Baby Steps Challenge Report Card

During 2009, I took on a number of baby steps challenges because I didn’t feel like I was very good at being green, and I wanted to take steps to remedy that. So I thought I’d let you know how I’m doing with the challenges I took on last year. Mainly I wanted to stress the point that all of this is a process, because I’m far from perfect, and I’ve done better in some areas than others. But I’m going to continue with these challenges, and even do a few more this year.

The challenges I tackled last year were to stop catalogs and junk mail, air-dry the laundry, start composting, switch to natural household cleansers, use less water, and give up paper towels.

Let’s go through them one by one (click on each highlighted challenge to read the original post and the steps I planned to take to change my habits):

1) In May, my baby steps challenge was to “stop those catalogs and junk mail once and for all.” I did 3 out of 4 of the steps I listed in the post, like register for Catalog Choice and put my name on Forest Ethic’s “Do Not Mail” list. Our catalog mail has decreased about 80 percent, and the same for junk mail. In the next few months, I’m going to revisit this challenge by putting aside our junk mail for a month and individually calling those companies. GRADE: A-

2) In June, the baby steps challenge was to “air-dry the laundry.” I actually did this for all laundry except towels until Daylight Savings Time ended, when it became evident I was going to have to get up much earlier to run the washer in the morning and hang the clothes out to dry. Between the dark, the cold, and the rain, I’ve pretty much given this one up for the winter. To be perfectly honest, it would be a big hardship for me to hang clothes indoors because our house is very small, and I work at home so it would be a major distraction. On the positive side, my husband bought an “Energy Star” dryer last year and that’s made me feel much better because our old dryer was a 70s monstrosity and a real energy hog. I plan on going back to hanging out the laundry in April. GRADE: C

3) In July, I started composting. Despite the fact that this was the challenge I was most intimidated by, I think I’ve done the best in this area. It has become such a habit that throwing something that could be composted into the regular trash has become for me like throwing an obviously recycleable item into the trash. It’s become an ingrained habit, no matter the weather. If you want to try composting, read the post because I link to some easy instructions, plus I got a lot of great reader advice in the Comments section. Believe me, if I can do this, anyone can. I am about the farthest thing from a gardener imaginable. GRADE: A

4) In August, I decided it was time to switch to natural household cleansers. I made lists from reader suggestions of what ingredients I would use for each task, and also bought a Seventh Generation all-purpose cleanser to replace 409. I’m waiting for the Windex to run out to replace the bottle with a vinegar solution, and I have procured a suitable container for the Borax/baking soda mix that will replace the Comet. In general, I use a lot less product, and more often just wipe surfaces with water and a towel or sponge. This challenge is still in progress. GRADE: B

5) In October, I vowed to use less water. After doing some research, I realized that we were already doing all of the actions recommended by the Department of Water and Power. So I promised to do even better by shortening my showers, rinsing vegetables in the sink rather than letting the water run, and turning the water off while I brush my teeth. I did change my habit of rinsing vegetables under running water and started putting them in a bowl instead since the sink is so large. For some reason, I can’t seem to remember to do this while I’m brushing my teeth. And the showers? Well, let’s just say that one of my favorite ways to warm up in winter is a long, hot shower. Still, they’re a little shorter and a little less hot. Baby steps, remember? Because my husband installed a low-flow toilet and we were already doing so well in this area, I’m not going to be too hard on myself here. GRADE: B+

6) Finally, in November I tackled the challenge of paper towels. I didn’t actually vow to give them up entirely, just to use less. We are using cloth napkins instead of paper towels at meals, and since I bought a few microfiber cloths, which I LOVE, I’m almost always using them instead of paper towels around the kitchen. I still occasionally use a paper towel, out of habit or laziness or cluelessness (grease?). GRADE: A-

Overall, I think I’ll give myself a B+ for effort, plus making some permanent behavior changes and forming some good habits.

Thanks to my readers for all their brilliant and helpful suggestions. With your advice and support, I was able to get a lot accomplished. Plus, making my commitments public and writing about it made me more accountable and added to my efforts.

Stay tuned for more baby steps challenges in 2010. What changes have you made lately and how did you accomplish it? Is there anything you’d like to see me tackle and write about on this blog? Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section.


  1. Carla says

    1. Started USING my drying racks instead of the dryer, most of the time.

    2. Cut back on paper towels. We have used cloth napkins for most of our 30+ years of marriage so that was no issue.

    3. Tried to remember better to take cloth bags into all stores instead of bringing out plastic.

    4. Started digging my non-edible vegetable scraps into a flower bed. Our HOA forbids open compost piles, sigh.

    5. Have remembered that we do have a local library — duh — and begun to use it instead of buying even used books. (This is so nice. I can read all these cool titles but don't have to keep the book around to dust!)

    6. Am trying harder than ever to make my trips into town (14 miles) count by consolidating errands.

    7. This may come back to bite me but… yesterday I turned OFF the constantly running fan on our heat pump. Now it's on Auto and only comes on when the heat runs. (The background whoosh drove me crazy anyway.) Less electricity.

  2. Rebecca says

    We stopped using paper towels last year, I have a ton of kitchen towels that are true workhorses. At the end of the year I get or make new kitchen towels, and the old ones, which are very worn out by then, get ripped up for rags.

