Confessions of an Earth Club Dropout

I went to high school in the early 90’s when bell bottom jeans were fashionable again and Earth Day had a renaissance.

I joined the Earth Club simply because my friends were in it. In those days my concerns were more about a social calendar than a social cause. Was I interested in recycling? Oh, not so much. I stopped going later when we had to, you know, work on stuff outside.

Yes, I’m a high school Earth Club dropout.

When I was in high school it was hard to know what my adult self would be like. Maybe I pictured myself wearing a blue blazer. I thought I would become an economist.

It wasn’t until I became a stay at home mom with my firstborn that I had time to read. That’s when the small changes started.

Do you remember a few years ago when reusable bags became more mainstream and we all had to figure out how to remember to take them with us to the store? (I know readers in other parts of the world are shaking their heads at Americans right now, but that’s just how things were.) Reusable bags was one of my first baby steps to a more simple, natural lifestyle. I just kept adding new changes a little at a time.

When I was in high school, I never thought…

I would love plants, especially small-space gardens.

I’d prefer cooking on the stove over using the microwave. (Stovetop popcorn!)

I would spend a week’s worth of free time learning about how to raise backyard chickens.

It was even possible to make homemade yogurt (not hard, and better than store-bought).

I’d stop buying harsh cleaning products and switch to natural cleaners.

I could give up soda and be okay with that.

The food we cooked at home would taste better than eating out.

There would be a worm compost bin under my kitchen sink for food scraps.

I would stop buying paper towels and just wipe things up with a rag the way people used to do it.

Disposable plates and silverware would bother me.

I might sew a quilt. (I never understood cutting up fabric to sew it back together again, but I totally love it now.)

I would cloth diaper my baby.

And since we were cloth diapering, that we would mostly switch to using cloth wipes instead of toilet paper. (Do I really want to share about this? No, I’m too shy. But my friend Megan’s not, and she wrote all about family wipes at SortaCrunchy.)

I would use a clothesline.

I could make my own soap from olive and coconut oil.

I would experiment with natural hair (not using commercial shampoo) and moisturizers.

I would enjoy being at home so much that I could spend less than $40 a month on gas for the car.

One month every year my family would stop buying stuff.

I’d prefer iced coffee made at home.

It wouldn’t sound crazy to me when someone said they milled their own flour.

There is always more to learn about, more interesting things to read, and more experiments to try.

Today I’m trying soaked nuts.

Have you made any changes that you would have never tried before? (If you have a blog post about something that you’ve tried, feel free to share a link in the comments.)
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. there are so many things, even from a couple of years ago that I never would’ve done that seem normal to me now. when we bought this house, there was a huge chicken coop in the back yard. i thought it was insane and made hubby rip it out. who has chickens? well, as of this week…we do :)

    i think the most natural and sustainable way to change and make changes is to do it just the way you describe. slowly so that one day you look back and don’t even realize the change or sacrifice. it’s just the way it is.

    i haven’t bought paper towels in almost 10 years. but there are so many things i have yet to venture into but i know they’ll come in their own time when it’s right for our family.

    lovely post, rachel.

    Emily@remodelingthislife´s last post…New Adventures With Feathered Friends

  2. I never thought I’d spend almost double on VOC-free paint in an apartment I was renting!

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Things We’ll Miss…And Things We Won’t…

  3. Impressive list. I particularly envy the worm composting. I suggested this be introduced in my house a few years back and the reaction was, “worms, ewwwww!!!”

    Surprising yourself keeps you young.

    The Countess of Nassau County´s last post…The Sunday Stunner – What Can We Say, The Countess Loves Winter

  4. I am totally feeling you on this post. So many of these things I’ve done or am wanting to do too. It’s amazing that there are certain things you would have absolutely dreaded when you were a kid/teen and now they’re enjoyable. :)

    Sarah Sarniak´s last post…St. Patty’s Day Clover Nails

  5. If we were neighbors we’d be friends…except the quilting thing.. I send buttons to the cleaners. I stopped using a microwave years ago… we have one its in the garage, my husband’s learning curve is steeper than mine. I love the idea of a lot of things but making the jump is the hard part. Your message was inspiring! Thanks for doing your part.

