Green Goal-Setting, Part 2: Home Life

Last week, we looked at different ways we can set green goals in our personal lives. Hopefully by now, you’ve had a chance to look over all the options, and you’ve narrowed it down to one thing that you will focus on first. Then, you may have even chosen a second and third goal to focus on next, with the hope that by the end of the year you and your family will have made two or three permanent changes in those areas.

This week, it’s time to take a look at our home life, and the ways that we can make small but significant changes at home. The list below is long, but don’t let its length overwhelm you. Just like with our personal goals, we will only choose one thing from the list – one place to start. And again, many of these items will also receive more coverage here in the future on Simple Organic.

Ideas for Green Goal-Setting: Home Life

1. Switch to natural, non-toxic cleaning products.

On Friday, I published some recipes for making your own natural cleaners at home – easy and frugal!  If you would rather purchase your products, make sure to look for words like non-toxic, septic-safe, and biodegradable.  The word “natural” is tricky – just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is non-toxic and safe. So, read labels carefully.   It’s best to look for certified green products; Green Seal and EcoLogo are the two certifications recommended by the Environmental Working Group.

2. Carry your own shopping bags – everywhere you shop!

It’s become much more common to take your own shopping bags to the grocery store (hooray!).  Most stores have them available for purchase, or you can sew your own.  But don’t forget that you can use those bags almost anywhere, not just for groceries.  For awhile, we cut back on bags from the supermarket but still brought home plastic Target bags.  Take your bags in everywhere!

3. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).

Yes, they are more expensive up-front, but they will save you money in the long run.  According to Energy Star, “An Energy Star qualified compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about 6 months. It uses 75 percent less energy and lasts about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb.”

Photo by Siddy Lam

4. Recycle.

I am very fortunate to live in a city that offers curbside single-stream recycling.  I know that many of you live in cities that don’t offer this service, or live in a more rural area.  If that’s the case, then there a few things you can do.

  • First, reduce and re-use.  How?
    • Buy in bulk as much as possible to reduce packaging.
    • Cut back on processed, packaged foods.
    • Buy a filter for your water at home and a reusable water bottle (stainless steel is best), and stop buying bottled water.
    • Before you throw something away, ask yourself if it could be re-purposed for something else.
  • Commit to collecting your recyclables at home and driving them in to the city once a month.  That’s what my parents have done my whole life – they were my original “green inspiration!”
  • Talk to your neighborhood association, your city council, your town leaders, and see what would need to happen in order to provide curbside recycling.  Talk to your neighbors. Start petitions.  Get involved in the process.

Photo by Recycle This

5.  Reduce or eliminate plastic from your home.

  • Slowly replace your plastic food storage containers with glass.
  • Next time you buy new drinking cups, don’t buy plastic.
  • For young children, stainless steel, wood, and enamel cups and plates are good non-breakable alternatives, but you can also teach your children how to use breakable items from a young age – we have done so with very little problems!
  • Plastic toys can be replaced with wood or cloth over time, as children outgrow them.

Remember, it doesn’t have to happen overnight. Why does plastic matter?  Plastic is made from petroleum, which not only depletes our natural resources but also requires extreme amounts of energy to make, and most plastics contain harmful toxins, as well.

6. Reduce the amount of paper you use.

  • Sign up for paperless billing – many companies and creditors now offer this option.
  • Pay your bills online – most banks offer this for free.
  • Stop your junk mail.  Here’s a how-to guide.
  • If you don’t use phone books, sign up to stop receiving them.

7. Reduce the amount of energy your home uses.

  • The obvious: turn off the lights and fan when you leave the room.
  • In hot weather, keep your thermostat at or above 78 degrees.   Try to wait longer in the year before turning on the A/C – use fans to circulate the air, and open your windows.
  • In cold weather, keep the heat at or below 68-70 degrees.  For every degree you lower the heat, you can save 2% of your heating bill. To keep warm, use sweaters, blankets, draft dodgers, and drink hot tea.
  • Get your ducts inspected and make sure they are sealed tight.
  • Replace your air filters on a regular basis.
  • When your appliances need replacing, buy an energy-efficient appliance.  Look for the Energy Star seal.