    I am using up all my bottles of cleaner, cosmetics, personal hygiene products, etc, and then will evaluate what I really use and try to switch to fewer and more eco friendly options.

    We plan to get my bike fixed in spring and am searching for a used pull along that I can use with my daughter and also for groceries, so I don't have to use the car for in town treks.

    We also want to find a use pressure canner. I have a large garden, but currently only can tomatoes and jams and applesauce with my water bath canner. Then I could can veggies too.

    Zero food waste is an ongoing project. I just organized my freezer so I don't forget what is in there and it gets freezer burn.

  3. Cate says

    1. Cut back on paper towels. We switched to cloth napkins last winter, and now we probably use 1-2 rolls of paper towels per month. Honestly, I'm not sure why we even use that many! We don't eat bacon every week, after all. (Bacon is the only reason I'm not attempting giving up on paper towels entirely!)

    2. Started composting. Like you, this is now a totally ingrained habit. I really love knowing all our food scraps aren't going to waste.

    3. Replaced household cleaners with more eco-friendly ones. We also use the Seventh Generation all-purpose cleaner, plus baking soda for the tub. Our last holdouts are Windex (waiting for our two huge bottles to run out), Pledge (none of the homemade wood cleaner products seem easy to me), and Pine Sol (husband swears by it). I'm also trying out the Seventh Generation dish soap to see how I feel about it.

    4. Reduced our food waste. We're wasting a whole lot less than we used to, though "zero" is the goal.

    I'm really interested to see what your 2010 baby steps challenges are–and maybe follow along!

  4. Alea says

    I have made baby step challenges for only Jan. and Feb. so far, perhaps as I see other areas I need to work on I will add more.

    Jan. Unsubscribe to all of the retail emails I recieve. I am trying to remember to do this each day, instead of just hitting delete. It only takes a few seconds and it will cut down on temptation significantly…

    Feb. Go the entire month without eating out. You notice I picked the shortest month to do this. 😀 We usually eat dinner at home together, but we probably eat lunch out at least once a week.

  5. Compact UK says

    I enjoy reading your progress on your baby step challenges, as last year I think I did similar sort of things without formally calling them as challenges. It's amazing how far you can change if you keep making small changes isn't it?

    I am trying really hard to quit using tissue papers…

  6. Vegan Good Life says

    1) Reduced my mail. I blogged about how I did it:

    2) I went from hang drying clothes to hang drying everything (sheets, towels, jeans) year round on drying racks in my apartment. I also wash in cold water. Project Laundry List is one of my favorite grassroots efforts:

    3) Co-organize clothing swaps at work. At our latest, we included unwanted holiday gifts. It really promotes decluttering, passing unwanted items on to those who will use and love them, and how great you can look for free.

    4) When dining out, I bring my own takeout containers for leftovers (reducing food and container waste) and say "no straw please" for my tap water. There's even a Facebook group: No Plastic Straws (Plastic Straws are For Suckers)


  7. Bellen says

    Congratulations to you, and the commenters, for your progress.

    I've been doing all these things for most of my 42 years of marriage and my parents raised me composting and line drying clothes.

    Reducing water consumption is NOT a choice where I live in Florida. For at least 5 years we have been under "severe' water restrictions. It involves when you can water the grass, we don't, when & how you can wash the car, we don't but instead let the rain do it.

    We have rain barrels, take 5 min max showers, always turn the water off when brushing teeth, have low flow shower & toilets, fill a bowl with soapy water to wash misc. items that don't go in the dishwasher which is run on the water saver cycle and only when full.

    As you so clearly state, baby steps and the repetition makes it ingrained. Please work on the toothbrushing, you'll be helping everyone by your example.

    Oh yes, could you rack dry your laundry at night so it's not a daytime distraction?

  8. Betsy Talbot says

    Nice report card, Angela. I'm not sure how it works for a regular composting bin, but the ones here in Seattle that the city picks up every week do allow for food-soiled paper. I wouldn't use my microfiber or regular towels to pick up grease, either. Check it out to see if your occasional paper towels would be compost-ible.

  9. Kim says

    Hi Angela, I've just recently started reading your blog and I love it. Thanks for sharing your baby steps report card. I've recently started The Compact and have a few other mini-projects going, but I love the idea of making myself a proper cohesive list of things to improve upon for the year. I think I'll borrow your idea, post my 'baby-step' plans on my blog and then rate progress at the end of the year. Thanks for again for sharing your great ideas and inspiration!

  10. Angela says

    Congratulations on your new habits, everyone!Cloth bags, library, less driving- all stuff I've been doing as well. Thanks for making a comment and sharing your baby steps.

    Bellen- Congrats on composting and line-drying as a habit for so long. I do remember my mom line-drying our clothes when I was very young. I think for that generation it was a sign of "moving up" to get an electric dryer and they never looked back… I am going to make a point of turning off the water when I brush my teeth- it should be so easy. My husband and I were just talking last night about getting an efficient drying rack for clothes- I have always done a lot of delicates and sweaters by hand, but throw jeans, towels, and workout clothes in the washer.

    Betsy- We're using far fewer paper towels, but that's a good idea to compost them…

    Kim- Good luck and thanks for commenting. It's a continuing process…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *