99 Ways You (and Your Family) Can Become More Sustainable in the Next 9 Minutes

99 ways to be more sustainable from Jennifer Margulis

99 ways to be more sustainable

At home:

1. Don’t do laundry as often. Wear clothes twice or even three times.

2. Wash your clothes on cold. Always. (Even for diapers, sanitary napkins, and dishtowels. It works.)

3. Hang clothes out to dry. (Time yourself. Bet you can get them all on the line in 9 minutes.)

4. Make your own laundry detergent.

5. Don’t use air conditioning. Open the windows at night to let in cold air. Close up the house and put down the curtains/shades in the morning to keep house cool.

6. Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Obvious, right?! But if you pay attention you’ll notice that people in your family are leaving lights on everywhere. (Ask me how I know.)

7. Turn off radio when you leave the room (see #6).

8. Unplug the stereo and other appliances when you aren’t using them. Most people don’t realize that even switched “Off” they are using electricity.

In the kitchen:

9. Don’t clean pasta or other pots in which you’ve only boiled water.

10. Clean the kitchen counters with vinegar and water mixed in whatever proportions work for you, not with harmful sprays. Easy to refill. Cheaper! Healthier! (And more sustainable.)

11. Save your eggshells and sprinkle them around garden plants.

12. Compost! You can do it. You know you want to!

13. Freeze vegetable scraps and make them into soup stock at the end of the week.

14. Don’t throw away rotten bananas. Peel them (compost the peels) and freeze. Perfect for smoothies.

15. Start a kitchen herb garden in your windowsill.

16. Buy milk locally from a farmer who will give it to you in reusable glass bottles, or buy it commercially in glass bottles (you pay $1.50 bottle deposit, rinse, and return.)

17. Make your own condiments.

18. Buy staples like rice, rolled oats, olive oil, and honey in bulk and reuse your glass containers. Once you get in the habit, this is easy. It’s hard to get in the habit. Get over that quick.

19. No more paper towels. Never buy them again. Stock up on cloth rags and dishcloths (best option) or make your own.

20. No more paper napkins. Never buy them again. Stock up on cloth napkins from friends and Goodwill.

21. Join a CSA (community supported agriculture). Call one and join right now!

22. Don’t ever buy anything that contains palm oil. Not soap, not granola bars, not even Girl Scout Cookies.

In the bathroom:

23. Put a 5-gallon bucket in the shower to catch gray water. Use it to water your indoor plants and outdoor garden. (Or to flush the toilet, see #24.)

24. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.

25. Don’t run the water when you brush your teeth! Obvious, right? You’d be surprised at how much water you waste. Put a bowl in the sink to test. Dump that gray water in the 5- gallon bucket in your shower (see #23).

26. Use family cloth instead of toilet paper. Or drip dry.

27. Use a Diva Cup and/or reusable sanitary napkins (see #2). Soak them in the caught gray water (see #23).

28. Use bamboo instead of plastic toothbrushes.

29. Clean the tub with baking soda.

30. Skip the shampoo.

31. While you’re at it (#30), skip the shower. You don’t need to bathe every day!

32. When you do shower, make it quick. I defy you to take a 2.5-minute shower. Have a quickest-shower competition among the grown-ups in your household. (Doing this with kids may lead to dubious hygiene.)

33. Dry off with a washcloth instead of a towel. Hang it to dry and then wrap yourself in the big towel. You can reuse both for several weeks without the towel getting mildewed that way.

34. Use a washable cloth shower liner instead of a plastic one.

35. Whether your baby wears plastic or cloth diapers, always scrape the poo into the toilet. Do not wrap it up and throw it in the trash. Landfills are not designed for human excrement and “disposable” diapers are not disposable. They take at least 100 years to decompose. That’s a long time for shit to sit.

36. Don’t use “disposable” plastic razors. Old-fashioned razors work just fine! Or go crazy vintage and use a straightedge razor you sharpen yourself. Or go super contemporary and join a battle of the beards (all my 30-something friends are doing this. They’ve stopped shaving. They’re driving their wives crazy…)

37. Make your own toothpaste.

38. Make your own deodorant.

39. If you must use toilet paper (see #26), collect the inside cardboard rolls. Donate them to the local preschool for art projects.

40. Use olive oil that you buy in bulk for hand and body lotion!

41. Buy soap ends in the bulk bin. No packaging! Super cheap.

In the bedroom:

42. Have sex often. It makes your marriage more sustainable.

43. Choose non-hormonal birth control (like a diaphragm over the Pill), if you can. Better for your body and the fish.

44. Wear essential oils instead of perfumes. The “natural” fragrances in perfumes are toxic to humans and the environment.

45. Don’t buy new jewelry. If you understood the environmental damage caused by mining for gold and other precious metals and jewels, you would never buy jewelry again. Buy jewelry secondhand.

46. Read by candlelight (good for encouraging #42 and #48).

47. Get books from the library or Goodwill instead of buying them new. Since you love your author friends and want to support them, ask your local and university libraries to buy multiple copies of their books.

