Bootstrap your green efforts : 10 ways to go green today

The Forest in a Droplet
Photo by WhitA

If you are anything like me, playing catch-up is almost a way of life. And while we both have the best intentions of creating a greener planet and saving it for our kids, we are often way too consumed by these very kids! So when I started consciously making a greener effort, I discovered that unless my actions were quick and easy, I wouldn’t go very far.

Here are some quick tips that worked really well for me. They can make a BIG difference to the planet, and usually, they help my pocket as well.

1. Convert your toilets to low-flush  – use a jug of water.

Put a jug filled with water in your toilet tank (details HERE). Every flush will then save you the quantity of water contained in the jug. Over a month, a family of five could save up to 350 gallons of water by saving half a gallon of water for every flush! Other tips that work well, especially if you are a small family with little kids – stop flushing at night, or do a “batch-use-single-flush” concept. Some of these ideas feel weird in the beginning, but you’ll soon love saving all that water.

2. Save water while you shower – use a timer.

Turn on a timer and make sure you shower for just five minutes every single day. If you’re like me, your shower is your place for relaxation, thinking and idea generation.  With that approach, it’s easy to forget how long we’ve been in the shower. A shower head uses up anywhere from five to ten gallons of water per minute. By cutting your shower down by five minutes, you’ll save over almost 50 gallons of water every day.

3. Clean friendly – use vinegar.

Fill a spray bottle with water and vinegar, and use it to clean practically anything in your home. This is one of the easiest ways to go green right here and now. And with all the controversy surrounding cleaners and antibacterials these days, this is a worry -free way to clean up. This is especially valuable in homes with little kids and animals.

4. Clean friendly  – use cloth.  Leave that roll of paper alone.

If you are not using anti-static or microfiber cloth for cleaning in your home, you are missing out on what I call a  miracle cleaner! The microfiber technology picks tough dirt and even clean glass without streaking. We use it dry or wet, on counters, stove-tops as well as mirrors. It is amazing HOW much paper we save in the process.

Paper rolls cost money, they’re not reusable, and they add to the volume (read: guilt) in my trash bags. Cloth is easy, it works for everything, and it simply goes into the washing machine. I actually bought mine at a dollar store (three per pack) years back.

5. Make recycling easier – move that recycle bin a little closer.

Recycling should not be too hard – if it is, do something to make it easier. I am often alone with my two little kids at home. The recycling bin in the garage was just too far to get to, if it meant leaving two kids unsupervised behind me. Recycling was hard, and as a result, I wasn’t doing it often. One day, I put a brown paper bag in one corner of my kitchen.  It has stayed there since, and my recycling is a breeze.

6. Pre-cycle whenever possible – go paperless.

Do you still get paper bills from your telephone company?  Go online and sign up for paperless accounting today and save those trees.  In the meantime, you’ll save yourself the trouble of shredding or recycling the bills later.

Photo by Dave or Atox

7. Save some energy – replace your normal bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.

Compact fluorescent bulbs use about 25 percent the energy of normal incandescent light bulbs, and can last up to 10 times as long as standard bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs also produce much less heat. What I like most about these lamps is the fact that they produce “day-light,” and that does wonders to the energy at home on cloudy days.

8. Live naturally – consume less medicines.

Did you know that a number of medicines we consume goes into waste water that is processed for use by us once again? The scary part is that most waste water systems are not capable of cleaning up a lot of these drugs from the water. So try to avoid taking medicines as your first response to any minor health issues you might experience. Try natural remedies such as ginger, honey and turmeric for coughs and colds. Use natural oils for your dry hair and body, and reduce the use of strong soaps and lotions as much as possible.

9. Make being green fun – wrap gifts in style.

Stop buying wrapping paper, and save a small stack of interesting newspaper instead. Newspaper used as wrapping paper can make for some really cool looking gifts!

