small steps

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How do I start to live a simple life? I can’t tell you that, no one can. This way of life doesn’t follow a formula, that’s one of the beauties of it.

I’ve been reading about Rhonda and Hanno’s simple life at her blog Down to Earth for a long time, and when her book of the same name was finally available here in the states, I scooped it up on my Kindle. It reads like a conversation with an old friend, and she shares a lot of great tips for small ways to make big changes in your life. If you’ve been thinking about living more intentionally, this might be a good, easy read to get you started.

It’s difficult for me to identify the turning point in our lifestyle. Our move to Maine was the first large-scale action, but it’s been a slow build over the past six years or so. We have always recycled everything we could, even when we lived in an apartment and the complex didn’t provide the pickup – I’d save it and take it to my parent’s house (though I take huge issue with the common perception that recycling is the most important thing you can do. It’s the third of the R’s, and the least impactful, but I’ll get to that). I believe that a lot of people make this harder than they need to, and I think that there are a lot of little steps you can take immediately that will make an impact. You don’t have to invest a ton of time or money to make a shift in the way you approach your days. Taking smaller steps will make it seem manageable, and it will be more likely that the habits stick. If you try to overhaul everything at once, you’ll get frustrated.

Reduce is the first R, and the most important. Reduce your consumption, meaning do without or find an alternative. This dovetails with the second R, reuse. After we got married, we made a shift to all reusable cloth products – no paper towels (except to clean the toilet – yuck! I just can’t bring myself to use a sponge for that task) and no paper napkins. I am no longer buying single use paper products, which means they are not winding up in the landfill and neither is the packaging.

We’ve found that if we didn’t have toddlers, we could probably use a napkin for at least three meals before needing to wash it, which would not significantly increase our dirty laundry. As it is, they don’t take up much space and just get tossed in with the clothes. A dish towel hangs near the sink for drying hands. These get washed a little more often, simply because they get used hard and little people love to pull them down onto the floor. My dish towels are not pretty. They are stained from mopping up spills, and many have holes, but they are functional.

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If the temperature is above freezing, and it’s not raining, our laundry is probably on the line, including all the napkins and dish towels. The only thing I always wash separately and put in the dryer is the dog bedding, to remove the hair. I use regular wooden clothespins, the kind with the springs, because I find that they grip the fabric tightly but can be applied gently so as not to stretch or snag the clothes. There was a pulley system here when we moved in, but I’ve found that I prefer a fixed length of line. Even though you have to walk back and forth, this access gives you the option of shifting individual pieces as they dry, and filling in the gaps. If you start early in the day, and you have enough line, you can get four loads hung out before lunch!

Line drying eliminates the static caused by the dryer (no need for dryer sheets – reduce!) and if you’re careful about how you hang things, often takes care of most of the wrinkles. It saves money across the board. I read a figure once that you can save up to 6% on your electric bill just by air drying your laundry. An added bonus is the wonderful smell, particularly when you hang the sheets out. There’s nothing like crawling into crisp, line-dried bedding!

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My mom used the clothesline when I was growing up and I remember hiding among the sheets and watching the sun shine through them. I would hand wash my doll clothes, Laura Ingalls-style, and clip them to the line to dry. When we lived in Baltimore as new homeowners, one of the first additions to our yard was new line on the clothesline posts, but as often as I peeked into other people’s yards, I never saw anyone else in our neighborhood with clothes hanging out. I’m happy to see a lot of clotheslines in use up here!

Do you hang your clothes on the line? Why or why not?

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2 thoughts on “small steps

  1. For the brief time I was a SAHM, and in the summers when my kids were little, I hung the clothes – INCLUDING the cloth diapers. The back yard became more shaded with a sap-dripping tree at the same time that my time started to out-value the line-drying. I love that you put value in RRR.

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    1. I didn’t own a dryer until my third child and even then would hang the sheets and pillow cases out to dry. There is nothing in the world as lovely as that fresh scent. When my boys were growing up there were trouser frames to insert into the legs of jeans and corduroys to keep them from wrinkling – wash and wear fabrics weren’t invented at that time. It sounds as though you are taking some great hints from the past. Just, please, do not wear white mittens while hanging out the clothes this winter –
      a relative of mine was shot by a hunter who thought he was seeing the white tails of a deer.

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