After sorting through piles of stuff, what's next? Major cleaning!
(Hopefully you brought all your toxic and chemical-laden cleaning supplies to the hazardous waste collection though... )
Ok, so I sound like I've hopped on the green/eco-living bandwagon. But if you consider the alternative, the trend towards everything green and eco is actually one of the better trends.
I remember my first eco-awakening... it was in my freshman year of high school, in our earth science class, with a teacher who gave us flow chart after flow chart of how greenhouse gases lead to global warming and other environmental issues. I remember tearing out those "You Can Save the World" ads from our TIME and Newsweek magazines at home, and pasting those on the front cover of my school notebooks. I think my classmates got a bit curious about those ads. I became a stickler for using the reverse side of printing paper. I remember that my friend and I even used those clean B-sides of paper for taking notes -- we 3-hole punched them and put them in binders.
I've heard a lot of people say that green living, along with organic food choices, is for the rich and elite. And I think that's because of the commercialism and consumerism that goes along with it. It's partly true that manufacturers are taking advantage of public demand due to the mainstreaming of eco-consciousness. I've seen ads in magazines for jeans made out of recycled denim costing an arm and a leg. It's true that many non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning products out on the market cost 2-3 times as much as the mainstream counterparts. Although they may be well-meaning, it's not realistic for the average person.
There are several exceptions, however. I've found that salt, vinegar, and baking soda are inexpensive, non-toxic, and effective cleaning supplies. I mix vinegar and baking soda (make it a science experiment too with your school-age child, and watch the bubbles as you mix the two items) and use that to clean my tub -- it's non-abrasive, but does the job.
I also like Biokleen. For under $6, you can buy a 32-ounce bottle of concentrated cleaning solution. Just mix an ounce or so of the cleaner in a spray bottle of water, and you've got a gentle but effective all-purpose cleaner. The best part is it doesn't have a smell that can make your eyes water. I bought a big bottle of Biokleen in 2005, and it's lasting me to this day.
Since it's also time to start putting chunky sweaters and other winter clothes away, we'll be doing a lot of laundry. I have to say that I love baking soda... you can use it as a fabric softener! Just put some in your rinse cycle.
I've walked into laundry rooms and ended up sneezing constantly, thanks to those pesky, non-biodegradable dryer sheets. I haven't used them in years. Really, a little static cling doesn't make it the end of the world. But I've also been using these nifty dryer balls. Just put a pair of these in your dryer, and they get tossed around with your clothes to lift and separate the fabric, decreasing drying time (and saving energy!) and reducing static cling. I've read other reviews that say these dryer balls are PVC-laden anyway, and also do not decompose... but then again, you can keep them for a LONG time. AND use them as a foot massager to reward yourself after several loads of laundry. If you're really avoiding PVC, then don't use them at all... if the static cling of clothes from the dryer bothers you, then just put rub some lotion on your hands before you take them out. Your hands will thank you for it too.
There are also biodegradable dryer sheets in the market, but unfortunately they are quite expensive. But, dryer sheets are among those things I can live without. And if you're not in a hurry to wear that favorite tee, line-drying or air-drying is an energy-free alternative. Target stores carry this retractable clothesline in their Michael Graves line of products. Just screw it onto your bathroom wall. Bed Bath & Beyond (and other similar stores) also sells a folding wooden drying rack that you can store under your bed or in a closet when you're done.
The smell of fresh laundry is a great thing to look forward to when you settle into your just-washed sheets, but I can't remember the last time that motivated me to do laundry... ever since I switched to fragrance-free laundry detergent (check the website for discount coupons!). To reward myself with a nice, relaxing scent, I mix just a few drops of lavender essential oil with water in a little spray bottle, and spray it into the air before going to bed. Sure beats the sneezes from highly scented laundry detergent, and I can now relax after a day of spring cleaning.