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Thinking Green When You Clean

By Michelle LaBrosse with Erica Edmond

When I think about what I love about being outside, it’s the calming effect of how Mother Nature has her own way of organizing. So, when you’re getting ready to get your home in tip-top shape, think about how you can put a little green into your clean, and befriend Mother Nature at the same time. Here’s how we combine an eco-friendly strategy with the Japanese 5 S philosophy when we spruce up our surroundings.

Sort (Seiri):  Go from room to room and group things together that belong together.

Ideas on ways to add some green:

  • Re-use boxes or shopping bags to collect items and transport them from room to room. Store away for future sorting projects.

  • Use eco-friendly, reusable bags so you reduce the plastic bags that go into landfills.

  • Bring out the recycling bins for any items you wish to get rid of. If they do not fall under a category like plastic or paper, start a separate pile so that you can find the appropriate place to dispose of those items later.

  • Things like old electronics, cell phones can be donated to shelters while items like plant containers can be returned to the gardening center. Also, many recycling centers have special days for bulk items like TVs, refrigerators etc.

  • Make note of waste: things that you buy and are not using. Create a Not To Do list of things you’ll no longer buy.

Straighten or Set in Order (Seiton): What you are really doing here is prep work by placing objects so that they can promote better work-flow. Think of this as having your own personal recycling center in your house. This is especially useful for parents who have to deal with the “morning-rush” hour in the kitchen.

Ideas on ways to add some green:

  • You can purchase a fabric magazine rack and hang it by the front door to organize mail, school folders and notes, grocery lists and more.

  • Place a paper-recycling bin right beside the magazine rack so you can immediately get rid of junk mail.

  • Pull from that recycling bin, when possible, and reuse paper to write notes to your kids’ teachers, to tape on your front door when needed or jot things down for yourself to remember. This will cut down cost and waste for things like memo pads.

  • If you get those infamous piles in your house, sort through them carefully and see what the culprits are. Usually, it’s because there are things that you haven’t given a place to be. Once you go through your piles, create places for what’s important and remove the clutter.

Shine (Seis):  This is the act of keeping things neat and clean and in “like new” condition. When items are well taken care of, they exude a positive feeling versus things that are broken or damaged. If you cannot immediately fix something, consider donating it and disposing of it.

Ideas on ways to add some green:

  • Ask yourself “what else can I use this item for?” or “who would benefit from this item even though it’s not in great condition?”

  • You may find some things can be donated to good will, a school, or a support service such as a shelter. Items may have potential for a 2nd life are clothing (can be repurposed for crafts and projects like making a scarecrow or as a painting smock), sheets and blankets (can find a new life as a camping or picnic accessory or even in your car’s trunk as part of an emergency kit.), or an old bathtub (can be made into a planter).

  • Use vinegar, lemon and baking soda to create natural cleaning products that are safe for the environment and good for your budget too. You can find more information about how to dilute them for various uses online.

Standardizing (Seiketsu): Labels, color coding, organization supplies can all lend a hand in outlining where things belong which will cut down on the chaos and mess. If you are managing a busy social calendar or a dozen schedules for a dozen people, this is one thing you should hang onto to keep your sanity.

Ideas on ways to add some green:

  • You may already be doing this by putting rubbish into its appropriate containers: garbage, paper, or plastic. This cuts down mess and provides an easy opportunity for people to contribute to an eco-friendly environment.

  • Another idea is to set up and label donation bins in your home. As time goes on, you may find a toy that is never played with, a dress with its tags still attached, mobile devices that are a bit outdated. When you come across these items, put them in their bins and then once a month, donate them. This will enable you to collect items when you naturally stumble upon them and donate it once, not multiple times. Both save time and save gas driving the items to their new homes.

Sustain (Shitsuke): Once you have your own personal recycling center set up, you simply have to maintain everything. Do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways of operating. This is the toughest part. It’s like sticking to a diet or a new exercise regime. You have to make the commitment and the promise to yourself to make this something you’ll do daily and forever. Not just until you see some results.

One way to help stay on track is to practice something called “Creative Visualization.”  Pick a time where your mind is completely your own and you have peace and quiet to practice this art. I like to conduct my “creative visualization” during my wind down time before bed every night.

Every single day (or night), imagine yourself going through the same actions and then reaching your desired results. By visualizing it over and over, you’ll find that your mind and body will follow suit and eventually, this will be like breathing. Something that just comes naturally.

Order from Chaos: Getting greener doesn’t really require any more effort. It’s just giving some order to the chaos in our lives and making decisions that help the planet at the same time. Once you get a few green projects going in your home, you’ll find that you’ll come up with more ideas. So, think green and watch the ideas grow!

Read other articles and learn more about Michelle LaBrosse.

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