Clean, Green, and Not-So-Mean

It matters. It matters how we use the few dollars, renminbi, baht, pounds, euros, and pesos that come and go through our hands. For our health and that of our planet, it matters how we clean our vegetables and our floors. Seeking justice is as close as the next “buy now” click, and walking humbly with God is as simple as being mindful of what resources we use or pollute. Here’s a list of ten products, habits, and resources for a developing lifestyle of conservation.

1. Reusable Produce Bags. Many of us have made the switch from plastic to canvas reusable shopping bags for lugging those groceries home on bikes and shoulders. But what about all of those plastics cradling the colorful produce we pick up from the vendors in our streets and markets? The link will take you to the ones I’ve been using hard for years and that are still going strong. Since I purchased them it seems there are many more options, some of them significantly cheaper.

2. Fruit and Vegetable Wash and Bamboo Vegetable Brush. I adore street vendors and markets teeming with fresh produce, but I don’t know where the stuff came from or how it was grown and most of it still has the dirt on it when I get it home. Use these tools to clean it up. The wash is in a pack of three, which could last until I send my preschooler off to university. A bottle makes a great gift for other expats.

3. Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck. A guide and reference. Thorough but simple, this book revolutionized the way I think about keeping house and the connection to making it home. Then it told me how to do it better.

4. Cloth Rags/Wipes and a Vented Basket (one that allows air to flow). I just started a load of rags in hot sudsy water. I do that approximately twice a week. When they’re washed and rinsed I’ll hang them up in the sun to dry. The only disposable paper we purchase anymore is toilet paper. Keep the basket in the kitchen next to the trashcan. Spill something? Grab a rag or ten, wipe it up, rinse it out, and drape it over the edge of your basket. Need a napkin? Grab a wipe. After dinner, collect and toss them all in the kitchen basket. Tissue? You got it. I like prefold cloth diapers for cleaning and wiping up spills and cloth baby wipes for tissues and napkins.

5. White Vinegar is an all-purpose cleaner, disinfectant and odor neutralizer. Fill a spray bottle and keep it handy.

6. Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices by Julie Clawson. If you’re concerned, but feel overwhelmed by the complexities of the issues and conflicting information, this faith-based book will launch you into can-do land.

7. Shop Equal Exchange for coffee, chocolate and gifts. They now have chocolate chips!

8. Wear Pact and Ecoland for socks, tees, and underthings for the whole family. Pact for trendy, Ecoland for classic. Pact runs great and frequent sales.

9. Serve God Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action by J. Matthew Sleeth, MD. The increasing number and severity of diseases due to environmental decline unsettled Dr. Sleeth. He became a believer in Jesus and set to work restoring a groaning creation. This book is full of interesting stories, compelling explanations, inspiration and practical instruction. The audible edition frees up the hands and the time.

10. Yummy Earth Lollipops. Keep these stocked for treats and give them as very popular gifts. I love to say, “Yes!” when my kids say, “Can I have a sucker?” The pomegranate pucker is my personal favorite. A stash for a road trip or international flight is at the top of my must-have list.

What are your favorite products, habits and resources for living clean, green, and not-so-mean?

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.



    1. Kimberly Todd June 4, 2014

      Oh, I remember that article. Thanks for linking it here. It lights the fire and rereading it I cried at the point about telling our kids the truth – “Let’s change the status quo by impassioning their generation to practice ethical buying now.” If they’re going to inherit this value shift – my dollar, convenience, and comfort are not more valuable than someone else’s freedom, safety, and education – we have to model it. Thanks, Tsh, for sounding the charge on chocolate.

    2. Ashley Felder June 4, 2014

      Just read that blog, Danielle. Wow. I didn’t know all those details. Wow. I guess it’s good that I can’t eat chocolate anymore (gives me migraines). As for the other ideas, Kim, they’re great! I’m just a little tight-fisted with my wallet and I know buying real, organic, fair trade all cost at least double. I know it’s worth it in the end, but when we live the lives we do, it’s hard to spend so much on a few items that you hope will last longer than the cheaper ones. Thankfully, when we go home to my parent’s house, we can eat from their garden. I’ll be elated to not have to buy plastic-looking produce at the store!

