Natural Living Des Moines

Yes, you can go green without going broke by sarahtar
December 11, 2010, 7:30 am
Filed under: How To, Waste

Welcome to my post for Des Moines’ Frugal Blog Tour. I hope you can visit all the blogs on the tour this week and next.


Too often these days, living “greener” seems like it has to cost us extra “green.” However, this certainly doesn’t have to be true! When you think about it, the original Environmental Mantra of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” could also be a Mantra for frugal living. It’s true! Living cheaply and living light on the planet go hand in hand. Read on to learn more!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Reducing your use of resources is the best way to cut back on expenses, as well as on waste. As you go through your day, ask yourself at every opportunity, “How can I reduce my use of this product?” For example, do you use hairspray as you get ready in the morning? Perhaps you could use less spray but still achieve the same effect. Or maybe you’re willing to try a new hairstyle that would not require styling products.

As another example, do you use the amount of laundry detergent recommended on the bottle? Manufacturers who create those recommendations have an ulterior motive – to keep you buying their products! Try cutting back to half of the recommended amount, and then keep cutting back little by little until you start to notice a difference in the cleanliness of your clothes.

Reducing your use of disposable products should be fairly straightforward. Disposable products have permeated our society. It seems like every time I turn around, I find another new disposable product. I mean, disposable toilet brushes? Disposable bathroom hand towels?? Who would ever have dreamed?

Almost everyone can stand to reduce the use of wasteful disposable products. Doing so not only gives the environment a boost, but it helps save money, as well. To start reducing your use of the disposable, think through all of the disposable products that you use in your life. Here is a partial list of disposable products I found on a recent trip to the local “mega” store to get you started.

-Paper napkins
-Paper plates, cups
-Plastic flatware
-Facial tissues
-Toilet paper
-Paper towels
-Single-use razor blades
-Disposable diapers
-Baby food jars
-Cleaning cloths of all sorts
-Shop towels
-Baby bibs
-Baby placemats
-Changing pads
-Menstrual products

Which of these disposable products do you use? Now consider – for each disposable product you use, can you use a re-usable product instead? And will substituting that re-usable product be lighter on the planet, and also save you money? Not all re-usable products pay off in the long run, but most do. Let’s look at a few of the items listed above in closer detail.

Paper napkins and paper towels. The alternative is, of course, cloth napkins and towels. Generally speaking, using cloth napkins and towels is very do-able, and will definitely save you money! And, though I don’t know of any studies proving it, it stands to reason that it’s lighter on the planet, even after factoring in the washing. Our family has been using cloth napkins and towels for a while now, and we really don’t miss the paper versions. (If you’re interested in cloth napkins, make sure you get ones made from cotton or linen – not poly or other man-made fabrics, which are not absorbent.)

Paper plates and cups, Plastic flatware. I don’t think I need to argue the point that using real plates, cups, and silverware is a better choice. And I will admit that the disposable versions have their place. (Like when you have visitors for lunch on your first day with a new baby!) But there are ways to use them more responsibly. For example, when I was growing up, we had large family gatherings at holidays, and my grandmother didn’t want to be running her dishwasher around the clock. So she purchased a package of disposable plastic cups and a big Sharpie, and had each person label their cup. This way, cups did not need to be washed as often, but they weren’t thrown out after every use, either. It was a nice compromise!

Facial Tissues. Somehow, in the past several decades, we’ve gone from handkerchiefs to Kleenix without much thought. Most people my age have never even used a handkerchief! However, there’s nothing better when you’re sick than using cloth on your runny nose. You don’t get that red, dry soreness that you get from the paper tissues. It’s sheer luxury! (If you’d like handkerchiefs, they can be found in most men’s departments, or you may buy them from Wallypop.)

Toilet Paper. Now this one will really stretch some people! But flushable toilet paper is NOT the only option… Many people, myself included, happily use cloth toilet “paper.” It’s actually much softer, it feels almost sinful. Depending on what type of cloth you use, it’s much easier to get all clean, and for those of you who prefer to wet your TP before wiping, well, fabric won’t get all soggy and fall apart like paper does!

Diapers. Do I really need to sell you on cloth diapers? There are so many articles scattered around the internet on why Cloth is a better choice, including several that I have written, that I’m not going to try to duplicate them here. Cloth diapers are more economical, they are better for the environment, and they’re much better for babies, too!

