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Is it really a “necessity”?

Last week, in my 100 Ways to Save $100 post, I talked about using less and I briefly mentioned how we've eliminated paper towels from our home. Little did I expect that this simple remark would result in a number of emails asking how we have done this.

You want to know how we've eliminated paper towels from our home? Well, here's the answer: I just stopped buying them. Seriously, that was it.

About two years ago or so, I realized that paper towels were one item I could never find that great of a deal on and I most assuredly never seemed to be able to snag them for free. I also realized that these were an item many people lived without for thousands of years, without being the worse for it.

So I talked to my husband and asked him if I could do an experiment: could I just stop buying paper towels and see if we missed them?

You know what? We never really even noticed. When we needed to clean up a spill, we just used a towel. When we needed to wipe something up, we used a rag. And so on. I keep a drawer-full of towels and rags in the kitchen handy for these types of things.

Honestly, the only times I've realized we didn't have paper towels were when someone was at our home and they asked for a paper towel. I'd just tell them we actually don't use paper towels, but the rags or towels are in the bottom drawer in the kitchen.

We've received quite a few reactions of shock to that statement. It seems as if the thought of living without paper towels is a pretty foreign idea to most Americans. Oh well, I guess it wouldn't be the first time we've been classified as weird!

Now, I'm not writing this to make the case that all of you need to quit buying paper towels. However, I share it as an example of how there are many things we've come to think are "necessities" in life which really aren't.

How about trying to live without some of these things and see if it really is that difficult or earth-shattering? You might be surprised to discover you don't even miss these once-considered "necessities".

What about you? What simple things have you eliminated from your life and found you didn't miss them at all? Tell us about it.

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  • simone says:

    Yes! Great! I heavily eliminated paper towels from our family a few years ago but just limit them to, like others mentioned, bacon and other greasy spills. I buy the cheapest of the the cheap and maybe spend about $1/month. However, I’m convinced to go to cloth napkins after reading this post/comments!

  • Heidi @ ggip says:

    I’m not planning to give them up but I love this post! Bravo!

  • Erika says:

    We use rags/tea towels instead although we keep a roll around for dh who thinks we should have them “just in case”. I also keep a basket of facecloths at the sink for wiping kids’ hands/faces and we do cloth diapers.

  • Jami says:

    Yes, we gave up paper towel a number of years ago and not only have some people made fun of me, they even belittled me. I do have a roll hidden away, and I will give it if someone asks and then I will compost it.

    Also stopped using paper napkins years ago – only cloth for our family now (each of us has our own unique napkin ring).

  • We have considered giving up paper towels but like others, do not know what we would use to blot bacon grease! Also, do rags really leave mirrors streak free? I’ll have to try that.

    We don’t buy kleenex – we just use toilet paper. We don’t buy napkins because we use paper towels! Until our baby started daycare, we only used cloths. Daycare wouldn’t continue out practice, so we have had to use baby wipes. If I get to be a stay at home mom with the next one, we will use cloth only and no baby wipes.

    Cable is the biggest thing that we have lived without for the longest amount of time. We have not had cable in 3 years and we have not missed it at all.

  • melissa says:

    WE don’t buy paper towels either, what a waste. I have one question though that is really bugging me, why do people buy kleenex? Why doesn’t everyone just use tp?? Is it just not “fancy” enough? This one totally boggles my brain!

  • Liz Price says:

    We haven’t used paper towels for years!
    I actually received a couple of large packages of paper towels at a house warming party years ago, and they turned yellow and stale before I could use them all!

    Every couple of years I buy 1 or 2 large packages of kitchen dish cloths at wal-mart, all the same color, and use those as our “nice” rags (for wiping counters, messy hands, dishes, etc.) I recycle them into our cleaning rag box when they are worn ragged, then start over with a new color! The rags in the cleaning box are only for harsher chemicals, cleaning bathrooms, etc. That way those aren’t used in my kitchen or on my babies’ skin.

  • LDazzle says:

    For all of you bacon lovers, use a paper grocery bag as a grease collector. I’ve done this with bacon, pork chops, and fried potatoes. The bags soak the grease nicely and clean up is easy. Best of all? The bags are free from the grocery store.

  • Tracy says:

    Good for you Crystal! I’m so proud of your family for making this decision that is yet another example of how going greener also saves money!

    At my house, the first thing that comes to mind, and this is a big deal b/c I’m a very shy private girl, is that I gave up pads and tampons and just use a Diva Cup. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I totally understand why women get so excited about it!