    Tina´s last post…Post It Notes or Bust

  6. Rachel, can you share any tips on small space and/or container gardening? I don’t have yard space, but I’d be very interested in growing a few vegetables from my back deck that gets lots of sunlight. I’m just not sure where to start.

    PS – carrying reusable bags was totally my first step too, and I’ve come a long way, baby!

    Elizabeth´s last post…I’ll be around…

  7. What a fun post…I am so going to do this soon!

  8. Can I just say that growing up we weren’t trying to be “green” but we were a lot greener than I am now! Raised or caught most our own food from all our meat to our veggies and fruit. Used rags over disposables. Etc, etc. I wrote for our elementary school “save the planet” newspaper. Basically, I am trying to get back to where I was as a kid in the 80′s! How odd.

    Andrea @ The Train To Crazy´s last post…Walk a mile in their shoes

  9. I am making a directed effort to use fewer paper towels. I’m a serious addict to the darn things, so this is huge. I am using Shamwows, instead.

    It’s working well, actually, and I’m saving on my grocery bill.

    Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last post…Olive Manna from Heaven: a GIVEAWAY of listmaking goodies

  10. Cool post!

    anne´s last post…Happy St. Patrick’s Day

  11. RACHEL. We are so on the same wavelength today.

    I have to stop giggling at myself and my willingness to share “unmentionable” bathroom issues before I can get together a cohesive response . . .

    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last post…Project: Spring Green

  12. What is “Wearing your baby all day long?” Sorry, but what does that mean and how is it green? I’m an idiot.

    • I carry him with me in a sling. Some people call it “baby wearing”. I don’t think of it as “green” but it does seem more natural to me to keep him close to me that way while I get work done.

  13. Ha! We’re doing all the same things it looks like. The soaked (then dehydrated) nuts are killer, by the way =)

    Cori´s last post…almond-oat cracker recipe

  14. I started with reusable bags myself, and I have just conquered the change from diet soda to tea and water. I am working on the paper towels and other plastic ware. I agree that it’s a process. Inspiring post to continue…

    Laura @ PARING DOWN´s last post…Paring Down Old Photos

  15. Hiya Rachel,
    I love how you have written this post. You aren’t telling us what to do, but rather, you are showing us a glimpse into your life and the changes you have made. This in turn, motivates us and inspires us! I have a few more ideas on what else I can do to be more sustainable. So thank you!
    I think I may have to resort to making my own bread, because those plastic bags the bread comes in are driving me nuts! (We have 4 kids, so we go through a lot of bread, heehe) We can’t recycle them here, and I hate throwing them away. Any tips anyone?

    Meeks´s last post…Guilt-free Indulgence, one discovery date at a time…

  16. We started our “green” living a few years ago, with food. I have started shopping at trader Joe’s for a few produce and then before we knew it, it has become our new grocery store. That was a huge change considered I prided myself a coupon queen. I then moved on to using lye soap (the gentle type) instead of “Dove” which has a whole bunch of ingredients that I could not even pronounce (it has nothing to do with English being my second language either). After that, I switched to natural cleaning product (make my own detergent etc.), now I am on the 4R’s (Reduce, re-use, recycle and re-purpose). I have a post on how I make my own yogurt in a crock pot n my blog.

