Saturday, August 7, 2010

Not paper towels

So, about 6 weeks ago, before the unruly digestive tract caused all sorts of drama,
I watched one morning as the paper towel monster spun the roll in the kitchen for the third or fourth time
since awakening for the morning.  Now don't get me wrong... I adore the paper towel monster, but since he joined our family, some 21+ years ago, he's been responsible for a LARGE part of the paper towel consumption in our home.

I contemplated that since he'd been home from college for summer break, we'd used at least two rolls of paper towels a week, maybe more.

Some time ago, I'd seen a post somewhere where someone cut up an old sheet and made some 'not paper towels'.  I'd thought about it then, but never managed to find a vintage sheet that I could sacrifice.  A couple of days after watching the paper towel monster in the kitchen, I found a sale on some 'flour sack' towels.

Now, as a kid being raised in a somewhat 'out of sync' (agewise) family, I grew up with flour sack towels.  They were sturdy, cotton, coarse towels ... just perfect for so many tasks.  They were indispensable in the farm kitchen and easily bleached and hung to dry.  They were practically indestructible.  These 'new' flour sack towels certainly were not in the league of the 'old' towels, but as I stood and felt the fabric, I contemplated anew the 'not paper towel' need at my home.  So, naturally, I was off and running on a project.

I made my 'not paper towels' about the size of paper towels... it works on so many levels, so let's not complicate things with a different size. I also did not excel at sewing skills, but simply snipped and tore the larger towels to size and hemmed, quite unceremoniously.   I made a dozen 'not paper towels' and waited... almost breathlessly, until the paper towel monster arrived in the kitchen.

"Look what I made"... I said  "  These are called "NOT paper towels"...

... and folks, you could just see the lights go on... with no further explanation.
Now this is a very bright young man... a scientist by education and a sensible soul who understands both ecology and economy, but had really never thought of it before.  He bought into the project in an instant.

We explained it to all the other guys in the house... who also understood.

The deal would be to use the 'not paper towels' in place of both paper towels and paper napkins (which we also go through at a rapid clip.  For more than two years, we have not purchased paper plates.  The first month or so of that commitment was a little hard... we'd so accustomed ourselves to the convenience of paper plates for quick meals and snacks, but we have been very successful in the switch over  to 'not paper plates'.

Yes, you do have to wash the 'not paper towels'... so I found a small trash basket and stationed it in the kitchen, thinking to keep the 'not paper towels' all together for the laundry.  Everyone immediately set to using it as well.

It became abundantly clear that a family of four was going to need another dozen 'not paper towels' at least.
So, I whipped up those!  I initially thought that we'd need about 4 dozen, but have determined that a perfect number of 'not paper towels' for our house, for the amount of laundry done here, is exactly 2 dozen.

Then, that whole weird 'two weeks spent in the hospital' thing happened.  When I returned home, as I tentatively made my way around the house, I noticed that in my absence, the menfolk had not only used the 'not paper towels' and washed them, but they'd found a basket to keep them in.

To date, in roughly 6 weeks, no paper napkins have been used and only one roll of paper towels have been purchased and most of that roll is in the kitchen.

I am SO excited about my 'not paper towel' project, that I want to share.

If you'd like to get this set of a dozen 'not paper towels' to be your own, then please leave a comment about your efforts at reducing, reusing or recycling.  If you haven't made efforts, then that's ok,,, perhaps you'll consider joining us now!  A random drawing will be held on Friday , the 13th!

Had I known how easy this would be, I'd certainly have done it long ago. Think of the trees (and money and landfill space) we'd have saved over time.  Tossing the 'not paper towels' in with the regular towels takes no extra effort at all.  On one occasion in 6 weeks, I soaked them overnight in some oxiclean to rid them of a few acquired stains.

And, after a week or so of using the 'not paper towels', the paper towel monster (who is moving next week to his own apartment for his senior year of college) said "Mom, do you think I could have some of these 'not paper towels' to take with me?"

Well, yes, son... you can...


  1. I think I'm disqualified due to being an offspring (also, I adore my recently acquired supply of "bar mop" towels, so I'm good on towels). But I'll get the comments rolling. I only use paper towels for specific jobs-pressing tofu (the most common use), draining fried/fatty foods (which is rare in itself), or cleaning up something TRULY gross. (Like, throw-away-my towel dirty.) For around the house cleaning-windows and mirrors and stuff, I like my Twist sponge cloth. I try to use cloth bags at the grocery store (much easier to carry). I use a LadyCup instead of disposable supplies. Take my a.m. beverage from home with a reusable mug. I also don't use disposable plates/cups/napkins/utensils if I can help it. We recycle all the things our city allows us to. We reuse and repurpose-my orchids happily live in old yogurt containers with cut out holes. We try to carpool for longer trips. We simply don't shop a's important to remember we don't have to be rampant consumers. We don't always eat meat/fish. We donate or "free to new owner" items that still have life in them but we don't need. We repair the car, the applicances, the clothes, etc.

    I do feel guilty about the amount of disposable stuff we go through at work (have you ever seen all the trash that's left over after doing something as simple as 3 stitches?). But I understand there that the goal is safety and cleanliness...and that most of it has to get incinerated. Even in doing a lot of little things, there's only so much impact-unless a lot of people do the little things too.

