Our Month of No Paper No Plastic No Matter What: How It Went

Going paper towel free in January was struggle city. So we expected this February challenge to use only reusable shopping bags NO MATTER WHAT to be tough and full of missteps. But we were determined to succeed. And I’m thrilled to announce that WE DID IT! Yayyyy!

Our Month of No Paper No Plastic No Matter What: How It Went
A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com
A very deceptive photo making it look like I do the shopping. I don’t usually. According to social media, I may be one of the only people who isn’t super into Target.

We Made Reusable Bags A Habit

Okay, so I say WE did it, but my husband does most of the shopping so he really embraced this challenge and DID IT! The trick was just making sure to get those bags back in the car after we put the groceries away. But after a month of making sure, I’m happy to say this is a habit now and we aren’t going back!

We had one near-oopsie that I shared on Instagram. I sent Patrick on an unexpected after-work stop to our local farmer’s market to grab some homemade soup (and potato chips) for me because I had a super bad cold. He didn’t have bags in the car this time but he still refused the bag and carried two hot soups and a bag of chips in his hands (and under his arm). A true hero to a sick wife and the Earth!

Our Month of No Paper No Plastic No Matter What: How It Went
A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com
And while you’re at it, don’t forget your reusable produce bags or just skip those plastic produce bags. You can still weigh a good number of loose apples! I’ve tested it for you!

So that’s that. This month was easy thanks to dedicated focus and accountability to you! We will continue to have our no excuses stance when it comes to shopping bags.

Waste-less E-Commerce

Next month, I’m focusing on how to waste less in my primarily e-commerce business. This one will be about balance, goals, and highlighting some of the steps I already take to reduce waste in pen&thimble.

Are You Waste Free Curious Too?

If producing less waste is something you might be into this year, I’d love if you’d join me! Follow my personal and business waste-free journey from the comfort of your inbox. Sign up to so you don’t miss a thing: Click here to sign up! You’ll get a plastic-free produce storage cheat sheet just for signing up! Also, I’m using the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram to share our waste free journey. I’ve just started the hashtag and I’m sharing our waste free wins and fails and tough spots with a mix of posts and Stories. So come on over!

Our Month of No Paper No Plastic No Matter What: How It Went
A #wastefreecurious blog post at penandthimble.com

Convenience vs. Waste Free

I rely on convenience, schedules, and habits to carry me through exhausting days and busy weeks. And as I’m making more of an effort to reduce my waste, I find that even the smallest waste-free step can challenge convenience, my habits, and my schedule.⠀

When I come up against the battle between convenience and my waste reduction goals I could just say, “I don’t have time for this!” And I would be right. But I also want to make time for this. So I’m starting to turn each defeated “what can I do” moment into a better question…⠀

How can I make less waste more convenient?⠀

I can put paper towels under the sink in the cabinet with the baby lock, so the only time I use them is mindfully. I can have my cloth towels and kitchen rags handy so it’s a no-brainer to use them. I can put our reusable grocery bags in the trunks of both of our cars right after we put the groceries away. I can have enough reusable sandwich and snack baggies available for the week. I can make quality handmade products that encourage less waste for other families on a similar journey. ⠀

Truth: Convenience makes waste. I want convenience and less waste. So the question is: How can I make less waste more convenient?

Making the decision to waste less has meant taking the time up front to create new systems, new habits, and to research the best waste-free methods or tools for my family. But from that initial convenience-disrupting work has come a new convenience that keeps me going through those tired, busy, brain fatigued days… while I make less waste!

What is your biggest convenience vs waste challenge? How can you make less waste more convenient?

Reuse or Lose: Our Month Of No Excuses Reusable Grocery Bag Use

We’ve all been there. We pull up to the grocery store with 1-3 kids in tow and we forgot our reusable bags. We huff at ourselves, but it’s too late to go back. We’re getting this shopping done.

BUT! What if, for a month, my family makes the rule that we aren’t allowed to get the shopping done if it means bagging in plastic or paper? The consequence is a drive back home to get those bags we forgot or buying MORE reusable bags. Could that cure my family of forgetting bags?

Real talk: We hate wasting money and time, so I think we’ll be coming up with a perfect reusable bag system in no time.

Our One-Month Mission To Never Forget Our Reusable Bags Again!
Our mission: This! EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

This February, my husband and I are going 100% plastic (and paper) bag free. And not like last month’s Paper Towel Ban when we realized we do appreciate the occasional paper towel. We really hate getting those plastic bags so we are focusing, giving ourselves consequences, and forcing ourselves to stop.

This is a bigger deal for my husband since he does most of our grocery shopping. So big applause for him being on board. And not just because I’m writing about it, but because he’s super into it!! Yayyyy Patrick!!!!

Our Supplies

  1. Reusable Shopping Bags. Mostly freebies we’ve collected over the years.
  2. Reusable Produce Bags. Yes! Handmade from pen&thimble! We use these! Have held up and wash well (especially on CSA day when our veggies are sporting that gorgeous earth on them still).
  3. Determination. Failure is not an option.
Our One-Month Mission To Use Reusable Grocery and Reusable Produce Bags No Matter What!

