A Clean and Healthy Home: 30 things to do right now

We go to great lengths to keep the home clean, as we should. It’s where we raise our families, were we gather with friends, where we cook and eat, where we rest and unwind, and even so much more. When we take good care of our home environment, it takes good care of us.

As a business owner, mother of three, and wife to one, I don’t have time for a big spring cleaning, so my family and I make cleaning up a part of our regular routines. Although my “day job” is in business development and marketing that matters, I love to share the resources I use to make my life easier, cleaner, healthier, and more efficient.

In 2012, I originally wrote a post called 50 Simple Things I Do To Reduce with some straight forward, common-sense, eco-conscious activities that were/are really easy to implement. The activities on that list continue to make my life, and my home, more organized and clutter-free. Naturally, I’ve added more since writing that article, based on new things I’ve learned or products I’ve been introduced to, new insights from regular practice, and my kids have also discovered new creative ways to use less and get the job done. I even created The Borden Big List because I’m so often asked what I use for this and that.

When people ask, “does what I do really make a difference?” the answer is yes! I believe everything we buy matters, for us, and for our greater world. Consider when you buy something: what is it made of? (the materials or ingredients), who made it and where? (how are they treated?), how far did it travel to get to me? (how big is its footprint?), what is it packaged in? (and where does that packaging go?), who did I buy it from? (and what do they support?), and how does it affect my health and my family’s health? (short and long term). What is your money supporting? THAT is how you are making a difference, every time you buy something (or decide not to).

Don’t get caught in the debate that surrounds us daily about the health impacts of our choices and routines. The Precautionary Principle teaches us that if we wait until we’re absolutely certain something is not acceptable (or read it in the mainstream media, or are warned by our government), we’ve probably waited too long.

It doesn’t matter where you start, every little thing you do to clean up matters. Make small changes as you go about your everyday routines and tasks (they add up and eventually make a big difference!). When you run out of something, come back to this list and consider if there is a better, healthier way to go about your cleaning. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming, all-or-nothing approach, and you don’t need to pay for a consultant or course. My resources below are free, and updated as I learn more and make changes. If you have specific questions, tweet or message me – I will answer you!

Here are 30 simple things that I do to keep my home as clean and healthy as possible:

1/ Taking our shoes off at the front door. This has been my #1 thing since I learned about what comes into our homes on the bottom of our feet, and the impact it has on my family.

2/ Relying on fresh air. No spraying toxic stuff in our home to make it smell “clean.” We do not buy synthetic air fresheners. If you climbed to the top of a mountain and breathed in ‘fresh mountain scent’, you’d realize the spray or candle mislead you. Real clean air smells like nothing. So, we open the windows (crazy concept, right?), use an air purifier, and sometimes we enjoy diffusing essential oils. Reminder: change and service your furnace/air conditioner and filters at least twice a year (and after any renovations).

3/ Decorating with plants and charcoal. Plants in healthy soil are not only beautiful, they also help to purify the air. We even enjoy cooking with some of the things we grow, and steeping tea from our organic lemongrass plant in the Borden office. There are also excellent (and nice looking) mini charcoal filters on the market that absorb smells and toxins. (Bonus: some charcoal companies claim that it works as a balancing factor for body and mind through the flood of negative ions it emits, which turns nearby metals magnetic absorbing electromagnetic waves in a room!)

4/ Cleaning with water. And a few other things. You really don’t need much more than that. Replace every conventional cleaner under the kitchen sink and in the laundry room with almost NOTHING. There is a true, clear, easy and immediate fix – you can buy good, trustworthy brands of eco-friendly cleaners, or, use microfibre cloths and water.  If you are inclined, use ingredients from your kitchen and make your own clean cleaning products. You do NOT have to sacrifice the cleanliness of your home.  If you want the best recipes, I personally trust Alexandra Zissu who put it all into one incredible book (and makes my list redundant). Also, did you know that a dry surface retards bacteria growth? When you clean anything, wipe it dry!