    Ourlives´s last post…Tackle it Tuesday – Bunk Bed

  17. You’re so far beyond me Rachel! I’m great with the gardening, making things from scratch and bringing reusable bags, but the babywearing, cloth diapering and composting are still beyond me. Paper plates are also a weakness of mine. Thanks for the reminder that I could be doing better

    Holly´s last post…Laundry

  18. You have an enviable lifestyle and I can agree with all but the toilet paper!! I am a novice at turning green and am surprised at how many little ‘green’ things I do. We have chooks, reuse bags etc. I was a shopaholic and the consequence of this is the mountains of stuff that I still claim to need. i have 3 kids aged 7 years to 9 months so I can still see a future uses but in the mean time I am trying to work out if I will truly need the stuff in the future because right now I spend all my time cleaning when I just want to be with my children!
    Love your website!!

  19. I wish you lived close to me so we could be friends. :)

    Mrs. Money´s last post…If You Can’t Eat it, Don’t Put it on Your Skin

  20. What a fantastic post. I don’t even have to think back to high school, only 10 or 11 years ago to my “previous life” when I lived in NYC and was living the high life. Who would’ve thought a couple acres, playing in the dirt with my little one and raising chickens would be so much more satisfying than sipping martinis? Who knew. I’m still trying to remember to take those dang bags though. :)

    Jackie Lee´s last post…Garden Planning Preschool Style [Project]

  21. I am completely with you. I am slowly going back to my Indian (asian) roots. I never thought I would becoz when I was bit younger..things were so convinient (even if unhealthy)..but now with a 3 year at home..I care more about what we eat and our enviornment and I find going back to my Indian root. conserving more and wasting it food, or paper (wipes/tissues) or water. Using old Indian ways of soaking food, pressure cooking, etc. It is enlightening and humbling to me at the same time. and I love it..I just dont want to admit it..yet.

  22. I never thought I’d have sprouts growing on my kitchen counter. Actually in high school, I never even knew or considered eating sprouts! :)

    I never thought that I’d meet and marry the man of my dreams either.

    Condo Blues´s last post…What Do You Do with St Patrick’s Day Plastic Beads?

  23. Denise C. says:

    I use reusable grocery bags, even for bring stuff with for the kids. (I thought what was the point of a diaper bag, when I can use a sturdy bag that I already own.)

    The recipe for iced coffee on Small Notebook is PHENOMENAL!!! I LOVE IT!!!

    I’m interested in making my own soap.

    Other than herbs, I am planning a vegetable garden this year, and have recruited my kids to help. Both are ecstatic (dirt, water and food, what can be better?!)

    Have a great day!

  24. kelly herron says:

    I love your blog – it brings me back to the basic fundamental necessities of life. Thank you for your hard work.
    One question is why would the stove top cooking be more earth efficient over the microwave?
    I would love for you to tell us how you make your own yoghurt one day too!

    Thanks so much from another 90’s highschooler who joined things when they were in ‘season’

    • A microwave is more energy-efficient than the stove, but the stove makes better food in a traditional way. I think it’s more natural because I’m choosing quality over convenience. (I know you can make healthy food in the microwave, but there is nothing healthy about microwaved popcorn!)

      • I read on some blog somewhere (!!) that you can make microwave popcorn in a paper bag without all those nasty chemicals that are included in the commercially marketed microwave popcorn bags. Because you are correct, microwave popcorn is about as healthy as McDonald’s iced coffee.

        KD´s last post…It’s such a little thing…

  25. I know just what you mean – I was definitely on the professional track as a young adult. It wasn’t until my second child was born that everything really changed for me – I would never have imagined that my life would be the way it is now (and that I would love it!).

    Charity´s last post…Kiss Me, I’m Irish!

  26. When I think back on my youth, I was so materialistic and self-centered. Then I did the Peace Corps right out of college, and it revolutionized the way I thought about everything!

    More recently though, I’ve come to really enjoy making my own sandwich bread, bagels, and tortillas at home. I don’t even like the taste of store bought breads anymore. That’s a change I never saw coming, but it’s worth the extra time and effort.

    I’m also more likely these days to “unplug” myself from all media for a weekend. My husband love to read side by side on the couch all day long, and it sort of makes me think that’s how people in old days used to spend their free time on quiet days.

