Phone books are becoming a bane of my existence. They keep showing up at my house. From there, they go directly to the recycling bin. I haven’t used a Yellow Pages in at least 8 years. I don’t think I’ve used a white pages in even longer. At least not to look up phone numbers. I’ve used yellow pages to weigh things down a time or two.

So how do I stop this scourge? It never, literally never, occurs to me to look for something in the Yellow Pages. Why would I when I have the internet complete with address-based search and local reviews?

So, I’m on a mission to stop receiving phone books. I’ve already blocked the bulk of my junk mail and catalogs. Next up: those heavy wastes of paper.

How to Opt-Out of the Phone Book
I’ve determined that there are four steps to opting out of the phone book:

1. Note the phone book provider each time one arrives on the doorstep. Look inside it for a contact number or website – probably in the first page or two.

2. Also determine who your local phone providers are. You may have more than one. For example, although I was an AT&T Digital telephone customer in my old apartment, I was in Verizon’s service area, so I received phone books from Verizon as well as a couple of independent companies.

3. Visit YellowPagesOptOut to get links to opt-out forms or find phone numbers for your local area. This will work for the major yellow pages publishers, but may not work for the small ones that also hurl these monstrosities on your doorstep.

4. Call the remaining companies and ask the customer service representative to remove you from their delivery list.

Repeat these steps each time you receive a phone book.

Always recycle the phone books you do receive. Only about 15% of phone books are recycled – the rest are thrown out. Sadly, I doubt you could compost phone book because of its size.

Also note that opting out of home telephone service won’t stop the phone books from coming! It might stop the books you receive from the local service provider, but the indie books will keep coming.

In some parts of the country, cooler weather has arrived. The same is sort of true in Los Angeles, but only for a day or two at a time. Still, the return of fall always makes me a little sleepy. I long to snuggle into a cozy couch with a good book. But first, this is a great opportunity to do some cleaning.

Clean Out Your Old Clothes
I hear talk from East Coasters about “putting away their summer clothes.” Yeah, that doesn’t happen in Los Angeles, but this is still an opportunity to take stock of all your clothes. This morning I was standing in my closet and realized I hadn’t worn a couple of my skirts for three years, which means it’s time for another purge. Look through your closet carefully before pushing aside your summer clothes and moving in your fall/winter clothes. Chances are the clothes you wore a lot this summer are bunched together and the clothes you never wore are somewhere else. If you didn’t wear them this summer, then you probably don’t need them. Let someone else have them. Rethink the things you pull out of storage, too. Is that sweater still in style? Do you still like it? Does it still fit?

Replace Worn-Out Sheets and Towels
Some people change their bedding with the seasons. Even if you don’t, now is a good time to replace worn out bedding and towels. We noticed that our four-year-old towels are starting to smell soon after washing and don’t quite fluff up anymore. I tried to salvage them with the vinegar and baking soda method, but it wasn’t enough. It’s time to buy new towels, which is good because lots of stores have sales when they change stock for the season.

Swap Out Home Decorations
I usually replace the candles I use for decoration each season. I keep several in different colors in the closet and bring out new ones to match my mood. If you redecorate seasonally, take a good look at the items you’re putting away. If the dust won’t come off or pieces are chipping off, it’s probably time to toss it. Check décor pillows for broken seams and fix them if possible. If they’re too worn to repair, throw them out, otherwise they’re just more clutter in the closet.

Clean Out the Cupboard
I tend to cook different foods in the fall than I do in the summer. Sometimes I get on a tear and stock up on something, only to get bored with it after a few months. Go through your kitchen cabinets to get rid of foods you’re tired of or won’t be eating again before next summer. If it’s canned or boxed, donate it to a local food shelter. As long as the food isn’t expired, they’ll find a good use for it.

Replace Your Emergency Supplies
If you keep an emergency box for earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or other natural disasters, pull it out and give it a once over. When we were moving, I discovered that most of the food in our box had expired a year ago and half the water had evaporated. It was too late to donate the food, so I threw it out. The batteries were still good, but you should check those as well. Now stockpile coupons and then hit the grocery store to restock your emergency kit. You should rotate those foods out every six months or so, so buy stuff that you’d actually be willing to eat in a non-emergency. Those heat-and-eat soups and cans of chili are great when you’re sick.

