Eco home Feed

DIY frugal and natural foaming hand wash

Simple soap and water is just as effective as antibacterial soaps. Little eco footprints

Commercial liquid hand soap was the first product I ditched when I started simplifying our household’s personal care products. I now make a simple foaming handwash using only two ingredients: water and castile soap. By switching to a simple homemade handwash, you can reduce exposure to unnecessary chemicals, minimise waste and save money.

The liquid soaps you find in the supermarket are laden with a long list of unnecessary and nasty chemicals.

I used the helpful Skin Deep cosmetics database to investigate the safety of ingredients in a major brand of anti-bacterial handwash. I discovered that of the 17 ingredients listed, seven are considered a "moderate hazard", including the first ingredient after water – cetrimonium chloride. This chemical and others, such as methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone, can cause skin damage and allergic reactions.

Simply switching to a "natural" product isn't the answer.

Just because something is advertised as containing "ingredients of natural origin" doesn't mean that it’s safe to put on your skin.

Even an expensive hand wash marketed as "plant-based" and containing "all-natural ingredients" contains potentially irritant chemicals such as cocamidopropyl betaine, phenoxyethanol and phenoxyethanol.

The home brand and budget hand soaps fare even worse, with most containing the "high hazard" triclosan, despite it being a toxic chemical that can interfere with hormone regulation.

There’s no evidence that including triclosan and other antibacterial or antimicrobial ingredients in hand soaps is any more effective than plain soap and water.

Given that washing our hands with plain soap and water works just as well, washing our hands with these chemicals seems an unnecessary risk, particularly for children and expectant mothers.

But I get the appeal of liquid soap. Thankfully it’s easy to make your own.

How to make your own foaming hand wash

Making your own foaming handwash couldn't be simpler and will save you money.

Make your own foaming soap wash using only water and castile soap. Little eco footprints

To make your own foaming hand soap, you will need a foaming soap dispenser. You can buy foamy bottles from online soap-making supply stores, or you can simply buy a foaming hand soap and reuse the dispenser.

Castile soap is a very mild liquid soap that will clean your skin without stripping it of natural oils. It is traditionally made using pure olive oil, but can also be made with other oils. You will find it in most organic food stores, or from online soap supply stores.

Fill the dispenser four parts water and one part liquid castile soap. Little eco footprints 2

Fill the dispenser four parts water and one part liquid castile soap. Little eco footprints

To make the foaming hand wash, fill the dispenser with around four parts sterilised water and one part castile soap. I simply leave the morning kettle boil for an extra minute and use that water once it has cooled.

Home made simple and frugal foaming hand wash. Little eco footprints

Buying your castile soap in bulk will make your hand wash super-frugal. I bought a five-litre bottle – which is enough soap for me to make 25 litres of handwash. I like that I haven’t had to think about buying hand soap in the five years since I bought the bottle. I'm guessing it will last me another five years.

My foaming handwash works out costing around $1 a litre – far cheaper than even the cheapest and nastiest home brand refill hand soap at $4 a litre.

The pump can become stiff after a while. I’ve read that you can add a dash of oil to your mix to alleviate this problem. I simply wash my dispensers thoroughly in sterilised water and leave them to air-dry when this happens.

Switching your handwash may seem a trivial change that isn't worth the bother. But lots of small changes can make a big difference.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 23rd February 2015.

Perfectly preloved - 4 tips for buying second hand furniture

Tips-for-buying-preloved-furniture-1-Be-patient. Little eco footprints.

Preloved furniture appeals to me far more than the mass-produced furniture typically found in stores today. Favouring second hand is the easiest way to reduce the environmental impact of your furniture. There are no new resources used and no waste going into landfill. You get a perfectly good piece of furniture without having to wear the environmental costs.

Preloved-furniture-usually-has-more-character. Little eco footprints

Environmental benefits aside, there’s many reasons to love second hand furniture. It’s typically far more durable than modern furniture and usually has a whole lot more character. It also costs considerably less and is more likely to ride-out fashions and fads. I particularly love the sense of nostalgia that a piece of vintage furniture can create, reminding me of people, places and times. I also like the idea of rescuing and looking after something that has been loved and treasured by others.

Second hand furniture also tends to be less toxic. New furniture can be laden with flame retardants, formaldehyde and other chemicals that are released into the air as volatile organic compounds or VOCs. When buying pre-loved, the VOCs are long gone.