    Mary R´s last post…Buenos Aires Memories

    • I want to unplug more, too. There is just something so therapeutic about being away from any/all electronic media. I just ordered a chair that I can wear on my back to walk to the beach (it’s 10 minutes away walking) so that for “relaxing times” I can just go and look at the water and read a book instead of going shopping or hanging out on the computer.

      Jenni @ Life from the Roof´s last post…Favorite Frugal Recipes: Homemade Bagels

  27. I’m glad you became who you are. What does an economist do anyway? Nothing quite so important as raise little ones and have an awesome blog!

  28. I love your lifestyle! You rock!

    mrs.e´s last post…Happy St. Patrick’s Day on the Dozen O’Random

  29. I think I’ve always had a bit of a green streak in me…but I definitely never thought I would use cloth toilet paper!

    I also didn’t think that my curly-haired self could EVER give up my daily dose of commercial hair conditioner. But low and behold, using a package-free handmade bar shampoo (and only every few days at that) actually leaves my hair softer and more moisturized than supposedly super-moisturizing conditioner ever did!

  30. I have never found a soap recipe I’ve wanted to try…until now! Thank you for sharing!

    Michelle´s last post…Look what else we did!

  31. I never thought I would be making ice cream, yogurt, baking bread, growing my own vegetables, and raising chickens!

    I would have never known that chickens are great entertainment for the kids. The kids love to run after them and hand feed them. Friends and neighbors come just to see and hold the chickens.

    Waking up to the smell of fresh bread baked in the morning brings heart warming feelings of homeliness. But the roosters crowing is something we’re still getting use to. I think we’ll be having chicken for dinner soon.

    Best of all, my 7 yr old says “Mommy, your home-made ice cream is the best!” and my husband says “Home-made yogurt is just so much better than store bought especially when added to fresh fruit.” Now that makes it all worthwhile.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share, Rachel.

  32. I was in high school when the idea of large scale community recycling came around. Had to look it up, but it was in 1987 that there was the big controversy about New York trying to foist a barge of its garbage on other states and even other countries. Soon after, our small town began accepting recyclables in a dumpster in the WalMart parking lot. I convinced my grandmother that it was a good idea to save all our glass and metal and we hauled it down there once a week or so. My other “big” change was that I stopped using aerosol hairspray!

    I knew that these kinds of things were important to me, but I was not aware of just how different the issue would be, or how many new ways there would be to conserve resources, more than 20 years later.

  33. Love this post! I too am doing many things that I never dreamed I would be doing. I make my own laundry soap, have gotten rid of most paper products and harsh cleaners in my house, I even switched my littlest baby to cloth diapers at 15 months. I am hoping to start a garden, composting, and getting a few rain barrels this summer. OH my favorite thing is my clothesline, it is so relaxing to hand clothes! Who would have thought…

  34. Thank you for sharing your soap-making process. The bars look so lovely – I want to try it now, too.

    geri´s last post…borgo degli albizi

  35. You’re a few steps beyond me in my transformation, but I’m working on it! With a few things less on my list, I could have written this post. (I have homemade yogurt on my to-do list for next week, but as much as I would LOVE fresh eggs, my Homeowners Association would kick me out for raising chickens…)

    You didn’t link up to your homemade yogurt tips and tricks. Any chance you’ll be posting those? I’ve seen other links, but am reading all I can before screwing up the process.

  36. This is a great post! I’m trying new things too and it’s a great feeling. Could you post your homemade yogurt recipe sometime?

    I posted on changing my cleaning products and my beauty products to natural items:

    Lisa @ lists in my pocket´s last post…Dwell-icious

  37. Rachel, were you an economics major? If so, then we really do have a lot in common :). Anyway, I loved this post. I make my own yogurt, granola, just tried bagels, and am attempting sourdough bread now. I’ve started to drive a lot less too since we moved to a place that is much more pedestrian friendly, especially for moms with two little kids to cart around!