Most of these shouldn’t take too much of your time, so they’re great projects for the first rainy day of the season or a cold, blustery evening. Then you can find a great book and nestle down to listen to the fall weather.

This morning I saw an interesting article in the New York Times about the rise of self-storage facilities in this country. Most people don’t need these. I have actually used a storage unit once, for three months to avoid carting my college stuff home for the summer, but we got the first three months at half price, so it wasn’t a bad deal. I’m also a member of a non-profit that has a storage unit for the equipment that is used once a year at our annual event. We have no office, so this solves the problem of storing stuff none of us want in our homes the other 364 days a year. I’m not saying the units don’t have a purpose, just that the way most American us them is a waste of money. It’s time to get rid of yours.

Stop Storing Stuff You Don’t Need or Want
According to the article, a full 15% of storage unit renters are storing stuff they “no longer need or want.” What? If you don’t like something enough to want it, and you don’t need it anymore, why don’t you sell it or throw it out? As the article pointed out, you’re more likely to buy something new when you do finally need a replacement. By storing it, you’re throwing away money rather than throwing away an object that has no value anymore.

Stop Storing Excess Stuff
Some people have so much stuff that it won’t fit in their homes and overflows into a storage unit. If you have that much stuff, you probably have stuff you can get rid of. Rather than pay hundreds of dollars for a storage unit, have a garage sale and make a couple hundred dollars. If it’s something you don’t value or don’t use often enough to keep in your home, it’s not something you need to own anymore. The argument that you paid for it so it has value,  is bunk. That money’s gone. Don’t throw more money after it.

New Stuff is Cheaper Anyway
If you spend $200 a month to store an item originally valued at $800, you’ve exceeded its value after just four month. So, give it away, throw it away, or sell it. Then buy something new. It will probably be cheaper. Why not put that $200 a month into a savings account to go towards the purchase of replacement stuff when you need it? Then your money could actually make you money rather than being wasted.

Ignore the Emotional Attachment
I knew a woman who had a storage unit crammed with stuff that had belonged to her deceased father. Because it was his, she attached value to it. Except that she was keeping it in a storage unit rather than enjoying it, so had no true value. If you’re storing something that you have an emotional attachment to, but no actual use for, take a weekend to go through the stuff. Experience the memory, and then move on. I doubt your father would want you to spend $200 a month storing his old furniture (non-antique). He’d want you to save your money.

Don’t Store Other People’s Stuff
This is the most egregious example in the article. A man was storing stuff for his ex-fiancee, stuff that had once been stored in his garage, and then moved into a storage unit that she made him pay for. I also read a story in Dear Abby about someone who had been storing a friend’s stuff in her garage for six years, and now needed the room. She wondered if she was obligated to get a storage unit for it. If your friend, neighbor, relative, or ex hasn’t laid claim to their stuff in years, they probably don’t need it. Give them a call and tell them they have 10 days to remove their stuff, or it will be thrown out. If they don’t, get rid of it. You are under no obligation to pay to store the junk someone else dumped on you.

A Better Storage Option
If you have valuables that you must store off-site, get a safe deposit box. It’s much cheaper than the $50-200 a month that a storage unit would cost, and more secure. Other than that, if it can’t fit in your home, garage, or shed, get rid of it. I bet that you’ll never know it’s gone.

While in the process of moving, and now as I unpack, I find myself willing to part with more and more stuff. I unpacked my bookcase this weekend and it didn’t have quite as many books as it used to. I unpacked my keepsake box and realized I had no idea why I’d won a plaque for Social Studies in the eighth grade. Seeing as the nameplate had fallen off, I figured I didn’t need it anymore. Of course, there were some things I would never part with, like my computer. But I challenged myself to come up with five things I could part with. Here they are:

Useless Kitchen Gadgets
It’s happened to anyone who cooks. You see a cool looking thingy in a catalog and you must have it. It gets used once and then stuffed in the back of the utensil drawer. When I found those items, I tossed them out. For example, the egg-beater my mom gave me when I moved. She fished it out of her utensil drawer and it found its way into mine. Thirteen years later, it had been used once, so I tossed it.