48. Get enough sleep, and put your kids to bed early. Sleep makes your life more sustainable.

49. Have lots of houseplants in your bedroom and other living spaces. They clean and filter the air.

50. Use sustainable building materials if you want to remodel. Or better yet, hang pictures over the wall smears and skip repainting the inside of your house.

51. If you can afford it (we’ve wanted to do this for years…), install solar panels on your roof or put in a wind or water turbine. Okay, that will take you longer than 9 minutes. But stop reading and do 9 minutes of research on this right now!

52. Use coconut oil from a glass jar for lubricant  (see #42).

In the backyard:

53. Plant a garden! Even a small one. Then use the gray water you’ve been catching (see # 23) and the rainwater (#54) to water it.

54. Catch rainwater.

55. Research raising chickens (see #51, I’m trying to stick with the 9-minute rule). Or live across the street from someone who does.

56. Research raising rabbits. They multiply quickly and are a great source of protein. Prepare to have hard conversations with your kids about death.

57. Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.

58. Raise honeybees. Okay, okay, research raising

59. Compost dog droppings in a separate space from the compost you’ll be using to grow food, or don’t have a dog. Landfills have not been designed for animal excrement. Picking up dog feces in plastic bags is unsustainable.

60. Research and plant a part of your yard with all native plants that don’t need watering.

61. Use crushed eggshells around plants to deter slugs instead of harmful chemicals in nasty plastic bottles (see #11).

62. Send your kids outside right now. Vitamin D and exercise will keep them from getting sick = lower doctor bills for you = happier family.

63. Don’t bag up grass clippings. Leave them where they are, put them in the compost, or use them to mulch your plants.

64. Use a push mower for the grass. If your lawn refuses to cooperate, use an electric mower. Depending on your source of electricity, this will be more sustainable, quieter, and less toxic than gas mowers.

65. Don’t water the grass in the summer if you live in a drought zone like we do.

66. Plant a native tree.

67. Plant a second native tree, in case one dies. We planted a manzanita and a madrone. Both were doing well. Then the brother of a friend who came to mow mowed the manzanita down (see #64). Serves us right. The madrone is happily growing along.

At school or work:

68. Bring lunch in a reusable, washable cloth bag.

69. Bring your sandwich in a reusable, washable cloth bag.

70. Bring your own cup or Mason jar, always. If you forget your cup, don’t drink coffee.

71. Put a spoon in your purse or pocket (an espresso spoon is perfect.) Use this for ice cream, yogurt, or anything else you find yourself needing to eat with a spoon…

72. Don’t talk trash about your colleagues. Being petty and jealous is unsustainable.

73. Invite an environmental visionary to speak in your child’s class or to you and your colleagues.

74. Have your kids walk, bike, or scooter to school. They can do it. Even in the rain. Realize that you driving them everywhere is feeding your own neurotic family-of-origin issues but not helping your kids in any way.

99 Ways to Make Your Family More Sustainable. Walk, bike, or carpool to school and work! From JenniferMargulis.net

75. Carpool.

76. If you can’t carpool, walk, or bike, leave 10 minutes earlier and park your car half a mile away from work. You’ll get a much-needed morning and afternoon walk, better mileage on your car, and the environment and your health will thank you.

77. Drink water from a fountain. Say no to endocrine-disrupting plastic bottled water!

78. Take the stairs!

79. Keep the lights turned off at work. Why not?

80. Carry a hankie (so retro.)

81. Let your hands drip dry. Why not?

In other aspects of your life:

82. Buy previously loved things you need in your life. NB: This doesn’t work for dental floss.

83. Give and receive hand-me-downs.

84. Organize a clothing swap. These are fun.

85. Have your kids give their friends previously loved gifts.

86. Forgo birthday gifts. Ask friends to donate to a charity in your honor instead. My favorite is Friends of Trees.

87. If you can’t do #86, wrap gifts in old maps, newspaper, or calendar pages. Never buy wrapping paper again.

88. Make grocery shopping into family and outdoor time by piling kids into a wagon and walking to the supermarket. They can help you pull the grocery-laden wagon on the way back. Do this on the weekend so you don’t feel stressed or pressed for time. (Time: half day. Sustainability rating: Platinum.)

89. Rinse and reuse birthday candles.

90. Befriend a farmer. If you buy fruits and vegetables directly from a farm they won’t be boxed, or have those horrible stickers on them.

91. Bring your own bag to the grocery store. (I know. You do this already.)

92. Bring your own glass container to a restaurant for leftovers (I bet you don’t do this one yet!).

But we can do even better. 99 ways to make your family more sustainable in the next 9 minutes!

If you want to get really radical (and these will all take more than 9 minutes):

93. Go diaper free. Practice infant pottying instead of using either cloth or plastic diapers.

94. Kill your car.

95. Kill your microwave. It makes your food taste like rubber, uses electricity, and you don’t need one anyway.

96. Read No Impact Man and do everything he did, for a year, or a month, or a week … or 9 minutes.

97. Buy a solar-powered fridge!

98. Skip the cruise and go WWOOFing instead. (Coolest vacation idea ever.)

99. Die sustainably, just like you’ve been living.

99 ways to become more sustainable in the next 9 minutes!