10. Borrow cultural practices.

We are fortunate to be in a world that has so much variety – don’t forget to learn and adopt some green practices from other cultures. I used milk on my children instead of soap when they were newborns – I learned that from a friend’s mom who said that they had been doing that for generations. I didn’t have to worry about the soaps, the perfumes or sensitivities. I recommend it to everyone with a newborn!

If you want to live a more earth-friendly life and you don’t know where you start, try some of these ideas. Being green should be a way of life – and we will never adopt a way of life if it is just too much effort. Find little things that work for you, and then build on them.

What tricks have you used to slowly nudge yourself toward being more earth-friendly?


Maya is the founder of Memetales - a mobile reader and publishing platform for children's stories. Get your child reading by downloading the FREE iphone/ipod touch app with 20 Free books included!

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  1. Clean friendly – use vinegar.

    Water meter´s last blog post…Why switch to a water meter?

  2. Reducing ur consumption of meat (and eating only humanely raised grass fed, roaming beef) has been a big one for my family– its a win win, for us and the earth!
    Creative tips Maya!

    Lisa Byrne´s last blog post…Cleaning Out the Cupboards

  3. I switched to vinegar and water recently as a cleaner, and LOVE it! It cleans just about anyhing, and I don’t have to worry about strong chemicals being near my toddler daughter, or getting a headache from the fumes.

    Christina´s last blog post…Link List: Hottest Web Freebies

  4. I love the idea of using a timer while in the shower! Currently, I recycle all of my sandwich baggies (I’m too cheap to buy the cloth ones… one of these days I’ll break down and do it)!

    Tabitha – From Single to Married´s last blog post…Living with Bad Weather

  5. my favorite green post to date! so practical and easy to follow. thanks maya.
    i use vinegar for cleaning but the smell is sometimes not so pleasing. any ideas for something that would mix well with the vinegar to tame the smell?

    for gift wrapping, i save paper bags, turn them inside out and then modge podge magazine pics onto them. they’re a huge hit and my little ones can help me pick out relevant pics to paste. it’s a 3 in 1-art project for the kiddos/gift wrap for the friend/money saver.

    thanks again for your tips. i am looking for reusable bags for sandwiches, snacks, and even freezer size bags. any products you’d recommend?

    i’m blogging about Jesus and sleep today at:

  6. Great post Maya! We already incorporate a lot of these tips into our day, but could certainly step things up!

    Aimee´s last blog post…WFD? Chorizo & Black Bean Soup with Corn Bread

  7. Great post, but I don’t get why using milk instead of soap would be that much better green-wise. Cows/meat/milk are one of the biggest hazards to the environment.

    • Hi Anne,
      Thank you for that information. Honestly, I need to read up a little more about it.I thought milk had issues from the perspective of “waste disposal”.
      My understanding is that milk(organic) is gentle on the skin and contains no fragrances or chemicals. My children have wonderful skin – thanks to that and olive oil massages. And I’ve never had to worry about using store bought soap where I have no idea about the contents.

      Maya´s last blog post…The One Hundred: A Guide to Pieces Every Happy and Balanced Soul Must Embrace: Simplicity

  8. I do many of these already (no paper towels, recycling bins in the pantry, energy-saving light bulbs, “creative” wrapping paper) but on so many I found myself saying “I keep meaning to do that.” Thanks for the incentive to stop meaning and just do.

    Deidra´s last blog post…Lent

  9. Love the list. Some we already do in our home and other simple one I hadn’t thought of… #1. 🙂

  10. One comment on #1 – the non-low-flow toilets are designed to use the full number of gallons that they use. My parents had bricks in theirs for a while (same idea) and ended up flushing two or three times as often because the waste wouldn’t all go down the first (or second) time. I think that was also a effect of using the quintuple-ply extra quilted toilet paper that they use (in abundance), but just keep in mind that if you’re having to flush multiple times, you’re not really saving water.