Old Bedding
We’d been saving old bedding for our next move, thinking we could use it to wrap furniture. Except that we hired movers to do the moving for us. A couple of the comforters could be useful for camping or as cushioning while painting baseboards, but the rest are now in the trash. I have no need for a ripped top sheet.

Books
I gave up a good 30-40 books during the moving process, which whittled me down to a mere ten boxes of books. Most of them had either never been read or I didn’t like enough to keep. Some will be sold, some were donated to the library, and some were so battered that they had to be recycled. I don’t miss them at all.

Clothes
I finally admitted that I will never fit into certain pairs of jeans again. Even if I got back down to the size I was at 18, my body isn’t the same so they wouldn’t fit right. It was tough, but I put them in the donation box.

Curling Blow Dryer
I don’t style my hair. I brush it and that’s about it. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve voluntary curled it. Yet, a hairdresser and my best friend both insisted that I buy a curling blow dryer to style my hair about a decade ago. This is a curling iron with a brush on the end and hot air blows out through holes in the brush. It’s supposed to style and dry at once. Except I could never figure out how to work it. My hair got tangled, I got frustrated, and it sat in a drawer for the next nine years. I did use it for about three weeks two years ago when I left my blow dryer at my mom’s house after a visit. It didn’t work well as an actual blow dryer. I don’t have that thing anymore.

Most of these things should have been thrown out years ago. I held onto them partly out of the idea that I could find a use for them, and partly from the sunk cost fallacy. If I’d paid for it, or it had been given to me as a gift, it must have a value. Except that something sitting in a drawer unused has no value. What do you have that no longer has value? What could you give up? My list is fairly inconsequential, and that’s the point. It’s a lot easier to get rid of the useless stuff first, then later you can get rid of the stuff you’re attached to but no longer has real value.

Right now it’s 80 degrees in Los Angeles (sorry, not trying to rub it in), but it’s below freezing in other parts of the country. When it’s too cold to go outside, it’s easy to get bored inside. It’s also easy to turn on the computer and go shopping online. Here are a few indoor winter projects that will keep you occupied and away from the online stores.

De-Clutter Your Home
Now is the perfect time for a de-cluttering binge (I won’t call it spring cleaning.) Start in the section with the smallest amount of clutter as a warm up, then go through the whole rest of the house throwing stuff away. Check the kitchen cabinets and rotate older canned goods to the front. Make a plan for the meat tucked in the back of the freezer. Donate those clothes that will never fit again. Toss the ugly knick knack aunt Myrtle gave you.

Bake Bread
Nothing smells better than fresh bread baking in the oven. It’s time to break out your flour and make your own loaf of bread. Serve it with a simple soup for dinner. You just might discover a new love.

Pamper Yourself
Brew some tea, draw a hot bath, and apply a facial mask. Now lay back and relax in the hot tub. Let all your winter worries drift away. Bonus points for soaking with a good book.

Sort the Bookshelf
Or the DVD rack. See if you can get rid of any of them. You could do this as part of an overall de-cluttering project, or just sort them as a standalone project. Post the books in good condition on Half.com or make a note to take them to a used book store.

Sort Your Box of Photos
I’m one of those hated people who actually puts her photos in albums promptly. Each major trip has its own album, and family photos have an album, too. Most people aren’t like me, though. You don’t have to take up scrapbooking, but you probably have a nice photo album laying around the house. Sort through your photos to find the best shots, then put them in the album. Toss any that seem redundant. If you have a lot of old photos, consider scanning them and storing them on a CD or thumb drive that you keep in a safe deposit box.

Finish Your Half-Finished Projects
Got a model boat that you never finished? Are you midway through knitting a pair of socks? This is a perfect opportunity to finish all of those projects. If you never plan to finish them, throw them out. Unfinished projects are useless clutter you don’t need in your streamlined life.

Burn Your CDs onto an iPod
This assumes you have an iPod or other digital music player. If you do, burn those CDs onto the computer and then load them onto your iPod. If you don’t like a CD enough to burn it (excluding holiday CDs you only listen to in December), then maybe you don’t need to own it. Take it to a used record store to trade in for cash.