  2. There are no disqualifications here!

    These things make awesome napkins, if nothing else.

    I'm proud of you for your efforts, large and small and must say that you have, indeed, repaired the Jeep and those are,hands down, the happiest orchids ever to live in yogurt cups... (and yes, I did smile brightly when I watered them while you were honeymooning!)

    ily, mom

  3. Those look very useful :-). I try to avoid paper towels when a dishrag will do, but sometimes I just like a paper towel to served as a plate/napkin for my packed lunch. I've been very excited to have a recycling day at my new place. Instead of buying a new recycle bin for inside my home (the orange bin is a bit too large for my space), I've repurposed a 10-gallon bucket and put it next to my trash can to remind me to recycle. My project for my next off day is to decorate it to match my kitchen. I try to tote my own water bottle with me to the hospital each day instead of using the styrofoam cups available near the ice machines. I've also been trying lately to avoid buying single-serving products if there is a larger container available and am loving my giant containers of greek yogurt. When I pull it out of my lunch bag in a tupperware, it's kind of fun to see what people think it is :-) (my fav... frosting, but then I had a great convo with a nurse about add-ons to mix things up for future 2am meals that I can't wait to try)

  4. Okay, I'll get in on this too :-) If I don't win, I'd happily purchase a dozen from you.

    I have stackable recycle bins in the corner of the kitchen that I use for paper/cardboard; plastic; glass; aluminum/metal cans. I usually take my recycling off once a month; or whenever it gets too unruly looking.

    I have multiple Nalgene bottles and have one with me almost at all times. This saves on disposable cups and also from buying bottles of water.

    Speaking of bottled water, I bought a Pur water filter for the kitchen sink and a Pur water pitcher for the fridge; this also eliminates buying bottled water.

    Continuing the trend of eliminating water bottles, I used to buy cases of Gatorade and Propel at Sam's. I now buy the canisters of powdered Gatorade and the "on the go" packs of Propel.

    I have a programmable thermostat in the house to save on heating and A/C while I'm sleeping and while at work.

    I use reusable bags at the grocery store. I even keep a small stuff sack in my purse for those quick trips into Target or somewhere when I only pick up a couple of items.

    I donate things I don't need/want/use anymore to local charities to give it a new life.

    My running shoes have 3 life cycles; the first as running shoes; when they have served their purpose for running, they are relegated to "kicking around" shoes; when they are just totally disgusting, they become yard shoes.

    I take my lunch to work everyday in a reusable lunch bag instead of in plastic grocery bags. I save a ton of money and get to carry a cute bag!

    I make coffee at home and carry it to work in a travel mug that I wash every evening and repeat this process on a daily basis.

    All of my race t-shirts that I've collected over the years will be turned into a quilt. So, instead of having a closet full of t-shirts that I don't wear, I'll have a functional, cool conversation piece.

    I need to do better with the paper products (plates, bowls, napkins, paper towels). Even if I don't win, this blog entry has inspired me to do better in this area.

  5. Ok, it's a few minutes till midnight and I'm up... ah the joys of having a teenager... nothing like waiting up for a late night kid...

    and I discover that three of my favorite women in the world have left comments. And I'm so proud! Just look at all the 'little things' that DO indeed make a difference.

    In honor of this, and because three is a small number, and because I have enough of the flour sack towels, I shall be sending out three sets, as soon as I get the other two made. E - if you'd rather not have them, just let me know... you know how you use things and if you don't need them, that's fine.

    Today, I threw the not paper towels in with the regular load of whites and tonight as I sat and folded them, I realized that the little extra effort (not much trouble and a lot of satisfaction in a pretty folded stack of them)has paid off in a big way here. In a month, we've not purchased approximately 10 rolls of paper towels and a large family sized pack of napkins, so a monthly savings of about $15, far less trash and less consumption. AND a converted paper towel monster!!!

    Happy mail should go out next week!

  6. Yay!!! We're all winners!! Dawn, you're the best!

  7. Today, while he and I were eating lunch, Trent said "You know, I really like these napkins... they're so much better than the paper kind.


  8. Great Idea !!! I just bought some flour sack towels... they were on sale at Fleet Farm..and I just about had to arm wrestle 3 little white haired ladies....LOL.... but I did get 4 and also got some "iron on designs" so... looks like I am going to embroider some dishtowels. My daughter loves going to make her a couple for Christmas. I need a couple more for myself. Loved your idea of making little towels!

  9. I'm super excited that we all will get some "not-paper towels." I'm sure they will be used well. Thanks Mama Dawn :-D.

  10. Ok, so I am late... I am 45 minutes away now! I just love to read your post! We just recently stopped using paper plates and maybe I can talk B into this... Maybe just maybe! Patrice :)

  11. Patrice,

    I've been pretty stunned at how easy my boys all accepted this, and not only accepted it, but like it. No additional laundry, just throw them in with the towels or whites, and I DO like keeping them in a little bin by themselves... helps us gauge when we need to wash them. Consider yourself gifted as well... they'll be waiting on you when you get 'home' to the park... I miss you, SO, SO much.

  12. I am extremely late in this, but I am completely intrigued ... where in the world would I find flour sacks/towels so I can make my own?