    Low-flow toilets can be purchased for ~$100 and will pay for themselves in water savings eventually. Also look into replacing your shower head if it’s old. The newer ones give the same amount of pressure with FAR less water.

    Princess Leia´s last blog post…Cashing In

  11. I love the shower timer tip – not only is it very green friendly, but it’s very wallet friendly (assuming you pay for your water).

    Great list!

    Monica´s last blog post…“baby, just take the bus . . .”

  12. These are all great reminders that it is SO easy to go green–those extra couple seconds of effort really make a difference.

    This might seem like a “DUH!” but one of our easiest and biggest “green” decisions happens every morning when we open all the blinds and let the natural light in. We don’t turn a single light on in our house until after the sun’s gone down!

    kristine´s last blog post…sent to the "principal’s office" (also known as: neighborhood court)

  13. Wow, those are some great ideas. I already implement many of them, but now I can put to use a few more.

    Another idea for gift wrapping is to place the gift in a pretty decorative box that can be used for another purpose, such as storage.

    Amanda´s last blog post…How to Make Your Tax Preparer Happy this Year

  14. Vinegar is also a great fabric softener, especially if you have little ones with sensitive skin. And there is no smell at the end of the wash.

    We learned a fun rhyme from a missionary family:
    If its yellow, let it mellow
    If its brown, flush it down.

    Staci at NoIwasn’tsleeping´s last blog post…Rich People Will Always Have Cooler Stuff

  15. Concerning point 5 (recycling):

    We did the same thing at our house: a recycling basket sits in one corner of the kitchen. My three year old son loves to help with recycling. I rinse out the plastic bottles, and he tears the labels off. Then he “shoots” the bottles into the basket . . . he loves that little game.

    Julie – On the Dot Creations´s last blog post…:: Dotty Giveaway — Crossroads Cottage ::

  16. Thanks for the tips. We currently do all except baby bathing in milk and light bulb.
    As for saving water in the shower: I turn on the water, shampoo and condition my hair, then I soap up the wash cloth. After that I turn off the water and wash my body and face. Then I turn back on the water and rinse off.
    This routine saves lots of water, keeps soap from constantly being rinsed out of the wash cloth, and leaves me feeling refreshed.

  17. I have a freedom lawn ( I use my newspaper and cardboard as weed block ( I eat locally as I am part of a CSA that uses integrated pest management. I wash only my sheets and whites in hot water, everything else in cold and do not use bleach.

    Miko’s Girl´s last blog post…Newspaper, Cardboard, and Mulch

  18. We too use only earth friendly cleaners (vinegar, baking soda, essential oils). Also we are on our first month of zero-paper towels. We are saving tons of money (went through them like wildfire) and our earth as well 🙂

    Angie @ The Creative Mama´s last blog post…taming the gaming.

  19. My tip is the same as Lisa’s – we’ve massively reduced our meat consumption over the last few years partly for health reasons and partly because the livestock industry is such a big contributor to climate change.

    As a nutritionist I sometimes wonder if my green efforts are a little bit blinkered, concentrating too much on food related tweaks like using the oven less often and composting. It was good to read a few new ideas on this list.

    Sophie´s last blog post…Revealed – why you are not a freak of nature if porridge doesn’t fill you up

  20. These are some great tips, and several of them really are very simple. We are do the once in the morning flush, so we don’t wake other kids, but I hadn’t considered we were also saving water. Good for us!

    If you make the toilet low flush with this suggestion, does that impede the toilets ability to, you know, flush stuff? Just wondering, because it sounds like a simple tip but I just want to make sure there are no down sides.

    Taylor at Household Management 101´s last blog post…Mar 2, Grass and Mud Stains

  21. Great suggestions. I still struggle when it comes to replacing paper towels with cloth. It’s one area I need to work on. Oh, and those 20-minute showers, too.

  22. thanks for the all the great tips. I definately need to cut down on my use of paper towels!