Clean Out the Tivo
We just got a DVR and already it’s recording things I didn’t ask it to. I like things neat, so I’ve gotten into the habit of regularly deleting. If you or your device recorded a lot of shows that you haven’t had time to watch, either watch them now or delete them. Chances are good they’re online or will soon be available for rental on DVD anyway.

Once you get going, you’ll probably think of even more projects you could be doing right now. If it’s too cold to go outside, take advantage of the time to do something productive. If you don’t want to be productive, then just spend time with the family. Whatever you do, don’t get through the winter blues with shopping – online or otherwise.

How are you keeping yourself occupied in the dead of winter? Share in the comments.

The holiday season is a great time to clean out your closet and donate your old, but still wearable, clothes to charity. As people pour into shelters to escape the winter cold, the need for clothes is ever-greater. This is also the time of year when many organizations sponsor major clothing collection drives. Here are a few tips for cleaning out the closet.

Clean Out the Closet in One Day
Some people recommend you set aside 15 minutes a day until the job is done. I’m more of a get-in-done-in-one-shot kind of person. It maye take a few hours, but then it will be done. Set a start time of around ten AM. Turn up the tunes, pour a warm beverage or some nog, then get to work.

Gather Boxes and Bags in Advance
The easiest way to clean is to set up two boxes: toss and give away. I usually leave the keepers on the hangers. If you have a lot of shelving, you may need a keeper box as a temporary holding spot. When a box gets full, either open another box or switch to paper or plastic bags.

Work Quickly
Don’t spend too long hemming and hawing over any particular item. You know what you haven’t worn in a year, what you don’t like, and what doesn’t fit. If your first instinct is to toss it, then toss it. If you’re first instinct is to keep it, then keep it – for now. You may want to take a bit of time determining whether something is a toss or a giveaway though. If it’s seriously worn or irreparably dirty, then toss it. If it’s just worn at the cuffs and hems but the zippers and buttons are still attached and there are no holes or major stains, then it’s worth donating.

Be Strict with Yourself
Unless it’s your wedding dress or another keepsake item that has sentimental value, don’t talk yourself into keeping an unworn shirt from three seasons ago just because you got a great deal on it. If you haven’t worn it, you never will. If it’s never fit, give it up. Most likely, it never will. You can, however, keep one pair of “skinny jeans.” No, not those horribly fashionable skin-tight jeans only supermodels could wear. I mean the pair of jeans that fit perfectly a few years ago, but are a little snug now. If you’re trying to lose weight, they may be the motivation you need to get in shape.

Be Careful with Shoes
When you’re throwing out shoes, check them carefully before putting them in the donation box. Charities usually can’t use shoes with worn out soles. Scuff marks are fine and broken laces are easy to replace, but toss them out if the sole is nearly worn through, the leather is broken, or there are holes in the top.

Clean the Shelves, Too
Once you get done with the hangers and the floor, make a sweep of the shelves. Reconsider the pile of old pillows stacked at the top, the stack of old purses you’ll probably never use, and various other items that get stuffed up there. Toss what you won’t use, but consider keeping all the free tote bags you’ve collected – they make great grocery bags. Either set them aside so you can transfer them to your car, or give them away so recipient families will have something to carry their “new” clothes home in.

Check the Other Closets and the Dressers
If you have a spouse or children, make the event a family affair. Children especially need clothes because they grow so quickly, and many shelters run low on children’s clothes due to hand-me-downs. If you don’t plan to have more kids, go through the clothes to find items suitable for donating. You should also ask your kids to sort through their toys. Something they no longer play with may make another child’s holiday if it’s in good condition. And what about garage storage? Look for canned goods, pots and pans that are in good condition, anything that can help a needy family get back on its feet. Once you start looking, you’ll find a lot of items you can give away. When I cleaned out my closet and dresser, I gave away four bags of clothes and shoes, and that was just me, not my husband.

Make a Final Check
Once you’re done, return to the closet one more time to see if there’s anything else you can part with. Now that you’re in full cleaning mode, you may be more willing to get rid of stuff.