  • Robin says:

    I pulled the plug on TELEVISION within a year or so after my husband and I married. After these 13 years without it, we’re so glad we did and wouldn’t think of having it again. We’ve received eye-popping looks from people as they comment they couldn’t live without it. But, it’s amazing what you can live without. 🙂

  • Erika Altamirano says:

    Due to my husband’s job-loss 4 months ago, we just plain ran out of money to buy paper towels. And guess what?! I haven’t missed them. Two weeks ago, my husband thought he should pick some up, and every time I went for one, I have been thinking, “I could be using a towel right now instead.” So I’m not buying them again. . . In my opinion, they’re just a money siphon! We have a newborn, a toddler, and a six-year-old, and we’re doing fine. Just get a 4-pk of washcloths for $1.49 at Target, and save all of those old rags. . . I’ve got stacks of them- they’re ugly, but they’re great for those dirty jobs. I’m also cutting out the store-bought dishwashing detergent and clothes detergent (making my own for pennies), and am going to home-made cloth diapers and wipes. And we’re installing Magic Jack for our telephone service for only $20 a year! It is so fun to save $$. In our case, all of these changes are over $250 a month in savings!

  • SortaCrunchy says:

    Re: the bacon comments. We’re a non-paper towel family here too, and we LOVE our bacon. I bake my bacon in the oven using a wire cooling rack on the cookie sheet. All the grease drains to the cookie sheet and the bacon doesn’t need to be blotted.

  • Alicia says:

    My husband and I have never had paper towels in our house! When we moved into our house in November of 2007, I bought a large package of napkins for like $3.00 at Wal-Mart and we put those out when we have people over, other than that we have always used towels instead. I personally like to use bar rags (the towels that most restuarant and bars get in bulk). We were able to purchase a packet of them containing 50 for $5.00 a few years ago and we just wash and re-use them. We also snagged a bunch extra for free when the owner of the bar was throwing some out because they were either stained or getting ripped. We use those for really gross messes and just throw them away instead of putting them in our washing machine.

  • Nicole says:

    If you are looking for free rags/towels, try the local hospital. My mother-in-law works in the laundry of a large hospital and they throw away rags that are thin or getting a little ragged. They throw them away by the trashbag full. I ask for the throw-aways and have rags to last forever. If one gets really dirty–I throw it away with no guilt!

  • Cynthia says:

    Great post! We stopped using paper towels about a month ago. I have been amazed at how little I’ve missed them. I took all the tshirts out of my closet that I don’t wear, and cut them into squares. b/c it’s t-shirt material, it won’t fray and it’s more absorbent than a pt. I just keep them in a basket on the counter. LOL-Now the kids fight over who gets the pink/blue/red or whatever color!

  • Kirstin says:

    I started using microfiber cloths a while back and I haven’t missed paper towels at all. I still have a few rolls around, but I only use them for garage spills when I don’t want to trash my indoor cleaning cloths. It is much more environmentally friendly since I just toss the cloths in the wash when we are done with them.

  • Crystal says:

    We don’t use paper towels or dryer sheets either. If we have a party(only twice a year) then we get a roll or two then. We also switched to the Buddies soap. Our boys cannot seem to find a way to waste or destroy it yet as they seem to do with all other soaps. We also do not use liquid fabric softener.. which some may find weird. We also do not use any of the multitude of “wipes” products that seem to be everywhere these days. Get a rag 🙂 We use washable microfiber mop heads that we ordered from QVC. They are great and I am not constantly buying new mops.

  • Lela says:

    We still buy PT but only when we can snag a deal and then we use them so sparingly (grease, bathroom & pet cleanup) that they last forever. Although using large quantities of paper is not environmentally friendly, water conservation is important too. If I used cloth to drain grease, clean up pet messes or clean bathroom “misses” it would take a lot of detergent & a lot of water for me to feel like those cloths were clean enough to use again.

  • Gloria says:

    Our biggie was TV. When we moved to TN our apartment had free cable for a few months. When that ran out we didn’t have any spare money so let it cancel. This was 1997 and we haven’t had it since. So do we miss it? Not at all! The only show we watch now is CSI and we can stream it off the web for free. It also surprises folks! No TV! How do you live??

    jillbert: Around back to school time they have these sandwich containers that are all the crayola colors. My girls love these and want to use them all the time. Even if they are eating in the kitchen!

  • Lana says:

    We use very few paper towels and have gone the rag route for about 20 years. I do like to have them for greasy messes and raw chicken cleanup though. We are almost completely a cloth napkin family. When the kids were small it was so easy to clean up spills at the table with the cloth napkins we had right there. Cloth napkins are great on picnics as they don’t blow away and they cover children’s plates to keep bugs off as mine always liked to graze alternated with playing. We quit using dryer sheet and softeners when my allergist told me that the active ingredient in them was fomaldehyde! It was amamzing how much better my skin is because I don’t use them. And I am not paying for them! My dad keeps a good quality paper towel in every pants pocket to use as a kleenex and just leaves them there to be washed! They last quite a long time and stay in his pockets through the washer and dryer! He finds it upsetting if someone removes his towels before washing his clothes. They just get softer with each washing.

