Organic Housekeeping : In Which the Nontoxic Avenger Shows You How to Improve Your Health and That of Your Family, While You Save Time, Money, and, Perhaps, Your Sanity
Longing for a kinder, gentler world? As the old saying goes, everything begins at home, and odds are, if you live in the all-American household, the air inside is more toxic than the air outside, even if you live in the most polluted of cities. You regularly handle the filthiest object in your home -- the kitchen sponge -- and put the same chemicals on your face that are used in brake fluid and antifreeze.
The cleaning agents and personal care products commonly marketed to and used in American homes contain not only some very dangerous, toxic chemicals, but they also create an "overly clean," chemically bombed-out house that compromises immune systems. And with more than fifty million Americans suffering from allergies and other autoimmune diseases -- not to mention the developing and fragile immune systems of children and seniors -- large numbers of people are actually being made sicker and sicker by their homes.
Learn to live a clean, healthy, more economical way with Ellen Sandbeck, the nontoxic avenger. In this must-have book for the twenty-first- century home, this passionate, witty advocate of all things organic will teach you how to maintain every part of the home -- from living room to septic tank, kitchen floor to bathroom sink -- using safe, simple cleansers and quick preventative measures as well as the most effective organic products on the market to get the job done.
Learn time-saving, preventative housekeeping, such as taking thirty seconds to clean the shower while you shower. Take care of bathroom stains with baking soda and vinegar rather than commercial, toxic bathroom "bombs" peddled to you with such force by manufacturers. Need whiter whites? There is no bleaching power on earth stronger than the sun. Snow clean your fine rugs. Choose fruits and vegetables from the relatively pesticide residue-free list. Clean felt-tipped pen stains with vodka. Make furniture shine with olive oil and lemon. Your house will also smell as great as it looks.
According to the EPA, "the air in the average American home is between two and ten times more polluted than the air just outside the threshold." Sandbeck, a onetime housecleaner and roofer, explains why a homemaker must avoid toxins and pesticides if the home is to maintain a balanced, healthy ecosystem. The first chapter--touting the benefits of tidying up and getting organized--is tedious, but the book hits its groove in a chapter on "Organic Cleaning." Here, readers learn that all too often the very products we trust to keep our homes clean contain toxins and antimicrobials that kill beneficial organisms. Sandbeck touches on a wide array of housekeeping issues, sometimes almost straying dangerously off-topic. From preventing mold and mildew and controlling garden pests, to computer care and avoiding electrical fires, Sandbeck doles out knowledge with an easy-to-digest blend of authority and humor. (May)
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January 07, 2008
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Excerpt from Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck
Ever since I first began landscaping organically in 1980, friends have been asking me for advice about how to solve problems around the home and garden without using chemicals or breaking too much of a sweat; in 1995, after I first self-published Slug Bread & Beheaded Thistles: Amusing and Useful Techniques for Nontoxic Housekeeping and Gardening, total strangers began contacting me as well. When asked for housekeeping tips, I always made it clear that I was primarily an organic gardener and that the sole focus of my housekeeping was to keep my family healthy and happy. Period. But a couple of years ago, my focus broadened a bit: A few of my friends were unable to maintain control of their homes and the disorder was making them suffer. I spent many long, chatty days helping them clear out and reclaim their living and storage spaces. The profoundly life-changing effects of these cleaning and organizing sessions made me realize that I wanted to write a book about nontoxic housekeeping.
For several months, my big party joke went something like this: "Guess what the subject of my next book is?" Everyone guessed that I was writing another gardening book. After a well-calculated pause, I would deliver the punch line: "It's about organic housekeeping!" Incredulous and hysterical laughter generally erupted. The joke worked so well because I am one of the least domestic people I know. I prefer to spend as little time as possible doing housework: I would rather dig a ditch than iron a shirt. But on the other hand, my family is extremely healthy; I am quite knowledgeable about managing living systems, controlling pest organisms, and preventing disease; no one has ever gotten sick from my cooking or cleaning; and although both my husband and I had allergies when we were children, our offspring have no allergies at all. After they stopped laughing, most people told me they wanted a copy of the book as soon as it was published. My friends know that if there is an easy, low-maintenance, nontoxic way to accomplish a task, I will find it.
I have been an organic landscaper, gardener, and worm farmer for most of my adult life. One of my great pleasures is to design and set up a miniature ecosystem, tend and tweak it, and watch it balance itself out. During the years I have repeated this process in dozens of gardens, ranging in size from the tiny to the massive, and with hundreds of worm-composting systems for food waste, ranging in size from under-the-sink to large industrial. My goal with each of these projects has been to design a low-maintenance ecosystem that is as self-sufficient as possible.
Both a low-maintenance organic garden and a worm composting system depend upon beneficial bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms to break down organic waste materials, synthesize vital nutrients, and fend off harmful microorganisms. In this way they resemble all other living systems on our planet, whether that system is a prairie, a blue whale, or a human being. Without bacteria, the surface of much of our planet would rapidly be buried under piles of unrotted wood, leaves, and dead animals. But we would not be here to suffer the consequences because, without our intestinal microbes, we would long since have starved to death.
Unfortunately, many modern cleaning products contain antimicrobial agents. Like all other pesticides, antimicrobials have a tendency to kill off beneficial organisms while allowing harmful ones to proliferate. As they say: "Only the good die young." Our homes are our habitats, and our health depends upon a large population of helper microbes in and on our bodies as well as in our houses.
My housekeeping philosophy and my gardening philosophy are essentially the same: Evaluate the situation; work with what you have; don't make extra work for yourself; and as much as possible, avoid the use of toxic chemicals. In general, I've found that my attitude mirrors that of people who are the most knowledgeable about the effects of chemicals; all of the chemists, hazardous materials workers, emergency workers, and biological researchers whom I've interviewed avoid using synthetic chemicals in their own homes.
If we are to thrive physically, our air, water, and food must be clean. If we are to thrive emotionally, our shelter should be a home filled with love. With the exception of clothing, our basic needs are exactly the same as those of other mammals.
Many of us who live in the developed world have gone well beyond satisfying our basic physical and emotional needs. In fact, we have gone so far that some of those basic needs are no longer being met. We seem to have forgotten what our ancestors knew quite well: The only real reason to do any cleaning at all is in order to maintain our health.