Baby Food Jars. To reduce use of throwaway jars, you can easily reduce your use of commercial baby food. Making baby food is so easy (and fast!) that there’s really no reason not to do it! Even the worst cook can make baby food. Steam some veggies or fruits until well cooked, then mash up! How easy can you get?? Commercial baby food does have its uses, though. When on a week-long trip with our oldest, we supplemented homemade food with store-bought little jars of sweet potato, blueberries, and other treats. Instead of just tossing those jars out, though, consider whether you or anyone else you know can use them. When my nephew was eating baby food, my sister in law saved a large number of her baby food jars for our family – we use them to store nails, screws, bolts, nuts, and other small items that we want to keep together. If you want to get really fancy, you can nail the lids to the underside of a shelf, then screw the jars on and off as you need to access the contents.

Cleaning Cloths. How did we become a society that can’t stomach the idea of spraying cleaner on a rag, then washing the rag when done? There are wood polishing cloths, glass cleaning cloths, bleach cloths, kitchen cleaning cloths, bathroom cleaning cloths, car cleaning cloths, even disposable facial cleaning cloths. The obvious alternative here is to get a rag, get some cleaner, and go at it the old-fashioned way! Definitely cheaper, and actually better on the environment, too. Not only because you’re not throwing away the cloths, but because you will use less cleaning product in the process. Buy your cleaning products in bulk and use old towels or T-shirts as rags and the impact is even greater.

Baby Bibs. I’ve never been too sure of the reasons behind this product. You have enough room in the diaper bag for the disposable bib, but just not enough room to take it home? You just can’t stomach the idea of taking a dirty bib home and washing it? The obvious alternative here is fabric bibs, which are widely available.

So you see, finding acceptable substitutes for disposable products is often not difficult. Start with just one or two products, and move on from there.



This step so often gets overlooked in our enthusiasm about recycling, but reusing something is so much better for the environment – and the wallet – than recycling.

Reuse is actually my favorite part of living greener, because I’m a big fan of World War Two pop culture – and during WWII (as well as during the Depression), they had their own saying – Use it up, Wear it out, Make it new, or Go Without. What they couldn’t or didn’t use up or wear completely out (and I do mean completely), they would fix up, repair, or reinvent. I have several sewing books from the era, each with large sections devoted to remaking clothes or housewares using worn out clothing. A man’s suit becomes a woman’s suit or children’s clothing. Two worn dresses are made anew by combining the good parts of each to make one new dress, and the leftover parts made into children’s clothing.

So, with the pioneerish spirit of our grandmothers, here are some ideas to get you started Reusing your worn or broken items.

Wally's batman shirt

* Clothing. Clothing is the easiest item to reuse – at least for me, since I can sew! Plain T-shirts, T-shirts with with small stains, or T-shirts with smallish designs that you’d rather not see any more can be decorated and remade using the simple technique of raw-edge applique (ADD A LINK). Bonus: This technique requires very basic sewing skills, and the stitching doesn’t need to be perfect at all – it’s just “art-ier” if it’s all crooked! Most other clothing items can also be embellished – skirts, jackets, coats, pants, jeans. Pants and jeans can also be decorated with trim, which is especially useful for adding just a smidge of length when your daughter shoots up 3 inches overnight or for those pants that you love that are getting a bit worn around the hem. Clothing can also be cut up and sewn, tied, woven, or braided into quilts or rugs. I made a neat denim rug when I was in college by cutting up denim scraps that would otherwise have been thrown away. I braided them into a long, long rope, then coiled the rope into a circular rug that we used to wipe our shoes on before entering our dorm room.

My favorite use for old clothing is simply to cut out all the seams and then see what else I can make with the remaining pieces. Patchwork skirts are always easy, but most children’s clothing items can be made with parts of old adult clothing. An old skirt could yield a nice ring sling. Cotton clothing can be remade into diapers or mama pads. Once you start seeing old clothing (or towels, sheets, etc) as fabric instead of clothes, the possibilities are endless!

* Clothing again. Clothing that’s too worn (or ugly) to be reused can always be cut up and used for toilet wipes, rags, or washcloths. These items don’t have to be aesthetically pleasing.

* Interesting but clean garbage. Things like toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, meat trays, cardboard boxes and inserts, cans, jugs, and just about any type of container can be used in craft projects for your children. We throw any broken or unwanted gadgets (broken remote, old calculator) into a box labeled “cool stuff” that our six year old uses for projects. Don’t have children? Contact your local church, preschool, or daycare. Most of these facilities will gladly take donations of craft supplies such as these! But don’t stop at children’s crafts. Egg cartons can be used to store small, fragile Christmas ornaments or as a palette for your next painting project. Aluminum cans can be used to store pencils. Baby food jars can be used to store nails and screws, or bobbins for your sewing machine, or hairpins.

