Stop Buying Actual Garbage

I enjoy saving money, and as an obvious corollary, I hate wasting it. So when I put something that I spent money on in the garbage can, it rankles my frugal sensibilities and I wonder, Did I really have to buy that? Here’s how to stop buying things that will, shortly after they’re used, end up in the trash — and when it’s okay to say yes to the disposables.

Disposable items offer convenience and efficiency. Disposable dishes don’t need to be washed, the plastic water bottle can be tossed after it’s used rather than carried around, and those tempting paper towels never need to be washed or folded. But when we can see the benefits of switching to re-usable where possible, we won’t be irritated by the “trouble” they cause. Likewise, when we have concrete reasons for the disposables we do use, they won’t make us feel guilty.

When to Choose Re-Usable

Use reusable when it’s an item that you use often. I usually reach for rags multiple times a day, for everything from sopping up the water that the baby splashed out of the dog bowl to wiping down the kitchen counters. I even use thin scrubby rags for washing dishes.

Dirty rags get hung on the sides of a designated laundry basket that sits on top of the washer until they’re dry. I wash rags separately in a super-hot “sanitary” cycle. They’re easy to fold; even the kids do it. Having a system for dealing with dirty rags makes them much less inconvenient than you’d think. And hiding the paper towels in the pantry while simultaneously keeping the rags accessible makes reaching for the re-usable option a habit.

Re-usable items are also ideal when they offer more than the disposable item does. For instance, our re-usable water bottles are insulated and therefore keep our water ice cold, which, believe me, is appreciated during our interminable Florida summer weather (it’s still in the 90s here right now).

I also give a thumbs-up to re-usable when it’s safer than disposable. This, for me, is a choice I make for feminine products. As with many other choices for re-usable, this one also cuts down significantly on trash and saves money.

When to Choose Disposable

I’m not one to draw a hard and fast line against any disposable products, ever. But I do have Very Good Reasons for using them. Paper towels are used to clean up raw meat spills and “presents” from when the animals (or children, TBH!) “get sick.” I just don’t want this kind of waste to sit around waiting to be washed and I don’t want to touch it any more than I have to! Into the trash it goes, usually contained in some plastic bags that I keep on hand for just such occasions.

Disposables are also fine to me when you just need to make things easier. For instance, if you’re hosting a chili gathering after soccer practice, by all means whip out those paper bowls! Extra points for compostable ones. (I still try to use real silverware because plastic utensils aren’t good for our planet and, frankly, I don’t like eating with them; I’m always worried I’ll be the one with the spoon that breaks in my mouth with the crack! that turns everyone’s heads.)

Choosing disposable to make life manageable also became applicable in our family when it came to diapers. We cloth-diapered well into our third child’s life, but didn’t even start when our fourth was born because, life with four kids.

I’m also not above disposable tools that do their job better than re-usable ones. The Swiffer dusters I use grab dirt better than any washable alternative I’ve tried, and it’s important to me not to just shuffle dust around the house. And Magic Erasers — you know I love them. They’ll get thrown out eventually, but I’m willing to pay for that “garbage” when it makes the rubber on my kids’ shoes, my plastic garbage cans, the art table, and my grout clean again.

Where do you draw the line on buying garbage?

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