How to Live without 7 Paper Products


You would not believe how much money we throw away in the trash. Today, while dashing into that big superstore for a new dog collar, I thought I’d see exactly how much money I save by not purchasing paper products. The answer—a lot! You can find ways to save money too.

In fact, if I bought every paper product I could think of to make my life a tad easier, I would spend another $36.60 per month. With that much money, I could sponsor another child with Compassion International.

How To Live without Paper Products

So you can get a better look at how I live without paper products, let’s look at what I don’t buy, and what I use instead!

1. Paper plates

Bottom line: my boys know how to wash dishes.

2. Paper towels

A large family always has a bag of clothes to pass on. But before any clothes go out the door, I pull out stained or faded T-shirts, old socks, and anything else made of absorbent material and cut out the flat sections. I cut the socks down their length to flatten. I have a deep drawer in the kitchen designated as the “rag drawer” that I store them in. I use these rags in place of paper towels to clean up spills and messes throughout the house. And unless they are covered in grease or something else I’d rather not have in my washing machine, I rinse them out and throw them in with the towels. I also recycle bath towels, wash cloths, and old sheets this way.

3. Paper napkins

I like to keep a cotton table cloth on my dining room table. When I quit using paper products, I replaced paper napkins with cloth ones. But before purchasing new ones, I repurposed my stained table cloths by cutting them into napkin-sized squares and zig-zagging the edges. If you do not have table cloths to recycle you can always purchase fabric to make your napkins, and still save in the long run. That’s also a good idea if you want to have a set for company. Napkins too soiled to continue using go into the rag drawer.

4. Swiffer mop/broom sheets and duster covers

I own a broom, a dustpan, a good Pro-Twist yarn mop by O’Cedar and a few micro-fiber towels. My boys know how to use these, too. Enough said.

5. Facial tissues

We use toilet paper. I keep a roll in the kitchen, too; not just for wiping noses, but for wiping out greasy pans.

6. Disinfecting wipes

I keep a cellulose sponge and a spray bottle of vinegar solution in the bathroom. Each morning the vanity and toilet get a spritz and wipe. The sponge is washed out with hot soapy water and set out to dry.

7. Cloth diapers

One more way I encourage young parents to save is to use cloth diapers. All six of my babies enjoyed the feeling of cotton on their bums and I enjoyed the savings in my bank account. Today, a package of quality disposable diapers costs almost $10. According to my sources (because I can’t remember back that far) that package would last almost a week. So by using cloth diapers, a young family could save about $50 a month—if they only had one in diapers.

I could never use cloth diapers and continue using disposable baby wipes with a clear conscience. To replace baby wipes I bought several bundles of low-quality wash cloths at that superstore. I simply tossed the used cloth into the pail with the diapers. Also, if you don’t use baby wipes you don’t need to buy a baby wipe warmer for another $25—because every baby deserves a warm changing experience. Like everything else we wear out around our place, diapers and wipes that need to be replaced go into the rag drawer for cleaning up spills.

That about sums it up. We have an adage around here: use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

I’d love to hear of ways you are doing that in your home; or additional ways you live without paper products. What are some things you don’t buy or for which you don’t pay full price? Feel free to share in the comments.

Ready to Quit Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck?

Just click to join 163,000+ others and take our FREE email course to better manage your money, pay off debt, and save!

  1. Matt

    Easy to live without toilet paper! Buy a hose that hooks in-between your toilet’s fill-tank line and the wall. It clips to the side of the toilet. The cheaper ones just use water at whatever temp it comes out, but you can get ones that also use heated water.

    • Carol J. Alexander

      In Europe they call it a bidet, Matt and I believe they are common place in most homes.

    • Anne

      OK, silly question but, how do you get your butt dry?

  2. Cherie

    Great reminders Carol!

    I used Freecycle to stock up on beautiful cloth napkins when we made the final switch. Years later, those napkins someone else gave away are still looking great!

