Find Waste-Free Alternatives for Regular Household Items and Enjoy Life More

Reader Contribution by Jo Devries
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Newspaper comics and pictures make great gift wrap.

As I reflect on the past year, I remember how I felt last December. The number 2020 simply sounded like a year of promise and opportunity. I was finishing up writing my second book. I was staying with my son, Jordan, in Ottawa for a couple of months. The sun wasn’t shining enough to power my tiny solar setup at home to operate my laptop, so I decided to stay with Jordan from mid-December to March. As my stay was coming to an end, I had the first proofs of my book printed. I was excited about what lay ahead.

My son informed me that there were big problems in China. There was word on the Internet that a serious virus was spreading. Parts of the country were starting to close up shop. Most people were without jobs. Those dying, were dying alone. It was absolutely horrible!

In late February, I moved back to my cabin in the woods. The sun was shining more consistently, and my book was nearing publication. I was ready to share my book with the world. The world, meanwhile, was shutting down. My only other income at that time was my greeting card line. The majority of my customers were gift shop owners, and they were among the first to close their doors during the first red alert.

The world changed quickly. It gave us time to stop, take a step back, reexamine things, scrutinize our lifestyles, assess our situations, and perhaps redefine our priorities.

For some of us, this challenge confirmed our conclusion: Living a simple back-to-the-land lifestyle was a good way to live out one’s life.

When I was in Ottawa, I witnessed an atrocity every garbage day. As well as garbage bins, blue recycling boxes lined the streets. People, believing they were practicing responsible stewardship by recycling, filled their boxes to overflowing each week.

The promotional jingle for recycling is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Reducing our consumption should be our focus. We shouldn’t be introducing so much plastic and waste packaging into our households, our stores, or our countries in the first place. The recycling program is a distraction, a scam. It creates jobs — and a lot of pollution.

To consume everything in our path, without concern for anything or anyone else, is to act as a virus does. We’re killing our host, and many don’t care. Our politicians certainly don’t. We must rethink our actions and admit the existence of obvious consequences that come with such behavior.

What Can We Do to Limit Waste?

Change starts with ourselves, and in changing, we may influence others to follow suit. Reducing the amount of consuming we do takes serious commitment and self-discipline. I’ve spent the past 20 years living in a cabin in the woods without electricity, but I still have a long way to go before considering my lifestyle sustainable and completely eco-friendly.

We tend to do things the way we were taught, and purchase the products everyone uses, but it’s not right, and I’m finally making some big changes. Some will take full effect on January 1 (I’m not promising to give up coffee 100 percent, just yet); some have already become part of my lifestyle.

Say Goodbye to Gift Wrap

I’ve been using interesting newspaper pages, clippings, and comics as gift wrap for years. The newspapers always have appropriate photographs and artwork for the season, and the comics provide chuckles in a wide palette of fun, pastel artwork.

Drawing googly eyes on a photo of your most-hated politician for comedy gift wrap brings joy to the giver. Trump that with the crossword puzzle section for an educational gift wrap that keeps on giving. Retailers often offer out-of-date newspapers for free. My resolution is to avoid tape completely with interesting folding techniques and a bit of reused biodegradable string.

Use Baking Soda as Toothpaste

I’m reducing my waste of toothpaste tubes by using cardboard-boxed baking soda instead. My dentist hygienist highly approved (she does the same) and suggested limiting the rinsing afterward at night. She said the baking soda would continue to eliminate bacteria while sitting in my mouth. Though gross at first, you get used to it.

Natural Breath Fresheners

Chewing fenugreek seeds works as a breath freshener and will drastically reduce my gum purchases.

Natural Household Cleansers

I mix vinegar and water for cleaning most surfaces, including windows. I use newspapers or rags instead of paper towels, and I compost my cotton rags. I use vinegar and baking soda to clean most stubborn messes. Borax and lemons are also great natural cleaners. I won’t buy any more household cleaning products. Ever.

Natural ingredients promote health in body and home.

Natural Moisturizers

I’ve been using aloe vera and coconut oil to moisturize my skin and hair for years. Aloe helps heal burns and abrasions, is good as a healing aftershave, and helps thicken and moisturize hair. Aloe is incredibly inexpensive, as the plant is easy to grow and multiplies quickly. I’ll no longer buy cream-rinse or moisturizers other than coconut oil.

Herbal Tea

The beverage industry is one that contributes greatly to the overconsumption of packaging. I’ve decided to drink only herbal tea, which luckily I love, hot or cold. There’s no garbage created in drinking tea, as the thin cardboard boxes and packet wraps are burned in my cookstove.

I enjoy such flavors as black cherry, peach, and licorice. I hope to grow most of my own tea in the future. I presently grow chocolate mint and lemon thyme. A pot of tea acts as a room freshener as it steeps on top of my cookstove. Herbal teas have no calories, and many varieties have specific health benefits and help boost your immune system.

Foraged Greens

Since spring, I’ve picked dandelions and trimmed day lily leaves and flowerbuds to add to stir-fries, omelets, and rice dishes. I hope to do even more foraging for salads in 2021.

My New Year’s resolution is to carefully scrutinize every purchase I’m making, in an effort to reduce my consumption and waste.

I look forward to the New Year. Whatever it holds. I live one day at a time. I’m learning what it means to live a simple life. I am grateful for my cabin in the woods, my general good health, and the opportunity to spend my time working on developing a sustainable homestead, which in time will provide the necessities of life for me, and future generations. My second book, You Are Never Alone: The Power of White Magic, is available on Amazon. Marketing it is a challenge in 2020. I pray for guidance from He who directs my path. I will spend each day learning and sharing what I’ve learned. Improving myself and my lifestyle.

Thank you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, for 50 years of helping us share our knowledge, as brothers and sisters; veterans and newcomers; people looking for wiser ways to live in harmony with the Earth. I look forward to another year of learning and sharing.


Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her ongoing journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods and read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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