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!

The Preposterous Paper Towel Ban

My Challenge to Stop Using Paper Towels Completely

My husband isn’t convinced that we can go fully paper towel free. And I’m not sure either, but we’re going for it. We started yesterday and hit bumps already. “Ah! What do I place over the food in the microwave?” When making a salad for lunch, I reached for my paper towel roll… but it was gone! (They’re easily findable under the sink, but don’t tell!)

As you may or may not know, I’m kicking up my dedication to wasting less around the house in 2019. We have come a long way already, but I think we can go further.

blue panda cloth napkin by pen&thimble

The Current Waste State of The Freemans, Who Have Come So Far

Why Do We Have So Much Plastic?

This is just one partially empty cupboard

Holy crap, we have more plastic containers, cups, plates, and bowls than I imagined possible for one family to own. And it’s somehow mostly for the kids. Did you all get the KIDS NEED ALL THE PLASTIC CONTAINERS AND SNACK CUPS memo too, or was it just me? Anyway, I feel like I’m coming out of a kind of fog as my youngest child is approaching 4 and I’m like, “Why do we have TWO full cabinets dedicated to plastic-ware for kids?” During some long stretch of desperation I clearly bought into the idea that kids’ plasticware would solve all my problems. Yuck. Spoiler alert: that stuff didn’t solve anything.

Oh, Look More Plastic!

In addition to all the kid-containers, we have a normal amount of plastic food storage containers and plastic baggies for freezing foods. I think my husband is still using plastic baggies to take food to work because I see a box in our plastic bag drawer, but I stopped using those completely in 2017 maybe? I use my pen&thimble snack bags for dry snacks (for me and the kids) and these Stashers brand for wet snacks now.

No Paper Plates or Napkins

2007 is probably when we realized that we were buying paper plates but had regular plates in our cupboards at no extra cost. Sadly, our lack of paper plates means I can’t do any of the hundreds of paper plate crafts on Pinterest with the kids. Aaaand I’m OK with that.

We stopped using paper napkins years ago, but we first replaced them with pieces of paper towel (same diff) and then we switched to pen&thimble napkins (shameless plug again, but seriously this is what we use).

Reusable Stuff

We have a healthy amount of travel mugs, water bottles, and stainless steel straws. I could do a better job of having a coffee mug handy for those unexpected trips to the coffee shop. But that will be my challenge for another time.

We don’t buy bottled water and have one of those water filter pitchers that I read recently are awful too. But I don’t remember why or what I’m supposed to do instead. I’m taking it one step at a time over here.

We love stainless steel straws (and smoothies)!

When the last of our paper straws ran out last year, I switched to these stainless steel straws and we USUALLY use them when we’re out-and-about too. If we don’t have them handy, we don’t use straws. But my kids are still learning how to drink like humans and I have sensitive teeth, so I try to bring our own straws. The straws I purchased from Amazon come in two sizes (short cups and tall) and two shapes (slight bend and straight) Why the switch? I saw a video of a sea turtle having a plastic straw tweezed from its bleeding nostril and it was enough for me to swear off plastic straws.

Back To The Paper Towel Ban

But we still use paper towels and I want to stop. My husband, who does the shopping and restocking, says we use one roll in about 2 months or so, which is greatly reduced use for us, but I’m ready to go ALL THE WAY paper towel free.

Paper Towel Alternatives:

We have a crap-ton of kitchen linens and cleaning cloths that I’ve made and collected over the years — tea towels, dish rags, cloth diapers. A nearly-endless supply, really.

The Plan:

Hide the paper towels and stop using them.

Use washing machine when our nearly-endless supply of cleaning linens start to disappear.

Develop our system. The hardest part about a new habit for me is making a new system. Everything seems so much harder when you have to think about what to do next. Especially when the alternative is SO CONVENIENT! We already have a wet bag hanging on one of the cupboards for used/dirty napkins and kitchen towels. I’m thinking we’re going to need a bigger bag. Someone on Instagram who is already a few steps ahead of me on going paper towel free, said that she has a reusable shopping bag under the sink that her family fills with kitchen linens as they are used. We will probably start doing the same. Thanks for the tips, people! Keep them coming!

So Let’s Do This!

I’ll be back here on the blog at the end of the month to share how our Paper Towel Ban went. I’ll also be sharing how things are going in real time with the hashtag #wastefreecurious on Instagram. Did you know you can follow hashtags? You can! So definitely let’s connect there and you’ll be one of the first to use the hashtag. I would like this tag to be a no-judgement zone for people in all the stages of waste-free life — pros, newbies, and the curious who don’t know where to start. I’m somewhere between newbie and curious-but-don’t-know-where-to-start.

My Challenge to Stop Using Paper Towels Completely

Dates To Know – 2018 Handmade Holidays

pen&thimble 2018 Christmas DEADLINES

December 10 – Last Day for NEARLY GUARANTEED* pre-Christmas delivery (US orders)


December 11- 17 – I will do my best to get your purchases to you before Christmas, but you’re taking a risk that orders may not arrive. Choose Priority or Express Mail if you’re worried.


December 18+ – Your order will likely not arrive in time for Christmas. But I’ll still be around working on orders as they come and answering questions. 

*NEARLY GUARANTEED pre-Christmas delivery = I cannot control what USPS does once a package is in their hands. But I can guarantee that orders placed by 12/10 will be shipped by 12/15 giving your package 7 business days to get to you.