  • Petra says:

    When we moved a year ago, our microwave broke and we still havent bought a new one. I don’t miss it and do just fine without it. On 2 occasions, friends have come over needing to microwave something and they both gave me the deer in the headlight look and ask why don’t i have a microwave? I simply dont care to add radiation to my food and i dont buy food that needs to be microwaved. If we need to warm something up, depending on what it is, we use the stove or the oven and thats not frequent.

    We also went about a month cold turkey (just didnt buy it) w/out PT and I personally didnt miss it, hubby did though.

  • Petra says:

    I forgot to ad…i havent had a cell phone over 2 years now. and we dont have a house phone. I stay home with the kids. if I need to tell hubby something, i just text him through the computer. sometimes it is inconvenient but we make it do. i am friends with the neighbors so if there’s ever an emergency i can just go next door. i don’t really miss it. we are thinking about getting the magic jack though. cant beat that!!

  • Kelly says:

    Ok so I guess I am the weird one. I have to have my PT’s! I dont buy napkins. I do keep towels right beside the sink in the kitchen but I only like to wipe my hands on it once and then wash it. So it just makes more sense to me to use the PT’s and toss it then wash a towel so much. I just think it is gross if my husband used the towel to wipe off his hands and then me wipe my hands that just really grosses me out!!!

  • Janice says:

    We do use paper towels, but very sparingly. We use them only for cleaning the toilet, keeping certain foods (like spaghetti) from splattering in the microwave, and soaking up bacon/sausage grease. Since I only use them for these uses, I only buy the “cheap” paper towelsand they last a long time. I refuse to pay any more than $0.59 per roll. I simply keep a dishtowel draped over the stove handle. We use that for drying our hands. I keep a washcloth draped over the sink divider and use that for wiping up spills throughout the day. I replace those daily or more often if needed.

    We stopped using paper napkins a while back. We now use plain white cloth napkins that can be bleached if they are stained. I do keep the extra paper napkins from eating out and put them in DH’s lunch.

    I am working on eliminating paper sanitary pads from our home. I have sewn up several from a flannel scrap of material that I found on clearance at Wal-Mart. A lot of pads can be made from scrap material. Ironically though, I haven’t had much use for my homemade pads because for the past 4-1/2 years I’ve either been pregnant or nursing!

  • Jennifer says:

    I love paper towels to pat dry my chicken or meat before searing in the pan. I can’t get a nice tasty brown on my meat without drying it off. What could you use besides paper towels? I’m a bit of a food snob and want a nice carmelized layer on my meat.

  • Becky says:

    We use about a roll of paper towels every three months. We also don’t use paper napkins. We use cloth napkins, and towels and dishrags. Towels go from the dishes to the hands to the floor, so I always have a towel on the floor to wipe up many messes from kids and dog. Then by my trash I have a basket for dirty ones that I wash once per week with bleach to kill any germs. We also cut in half our dryer sheets and they work just as well. And we used cloth wipes (which only makes sense since we used cloth diapers) We are trying to get rid of all wasted paper products in our home for the environment and for our budget. The only thing I refuse to budge on is TP!

  • laura says:

    I haven’t used paper towels in well three years. When I had my first son I bought packs of cloth diapers to use as spit up cloths and I always had one on my shoulder and realized they saved me so much money. My Mom actually won’t eat with us because we don’t have paper towels so now I ask for extra napkins when we eat out and keep them for her.

  • Katie says:

    To the person who asked about getting towels on the cheap, we picked up a pack of microfiber towels (like automotive detailing towels) at Sams Club. A pack of 24 costs $12 and they are super absorbent and great and scrubbing things. I use them for *everything.*

  • Mechelle says:

    Cable TV and TV altogether– We just gave it up cold turkey one year ago. We haven’t missed it! We get a lot more done in the evenings. The kids get outside & play. They alsoget creative with other things. They like now to help me clean or cook. We’re quite satisfied with the decision we’ve made and the kids are healthier, too!

  • Jodi W says:

    I don’t use Jet Dry in my dishwasher. I add vinegar instead, and a drop of blue food coloring so I know when to refill it.

  • Val Frania says:

    We use rags and have never used paper towels unless I got a super deal on them. When I do, they usually sit on the cupboard spindle for months because we just don’t use them much even when we have them on hand – and I’ve raised 15 children over the past 27 years. If I can do it, anyone can do it!

  • criste says:

    I don’t buy paper towels, fabric softener, dryer sheets, napkins, plastic wrap, foil (I will get this if I can get it for free), or plastic bags. Truthfully, I have not missed any of these items.