5/ Creating less waste. When we throw something away, where is “away”? (There is no “away”!) Less is more in pretty much every case – from single use disposables to over-shopping for clothing, food and drink, and general “stuff“. It’s so challenging as we are being sold so much every day by everyone. Buying less is about being more thoughtful. I teach my kids that if they can trace the item they want to buy (or eat) to the source and feel good about it and it’s purpose, to enjoy it. We bring our own bags to the market, and try to shop as package-free as we can. And we ask a lot of questions before we make our purchases – and try to stay far away from shopping malls and shopping as a hobby.

6/ Eliminating paper towels. We use organic cotton towels, or old cut up towels, instead. See number 5.

7/ Eliminating paper napkins. We use organic cotton, or other natural fibre napkins instead. We have even found great organic dishcloths that serve as amazing napkins currently.  I wasn’t kidding about number 5.

8/ Reducing plastics as much as we can, because… plastic sucks. We try not to bring home takeout containers even if we takeout. When we pick up food, we bring our own reusable containers from home if we’re allowed (a whole other story).

9/ Packing our lunches in reusable containers. My family loves food, so I try to plan ahead and pack healthy meals and snacks in reusable containers wherever we go. (These are our favourites but there are so many other great options available now!)

10/ Using safe bakeware and cookware. Chemical coatings (PFOAs) on non-stick pots and pans wear down and flake off into your food. It’s just as important to consider what you are cooking with, and on, as it is to choose healthful ingredients. And – make sure you use the hood/fan while you are cooking (and change that filter as often as needed to keep it clean!).

11/ Stocking the fridge full of organic produce. Want to see inside my fridge?  We love to shop at local independent grocery stores and farmers’ marketsKnowing your farmer is by far the best way to know your food. If you’re wondering about organic versus local food, these are my thoughts.

12/ Keeping the cupboards stocked with organic, whole foods. We’re always stocked with beans, pastas and sauce, chips and salsa, and loads of other foods and snacks to throw together something healthy to eat in no time –either at home, or on the go (with 3 kids, there’s a lot of “go”).

13/ Growing our own food. We turned our front yard into an organic garden that feeds our family (and much of the neighbourhood) every year. My kids absolutely love it, and it’s a great way to teach them about real food. They seem to be way more willing to try new foods if they grew it themselves!

14/ Filtering our drinking water. We use Reverse Osmosis in our home which gets rid of so many of the nasties (although it’s also not close to perfect and has many downsides too – including being wasteful). This topic is big and complex, and depends on where you live, but bottle water is NOT the answer. Here are a few other things we use to keep our water clean.

15/ Carrying reusable water bottles. Never get thirsty, and never be in a position to “need” to buy water. The less disposables in our lives, the better. Our favourite bottles are stainless and glass.

16/ Filtering the shower and bath water. And washing the shower, tub, and our bodies with only truly clean products. The mixture of conventional cleaning chemicals can create a toxic combo, and when we add hot water, can make for a steamy nightmare.

17/ Installing shower doors (instead of using curtains). Did you know that a shower curtain can make your home’s air toxic for 28 days? VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds. You can’t see them, but they’re all around us (sigh). They aren’t listed as ingredients on our purchases and are most well-known for contributing to indoor pollution. Again, if it stinks, it stinks. Besides the shower curtain, think new car smell, paint, toys, carpets, furnishings, and the list goes on and on. There are some safer curtains on the market, but they’re still more difficult to keep mold and mildew free than using glass shower doors.

18/ Using only safe, clean cosmetics. It’s important to clean up our personal care routines for our bodies, but also for the air in our home, and what is going down the drains, too (because it comes back up again!).

19/ Washing our hands, often. Hands carry so many germs and spread to everything and everyone we touch. We keep safe hand soap in every bathroom and in the kitchen, too.

20/ Using sustainable toilet paper. Our toilet paper is tree-free, made with 100% bamboo and sugarcane. It is biodegradable, whitened without chemicals, fragrance free, BPA free, and non GMO. It’s not as plush as some others, but it gets the job done. So does peeing in the shower.

21/ Using organic towels, robes and bathmats. You know how dirty conventional cotton is, right? Our skin is our largest organ and absorbs everything.