  23. I wanted to say thank you to EVERYONE that has shared so far. It is amazing how much more I have learned from the comments here! Please keep sharing 🙂

    Maya´s last blog post…The One Hundred: A Guide to Pieces Every Happy and Balanced Soul Must Embrace: Simplicity

  24. I love the tip about washing our babies with milk. It made me think of Charlotte’s Web when Mrs. Avery washed Wilbur with buttermilk.

    Melodie´s last blog post…Self-Attachment: Smart Babies Want to Breastfeed

  25. Another really simple tip: Buy frozen juice concentrate instead of buying bottles of juice to cut down on packaging. Most frozen juices are packaged in paper and/or recyclable plastic as well, so it’s a win-win 🙂

    Another is to remember to turn off the computer at night, and to turn off the power strip that it is attached to as well. Even when some machines are off, they still draw phantom power. Turning off the power strip will eliminate that problem 🙂

    Jennae @ Green Your Decor´s last blog post…5 Awesome, Eco-Friendly DIY Projects for your Home

  26. what a great list. thanks for sharing. i do most of them, except the first! i am excite to go home and start saving water.

    do you have any green ideas regarding gardens?

    nichole´s last blog post…again, again…

  27. We’ve jumped on the Hydrogen Peroxide cleaning wagon. It’s as versatile as vinegar, but without the smell. 🙂

    Joan´s last blog post…Teaching Your Kids – Without Them Knowing They’re Learning

  28. Awesome post! My husband and I have been looking for ways to go more green.

    Sometimes it’s daunting because you think it will cost you a lot. I just went and “low flowed” our toliets a second ago!

    Keep stuff like this coming.

  29. GO THRIFT SHOPPING! Ms Shopping Golightly spells it out in Monday’s print edition Christian Science Monitor opinion piece: Green Shopping: Don’t Say Eww to Thrift Stores:

    Ms Golightlty will be featured in a podcast interview from Renewable Energy World on this very same subject tomorrow, Thursday.

    Shopping Golightly´s last blog post…Apron Thrift Girl backs National Thrift Store Month

  30. i loved your list. i use vinegar for EVERYTHING. i always put at least a cup in with our towels to make sure they’re disinfected and don’t end up smelling like mildew. i also use apple cider vinegar as an astringent/toner for my face – effective and cheap.
    the only thing i would never do is change our light bulbs. the compact fluorescent have mercury and can be very dangerous if they break. they’re also difficult and dangerous to dispose of (think of all that mercury in our landfills).

    • I also worry about the mercury in the compact flourescent lightbulbs, but I found that you can buy LED bulbs just about anywhere-and they save so much money too, only downside is they are a little dim.

  31. Thanks for the tips! I’m so lazy… but these are things I can actually do!

    Heather @ alis grave nil´s last blog post…Gripes

  32. Thanks for this great post! I mentioned it on my site today and linked it back to you!

  33. ruth ann says:

    This is a great list! And a great reminder that going green doesn’t have to be complicated.

    I purchased several compact flourescent light bulbs a few months ago. But after reading about the mercury that they contain – I have decided we will not be purchasing any more (until it becomes mandatory). My main complaint is that I have yet to find a place where you can properly dispose of the bulbs when they do stop working. And they do stop working! They don’t all last for years as promised.

    • Please reconsider compact flourescents for your lighting. They do contain mercury, but more places are starting to accept them for recycling. Check out hardware/garden stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, and inquire with your local government to see if your dump accepts them as part of hazardous waste collection. Even Googling “CFL recycling” or searching on might start you in the right direction. They save a lot of energy, and thus save a lot of money (and it’s SO easy–change ’em and forget about ’em). I switched my lightbulbs over a year ago and still haven’t had to change any burnt-out bulbs.