  • Winifred says:

    We just eliminated them too, using cloth diapers made us realize how totally awesome cotton is. We actually already had enough dish towels, we just never used them. Now everything gets wiped up with a dish towel or rag (and we have an infant in the house).

    I might be in a minority, but I think using paper napkins at home is weird! They’re for picnics! I guess that’s just how I grew up.

  • Susannah says:

    Just wanted to say…me too! 🙂 I never bought them as a newlywed, and I haven’t bought them lately except really really cheap through a co-op. Otherwise, we do without pretty easily.

  • I don’t have a cell phone!
    or cable tv

    or use
    paper towels (except when draining fried potatoes)
    paper napkins
    paper plates
    paper/plastic disposable cups
    dryer sheets or fabric softener

    I don’t have pets so we don’t pay for food or shots or licensing.

    We don’t have a second car (that shocks a lot of people!)

    Caller id
    call waiting
    long distance

    We don’t go out to eat, period.
    We drink water, not soda or other drinks.
    We don’t pay for haircuts.

  • Lori says:

    I reserve the paper towels for bathroom cleaning and occasionally the babies room. I have five little kids…nuff said? After learning all about germs in nursing school, I’m afraid I just can’t handle the thought of reusing/washing something that has wiped up….um…certain types of messes. *shudder*

  • Corysmurf says:

    I always find a great deal on kitchen towels in the holiday clearance. We never pay full price and have more than enough!

  • Lisa B says:

    We don’t use paper towels in our home either. Quit buying them because they were too expensive and not very environmentally friendly. Towels/rags work best for us.

  • Lisa S says:

    I gave up paper towel when I noticed my husband’s addiction! That was more than 2 years ago and he fine now. We did it to add to our list of things we do to tread lightly. I bought a cute rectangle basket and some flour sacks and Old Time Pottery. Total investment= $12.99 for 2 sets of 5 and the basket!! I throw them in with whites or I have even hand washed them and they dry on the line in less than an hour!!

  • Brandy M. says:

    Great post. My family uses paper towels as napkins at our meals. Using cloth napkins is a great idea, but I tend to get behind on laundry, so they aren’t pratical. I buy only 100% recycled paper towels, so I don’t feel as bad about using them. When my kids get a little older we may try to eliminate them. They are expensive though and now my brain will be spinning thinking about what I can do without.

  • Mama K says:

    I am laughing to myself because we dont’ use paper towels either or paper napkins for that matter. It always throws me when I go to someone’s house and I can’t find a towel to wipe my hands on. It just becomes normal after awhile. I do still keep a roll of TP on hand for guests and the occasional cat vomit incident. 😛

  • Victoria says:

    We haven’t used paper towels for years either. That said we do buy a 12 pack every 2-3 years for the bottoms of our crisper drawers in the refrigerator and for the occasional use as a filter. We hide them though so that they are not easily accessible to eliminate the of their right here so why don’t I use them.

  • Kellie says:

    Sorry, can not give up the towels. I use them to wipe down my counters, table, etc, ever since I took a santizing class when I was in Quality Assurance for a major baking company and found out how much bacteria can develop in a “short” period of time on the rags/towels. Leaves less bacteria than a rag or towel. Now paper plates is something I need to tackle, my family is addicted:)

  • Joanna says:

    I’ve always been a no paper towel person- my mama wasn’t either. I’ve always bought big packs of dish rags for about $3 for 10 rags. Some people keep using paper towels for the pet messes, and worry about the germs in the wash. I have a doggie too- Gracie. She sometimes has a little accident in the house and I use the same towels that we use for everything else to clean them. Before you say I’m so super gross, to kill those little germs before they get to the wash, I use something similar to the “wet pail” method of cloth diapers. I have a big bubblegum pail (I got it from work. Someone donated it for craft time and we didn’t need it). It’s about 1 &1/2 gallons. I put in about 3/4 cup of color-safe, chlorine free bleach (on special at the Piggly-Wiggly) and half-way with water. Whenever Gracie has an “accident” I put the dirty cloth in the pail and snap the lid back in place. The bleach kills the germs and there isn’t any odor. When I wash a load of towels, I just dump the whole pail in the washer. Easy, clean, and cheap!

  • Ruth says:

    One thing that my family and I gave up almost a year ago is garbage bags!

    We used to buy the expensive garbage bags (because the cheap ones broke) and I shuddered whenever I put out the money for them.

    Once we got started on recycling, I realized that the less trash we had, the less we had to worry about bagging up!

    We have a compost pile and keep our rinsed recyclables in bins, until we take them into the recycling center. I either recycle, burn, or compost paper. After you pull all the recyclables, burnables, compostables, etc. from your garbage, there’s really not that much left. I reuse grocery bags and kitty litter bags to hold the little bit of trash that needs landfill disposal. My budget enjoys not having to put out money for garbage bags.

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