    I am so impressed by your soap-making tutorial. One of these days I just might try it, but I am pretty intimidated by the lye still.

  38. In the past year and a half I’ve made SO MANY changes in my life. A couple that come to mind that a couple years ago I’d have balked at are using a Diva Cup and grinding my own flour. It was when my husband brought me home my ‘new’ (used and free!) laptop that I was able to get online more and find tons of useful information to help me find my was towards a healthier, greener and simpler (oh, and less expensive) lifestyle!!!

  39. It’s funny how you mention the things we never thought we would do that we now do…I grew up in an often poor family but we never did any of these things to save money….I could not imagine having to do the things I do now…even though I can afford to buy the things.When I had my 2nd baby at 19,my husband was in college & I worked part time at a very low paying job so I thought of ways to save money….I used cloth diapers…we had no washer/dryer so I washed them all in the tub and then hung them all over my tiny bathroom….my parents would just laugh when they would go to the bathroom.I was also so proud of buying some paper towels that had smaller perforated sheets & lasted long so we would reuse them.I also made our own baby food.I now do so many of the things on your list and am enjoying it….even if I was rich,I would still do these things…it’s a great way to live. :)

  40. Today we are haveing Home made Latte’s…this year I canned My first tomato, Made My Own BBQ Sauce, learned to use a Pressure cooker, Bread Machine and How to make my own 5 gallon Bucket of Laundry soap for 3 dollars…and Mines is not sludge like… because I learned to whip it with an immersion Blender:D I Embraced the Urban Outfitter..Concept and have turned Old T shirts into weverthing including a Georgeous Skit with a couched vine and flour motife and a tuxido ruffled tankini..We Pulled a Long Bench Out of the Yard and a table…added some red rubber tubs for landing zones for each family member and we Now have a very functional homeschool…eating…homeoffice…game station..Mom Cafe!in Our 3 room Home…We Painted a Giant Chalk board on the Wall and Now We have Artistic Expression:D…I am really Starting to Soar Outside of the BOX!

  41. I remember back in the 80′s when they lowered the speed limit to 55, because we were going to run out of gas. I really don’t pay a lot of attention to what News people or advertisers say anymore. They just want you to believe what they say so you will do what they want you to do.

    I do believe there are a few things we can do better, but lets not get cared away.
    Lot of the people that tell us what we need to do probably wouldn’t think of doing those things. Like cloth diapers, etc.


    Debbie´s last post…Whatever Makes You Happy, Not What Makes Society Happy!

  42. I love this post!!! Thank you for making me think of all the things we could do!
    Thank you for all of the links, I think I will have to try the soap!!

  43. I canned for the first time this year. Of course it was for Christmas gift and not to store my “bounty” (no garden here, sorry), but hey, it’s a baby step in the right direction.

    What I am really proud of though is my switch from disposable kitchen wipes to microfiber clothes. I bought a multipack from the auto section of Tar-jay and I use them daily. I haven’t bought those wipes in months. Yay! :)

    Juice´s last post…Weekend Flotsam and Jetsam

  44. Oh, and I’m totally inspired by the soap and the quilt. Someday…

    Juice´s last post…Weekend Flotsam and Jetsam

  45. I’m way behind the times on this post, but it was relevant to me today. I find it funny that I’ve tried and still do most of the things on your list. I walk a middle line with my family though. I make my own laundry soap, but a sale and couponed bottle of purex free arrived in my laundry room during our recent flu bout. Family Clothes are one of my bright ideas that was tried and rejected by everyone in my family except myself and my 7 year old. I’ve used a diva cup (same one) for 5 years now. I can and do make my own bread and yogurt, but will buy good store brands occasionally. I haven’t used paper towels regularly for ten years, but I have a roll or two in a closet for the occasional pet mishap (NOTHING ever takes out the smell of cat urine).

    I think we only get in trouble with our “greeness” when we legalistically require it of ourselves and our families. Do what you enjoy and feel good about. Give yourselves a break on the rest.