8. Plant a garden.

Even if you don’t have a yard, you can grow many things in containers.  But you might be surprised at how much you can grow in a very little space! Growing even a little of your own food makes a big difference.

9. Consider your use of vehicles and transportation options.

Most of us in the United States would find it very difficult to live without our cars – for the most part, our cities and communities just aren’t built that way, and we need our cars to get around and make life work.  But we can reconsider how we use them.

  • Walk as much as you can.  It saves you money, makes you healthy, and saves the environment, too.
  • Biking is also a great alternative to using a car – consider a bike when possible.
  • Carpool – if it’s an option, organize a carpool to work, to school, for your kids’ activities.
  • Combine errands into one trip.
  • If you have a good bus or train system and you’re not using it, try it for a month.
  • Purchase the smallest, most efficient car that will work for your family.
  • Consider buying a hybrid, or a diesel car.  Clean diesel is now a great eco-option – read more.

Photo by Shaun Fox

Whew! I think that’s enough for now…

Like the list of options for green personal goals, this list isn’t exhaustive, either, but it’s a place to begin.  Look it over and choose one goal for you and your family to focus on first – just one! And then try to select one or two more things that you could change before the end of the year.

Now write down these goals, alongside the goals you made last week for your personal life.  Make a plan for how you will reach your goals. Put the list up somewhere you will see it often – inside a kitchen cabinet, on a family bulletin board, on your closet door.  We will come back to these goals in a few months to see how we’re doing.

Personally, we are trying to eliminate as much plastic from our home as we can.  That goes hand-in-hand with my personal goal, which is to eat more food from local sources.

Are you ready to share your specific goals? Are there other things you want to do that I didn’t mention?

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Katie is a writer, a teacher, a mezzo-soprano, and a mama. She and her husband Shaun are passionate about mentoring and equipping artists of all kinds. Find her online at

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  1. I just love this blog. Thanks for all the ideas. I feel good that we’re doing most of them but there is always another step that can be taken to make more of a difference. Thank you for your post!!!

  2. In regards to point 3, check with your local municipality for a light bulb exchange program. Where I live (Denton, TX) the city allows to you to bring in 4 used incandescent bulbs and get 4 new CFLs each week.

    I’m ready to work on point 8! I’m planning on growing a few vegetables in my apartment patio. I’m feeling really optimistic about it. Great post, as always. Thanks. 🙂

  3. CFLs are great for some places (like covered ceiling fixtures), but we’ve actually switched back to incandescents for things like lamps. We have a toddler, and the CFLs pose a serious hazard of mercury poisoning if they are broken.
    .-= Jessie’s last blog: … Wedded To … =-.

    • You can now buy CFLs which have an external bulb-shaped plastic cover. They seem much less likely to break, and even if they did, I’d expect the plastic housing to stay intact. Just a thought.

  4. I have really resisted switching light bulbs. We have quite a few CFLs, but only in places that I don’t mind cold light. I’m big on ambient lighting in my home, and the CFLs make it look like a poorly lit school gym! Any suggestions on brands or types? I’ve tried the ones labeled “warm,” but they’re really not…
    .-= Meghan’s last blog: Moon Games =-.

  5. #9 is a great point that I feel like not enough people actually consider. I have been biking to and from work (in daylight hours only for the cold NJ winter. In the spring I start up riding all the time) for almost a year and it is not nearly as hard as people might think. It is a great way to get geared up for the day, and then to wind down and empty the mind on the way home. If you work and live in the same town, or nearby, riding during peak hours can acutally take the same amount of time as driving!
    .-= Jackie’s last blog: Meal Planning =-.

  6. I keep reminding myself that slow and steady wins the race…little by little our family is making changes. Its not as daunting this way. There is so much good info. here to dig into Katie. Thanks!!!
    .-= Eren’s last blog: February Home Projects: Paint and Pretty Dishes =-.

  7. Love the link to opt out of receiving a phone book! I cringe every time I get this massive book delivered to my doorstep that I never even crack open. Thanks!