Tips for buying preloved furniture

1. Be patient

Tips-for-buying-preloved-furniture-Be patient-2. Little eco footprints.

Buying pre-loved can have its challenges. You are unlikely to find what you want straight away. Searching takes time and patience. Thankfully, the search is part of the fun and provides an excuse to regularly browse second hand and antique stores. I’ve been looking for a larger desk for my daughter for over a year. We recently popped into a deceased estate auction and found the exact desk we’d had in mind. The search and anticipation increased the joy of finally finding what we were after. My daughter sat at her long-awaited desk and declared "this is heaven". We ended up with something far more meaningful than an impulse purchase from a department store could ever be.

2. Ignore the dust, clutter and minor faults

Tips-for-buying-preloved-furniture-2-ignore-dust-and-clutter. Little eco footprints

A willingness to see past dust, clutter and minor scratches helps when buying preloved. I’ve been searching for folding outdoor chairs for ages and spotted a pile at the auction. They were tossed in a corner looking old and grubby. But after a discrete peek, I learnt that they were actually in great condition. I’d been tempted by similar chairs at antique stores numerous times – but was determined to find them at op-shop prices rather than antique store prices. My patience paid off. I managed to pick up nine chairs for $20 “job lot”.

Tips-for-buying-preloved-furniture-3-browse regularly. Little eco footprints

3. Browse regularly

It helps to regularly pop in to your favourite second hand stores to browse new stock. The good buys usually disappear quickly. It’s also worth asking when new stock is likely to arrive. My favourite second hand store gets a truck load of fresh stock every Friday, so Friday and Saturday mornings are my favourite time to visit.

4. Buy only what you need

Regularly visiting second hand stores can be dangerous if you are trying to simplify your home and decrease clutter. I keep a mental list of things I need and stick to it. I leave the tempting bargains for someone else to enjoy.

For me, when it comes down to it, furnishing my home with preloved furniture makes me smile. My daughter’s desk conjures up memories of us searching together and the joy on her face when we finally found it. I wonder who else has treasured this little desk. 

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 14th April 2014.

Reset to zero

Having-a-minimalist-home-means-less -to-clean-and-tidy. Little eco footprints

I recently stumbled across an idea that really appeals to me – resetting to zero. Once a week, author and blogger Colin Wright resets his home, work and life to zero. He tidies his home until every surface is clear of clutter. He empties his inbox - every message is either deleted or acted upon and archived. His to-do list is emptied of urgent items. Each and every week Colin enjoys a moment when his mind and environment is clear of clutter.

When I first read Colin’s post I envied that moment of clarity, but dismissed the idea as being totally unachievable for me.

Since then, the idea has remained in the back of my mind. While being able to clear the clutter from my home, work and life seems unachievable at the moment – perhaps I can manage to regularly reset just one of these areas.

Creating a minimalist home

I saw our recent move as an opportunity to create a home that is minimalist enough that it can easily be reset to zero once a week.

Resetting to zero is not about spending more time cleaning and tidying – it’s about having so little that there’s less to maintain.

Colin claims that “when you own only the most vital of possessions, and occupy a space that makes sense for you and your needs, you’ll find it takes all of 10-15 minutes to reset to zero, giving you a quick and easy way to clear your mental tablet and start from scratch.”

Being a lover of all things slow – slow living, slow food, slow travel, and slow parenting – I’ve embraced the idea of slow moving. Rather than move everything from our shed home – we’re slowing moving only what we truly need into our rental property. We’re questioning the value of each item we bring into our home.

The furnishings and contents of our rental property are relatively minimalist. The first Saturday morning I attempted to reset our home I enthusiastically raced around tidying and cleaning while trying to enthuse my husband and daughter about how wonderful it would be to finish all our chores in one day and have a clutter-free home. A few hours later we gave up.

We’ve since tried to reset to zero a few more times and haven’t yet succeeded. There’s always a pile of paperwork on the fridge, or far too much washing to tackle in one day, or a desk that we can’t manage to clear.

But each week we are getting closer. Forcing ourselves to deal with our belongings each and every week is helping us question not only what we own – but also what we choose to purchase. I’m still hoping that one day I’ll enjoy a moment when my home is entirely clear of clutter.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' Saturday 29th March 2014.

