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The Zen of Spring Greening

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The following is a summer re-run.

(original to The Warbler, Spring, 2007)

My mother is probably not going to be happy when she reads this article.  I think it’s going to be disconcerting to learn, in a very public manner, that I’m raising her grandchildren in a less than clean house.  Right now, it seems like every nook in the place houses piles of dust and tufts of cat hair (as well as a smattering of Cheerios and a few wayward socks that have been hiding out under the couch cushions.)  The measure of winter in much of western Pennsylvania, it seems, is not marked by feet of snow, but of inches of mud and rock salt on the sidewalk, driveway, and, ultimately, the carpet.  Hence, it’s time to tackle the grit and grime of winter, so that I can welcome spring with a clean home (and mind.)


Normally, I approach housecleaning with all of the fervor of a child returning to school after winter break.  This year, however, in keeping with my resolution to consider the environment in such tasks, I am looking forward to shaking the dust and grime from my feet (as it were) and to shove Old Man Winter out the door.  If you are like-minded, here are some things you might want to try.


My annual New Year’s resolution to stay organized was, as usual, the first one to be broken.  Luckily, I found a few ways to get rid of the stuff we’re not using.  In addition to donating to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, I’ve started leaving donations for the veterans (they pick up, which is a true blessing.) Also, if you haven’t heard about , please, allow me introduce you.  The goal of freecycle, as written in their guidelines, is to keep usable items out of the landfill.  You do have to sign up for e-mails (which can come in digest form,) but there is no other commitment, and no spam.  List members post “offered” and “wanted” items; the giver and receiver then make arrangements to meet (or pick up.)  I am amazed at the gamut of items “taken” that have passed through my e-mail box.  Everything from furniture to used craft supplies has found new a home.         


I was taught (and did teach) for years that the spread of antibiotic resistance was a “theory.”  MRSA’s prevalence in the news illustrates that we need no more evidence to see that bacteria have the capacity to outwit us (out-evolve, really.)    Here’s the rub: all the antibacterial products on the market are largely unnecessary. Cleaning methods from 100 years ago are just as effective as those that contain Triclosan (and a lot safer if you have little ones running around the house.)  Your cheap and green cleaning arsenal should definitely contain hot water, plain soap, and white vinegar.  Since vinegar is acetic acid, the change in pH that you create is very effective in wiping out bacteria, mold, and mildew.  Use it where you would a commercial cleaner: on floors, on tile and grout, and even in the toilet.  (See for more ideas and dilution tips.)  If you’re looking for fancier cleaners, (or you want a break from the pickle smell,) there are several companies that make eco-friendly products.  Brands like Bio-Kleen, 7th Generation, and Mrs. Meyers are available in natural food stores or online from sites like .  They cost more up front, but I’ve found a little goes a long way, moreso than the more well-known brands, and most of them smell great.    

Here’s where the Zen comes in: you are making a difference.  It’s the progression of small steps that count.  Replace one bottle of commercial cleaner with a green one.  Use a rag or dishcloth to clean up a spill instead of paper towels or wipes.  Start by hanging out one load of laundry a week.  Pick daffodils.  When you clean, put on music, give each of the kids a rag, and dance.  Above all, don’t forget to open the windows, feel the spring breeze…and breathe.


Written by Jen Szymanski

July 23, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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