Arrange for Pick-Up or Drop-Off
Finally, don’t let this stuff linger in your home or garage. Call a local church, St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army, or a local homeless shelter to arrange for pick-up or drop-off. We’ve donated to both the Los Angeles Mission and Beyond Shelter, a local service that helps families rebuild their lives. If you have good winter coats, visit One Warm Coat to make your donation.

Anytime is a good time to clean out the closet. If you can’t do it before the holidays, consider it for early January. There will still be people in need during the harsh winter months. You might also consider making it an annual event, or even seasonally if you store your winter and summer clothes in the off-season.

I stopped most of my junk mail and catalogs several months ago. If you did the same, then you’ve probably seen a significant drop in your junk mail. Some days we don’t get any mail, and my husband hasn’t even registered yet! This week I took the bold step of stopping the last of the junk mail I receive: credit card offers from my own banks.

Why I Stopped the Offers
Once my junk mail stopped, I realized just how many offers I received from own banks and credit card issuers every week. It was simply ridiculous, and frankly, I was tired of buying new shredders every couple of years. These offers are also a prime source of identity theft. Thieves steal them right out of your mailbox and change the address so you don’t know about the card until it shows up on your credit report.

Last Friday I received not one, but two sets of convenience checks and an offer for a personal loan. That was it. I didn’t want any of more this junk in my mailbox. So, I girded my loins in preparation for battle with my current credit card issuers.

Six Steps to Stop Credit Card Offers
It turned out the girding was completely unnecessary. The people I spoke to were very pleasant and didn’t argue with me at all. If you want to stop your credit card offers, here’s all you have to do:

1. Register with the DMA to stop your junk mail.

2. Take your credit cards out of your wallet (or wherever else you keep them.)

3. From a landline phone, call the toll-free number on the back of the first card.

4. Push the buttons to get to customer service.

5. Tell them you want to opt out of convenience checks and all other offers they send you.

6. Repeat with the next credit card.

One of the reps reviewed her entire checklist with me on the phone and opted me out of emails and phone calls, too. Each one did offer me a new card or a balance transfer, but accepted my “no” right away.

They also said it would take about seven days to get me off all their mailing lists, which is pretty darn quick. It’s been a week now and I’ve only received one offer in the last seven days.

Unfortunately, you do have to call to make the request. None of the websites offered the ability to set my mail preferences for offers.

I had three cards to call, so the process took me about ten minutes. You don’t usually have to worry about store cards. I didn’t call American Express because I don’t recall receiving offers from them. I may have to call the airlines where I have frequent flyer accounts, but I’m not sure yet. I’ll let you know if I end up calling them.

I can’t tell you how nice it is to open an empty mailbox these days! It feels a lot like freedom.

It’s All Too Much Cover

Peter Walsh is the organization expert on TLC’s Clean Sweep and Oprah. Rather than writing another book that lists various organizational methods for different types of stuff, It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Rich Life gets into the psychology of stuff so you can part with it permanently, and then teaches you how to do it.

Clutter Problem: The Psychology of Stuff
If you’ve seen Peter Walsh on TV, then you know that he’s very concerned with the reasons we create clutter. Getting rid of it once is easy, but learning to part with it permanently is hard. His basic theory is that we create clutter because it either represents something we value, or represents our idea of who we are. As you read through the first section, he challenges the excuses you’re already making in your head. He helps you see the error of your ways through quizzes and the stories of other clients facing serious clutter problems.

For example, Walsh relates the story of the woman who wanted to create scrapbooks for her three children, but she had so much scrapbooking stuff that it was overwhelming. Rather than make the books, she avoided that area of the room. At the same time, she couldn’t part with the stuff because she needed it to make the scrapbooks. He helped her see how she was blocking herself from being who she truly was, but he also didn’t make her throw it all out. Instead he honored her desire to make the scrapbooks by placing limits on the amount of supplies she could have and creating an organized space in which to work.

Putting Clutter in Its Place
The next section focuses on learning to control the clutter. Walsh first asks if the stuff belongs to you. Many people have clutter that belongs to friends, neighbors, ex-spouses, or middle-aged children!