* Paper. What do you use for jotting down quick notes? Taking phone messages? Writing grocery lists? How about using your junk mail? Most envelopes have plenty of space for notes or lists. Not to mention that many business letters are printed on one side only, leaving the entire back side empty! And what about those pages that you printed on your computer, but didn’t need? Or that your printer screwed up? If you keep animals, consider shredding unwanted paper and using it for bedding – this is what we use for our chickens.

Little Places for Little Boys: Cardboard Playhouse

* Cardboard boxes. What can’t these be used for, really? Besides the obvious – mailing out packages – these workhorses of the reusing world can be used to: make a playhouse, make a sled (my dad used to pull us around the yard in the winter on a giant, flattened box), protect your garage floor, store off-season clothes or anything else, or provide a giant easel for children to draw on. With a few cuts and some tape, they can be made into magazine holders or smaller boxes. I cut the sides from an old, large cardboard box, painted them to match my office, and stuck photos to them to make collages to decorate my walls. Another large cardboard box, with a few windows cut out, provides a nice play house. A third box provided me with a bulletin board on which I plan upcoming projects.

* What else goes in your garbage? Just a few miscellaneous examples from my own house: I use two old mugs to hold my pens and pencils in my office. An old desk drawer organizer from work (they were remodeling and throwing out – throwing out!! – all our old desk supplies like orgnizers, magazine files, photo frames, and the like) helps me organize my sewing cabinet. Some old shelving provided some of the wood we used to make built-in bookcases in our basement.

If you can’t reuse something yourself, take a minute before you throw it away to consider whether someone else could use it. Maybe someone in your family or your circle of friends could really use that old pan. Or perhaps you could freecycle some of your items or donate them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.



Though recycling is what most people think of first, it should actually be the third thing you consider, after reduce and reuse. If you can’t reduce your use of an item, and it can’t be reused when you’re finished with it, try to recycle it if you can. Our local area offers limited recycling pickup with the garbage pickup, but citizens can take other recyclables to area drop-offs. There’s nothing particularly money-saving about recycling, except remembering that it’s the LAST step, not the first!


62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer by sarahtar
February 28, 2010, 7:14 pm
Filed under: Books, Check This Out!, Waste

<iframe src=”;bc1=000000&amp;IS2=1&amp;bg1=FFFFFF&amp;fc1=000000&amp;lc1=0000FF&amp;t=wallypop-20&amp;o=1&amp;p=8&amp;l=as1&amp;m=amazon&amp;f=ifr&amp;md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&amp;asins=0761152431&#8243; style=”width: 120px; height: 240px” marginwidth=”0″ marginheight=”0″ scrolling=”no” frameborder=”0″></iframe>

Considering we’ve just offloaded 4 old computers at our house, this new book seems particularly timely.

You can enter a giveaway and read Craft magazine’s review <a href=””>here</a&gt;.

Free Mulch and one step further into self-sufficiency on our Urban Homestead. by sarahtar
November 7, 2009, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Home and Garden, Urban Homesteading, Waste

Today, we took our new Yard Chipper out of its box and put it to work. (And I broke it all in one day.)

<a href=”; title=”Chipper by sarahtar, on Flickr”><img src=”; width=”332″ height=”500″ alt=”Chipper” /></a>

Um, can you say LOVE?

Here at our little Urban Homestead, we have tons of trees. They are beautiful and also a pain in the butt. One of the reasons they’re a pain in the butt is that they regularly drop large branches. Usually during storms, but sometimes just for kicks. When I say large branches, I mean that I have friends who have trees that are smaller than these branches.

These branches accumulate in the yard. We haul them into a pile. And then, after a year, we have a huge pile. In the city, we can’t burn our pile. So, if we need to have tree service, we pay the tree service people to haul it away. This is expensive, but we’ve done it. Otherwise, we could chop the branches up into the 3 foot lengths required for city pickup, and pay the city to pick it up. Expensive and labor-intensive.

Add to this nonsense the fact that we have a high need for mulch around here. Mulch is also expensive.

Enter the Yard Chipper. Yeah, it was like $150. Yeah, that’s kind of a lot. But, um, hello? FREE MULCH! Just in today’s work, in which I nearly obliterated our backyard brush pile, it’s easily paid for itself in terms of money saved in haulaway charges, and money saved in purchasing mulch.

Even more, it’s another step towards being self-sufficient. We have the source for all the mulch we could possibly need or want right here in our yard. Why buy it from the store?