  34. 1. Reducing/reusing plastic bags. You can get reusable grocery bags for dirt cheap (99 cents) at most grocery stores. We keep several in each car and a few extras at home for when we know we’re going on a large shopping trip. Instead of buying sandwich bags, we reuse our empty bread bags – which saves the planet and saves money!

    2. Only order as much food as your family can eat at a restaurant so you don’t have to use a to-go container. Food for thought: Portions are so huge here in America that you can share your food with your kids or have the kids split an adult meal. Our society has tricked us into thinking “more” food is better, but I believe “enough” is best. Do you really need to be “stuffed to the gils” when you leave a restaurant? What if you shared a meal with your husband and you both were “satisfied” when you left?

    3. Buy an aluminum water bottle and fill it with your favorite beverage over and over and over and over and over and … While you’re at it, give them as gifts to spread the “green”. By the way, they make kid-size aluminum bottles for your kiddos, too.

    • Great ideas Lauren. 2 is a good reminder for me. I will probably carry some of my own boxes the next time I go out to eat. I already do number 3 🙂 and never realized that it is a good thing!

  35. I am covering this topic on my blog- to inspire moms to go green I am giving away my stuff! I am starting with all of my natural health/ herb books- later I may add my smaller size cloth diapers and accessories. This way I am recycling and inspiring at the same time! I get a lot of resistance from some people when it comes to making the change (living more simply, going green) so I thought if I gave something away- and gave one ‘challenge’ a day, it would be less overwhelming and moms could slowly add it in to their busy lives.
    Living with less equals more fulfillment!

    Angie Goodloe´s last blog post…Don’t forget- you have until midnight to win Natural Beauty for all Seasons!

  36. You know – those fluorescent bulbs are a joke. Sure they save electric energy – but they are full of mercury – which is even worse in the landfills.

    So – by using them – you’ve taken one step forward, but two steps back.

    Karmyn R´s last blog post…It is all about the chocolate, really…..

  37. OH – and also with those Fluorescent bulbs –

    I recently read that they are only energy savers for situations where they are left on for 15 minutes or more. So, if you go into a room, flip on a light and then flip it off – you are actually DECREASING the life of that bulb.

    These bulbs need to be re-thought!!!

    Karmyn R´s last blog post…It is all about the chocolate, really…..

  38. Hi – wondering about point #8 re: natural oils for body & hair. What do you use specifically? I’ve been trying organic lotions or even plain olive oil but find that my skin is still dry (especially during our harsh winters) but I’d LOVE to switch over completely for my whole family. Also, any thoughts on using VASELINE? On a “safe-cosmetics” site it got the thumbs up but isn’t it a petroleum product (which would make it unhealthy)? Thanks for your input.

    • Hi Kika,
      We use enriched coconut oil for hair. Since it might give a pasted look and/or smell a bit, I use it only before I wash my hair – oil my hair first thing in the morning on days I am planning on washing it and leaving it on for a couple of hours. It works really well. For the kids, I put a few drops of oil on my palm and run it through their hair pretty much every day.
      We use pure olive oil for the body as well. I think the secret might lie in oiling the body generously BEFORE you shower and letting the skin soak it in. That not only enriches the skin but also prevents skin from getting too dry in the shower. That works really really well for my kids.
      Regarding the vaseline, I really do not know. I think moderation is key – I follow the philosophy of moderation in my life – too much of anything is bad – even if it is a naturally occurring substance. So sorry, am not too much help there!

  39. On the topic of the compact fluorescent bulbs, my local recycle depot collects them for safe disposal. Honestly, I don’t know what they do with them, I just assumed it was keeping mercury out of our ground and water supply.

  40. One of the things my girlfriend and I have done is set up a calendar in the kitchen where we mark down use by dates for the perishable food we buy. This way when cooking we consult the chart and prepare food in such a way that our wastage has dropped considerably thus being greener in the kitchen.

    On a side note, I am reading a book called “Waste” at the moment about all the food wasted around the world and it makes an excellent (if worrying) read.