Who is with us? A month of no-excuses when it comes to those plastic bags! Have thoughts, suggestions, or want to join in? Look for this image on Instagram in my feed @penandthimble with hashtag #wastefreecurious. I’ll be posting about our experiences on Instagram and I’ll be back here on the blog with an update later this month!

Are You Waste Free Curious Too?

If producing less waste is something you might be into this year, I’d love if you’d join me! Follow my personal and business waste-free journey from the comfort of your inbox. Sign up to so you don’t miss a thing: Click here to sign up! You’ll get a plastic-free produce storage cheat sheet just for signing up! Also, I’m using the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram to share our waste free journey. I’ve just started the hashtag and I’m sharing our waste free wins and fails and tough spots with a mix of posts and Stories. So come on over!

The Embarrassing End: Summary of Our One-Month Paper Towel Ban

I’m just going to come out and say it. We mostly failed and I expected this to be the easy challenge. As of the date we post this, I have used a 1/2 sheet of paper towel twice and my husband has used about 10 1/2 sheets. (But he has done the vast majority of cooking this month, so it totally could have been me.) So that’s 6 full sheets of paper towel.

I’m not going to lie. That’s way more than I thought we’d use. It also highlights some major things to me:

We Had Been Using WAY More Paper Towels Than I Had Thought

Before our ban, I was convinced that we already weren’t using many paper towels. And that was true to some extent. We stopped using them at dinner when we switched to cloth napkins. We stopped using them for little spills.

But it wasn’t until the roll was gone from the counter that I found myself mindlessly reaching for the roll-that-was-no-longer-there when I had a little water on my hands after washing veggies or doing the dishes. I’m certain I’d have ripped off a 1/2 sheet had it been there on the counter. That would have been a few times a day plus kitchen cleanup!

Switching from paper towels to cloths isn't easy, but worth it!

Ditching Paper Towels Isn’t Easy

Between fighting muscle memory reaches for the roll and hitting late night messes with no will power left, stopping paper towel use was trickier than I thought it would be. Convenience is… well, convenient. Convenience with kids is… pretty much what helps me do all the things — be the mom and business owner and maker and friend. I’m not saying my convenience is more important than the Earth. It is not. And fighting against the convenient option when the fast and easy way is what has gotten you through the day thus far, that has required major system changes and life changes. Big changes! Changes that are worth it.

Other Waste And Bad Choices

I knew the paper towel ban was just one of many wasteful choices I wanted to tackle this year. But a month trying to avoid paper towels highlighted even more mindless and convenient choices I was making.

Cleaning supplies that I thought nothing of when wiping up with a paper towel gave me pause when I had to tackle it with a cloth. “Wait, what is in this stovetop cleaner?” Other folks on Instagram asked “What about makeup remover wipes? Tissues? Toilet Paper? Baby Wipes?” I use those things, so why am I only picking on paper towels?

And I know there is so much more I should be doing. And this website says that microfiber cloths are worse than paper towels. And the bamboo sugar cane alternative paper towels look great, but then will we run out of bamboo and sugar cane to make paper? And only 25% of recycling is ACTUALLY recycled, so what’s the point? And there is plastic in the fish and straws in the sea turtles’ noses. And I got married on a landfill (true story) and is the whole world just garbage and I’m a garbage person spraying toxic waste on my stovetop?

(My brain at 8:30 pm when confronted with questionable spray on my stovetop.)

Ahhhhhhhhhh! There is sooooo much! But you know, we all take first steps and this feels like our first step.

We Aren’t Ready To Go 100% Paper Towel Free

And after all of that — the embarrassing part. We’re keeping our paper towel roll locked (baby lock) under the sink to avoid mindless and needless use. But there are simply some messes we decided we prefer to use paper towels for. It’s a choice we are making mindfully now that we’ve tried the messes with and without paper. #sorrynotsorry #butalsosorry

Our favorite clean up helpers are kitchen towels and, of course, our very own pen&thimble cloth napkins. 100% cotton with super absorbent backing makes for mighty clean-up power!

The Embarrassing End: Summary of OurOne-Month Paper Towel Ban

Wait, Was That Pointless?

No! We learned so much in a month of TRYING to go paper towel free. We learned that we have so much more work to do and life changes to make. We are reevaluating our cleaning supplies. We are using cloths for everything aside from bacon grease cleanup. We have significantly eliminated a good deal of pointless paper waste and are looking forward to doing more.

Now moving into our next challenge in February, we expect it to be difficult. We have learned that we are creatures of habit and breaking our habits is tough stuff. But we also aren’t leaving any room in this one for failure — challenging or not. Stay tuned to hear what that will be! (Hint: Reuse or Lose is the title of my next post.)

Are You Waste Free Curious Too? Join Me!

Seriously! Join me in my effort to waste less this year. Find me on Instagram or Facebook or use the #wastefreecurious hashtag. Let’s cheer each other on, share tips, and build a safe space for exploring and limiting our waste!