  8. I would like to use re-usable bags for the store, but I seriously don’t know what I would do without the store’s paper and plastic bags…

    I use the paper bags for my recycling can in the kitchen and then it is easy to transport to the recycling bin when full. I recycle all of them.

    For the plastic bags, I use those to line the waste baskets and to dispose of diapers…

    What are other people using for these things? Thanks!

  9. This is such a great list. Our big goal for this year is planting a garden, now that we live in a house with a big-enough yard. I’d also like to start taking our glass for recycling (it’s not included in our city’s curbside program).
    One thing DH and I really want for our city is better public transit–the current system is barely functional. Our new mayor has said it’s a priority for him, and we’ve been very vocal about our support (both via email to our officials and at public meetings and focus groups). Does anyone have other suggestions for how two ordinary citizens can help make this happen?

  10. I’m enjoying all of your posts. We are trying to gradually become better at going green. We have used CFL’s for quite some time. We recycle as much as we can. One place I am having problems is getting my mother (she lives with me) to give up the plastic containers, Ziploc bags, Swiffers and sponges (for dishwashing). I have been handing her articles about things like this in hopes she will be persuaded to convert. that’s how I got her to get rid of all of the cleaning stuff we had. We get very little mail now because I was able to cut the junk mail and such. We drive as little as we can. We do our major shopping once a month and then only go shopping for perishables the rest of the month. We cook ahead and freeze. I’m feeling good about the progress we have made.

  11. lilysmama- Sometimes it can be hard to break the habit of using plastic bags and paper.

    A couple ideas would be to save your bread bags for diapers -better yet use cloth diapers! Cloth is better for baby, saves you money and saves the environment.

    For recycling, I quite often fill up cereal boxes or something similar with recycling. You could take the whole bin out too!
    .-= Steph’s last blog: See Our Scuba Search in Action! =-.

  12. I’m still working through using less paper and plastic. Baby steps, right? I switched to non-toxic and eco-friendly cleaning a couple years ago. I can’t believe the difference that made in air quality in our home.

    Love the blog – thanks!
    .-= Becky – Clean Mama’s last blog: Messy Monday – Color Wheel Cupcakes =-.

  13. I never thought about the good point you made about plastic containers. I have found my self running out lately and contemplated getting more next time I found a good deal. I will be looking for a good deal on some glass containers now!

    I am also guilty of only taking reusable shopping bags to the grocery store: ) Then I get to the car with my plastic target bag and think…dang another bag to add to the pile. Our grocery store has recycling bins specifically for plastic bags so at least they don’t go in the trash!

    lillysmama – I actually keep a reusable shopping bag under the sink to throw the recyclables in. It is one of the cheap grocery store ones that stand up by it self. Even if I throw wet containers in there the bag dries quickly and if it does get ruined somehow then I won’t be too upset….it was only $1.

  14. We are working on trying to be a more green home around here as well. We already use our own shopping bags 90% of the time. We do, however, leave them at home on purpose from time to time, so we can replenish our supply of store plastic for the reasons a previous poster mentioned. We use them for our small garbage cans throughout the house. We are replacing lights with CFL as they go out. We had made the switch to cleaning with vinegar in most cases, but started having a problem with gnats. Come to find out, gnats LOVE the smell of vinegar and flock to it. We quickly went back to more traditional cleaning products and are still looking for a better solution that we can live with. Small changes over time. I’m sure we’re not doing as much as we could, but we are doing more than we were.

    • You might try cutting back on the amount of vinegar you were using, and make sure it’s just plain white vingear, not apple cider or anything fruity. You can always use the vinegar as a trap by setting up a jar with some vinegar in it and a few holes in the lids – the gnats will be able to get in but not out.

    • Instead of vinegar, you might try using Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soaps for cleaning. I keep a spray bottle of mostly water/a bit of soap in both the “Baby Mild” and “Peppermint” varieties. I use the peppermint for most any kind of cleaning (toilets, counters, etc.) and the baby mild for any toys, etc. my daughter puts in her mouth, as well as quick cleanups for the bathroom floor if she has an accident while we wrestle to get her diaper changed. =0) I also use this soap to spray down her bottom during dirty diaper changes and as her soap in the tub.

