Green Spotlight: Eileen’s Advice for Keeping Green Choices Simple and Finding Support

If you were lucky enough to read last week’s Green Spotlight, you know that Eileen Spillman has become one of our eco-heroines.  She doesn’t weave her own homegrown linen or knit her children booties out of repurposed shoelaces.  In our opinion, raising two young children as a single parent while working full time and making green choices is just about as honorable as it gets.  Read on to see just how she started.

What green choices seem to work best for your family?  

 I try to keep it simple as I have a tendency to over-do and then get overwhelmed and give up.  Here is what I can think of:

  1. We gave up paper towels and napkins. (This is actually super easy once you have a collection of linen napkins and rags.)
  2.  I started buying eco-friendly detergents and recycled toilet paper. (I was worried about         sacrificing quality but has not been an issue.  I actually love the eco-friendly detergent I found.)
  3.  I stopped buying household cleaners and pretty much rely on baking soda and vinegar for most jobs. (Again, they work very well.)
  4. We switched nearly all of our light bulbs to compact fluorescent (I haven’t found any in night-light size yet, but that’s next.)
  5.  We don’t have AC, which is no big deal in Oregon.
  6. I have an energy efficient washer and dryer.
  7. We eat a lot less meat.
  8. We shop at thrift stores as much as possible.
  9.  I car-pool to work when I can.
  10. We walk or use public transit more and more (still not enough) and I am trying to do car-free week-ends although it doesn’t always work.
  11.  I own a bike and have good intentions of riding it.
  12.  I started a container garden and am growing (fingers crossed) some tomatoes, peppers and beans.
  13. I started composting (yes, in an apartment!) as an experiment, and it’s working!
  14.  I’m learning to can [produce] and bake bread.
  15.  I try to buy local when it’s not too out of my way or price range to do it.

 All of these things were implemented one at a time and none of them required any great sacrifice on my part.

4. How important has it been for you to have eco-friendly acquaintances to share green tips?  

Hugely!  Living in Portland helps a lot because it is such a part of the culture here.  Shopping at thrift stores is cool, riding a bike is common, recycling is just something we do without thinking anymore.  Reading the Green Baby Guide has given me tons of inspiration!  I have known Joy forever (and she is one of my favorite people on the planet).  In high school we were forcing our parents to recycle, giving up hairspray and boycotting McDonald’s because of the rainforest.  But then, life got overwhelming for me there for a while and I became one of those, “why bother” people. 

Seeing other people’s examples of green living gave me a jumpstart.  For example, when my sister gave up paper towels and I was flabbergasted at the idea of living without paper towels.  For a long time I bought the pick-a-size so I would use less.  Then I realized that using rags are no big deal and actually easier.   If I hadn’t seen my sister doing it, I don’t think I would have ever considered it. 

Hopefully our small community here at Green Baby Guide will  be able to support each other as our readers struggle with integrating green values into their hectic lives.   If you’d like info on finding a green group in your area, check this post to get some helpful tips.


  1. Wow, composting in an apartment! Do you use a vermi-composter (or whatever it’s called), Eileen? I have heard of apartment-dwellers using a worm bin indoors.

    I think they’re planning on collecting food scraps along with yard debris soon here at Portland (as they do in Seattle). I compost at home, but I think this is an excellent idea! It’s terrible to throw food in the landfills where it can never biodegrade.

  2. Okay, you are going to find this totally disgusting, but I was going to get worms and never found any in local nurseries, never got around to mail-ordering them. One day I looked in the compost bin and lo-and-behold, it was full of maggots. I didn’t know what to do! Well, after some internet research, it turns out that my Maggots were baby Soldier Flies which are an excellent thing to have in your compost. I never did get any worms and it’s worked beautifully. The flies/maggots stay in the bin which I leave on my porch. I put some plants on it and it doesn’t smell at all. It’s my little secret. Okay, well, not anymore. My bin is just a large rubbermaid container with a second lid as a tray. I drilled small holes all along the bottom for drainage and used planter feet to raise it. The bottom lid collects compost tea which I can suction up and use as fertilizer on my plants. It sounds complicated but it’s so simple. like many things I do, it sort of evolved out of an idea and an experiment and happened to work. Like I always tell my math students, if you expect to know the answer when you start solving a problem, you’ll never get started. If you have an idea, try it. Maybe it will work, maybe not.

  3. I just began a paper towel diet. I don’t really use them very much so I don’t think it will be too difficult. I mainly just use them because that’s what people do, you know? If this works out I’m thinking about handkerchiefs, but I’m not sure what type of material would be soft enough and non-irritating.

  4. I have been use a couple of skoy cloths instead of paper towels for about a month now. They are still in good shape and I think they might make it another month. I use one for the kitchen and one for dusting and cleaning our glass table tops. I really like it so far and don’t miss the paper towels at all. I bought some for my sister and sister in law and they are finding that they are using less paper towels as well. You can find them for about $2 including shipping and they are biodegradable in about 5 weeks. Anyone else given them a try?

  5. If you have any of the old-fashioned kind of cloth diapers lying around (the NON pre-fold kind) those make excellent paper towel substitutes. You can buy a dozen for about 6 bucks at babiesrus. You can also buy a pack of shop towels at any hardware store. Or when bath towels start to get holes, just cut them into squares. Anything – old t-shirts that aren’t nice enough to give to goodwill. I have some old cotton sweaters that I love for certain jobs. I keep them in a stuff sack (for a sleeping bag that didn’t really need its stuff sack) hanging from a hook in my kitchen and put the used ones in a pail under the sink. At first I had a really tough time with what to do when you needed to kill a spider (lesson, just do it, anything can be washed. EWww) or drain bacon fat (cookie cooling racks!). Eventually I was completely over paper towels.

  6. When I had a house cleaning business, I used the cloth dipes for cleaning! They work great. Once you get used to cleaning with a cloth, you think why in the world was I throwing out all that paper. My cleaning business taught me that really fast. 😉

  7. Great discussion! I too found myself flummoxed by the bacon grease. The cookie sheets are a good tip. We use an assortment of cut-up t-shirts, old dish towels and worn wash clothes for our rags and they work out well. Still, if you’d like something more aesthetically pleasing, you might want to check out the giveaway that Crunchy Domestic Goddess is doing for Skoy clothes!
    Check it out here:

  8. Hey, Eileen! I am impressed…love your compost accidental problem solving story. Now I feel better about discovering maggots in mine two days ago ; ) Its been years since I’ve used a paper towel or napkin, but I don’t miss them in the least, my 100% cotton well broken in rags are more absorbent and leave no lint.

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