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Are You As Green As the Next Guy?

Napkinbasket At the Clutter Diet, we teach that there are three kinds of organizing: Planning, Projects, and Systems & Routines. Most people think about us for Projects, like doing a closet or a garage. But Systems & Routines are really the foundation of home organizing– things like laundry, cleaning, meals, dishes, and maintenance. They keep things moving and flowing properly, preventing bottlenecks and stagnation of stuff.

As we continue to become more environmentally responsible as a nation, our household systems and routines start to reflect that shift. I live in Austin, TX, which is a very progressive city in many ways. For example, Austin has an ambitious and impressive Zero Waste Plan. While I live in a place that is very environmentally conscious, I am quite certain there are areas of improvement for me. I think of myself as being "as green as the next guy"–kind of normal. But I really see that my Systems & Routines have definitely changed over the years to reflect a more green mindset.

Here are some systems that I use in my home and have heard our clients and members using too.

  • Cloth napkins. We keep a basket of cloth napkins on the table, and after using them, we hang them over the backs of our chairs if they are still able to be used again and wash them when required. (see photo above) I recommend getting cotton, multi-colored napkins that won't show stains, and don't worry about ironing them.
  • Composting. We keep an attractive, open, stoneware bowl near the sink where we usually chop vegetables. We fill up the bowl throughout the day with banana peels and apple cores and the like, and once a day we take the bowl out to the backyard to our compost bin. It's an easy thing to do and we are always surprised at how much we would have thrown into the landfill.
  • Recycling. We have a recycling bin in the pantry where we throw our glass, paper, plastic, and metal items. If you have space, it's great to have a pull-out bin in your cabinet area– we are seeing a lot of that in homes now. And if you keep your recycling in the garage, you can set up a staging area where you temporarily place the items before taking them out later.

Another important factor in "green" organizing is disposal. Use to find appropriate disposal or recycling resources in your area. Donating items to charity is also excellent recycling, but please don't donate torn up and dirty items to your charity either. Be considerate–the items typically need to be usable and clean.

And of course, we have changed our light bulbs to compact fluorescents, which is why photos taken in my house are always tinted yellowish like the one here. Any photographers got tips on that for me? I love the environmental impact but don't like the yellow pictures. What are your favorite environmental household systems? Share in the comments!

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Thanks for another great article!
As for your lighting issue, check your camera for white balance settings. Look for auto or play around with the other presets. If this doesn’t help, you can always edit your photos before publishing. Programs like iPhoto have auto balance correction or you can do it manually. Hope that helps!

Monica Ricci

I used to compost but our compost pile is way at the back of the yard, so I wouldn’t dump it every day. Then it got stinky and smelly and created fruit flies and Christmas Boy put the kibosh on composting! We do recycle glass, aluminum, newspaper, plastic, and cardboard though. As for cloth napkins, I love the idea — perhaps I’ll try it and see if we can adopt it at home. Right now we’re paper people, but you never know! Great post as always Lorie!

Lola Meyer

When I store leftovers in a serving dish, I cover it with a salad or dinner plate instead of using foil or plastic wrap.
We have a paper shredder, so all paper can go in the compost bin, or be weed suppressing mulch in the garden or pathways. Full sheets of newspaper can be the basis of a ‘lasagna’ garden.
For our ‘to go’ lunches, we have washable tupperware, wide mouth soup thermos, and water bottles -no plastic bags.
Over the washer/dryer, we have hung a nine foot long closet rod. Clothes are put on hangers from the washer and hung to dry.
Hope this helps inspire!

Laurie Z

Wow! Love all these ideas. I have been blowing through the napkins at my house and especially love the cloth napkin on the back of chair idea! Question– any recommendations for unstinky, user friendly composting? My hubby isn’t a fan of the whole composting idea, so we need to have something that works for our family. I live in Austin and haven’t heard of the “Zero Waste” plan but look forward to checking it out!


Several years ago I bought a case of black cloth napkins from a restaurant supply store–no stains, no ironing. The case of 6 dozen seemed like a lot until I broke it down for my family of 8, including six children under 9. Not many of our napkins make it to the next meal.


I love using my nylon “grocery bags.” The ones I have fold up compactly so I always have a couple in my purse as well as more in the car console.
I also use microfiber cloths instead of paper towels for many uses.


Regarding composting, there are a lot of great ways to make it easier and reduce the mess factor. We have a great stainless container that sits near the sink, in our food prep area. It cleans up easily in the dishwasher, and the lid has a carbon filter that really cuts down on odors and fruit flies. (I’ve seen them at the Container Store and Whole Foods.)
Emptying it frequently and rinsing out between uses helps too. If it’s too far to your outdoor compost pile or bin, you could have a smaller intermediate container just outside your back door for easy dumping. Then you could empty the indoor container every day to avoid odor and fruit flies but only make the trip to the back of the yard once a week or so.
When it’s hot, fruit flies can still be a problem, but you can make an easy trap out of vinegar and drinking glass with plastic wrap over the top; poke a few small holes in the plastic wrap for the fruit flies to crawl into. Happy composting!

Joyce P

Anytime I have bread dry up I cut or crush it and put it out for the birds – Sometimes I do the same with apple cores and grapes that have gone soft. It helps feed the birds. Since it’s snowing here right now, I pealed some apples and will put the peals and cores out for the deer.


Bokashi Buckets are great for odorless, indoor compsting. I like the basket idea for cloth napkins (called serviettes here in Australia – very commonly used in homes). We had more of a problem with paper towel in the kitchen, so ended up buying cheap face washers (flannels?) and use them instead for less waste.

Genny Esterline

Great post Lorie! I like to think that as a country we are moving more and more toward Green Living. I recyle and donate what I can. Great website you posted for how to get rid of some of the items in a home that should not be dumped into landfills. I knew about computers and car batteries but never made the connection with the small AA batteries that I go through in a years time. Now I am challenged to incorporate composting into our daily lives.

Amy Walker

Unplug, unplug, unplug. Our TV, DVR, & Wii are plugged into a power strip that I turn off every night before I go to bed. We also just replaced our original to the house 1954 teal green toilet with a new water saver one, and we’ll get $100 rebate from our county for doing so.


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