  15. Re: #5 – when eliminating kid’s plastic dishes from our home, I took my four year old with me to the local ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ (free) and allowed her to choose glass cups and stoneware plates to be her own special dishes. She loved choosing her own little collection of dishes and I thought that since they were free (and recycled) if she did break anything (which she hasn’t) that I wouldn’t stress about it. Now, her collection of stoneware is growing and has become my favorite too!

    • One discouraging thing about switching over to glass containers is that when the plastic lids start to split you’re left with this container/no lid and they’re expensive to replace. I wish a person could buy replacement lids.

      • There are a lot of Pyrex lids for sale on Ebay, Kika! Also, you could look into getting the old-timey glass containers that actually have glass lids – Ebay has some, and IKEA makes some new ones.

    • Great idea!

  16. These are great ideas however I wish you would address the controversy behind CFL bulbs. They may use less energy and last longer but when it comes to disposal of them – major danger, mercury poison. So, even though incandescent bulbs will be outlawed in 2014, are CFLs the best way to go?

    Also I’m encouraged and challenged to use glass for food storage over my plastic tupperware but will it really make a difference – given that food is stored and sold in already plastic containers. Can we get away from plastic?
    .-= Barb’s last blog: Dropping the Bomb =-.

    • Hi Barb – I do plan to address the disposal of CFLs soon, so stay tuned! Also, about plastic – yes, it makes a difference. Every little bit does add up and help. Also, not all food is sold in plastic – try buying more in bulk using your own containers, or from fresh sources at the farmers’ market, buying co-ops, etc. Most of my food is not in plastic anymore, which is a sign that our family’s food sources are changing in the right direction.

  17. Barb I would agree with you. I buy many things from our coop in bulk and bring my own glass containers but I get so fed up with all of the cottage cheese, sour cream and other plastic containers from the things that I don’t get in bulk. They fill two drawers in my cupboard because I refuse to throw them away until they are worn out (or get mold on them because I let food sit too long!). I do have some glass storage but end up using those most of the time because I feel like I should reuse them. So frustrating!

    One thing I do to eliminate a lot of my plastic containers is to make my own yogurt. You can buy yogurt makers online for $20 and it is so quick and easy to make and much more healthy. Then you can add any flavorings you want and know how much sugar and everything else you are putting in it.

    • Rachel, can you not recycle that plastic where you live? That would be frustrating. I have thankfully found yogurt in glass jars so that has helped us a lot. Also, making your own sour cream is an option – it’s pretty easy!

  18. thanks rachel. i’m in the same boat – plastic containers out the wah-zoo! I too, make my own yogurt with my crockpot. i didn’t want to buy another gadget to store and was so thankful to find a recipe that didn’t need a gas oven. i think the recipe may have come from!
    .-= Barb’s last blog: Dropping the Bomb =-.

  19. Super tips. Thank you. It also helps to discuss as a family the benefits of making each individual change. It helps to decrease the focus from any inconvenience that naturally arises when creating any new habit so you can instead focus on the positives and benefits of making such changes.

    Change is simply trading something you already have or do for something even better.

    Live Your Dreams,

    Jill Koenig
    America’s Top Goals Coach
    .-= Goal Setting’s last blog: Why You Must Set Goals =-.

  20. i have one to add…switch to reusable wall calendar. i bought a huge year at a glance one and this is our second year using it. or print yours out on scratch paper left over from your printer. also, i use pillow cases to line our little trashcans…bold colors so i dont confuse them with our cases for pillows.

  21. I would like to suggest to everyone to have their heating systems inspected and cleaned every two years. This will help save our natural resources and by having it done it basically pays for itself just in the energy savings alone.

  22. There are many customers here in New Orleans that are needing air duct cleaning due to the flooding by hurricane Katrina.
    Nola Carpet Cleaning
    5501 France Rd
    New Orleans LA 70126

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