In case you’re wondering, our chipper is a Yard Machines electric model. Most of our yard equipment is electric. It will handle branches up to 1.25 inches in diameter, though it’s more realistic to say that it’ll handle straight branches 1.25 inches. Anything bigger, we cut up with our chainsaw (rechargeable cordless electric Ryobi) and add to the woodpile for use in our outdoor fireplace. Or our indoor one if we ever get the chimney fixed.

Gray Water for your Garden by sarahtar
January 22, 2009, 11:50 pm
Filed under: Home and Garden, How To, Waste

I’ve been reading back over posts from blogs in my Bloglines that I have saved for one reason or another. I had this one marked, thinking about putting it into practice at our house this spring.

The main obstacle for my house seems to be that my washer is not only a long, long way from anything that might need to be watered, but it’s also underground. I’ll be curious to see if the washer pumps the water out with enough force to propel the water uphill and some distance away.

Recycling in Des Moines with the new Rolly Bins! by sarahtar
January 20, 2009, 7:25 pm
Filed under: Waste

Well, we finally got our giant blue rolling recycle bin about a month ago. I think we were among the last people in the city to get one! I had some initial concerns about storage space for it – we barely have a place for the city-required garbage receptacle, and I wasn’t sure where we’d put the equally-large recycle bin.

I will say, that concern has not been totally addressed – we have it parked in our driveway, awkwardly jutting into the space also occupied by my car, and causing somewhat of a problem when we try to get into the car sometimes. (Or, when I try to back in.) And it looks pretty bad, but that whole side of my house is hardly a landscaping mecca, so I can’t really complain.

But the problem of finding a place to stash it is more than overridden by how much I love the bin and the new process. No more limits on cardboard boxes. No more keeping paper separate from cans and glass. I just toss everything – junk mail, cans, whatever – into our recycling bin in the kitchen, and we carry it out and dump it into the big bin whenever it gets full.

This is another aspect of the new bins that the city never really mentioned – because the blue bins have lids, I don’t have to store my recycling inside the house until pickup day. Since our recycling gets picked up only every other week, our family (and many others) found ourselves running out of indoor space for our recycling. These new, huge, lidded bins take care of this.

And, our family is recycling so much more! Before the big blue bin, once we ran out of space to store recycling inside, we’d generally just start tossing stuff in the trash. The other option of letting the recycling pile up in unattractive heaps in the kitchen wasn’t too super appealing. (No, taking it to the garage was not an option. I’m lazy, and marching up and down the awkward steps to the basement while carrying a newborn AND recycling is just not really top on my list of things to do. Plus, I’m not sure we can fit anything in there besides the car. It’s a tiny garage.)

So – yay!

Clothing Swap – a super fun way to reduce your footprint by sarahtar
December 20, 2008, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Community, Events, Waste

I had the opportunity to participate in a clothing swap this morning. It was completely awesome, and I came home with some new-to-me pants that fit my postpartum figure, without having to go to the store and buy new. I didn’t take any pictures, but our lovely hostess Jessica did, and she’s written about the event at her blog, TattooedMama’s House. She includes some tips to get you started on your own clothing swap! Go check it out!

Garbage! by sarahtar
November 22, 2008, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Waste

First, Garbage. Someone asked me a while back whether we use disposable garbage bags. They said that they assumed we did not, but then what did we use?

I answered that we did, of course, use plastic garbage bags – there’s not really an alternative. But I think perhaps I misunderstood the question a bit, and I thought I’d explain here what our family does.

I use disposable garbage bags in the kitchen garbage can, which is our main garbage can in the house, and also the only one that collects “icky” garbage. We typically use super cheap garbage bags, the kind that tear easily, because I don’t believe in wasting money on garbage bags. There are “biodegradable” garbage bags out there for those so inclined.

Then none of the other garbage cans in our house use liners. On garbage day, we get another garbage bag and empty all of the other cans into that bag before taking it and the kitchen garbage out to the street. In addition, every once in a while, when I’ve just done a whole lot of cutting for Wallypop, I sometimes use a giant outdoor-size garbage bag for all the scraps I create. (Then, because the bag is inevitably only half full, I end up keeping it around for weeks as I slowly fill it up with other garbage from the house.)

I have experimented with using grocery bags as trash can liners, but I have a few problems with this. First, I have to specifically remember to NOT use our reusable grocery bags in order to have bags to reuse, but then that sort of defeats the purpose of not just buying bags – I’m not really saving any waste or plastic from being consumed. Second, I think it just looks unslightly. (And, really, what’s more important than pretty-looking garbage cans??)

So that’s what my family does, it’s how we feel we can best take care of the garbage/waste we produce. We are still continually working on improving how much waste we produce!