people out there who are selling their handmade unpaper towels on Etsy.
Family Cloth: The Final Frontier
Now things are getting real: I’m talking about eliminating toilet paper.
Yes, it’s really a thing that (some) people do. I’m one of them.
When you use toilet paper at home, you’re wiping your butt with your money and flushing it down the toilet. Sorry to get graphic, but that’s how it is.
We cloth diaper Baby Bear and have used cloth wipes with her from the beginning. As she got older and required fewer wipes, I decided to leave some cloth wipes in the bathroom for our whole family to try.
And guess what! It’s just like wiping with toilet paper. Only softer. And cheaper. And more luxurious.
Who knew it could be so easy?
We have these two-sided wipes, which are a good size and work well. A lot of retailers make cloth baby wipes, but cut up old t-shirts or towels get the job done, too.
Of course, we’ll always have toilet paper available for guests. And, you know, for those times a disposable paper is called for.
But as someone who works at home and drinks a lot of water, I’ve made a big dent in our family’s dependence on TP.
So, we all agree there’s money to be saved by ditching the paper products. But what do you do with all of the cloth?
I try to keep a stash of cloth rags in multiple places around the house. When a mess happens and I need something quick to clean it up, I’m not going to go searching in a closet to find a rag. It really helps me to remember to use my cloth a lot more when it is out and easy to grab.
Our cloth napkins are stored with other table linens in the drawer of our dining room hutch.
Our kitchen cloth and flour sack towels get folded and put in a drawer in our kitchen:
Two baskets of wipes for hand drying (to meet daycare regulations), one for clean towels and the other for used, are kept on the counter in the bathroom during my business hours. I store them under the sink in the evenings and weekends.
Our family cloth sits in yet another basket on the tank of our toilet.
Storing Used Cloth
As important as it is to have a stash of clean cloth around the house, it is just as important to have a spot to put your used cloth.
This is where my beloved wet bags come in.
For those not familiar, wet bags are designed to store used cloth diapers. However, there are about a million and one things you can use them for, to include storing used cloth.
I always keep a bag in the kitchen, a bag in the bathroom, and a spare bag for when one’s in the laundry. You can buy them in just about any pattern or print imaginable, or you can sew your own.
I have five different brands of wet bags, and they all work well. My favorite has got to be the Thirsties Wetbag, though. I like that it has a handle that can be snapped onto the drawer pulls in my kitchen.
Another idea is to have a waste paper basket exclusively for used cloth. Instead of emptying it into the garbage each week, empty it into the hamper.
This might sound like a lot of extra work, but I assure you it’s not. If you have kids, or live with other people, chances are you do more than one load of laundry in a week. The used cloth only adds a bit to a load.
After using my unpaper towels, I shake off crumbs and rinse anything solid off then toss it in my wet bag. On Sundays and Wednesdays, our laundry days, we gather up the used cloth and add them to our wash loads. Easy peasy.
The family cloth needs to be washed separately. Baby Bear is currently in cloth diapers, so I just add the used family cloth to our cloth diaper laundry. If you don’t have a little one in cloth diapers, here’s what to do:
- Toss your family cloth in the washing machine.
- Run a quick rinse
- Wash on hot with detergent
Cloth is the New Paper
We’ve covered how to replace your paper products with cloth and estimated how much money you stand to save by doing so, but I haven’t yet talked about one of my biggest motivating factors in making this switch: the environment.
We are all well aware of the perilous state our planet is in, so I won’t spout off any further statistics or facts. If just a fraction of our population made the switch from paper products to cloth, though, we could really cut our dependence on trees and slow down deforestation.
Making the switch from paper products to cloth is a win-win-win for you, your wallet, and our planet.
What are you waiting for?