      I have made a drastic change in what I clean with. My youngest is allergic (we think…we self-diagnosed) to chemicals, especially in detergents. He breaks out in horrible eczema when he comes in contact. So, we’ve switched to natural detergent and I’ve changed all our cleaners to vinegar-based. And whaddya know, they do just as good of a job! The hardest part has been to convince our ayi that they do a good job. 🙂

      1. Kimberly Todd June 4, 2014

        Whaddya know. Love this cleaning success story. How is your son’s eczema since the switch?

        That’s a delightfully short supply chain, from home garden to table. Enjoy!

        1. Ashley Felder June 5, 2014

          It’s good. We actually figured it out when he was 5 mos old, so we had to take every piece of cloth in our home, run it through 2 loads of vinegar to strip the detergent, and then stick to natural. During his 1st year, he would react to others’ clothing if they held him. I think he’s growing out of it now since he doesn’t react that quickly, but not switching back to the other soap anytime soon. Although, it maddening that the water here is SO hard, our clothes only get semi-clean with the natural soap.

          If anyone is interested, you can also buy soap nuts on Taobao…I think they’re pretty cheap.

  1. Mallary June 4, 2014

    Great ideas!  Thanks for sharing.

    1. Kimberly Todd June 4, 2014

      Cheers, Mallary!

  2. Caitriana June 4, 2014

    Anyone know a clean green way to kill cockroaches???

    1. Kimberly Todd June 4, 2014

      My husband grew up in a log cabin in the country. One night he stayed up late hunting. He would turn off the lights, crouch still and quiet in the kitchen and wait until he heard the pitter patter of tiny feet. Then he would flip on the light and swat them. He left his take out for his parents so that they would know something had to be done. I’m guessing you don’t want to hunt them down one by one.

      The Green Housekeeping book recommends boric acid or borax. I don’t think I could come by that where I am, but if you can, that might be your answer. Apparently, roaches also have an aversion to catnip.

      If you haven’t already, try creating an inhospitable environment. Airtight food containers, no food crumbs, no standing water anywhere.

      Good luck, Caitriana.


    2. Bethany June 4, 2014

      If you by any chance live in China, I recently found boric acid on Taobao because I am trying to get rid of silverfish…ugh.  I have been a little nervous to use it though since I have small children crawling on the floors as well and I want to be careful how I apply it. Also check out food grade Diatomaceous Earth ( I bought some of that on Taobao too) for something that is supposed to be totally non-toxic.

      1. Ashley Felder June 5, 2014

        Taoabao. A beautiful thing. You can also buy borax on there. (Let me know if you want the link.) We buy it and washing soda to boost our laundry since we use natural detergent that has nothing to fight against the ultra-hard water here.

      2. Kimberly Todd June 5, 2014

        Brilliant. Hadn’t occurred to me to shop taobao for those things. Maybe try spreading a very thin layer (bugs will avoid piles) under the refrigerator, stove, cabinets and other dark places where littles don’t go but bugs do. Hopefully it would be enough. I hadn’t heard of Diatomaceous Earth. Thanks for the tip!

      3. Caitriana June 5, 2014

        Thanks for the tips – will have a look on Taobao!

  3. Catherine June 4, 2014

    Great tips! I especially like the one about the rags as we seem to use several trees of kitchen paper a week mopping up spilled drinks!

    My top tip for living green : don’t buy a car. Even if you start to feel like a pauper in front of your local friends. Keep riding that bike/electric tricycle/bus! Though having said that, I read that one long distance flight is the same as driving for three months so us ex-pat bike riders can’t get too smug…

    1. Kimberly Todd June 5, 2014

      That’s a good reminder, not to get smug. Dr. Sleeth (from #9 above) writes about how good he was feeling about his efficient vehicle until he saw someone commuting on a bike. And then I got smug, ’cause I do that. There are traps here, that we can get competitive with those doing “better” than us and judgmental of those doing “worse.” The truth is we’re connected and our efforts are cumulative so we rejoice when we see someone doing well and remain humble in the knowledge that none of us can ace the task on our own.