Next he asks you to find the true purpose of each room. To do this, you and your family members write down how you think each room should be used. If one of you wants to use the dining room to eat and the other wants to use it to make model airplanes, that’s a pretty big conflict of desires that’s creating clutter. Once you understand the true purpose of a room, it’s easier to clear the clutter.

If a room must have multiple uses, then Walsh recommends creating zones for each use, and limiting the activity storage to that space. He doesn’t say you shouldn’t buy storage boxes; he says you should reduce the stuff, and then buy boxes to fit the remainder and prevent it from outgrowing the boxes.

The Clutter Weekend
Walsh tells you how to recreate the Clean Sweep experience by designating a weekend to clear out the clutter and then get rid of it immediately via a garage sale or donation. Once the major work is done, you can slowly remove the rest of the clutter bit-by-bit.

Room-by-Room Clutter Clearing
Finally, Walsh gives a review of each room. He explains how clutter develops in each room and then provides strategies for discovering what you really need to keep and what you should part with.

The book is part inspirational, part hands-on advice. Walsh never makes you feel guilty about the clutter, but he does make you want to get rid of it. I read this book after cleaning out our office closet, and well after my clutter purge, but the book helped me realize the effect that had on me. Now that there’s less stuff in there, I don’t want to just toss stuff into it anymore. I always take a few more steps to put it back in its place. I also think carefully before adding new stuff to it.

Final Thoughts
This isn’t the book for you if you simply want another organization system. If you’re ready to truly tackle not only the clutter, but the psychology that causes you to create clutter, then this is an excellent start.

If you’ve read my post on clearing out clutter, you already know how to actually clean it out. Then you’re left with the question of what to do with everything you’ve put into the donation box. Here are a few tips for getting rid of the clutter, rather than finding a new place to store it.

Hold a Garage Sale
If you have the time, and can hold the garage sale within the next few weeks, then you might be able to make a few bucks off your clutter. All you need are stickers, a marking pen, a box for cash, a sign, and an ad on Craigslist. Be sure to price your clutter to move, not to make the highest profit. If you saw the hoarder on Oprah, then you know she made $13,000 from selling her clutter. Most of us can’t expect to make anything close to that, but you might come away with a couple hundred.

Visit a Nursing Home
If you have books, DVDs, and other entertainment items, bring them to a nursing home. You might also be able to donate CDs, but make sure it’s classical or big band. They probably won’t be interested in your 1990s rap CDs. You can also drop off gently used clothes that are fashionable for older women and men. Finally, consider bringing vases you no longer use. They can use them when well-meaning relatives bring flowers, but forget to bring a container for them.

Visit a Homeless Shelter or Battered Women’s Shelter
They’re always in need of clothes, personal care items, and children’s toys and books. Women’s shelters and family shelters also need household goods like sheets, pots and pans, and dishes if they help families establish new homes. Your clutter is their chance to build a new life.

Visit a Food Bank
If you cleaned out your pantry, bring the non-perishables to your local food bank for distribution to needy families.

Visit the Hospital
Many hospitals are establishing “trauma closets” for patients whose clothes are destroyed in the accident or at the hospital. A trauma closet is designed to give them something other than a hospital gown to wear home. The hospital is also a good place to deliver children’s books and toys, as well as vases.

Visit an Animal Shelter or Local Veterinary Hospital
Vets, animal shelters, and animal hospitals are often need soft blankets, towels, and t-shirts to line cages and beds for injured animals. Because the items will be used as bedding, this is the place to bring your soft goods that aren’t quite good enough to donate to people. Even if it’s torn, an animal will find an old bed sheet quite comfy. You can also donate food and other pet care items if your pet has passed away.

Give Them to a Needy Friend
In my clutter post, commenter Jimmie Sue suggests giving the extra you get from buy-one-get-one-free deals to a less-fortunate friend. You can give friends food, personal care items, clothes, and even home décor items like candles. It’s always been a tradition to hand-down children’s clothing, but there’s no reason you can’t continue the tradition with other items.

