During 2009, I took on a number of baby steps challenges because I didn't feel like I was very good at being green, and I wanted to take steps to remedy that. So I thought I'd let you know how I'm doing with the challenges I took on last year. Mainly I wanted to stress the point that all of this is a process, because I'm far from perfect, and I've done better in some areas than others. But I'm going to continue with these challenges, and even do a few more this year.
The challenges I tackled last year were to stop catalogs and junk mail, air-dry the laundry, start composting, switch to natural household cleansers, use less water, and give up paper towels.
Let's go through them one by one (click on each highlighted challenge to read the original post and the steps I planned to take to change my habits):
1) In May, my baby steps challenge was to "stop those catalogs and junk mail once and for all." I did 3 out of 4 of the steps I listed in the post, like register for Catalog Choice and put my name on Forest Ethic's "Do Not Mail" list. Our catalog mail has decreased about 80 percent, and the same for junk mail. In the next few months, I'm going to revisit this challenge by putting aside our junk mail for a month and individually calling those companies. GRADE: A-
2) In June, the baby steps challenge was to "air-dry the laundry." I actually did this for all laundry except towels until Daylight Savings Time ended, when it became evident I was going to have to get up much earlier to run the washer in the morning and hang the clothes out to dry. Between the dark, the cold, and the rain, I've pretty much given this one up for the winter. To be perfectly honest, it would be a big hardship for me to hang clothes indoors because our house is very small, and I work at home so it would be a major distraction. On the positive side, my husband bought an "Energy Star" dryer last year and that's made me feel much better because our old dryer was a 70s monstrosity and a real energy hog. I plan on going back to hanging out the laundry in April. GRADE: C
3) In July, I started composting. Despite the fact that this was the challenge I was most intimidated by, I think I've done the best in this area. It has become such a habit that throwing something that could be composted into the regular trash has become for me like throwing an obviously recycleable item into the trash. It's become an ingrained habit, no matter the weather. If you want to try composting, read the post because I link to some easy instructions, plus I got a lot of great reader advice in the Comments section. Believe me, if I can do this, anyone can. I am about the farthest thing from a gardener imaginable. GRADE: A
4) In August, I decided it was time to switch to natural household cleansers. I made lists from reader suggestions of what ingredients I would use for each task, and also bought a Seventh Generation all-purpose cleanser to replace 409. I'm waiting for the Windex to run out to replace the bottle with a vinegar solution, and I have procured a suitable container for the Borax/baking soda mix that will replace the Comet. In general, I use a lot less product, and more often just wipe surfaces with water and a towel or sponge. This challenge is still in progress. GRADE: B
5) In October, I vowed to use less water. After doing some research, I realized that we were already doing all of the actions recommended by the Department of Water and Power. So I promised to do even better by shortening my showers, rinsing vegetables in the sink rather than letting the water run, and turning the water off while I brush my teeth. I did change my habit of rinsing vegetables under running water and started putting them in a bowl instead since the sink is so large. For some reason, I can't seem to remember to do this while I'm brushing my teeth. And the showers? Well, let's just say that one of my favorite ways to warm up in winter is a long, hot shower. Still, they're a little shorter and a little less hot. Baby steps, remember? Because my husband installed a low-flow toilet and we were already doing so well in this area, I'm not going to be too hard on myself here. GRADE: B+
6) Finally, in November I tackled the challenge of paper towels. I didn't actually vow to give them up entirely, just to use less. We are using cloth napkins instead of paper towels at meals, and since I bought a few microfiber cloths, which I LOVE, I'm almost always using them instead of paper towels around the kitchen. I still occasionally use a paper towel, out of habit or laziness or cluelessness (grease?). GRADE: A-
Overall, I think I'll give myself a B+ for effort, plus making some permanent behavior changes and forming some good habits.
Thanks to my readers for all their brilliant and helpful suggestions. With your advice and support, I was able to get a lot accomplished. Plus, making my commitments public and writing about it made me more accountable and added to my efforts.
Stay tuned for more baby steps challenges in 2010. What changes have you made lately and how did you accomplish it? Is there anything you'd like to see me tackle and write about on this blog? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section.