My Less is More column has a new home. My column will now appear in the Living Green section of Monday's Newcastle Herald. 

Big benefits of small living

For the past year my family and I have been quietly conducting a rather large experiment in voluntary simplicity. We’ve been living in a shed.

Our Shed Home. Photo by Xanthe Roxburg, What Xanthe SawPhoto by What Xanthe Saw

It’s not exactly legal to do so in our area, so I kept the reality of our ‘temporary home’ relatively quiet*. A surprise visit by two council inspectors and a subsequent move into a rental property has given me the freedom to share what the experience taught me about simple living.

What living in a shed taught me about simple living

Living in a small uninsulated shed without internal plumbing definitely had its challenges – but it also had a whole lot of virtues and taught me some valuable lessons.

Shed home kitchen storage. Little eco footprints

I learnt that it’s good to not have everything you want straight away. I discovered the joy in dreaming, planning and waiting. When we bought our little farm just over a year and a half ago we started planning a small passively designed home. We could have gone to the bank and borrowed money and then spent the next 20 years paying back the bank. But instead, we moved into the shed while we saved and refined our home plans.

I also learnt that I like small living. Moving from a large spacious home into a small space forced us to reduce our belongings. We identified what is truly useful and important and donated or sold the rest. I no longer feel like I’m drowning in my possessions and I feel freer to enjoy what I do own.

Our shed home kitchen and dining room. Little Eco Footprints

An unexpected benefit of living in a small space was greater connection. With no internal walls or doors, we were always within earshot of each other and conversations were frequent. Now that we’re living in a house again, I find myself missing the togetherness that a small space created.

Shed living also provided an opportunity to learn just how resilient, creative and tolerant our family could be. Despite all that we lived without, the last year was one of the best years of my life. Our shed was more of a home than any other house I’ve lived in.

How we lived became more important than where we lived.

My favourite quote does a good job of summing up what I learnt from a year of living in a shed.

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less” Socrates.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 15th March 2014.

*Although I didn't write much about shed living here - I did share plenty of shedhome pictures on instagram. Here's a sneak peak into our shed home. 

Shed home 1. Bath time.  Shed home 2. our lounge room Shed home 4. Making use of the pot belly stove to cook dinner and dry clothes.  Shed home 5. Kitchen.
Shed home 6. I even hosted a shed home thermomix party. Lucy of Mixinit.  Shed home 7. Out door bathShed home 3. The chickens sneaking inside  Shed home 8. spike trying to get inside.

The benefits of living with bugs

A friendly huntsman in our pantry. Household spiders prey upon pests such as cockroaches. Little eco footprints

I don’t mind sharing my home with a few spiders. It’s been years since I’ve used insect spray and I’ve never organised a pest control treatment. My main motivation was avoiding chemicals, but I recently learnt that by avoiding pesticides, I may actually be helping to minimise bugs in my home.

Journalist Amanda Hoh recently interviewed University of Sydney biologist Elizabeth Lowe. Elizabeth is studying the influence of urbanisation on the diversity and abundance of spiders and has found that killing household spiders can result in an increase in other pests. ''If we go out there and kill all the spiders, which are natural predators, then the number of cockroaches and mosquitoes are just going to increase''.

Spiders prey upon numerous household pests such flies, silverfish, termites, cockroaches, mosquitoes and moths.

Instead of killing spiders with pesticides, Elizabeth suggest the best treatment is to let them be.

Nicole Bijlsm, author of ‘Healthy Home Healthy Family’, provides some great tips for controlling creepy crawlies in your home without resorting to pesticides:

1. Get rid of their food. Food odours can attracts pests. Clean up after every meal, store pet food in sealed containers, and keep garbage and compost bins away from the house.

2. Get rid of their shelter. Avoid clutter in and around your home.

3. Create a physical barrier to prevent them getting into your home. Seal all gaps and ensure all windows and doors have fly screens.

There’s also a suite of natural pest control options. For example, ants can be deterred by sprinkling pepper, cinnamon or turmeric powder along their trail. I’ve also found ants usually disappear of their own accord after I clean up whatever food they were interested in (usually a jar of honey that wasn’t closed properly). Cockroaches can be controlled by using sticky traps and the good old plastic fly swat is perfect for fly control.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 26th October 2013.

Are you happy to embrace the benefits of living with bugs - or do you prefer a bug free home?