Donate Them to Your Church
Churches often hold food drives, or drives to help specific families dealing with a major illness, job loss, or other personal disaster. If you’re in the process of clearing clutter, why not donate personal care items, toys, and other household goods to the drive? Several people use their CVS freebies as gifts for needy families in their church or neighborhood.

Whatever you do with your clutter, do not return it to your home. Don’t put it in the garage to deal with later. Don’t put it in storage until you can find a place for it. Make a plan to deal with it this week. Once you’ve got a plan, it’s easier to avoid re-cluttering your home.

Do you have other ideas for getting rid of clutter? Tell me in the comments.

The credit series will resume tomorrow, after this brief interruption for Earth Day.

A lot of people are looking for ways to save money these days. Although they don’t intend it, their newfound frugality may also be good for the environment. However, it also helps to be intentionally eco-conscious when making frugal choices. Here are ten tips to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. As a bonus, you’ll probably save money. If frugality doesn’t motivate you, discovering your carbon footprint might.

Carry Canvas Grocery Sacks
But won’t you have to buy a grocery sack first? You might not! If you dig deep into your closets, chances are you’ll find a treasure trove of canvas bags from conferences, events, gifts, and donations. I have several in various sizes – small ones that are perfect for walking up to the store for one item and big ones that are great for my full weekend shop. Even if you do have to buy them, you can usually get them for $1 and they last a long time.

Make Reusable Produce Bags
Once you start using canvas grocery bags, you won’t want to fill them with plastic bags. You can make cheap reusable produce bags to load all your produce in. You could also buy them, but making produce bags would be more frugal if you have a sewing machine or a friend you can borrow one from. Here’s a third produce bag to give you another idea.

Reuse Ziptop Bags
This one grosses some people out, but it’s really not that bad. I reuse my plastic lunch baggies for four days, which means I go through a total of about seven a week (I bring my snacks to work, too.) You can either rinse them out, or just use the same bag for the same item each day. I also have a permanent lunch sack made from nylon.

Reuse Glass Jars
When I buy something in a glass jar, I inspect the lid. Even if I have to spend twenty cents more, I might do it if it means getting a glass jar with a screw-on lid that I can reuse later on. Do that a few times and soon you have your very own free jar collection. They’re great for storing leftover sauce or making crème fraiche.

Stop Junk Mail
Stopping junk mail not only reduces your urge to get another credit card or buy something for a catalog, it also reduces the amount of wasted paper. That’s good for everyone! Since signing up with Catalog Choice and the DMA no-junk list, I’ve reduced my pile of junk mail to ¼ its original size. Some days the mailbox is empty.

Reduce Energy Use
We reduce our energy use through careful control of the heater and air-conditioner, through the wise use of window blinds, and by installing CFLs in most of our lamps. There are a few that the bulbs won’t fit into, so we’re looking for replacement lamps that will fit them.

Eat Local, Grass-Fed Meat
I recently read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and no longer feel comfortable eating corn-fed beef and pork. Fortunately, a farmer sells grass-fed beef and pork at my nearby farmer’s market. It’s only marginally more expensive, but greatly reduces the impact on the earth. I know we could cut red meat entirely, but my diet is already so limited that I hate to cut more items!

Buy Produce at the Farmer’s Market
We’re also buying as much produce as we can at the farmer’s market. Most of it is grown without pesticides on local farms, which reduces the impact on the earth from food transport and pesticide production/waste. It does mean eating more seasonally, but the improved taste is definitely worth it.

Use Old Socks and T-Shirts for Rags
My mom still uses my old cloth diapers as dust rags. That’s over thirty years of reusing one item! They’re not hard to wash, and it’s cheaper than paper towels or wasteful disposable cleaning wipes. I love to use old socks to polish silver and brass because the soft cotton doesn’t scratch them.

Use Cloth Napkins and Dish Towels
We switched to cloth napkins and dishtowels a few years ago in order to reduce our use of paper towels and napkins. Not only has it saved us a bundle on paper products, but we create less trash.

As our awareness of the environment and our determination to save money have increased, we’ve started to reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible. We’ve definitely seen an impact on our energy and household expenses bills. Hopefully we’ll see a reduction in our food bills, too.

How do you reduce, reuse, or recycle? Tell me in the comments.

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