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Categories: sustainability.


  1. How about going vegetarian or vegan instead of raising rabbits and killing them? Giving up meat is one of the best things to do for the planet, your health, and the environment, to say nothing of the ethics of killing sentient beings. You can get all the protein you need from plants.

  2. Laure

    You suggest not having a dog because of the poop. How about not having kids..for, you know, the same reason.

    • Effie

      Actually, they suggest composting your dog poop instead of putting it in plastic bags and sending it to the landfill

      • Well, if no one had kids, of course that wouldn’t last. That’s what happened to the Shakers, after all.

        But let’s be real. Enough people will still have children. And if we don’t slow our growth, well, that’s not sustainable, either.

        As always, it’s about balance, isn’t it?
        Chad recently posted…No such thing as trash. (It’s complicated.)My Profile

        • casey

          I don’t think overpopulation is as big of an issue as it’s made out to be…


          We’re far from balanced… Not because of how many people there are on the planet, but because of where on the planet large populations of people are occupying. And of course, because of how poorly we are using our resources. Which, I think is the point of the blog post… Not whether or not people should have kids or dogs, which is why I replied to that persons comment in the 1st place.

  3. When I got to “don’t use A/C” I had to hit your bio to see where you were from. What works in Oregon doesn’t work in Texas. When the house gets over 110, you look elsewhere for sustainability.

  4. Jensc

    Pillowcases make great gift wrap for larger items, for smaller, fabric napkins or kitchen towels work well. Just tie with cotton string , jute twine or a strip of fabric cut for an old T shirt!

  5. Tracie

    I don’t agree with using bamboo instead of a toothbrush. Good dental health is very important and I don’t think bamboo would do a very good job. As far as #87 is concerned, I would not use old newspapers because I now read all my news online, which is better for the environment. I also agree with EverywhereAmy about air conditioning. We live in South Carolina where the temperature goes over 100 degrees and it’s VERY humid here. You can’t live a sustainable lf if you’re having a heatstroke.

    • Kelly

      I think they mean bamboo toothbrushes. They are exactly the same but the handle is made of bamboo rather than plastic.

  6. Meg

    I love many of your ideas BUT the toilet paper cardboard roll have ecoli on them . They are not good for preschool children who mouth everything to use. toss or use in your own home. Why dry your hands ??? because germs love warm moist places to grow, like between your fingers when you do not dry your hands. Also something we teach preschoolers.

  7. Two other ways to lessen your footprint–make your own yogurt (heat milk, cool milk, add starter from last batch, let it culture for 6-8 hours in a warm place, done–look it up on the web), no plastic, no sweeteners, eat with fresh fruit, yum. And bake your own bread. Look for Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and it will revolutionize the way you make bread. No plastic wrapping, your own choices of ingredients, fresh when you want it. Bake multiple batches at once to save on oven heating. Easy!

  8. Jessica

    Love all of the suggestions! I just want to comment on a couple of the comments above…

    Tracie: You should actually look INTO the bamboo toothbrushes before you “think” about how good of a job they would do…they work just as well as a plastic toothbrush…and just some food for thought…you get your news online which “is better for the environment”…but maybe you didn’t consider the electricity you’re using to read that news online…that’s a bit of a “catch-22″…

    Meg: “Also something we teach preschoolers.”….this is a problem these days…we are teaching kids at such a young age to become germ-o-phobes. We clean their little hands CONSTANTLY with good-bacteria-decimating “HAND SANITIZERS”, and never let them be exposed to all of the things in our environment that would help them to build a healthy immune system. Let them crazy little munchkins get out and play in the dirt, let them wash their hands and drip dry, seriously, there is not a swarm of flesh-eating-super-attack-bacteria just WAITING for some moist little hands…THEY WILL BE OK.

  9. Heather Schroeder

    I say we just do our best and use the this that are easily incorporated into our lives. Then if truly committed, we can try to add the harder tips. For example, I already do many of these things. However, I can’t do laundry much less, because I have young children. True, it is my own desire to send them to school in “cleaner” clothes. They have some pieces that the stain will not remove itself, but isn’t so prevalent that I call it unwearable. And they do have biodegradable poop bags for those of us living in apartments or shared spaces.

  10. I grew up hanging out laundry and have always loved the freshness of the clothes, bedding in particular. You can’t get that sunshine smell from a dryer. When we moved to SC I put a line up in the back yard. It wasn’t much, but it was perfect for the bedding. The birds loved laundry day and used the sheets for target practice. They left huge purple splotches on them. Luckily, they missed the pillowcases, but I still had to rewash most of what I hung out. After several attempts, and having it happen every time I hung the wash out, I quit using the line and now use a dryer with an energy-save setting.

  11. Claire G

    Most of these ideas only work for those in cities. Somehow my children will not be walking 18 miles to school or 30 miles to the grocery store.

  12. Wow! This is a great list. ( Banana peels are good under rosebushes.) I love that so many people have joined the movement. Now, to get toxic chemicals in the environment regulated!

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