“I love a clean house. I just don’t like cleaning.”
That’s a direct quote from our 21-year-old daughter, Emma, who recently graduated from college and is now living in her first apartment. Emma is honest enough to express what most of us feel—we want our homes to be uncluttered, fresh and inviting, but getting there can seem daunting.
People of faith who care about God’s creation face another confounding factor: How we do we tend our homes without hurting the planet? Fortunately, it is getting easier than ever to care for our homes while caring for the planet. The bonus of homemade and green cleaning products? You’ll save money while exposing yourself to fewer harmful chemicals.
Here are my top 10 spring cleaning tips for saving time, money and God’s green Earth:
1. Clean the house (with family/housemates) every Saturday in preparation for the Sabbath. The anticipation will make this day of God-ordained rest all the more precious.
2. Institute a “no shoes inside” policy. Keeping the dirt outside will significantly reduce the amount of cleaning you need to do.
3. Purchase green cleaning products. The price has dropped in the last couple of years, and they now can be found in most grocery, “dollar” and home improvement stores.
4. My universal (and cheapest) cleaning solution: Fill a spray bottle with 1 quart warm water mixed with ¼ cup vinegar. This can be used in the kitchen, bathroom—just about everywhere.
5. Baking soda is another must-have cheap and green cleaning product. Use it to scour toilets and bathtubs, scrub nonaluminum pots and pans, deodorize the refrigerator and clean the kitchen sink.
6. Clean from the top down. Save floors and carpets for last, so dust has time to settle.
7. Go through one doable space (one shelf of a closet, one drawer of your desk) per week and give away anything you haven’t used in the last year. “If you have two coats,” Jesus teaches us, “give one to the poor.” Check to see if your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store will provide credits to local charities for your donation—a great way to give twice.
8. Get to know the people at your local refugee ministry. Many people come to our country with nothing, which is a big motivation for me to clean out the garage, attic and basement. When I know something is going to a family that needs it, I am much more likely to give it away.
9. If you don’t have a compost pile, start one. Our family used two inexpensive ($20) flexible containers made from recycled tires. We filled one pile and let the other sit. Every few months, we had a new crop of “black gold.”
10. Invite some friends over for a laundry-detergent-making party:
1 cup washing soda (such as Arm & Hammer)
1/2 cup borax
1 bar soap
Approximately 3 gallons water
You’ll also need a container to mix this in, such as a five-gallon bucket, a large wooden spoon, another pot to boil soapy water in, and a box grater to cut up the soap. Put about four cups of water into the pot. Turn on high until it’s boiling, then lower the heat to a simmer. While it’s heating, take a bar of soap and cut it up into little bits using a grater. When the water is boiling, start adding the soap a bit at a time, stirring until all the soap is dissolved. Divide into containers.
Green cleaning may seem like a small thing, but a lot of little acts by millions of people add up. The average American home has 63 synthetic chemical cleaning products in it, which amounts to a whopping 10 gallons per household. Picture 10 milk jugs filling your refrigerator—would you to drink 10 gallons of toxic chemicals? But in a very real sense, that is what we are doing—every single ounce will some day end up in the water someone drinks or the food we eat. When it comes to toxic cleaning products, there is no magical “away.”
Psalm 24 tells us the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. If I borrowed a car from God, I wouldn’t want to return it with the gas tank empty and the ashtray full of cigarette butts. The same principle applies to green cleaning. The earth is not mine to do with as I please; as a sojourner, I’m called to pass it along to future generations in as good or better shape than I received it. Green cleaning is a simple way I can live out my faith, 365 days a year.
Nancy Sleeth is the co-founder of Blessed Earth and author of a new book, Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life (Tyndale, April 2012). For more Almost Amish tips, visit www.blessedearth.org.