To me, it’s using cloth napkins—hands down! First, because they don’t have anything to do with your personal hygiene. And also because they’re still a tradition in several households—at least on special occasions. But also because cloth napkins are beautiful (when you choose them well) and because they serve many purposes. Would you like me to explain how we adopted it in our home? Here we go.
A colorful companion for our dining room
In our home, we each have our own napkin. It’s been 9 years since we adopted them, so over time, the colours have changed (not because the napkins didn’t last, but rather because Thomas encourages our kids to negotiate and frankly, they’re pretty good at it!)
Since I am not a fan of laundry, we each have 3 or 4 napkins of the same colour and we rotate when needed. Thomas and I can use the same napkin for several days—but depending on who is eating what, sometimes we have to rotate faster.
Our little Larry (3 years old) still uses bamboo washcloths instead of cotton napkins, because we tend to wash them with soap after every meal. What’s more, the organic washcloths are more practical to scrub his little hands and cheeks once he’s done eating since they’re meant to be wet.
And for our guests, we have a few extra colourful napkins, so there’s no confusion when we have friends over for dinner!
How do we store the napkins after every meal?
So with time, we tried several ways to store our napkins after meals:
- Fold them nicely and place them on the back of each chair after clearing the table (like they do in restaurants). But it wasn’t for us—every time someone walked by the table, the napkins fell off and, of course, no one picked them up. So, we always ended up with a bunch of dirty napkins on the floor between meals (yum, right?!).
- Fold the napkins neatly and leave them on the table. Great idea in theory, but in reality… Not practical at all! As soon as someone needed to sit down to do their homework—draw—have fun with playdo or pull out a puzzle, the napkins got shoved aside, and sometimes even put away somewhere else (but where?)
- Throw them in a little basket or bowl. BINGO. In our house, this is the option that works best. It’s not necessarily the most elegant way to store them, but it works. Everyone has adopted the habit and the napkins are put away in a little basket or bowl after each meal, ready to be used again.
Never without my napkin
Once we adopted napkins at home, I started to take one with me everywhere! When you think about it, a napkin can be so useful in a ton of situations, and it allows you to reduce waste even when you’re not at home. So I use it…
To take a sandwich or pastries on the road
If I leave the house around lunchtime or if I haven’t had time to grab breakfast and plan to snack on the road, I can wrap a sandwich, toast or croissant in a napkin. I roll up what I’m eating like a burrito so it doesn’t spill or I don’t get crumbs all over the place and munch on it as I walk or drive depending on my plans for that day.
To pack everyone’s picnics
I sometimes pack a lunch for the kids when we go to the park or if we’re waiting for one of the kids during after-school activities (which tend to fall around meal times!) For Larry who is allergic to dairy, it’s often easier to prepare a small thermos with a hot meal—but for Olivier who eats everything (in theory) but is super picky, the ham-with-nothing-else-in-it sandwich always works.
No matter what’s on the menu, I always include a large cotton napkin, which can be used to cover the surface on which the kids eat. Have you ever seen your child place their sandwich on the floor while they are doing something else, like tying a shoelace or picking up a nice rock? You’re welcome.
To go on a trip
It may seem like a strange idea, but a napkin doesn’t take up much space in your luggage! And it can be super useful, no matter where you go. Since our trip to Bordeaux in 2017, I swore I’d never leave without one again… And I haven’t regretted it!
Bonus: fabric is cheaper!
Let’s take a simple example: a family like mine, considering that 2 napkins per person is enough (you are surely not as lazy as I am when it comes to housework, right?)
So for 4 people (we’ll be excluding the 3-year-old tornado for the purpose of this exercise!), we would need 8 cotton napkins, that is 8 × $20 = $160.
At home, we have had the same napkins for 9 years, so if we spread the expense over the last 9 years, it would have cost us $17 per year—which is less than $5 per person per year. On average, paper napkins cost 3 cents a piece (the white ones you can find at Walmart for cheap—but if you’re more of a “funky toucan” or “spiderman” kind of person, it’s more like 87 cents a piece!) Back to our calculations. If we count 3 cents x 4 people x 3 meals per day, we would need to spend 36 cents per day on paper napkins. And if we multiply that number by 365 days (one year), it comes up to $131.40. So over 9 years, we’re talking about $1182.60, which is a LOT more than you would have spent on reusable cloth napkins! So you see how the investment is well worth it…
Double bonus: we save trees (and at TSHU, we plant some too!)
I’m sure by now you understand that buying paper towels over the years is pretty expensive … but it also generates a lot of waste! We’re talking almost 40,000 napkins for a family of 4, over 9 years… That’s a lot of paper waste! Adopting a cloth napkin is a way to significantly reduce waste, without making a big compromise. And, at TSHU, we also commit to planting a tree for each napkin you take home with you :).
Tell me, have you made the switch at home? If so, how did it go? If not, are you considering it? Let me know where you’re at, I’m interested!