  4. karen June 4, 2014

    I love this post! So many good ideas and reminders. One thing I struggle with is while living overseas, some clean/organic/fair-trade options aren’t as easily available, or are at the very least A TON more expensive in our European country. But I’m learning to make peace with the fact I can’t do everything all the time. (Related: A friend of mine has a 5-year plan for being self-sustaining and as green as possible… I like that idea!) Start small, let it snowball, and pursue clean, ethical and local things when we can.

    1. Kimberly Todd June 5, 2014

      Thanks, Karen! I was once challenged on a purchase I made by someone who knows how I feel about these things, but it rolled right off because I knew that I had made a mindful choice given the options that I had in the circumstances I was in. That has to be enough. Snowball is a good word for this lifestyle. When we act on what we know, we increase our capacity for further awareness and action. Roll on.

  5. Sally Todd June 5, 2014

    GOOD resource list Kim!  In Haiti, I keep a vinegar spray bottle at the sink as my weapon against the tiny dezod (crazy) ants that swarm the split second any tiny morsel of food drops or even when i START to use my cutting board to prep a meal.  It must be the dinner bell!

    1. Kimberly Todd June 5, 2014

      Ants, too. Slippery nighttime frogs and diseased day-biting mosquitos, oh my. Still, I am looking for the day that I can come and hear the stories of the ones in your world. Love to you, Mom.

  6. Alex King June 5, 2014

    I love these tips. We have almost no access to anything organic — definitely something I miss about living in the States. However, I’ve been thinking of ways that I can be more green here even though it it seems extra hard because in India, everywhere is basically a landfill. I have to think of it as a small change for us and just trust that the Lord will honor that even if no one around me does. Thank you for the great tips!

    1. Kimberly Todd June 6, 2014

      Alex, good thoughts on faithfulness. Thanks.

  7. Ruth June 5, 2014

    I like all your tips, Kim.  Those two books are definitely the ones that have had the biggest impact on making me realize that living justly and greenly (new word?) really does matter AND is doable!  I love how Everyday Justice starts out with the “warning”: Don’t Panic.  Don’t get overwhelmed and just give up because both pursuits can be really overwhelming.  But once I start making choices to move in that direction, it gets easier to keep going down that path.

    Probably the best change I’ve made in that direction is using cloth diapers – which is so much easier than I thought it might be!  I love using vinegar for all kinds of cleaning, and my sister recently made me some reusable produce bags (from sheer curtains from Goodwill).  I’ve also found the Ethical Shopping Guide on The Art of Simple blog ( to be really useful in finding stores and brands I feel good about buying from – or buying clothes secondhand when possible.  I frequently get overwhelmed about all the unjust, unnatural, or otherwise harmful living I participate in, but I remind myself to breathe, not panic, and keep making manageable steps in the right direction.

    1. Kimberly Todd June 6, 2014

      Good, good, good stuff, Ruth. I’m nearing the end of cloth diapering and while I can’t say I will miss it because really, there will always be enough laundry, we consider cloth diapering one of our more awesome parenting choices. It may sound super silly, but it was a life-giving practice, and that’s just it, when we make choices based on something bigger than ourselves, we get life in return. Moving with you in the right direction.

  8. Ali June 7, 2014

    Great suggestions! I think it is great if we can buy cleaning products, bags, “green” things that we need locally, so our local friends can all access these, not just import things from our home countries. I like challenging my uni students about how much plastic they use and try not to use plastic bags when I buy things at the supermarket or fruit and veg shop. When I first came to China it was quite radical to bring my own bag and reject the plastic one and some people didn’t know how to respond to me… but it’s getting better now. I love the idea of the reusable produce bags! Are there any of them on taobao (in China?). Or I wonder if there is something that could be used I can buy in the supermarket.

    1. Kimberly Todd June 9, 2014

      I totally agree with you, Ali, that it is the ideal to buy as much as we can locally. Just about every time I shop with my reusable produce bags I get compliments, and then questions about where I got them. It discourages me to say 美国. I have hoped that some entrepreneurial soul will think, “Hey! I can do that.” Hopefully the idea and the awareness is worth something. Did you see Ruth’s comment above about making some from sheer curtains? For those of us without the handy sister, I bet we could find the material and get a tailor to make some. Let us know if you come by some over here…

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