22/ Buying less, but better clothing. Made from good people, with good materials (and sometimes even share a good message). The “making” of conventional fabrics and clothing can involve pesticides, formaldehyde, polyester, foams, dioxins and other yuckiness (wonder why some fibres can be so irritatingly uncomfortable?). The stuff we wear also has an impact on the workers who make them, our communities, and our ecosystems, so know where your threads come from and what they are made of – quality, timeless fashion looks good and feels even better. These are some of my favourite t-shirts, shoes, pajamas, underwear, and socks. #fashrev

23/ Doing clean laundry. There are a lot of ingredients in conventional laundry soap, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets that are downright scary for our world, our health, and for our skin. Fabric softeners, dryer sheets (and even dryer balls made from PVC) contain some not-so-snuggly ingredients. The warm fuzzy bunnies, teddy bears, or babies found on the front of packaging make us believe that they are safe and comforting, so we often overlook the fine print telling us that they contain hazardous chemicals. Make sure your fresh laundry is not in fact really dirty. We use eco laundry soap and reusable dryer balls handmade with certified organic wool from happy sheep, that I created in 2012. If you haven’t cleaned up your laundry habit, this is an easy change to make and so unbelievably important since we wear clothes and lie on sheets every day, and with our skin being our largest organ, it’s absorbing everything touching us.

24/ Filling our book shelves. We all know the benefits of reading are endless. Having books around promotes quiet, non-screen time, and creates opportunities for new learning and inspiration. We also love to collect cookbooks (although admittedly, I’m not very good at following recipes). And my family even wrote and self-published a book about my youngest son and his relationship with… kale!

25/ Protecting ourselves from EMFs. Do radiation blockers really work? Based on this information, and this, and considering the cost, we choose to just do it. We’re connected to our phones, monitors, and other electronic devices for much of the day, so we try to stay safe as much as we can with these products, and with turning off the WiFi in our home when we go to sleep.

26/ Buying better furniture. There’s a good chance your couch may be covered in chemicals that are carcinogenic, and linked to lower IQ scores, ADHD and thyroid disorders. When it’s time for new stuff, look for furniture that is made locally with safer materials, and can be cleaned so it lasts longer. Be careful with “reclaimed” because wood from barns can be highly toxic from pesticides and stains.

27/ Sleeping on the right pillow. And mattress. And bedding. Just consider how much time you spend in bed. We all deserve to rest well in a safe, clean bed. As Annie Leonard from The Story of Stuff says, there has to be “a better way to keep our heads from catching on fire every night” than sleeping on super toxic brominated flame retardants.

28/ Lighting clean candles. Candles are often an overlooked cause of poor indoor air quality and can emit carcinogens. But there are good options -lots of them (including this one I created for Shabbat). Clean wax, wicks, and scents matter.

29/ Bringing less stuff home. With 3 kids, we try not to acquire more stuff everywhere we go. Nothing is “free.” We turn down extra reusable bags we don’t need, loot bags from birthday parties, and product and samples we won’t ever use or consume. Who needs more clutter?

30/ Making our own rules as we go. Just because everyone else does it one way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way, or the right way for our family (or yours). I’m known to make my own rules for everything.

This list was not created to mislead you in assuming that I have it all figured out – no (I haven’t). I still live in a city, drive a car, and live in a home that was built with who knows what materials. But I have dedicated a lot of time and energy over the past decades trying to truly clean my home so my family has a safe space to grow, learn, and love, and I believe every little thing we can do better makes a difference.

FINAL WORDS:

The beauty of life is that there are no final words. We can keep going, keep changing, keep learning, keep embracing the new, and of course, keep avoiding.

Any one change you make, or new service you try, is simply another beginning, not an ending point. And, when you like it and you feel that you’ve made a positive and healthy change, tell a few friends and all of a sudden, you’ll find yourself making a huge difference.

Just a reminder: We control the way we shop, and what we shop for. Using our common sense will help us make more responsible purchases that will in turn save us time, save us money, save our health, and positively impact our shared world. How is that for good sense?