    Our guests think the cloth napkins are just for them and their visit! 🙂

  3. Tawnya

    I blow my nose so frequently, I gave up tissues a couple years ago and opted for the good old-fashioned handkerchief. I use the men’s version though (they’re much larger and thicker than women’s). Works great.

    • Carol J. Alexander

      My older sons do use handkerchiefs, Tawnya. I didn’t think of that when I wrote the post. They just get thrown in with the whites in the wash.

  4. Renee Zerangue

    I really like the idea of repurposing old table cloths and using them in the place of napkins or paper towels. I would love to see a picture of the zig-zag edges!

  5. I worry about baby’s bottom getting wiped by a cheap, rough washcloth. How about using soft flannel instead? You can buy flannel by the yard or cut up old flannel sheets or old flannel shirts. They make nice burp cloths and receiving blankets too.

    I too use old socks in the kitchen. I cut the double thickness in a square for quick clean-up cloths. And a sock cut lengthwise makes a great reusable Swiffer duster.

    • Carol J. Alexander

      Flannel is a great idea, Maggie. Thanks for suggesting that. It would make a soft hankie, too.

  6. Boswell

    Good tips, all.
    And I second the Freecycle comment. It’s a great way to give and/or receive.
    And how about going “paperless” with bank and credit card statements?! Not only do you save the paper clutter, but the amount of “junk mail” is dramatically reduced as well.
    Great website, by the way.

  7. Interesting idea. The less you use papers the more you save the GREENs and TREEs. Good on you.

    @ Matt: I thought the water technology you referred is widely used, specially in Muslim community.

  8. KrazyChic

    Forget it! I’m green, but NOT that green. Perhaps, it’s because i’m still in the transition process. Besides, whenever I do come down with a cold, I still reach for those anti-viral facial tissues. After all, when it boils down to sanitation and hygiene, I still wouldn’t want other people getting sick around me.

    • Carol J. Alexander

      Actually, KrazyChic, an over use of anti-microbial products can lead to a decline in the effectiveness of your bodies natural immune system. In fact, one theory proposes that a rise in asthma in this country is due to the fear of exposing ourselves (and more so our kids) to germs. Studies have shown that kids raised on the farm have a much lower incidence of asthma than others because of the exposure to more plants and animals. Just plain soap and water killed germs for centuries just as well as the “modern” antibacterial soaps do. Just food for thought.

  9. Anne

    There are three reusable feminine hygiene products available too. 1) A Menstrual Cup, which can be worn for up to twelve hours. It catches all the flow and then is cleaned and sanitized before re-use. 2) A Menstrual Sponge is a naturally occurring sea sponge which is worn like a tampon. Users seem to either love or hate them – it probably depends on a lot of individual factors related to fit and flow, etc. 3) Cloth Pads come in different sizes and thicknesses, just like paper ones. Cleaning and disinfecting products are avaible for all of these. is one source for products. They’ve been around since 1992.

    • Carol J. Alexander

      Thanks for sharing, Anne. For those inclined… 🙂

  10. Judy

    I am just beginning to go paperless in my home, what do you use to drain you bacon or meat on, if not paper towels?

    • Cherie

      We drain into a bowl and let it harden. Then we scrap with a spatual into our Green Bin with the other food scraps and yard trimmings.

    • Carol J. Alexander

      I like to keep an end roll of newsprint in the house. It is invaluable for little kid projects, making your own wrapping paper, and is perfect for draining greasy items after frying. Call your local paper and ask if they sell end rolls (that is what is left on a roll that will not do a complete run through the printing press). Around here, they are $2 per inch of thickness although one paper I used to get them from gave them away. If I don’t have any plain newsprint, I’m not above using the newspaper. But that is just me. 🙂

  11. Doubter

    Much ado about nothing.

  12. Laura

    Please ask your friend where they find $10 boxes of diapers. I can’t find one for less than $20. (no washer in the apt) Thanks!

  13. New Covenant Bible Institute

    Nice advice. We are really having some troubles using papers, it is really costly aside from the fact that it increases the danger in our environment.