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We throw a lot of impromptu gatherings, especially in the summer. And they tend to get large (my brothers and sister and I have sixteen kids between us, for example!) Add in birthday parties for five kids and holidays like Christmas and Easter, and you’re looking at a lot of celebrating around here.
While I am all about reusable products like cloth napkins, china dishes, and hand towels most of the time, I don’t particularly want to face down a huge mound of dishes and laundry every time we have people over. But I don’t want to feel like every party we throw leaves a huge footprint, either.
Here’s how I strike a compromise between convenience, comfort, and keeping waste to a minimum during parties and celebrations:
1. Use disposable products wisely. I make myself feel a little better about using disposable plates and cups by choosing sturdy, thick ones that can stand up to several helpings or even a quick rinse-down. I’m not above re-using plastic cups a few times with a quick rinse-out in between, and shhh…sometimes I even serve more than one kid from the same plate, if they’re eating in shifts and the food is something dry and not-too-messy. (Guests, don’t worry: I typically limit this kind of “sharing” to kids from the same family who are already swapping germs on a regular basis!)
2. Skip the goodie bags. Parents universally hate those little plastic bags full of junk that will wind up in the trash (or scattered all over the backseat of the car) by the end of the weekend, so don’t feel obligated to spend money on them! Instead, consider a “keepsake” in the form of a treat (decorating a cookie or cupcake is always a popular activity at my kids’ birthday parties) or simple craft that doesn’t require a lot of supplies.
3. Rethink the TP tube. Raise your hand if your bathroom trash cans are full to the brim with toilet-paper tubes after a big family get-together. Even the craftiest mom would need to get creative to use that many cardboard rolls! I’ve long been annoyed by those TP tubes, but resigned myself because I didn’t think I had a choice. Then I discovered Scott Tube-Free Toilet Paper – it’s high-quality TP that does NOT have a tube in the middle – just a tube-shaped hole. And yes, it retains its shape plenty well enough to go easily on the dispenser. Problem solved. I also like that it doesn’t seem to roll as quickly on the dispenser, which eliminates the “puddle of toilet paper on the floor after a child gives a particularly energetic tug” problem.
4. Throw a “confetti party.” No matter how carefully I shop, I always wind up with half a stack of party napkins and a plate or two left over after every party. After collecting them for a few years, I came up with a solution: take all those leftovers and use them together! Every now and then, when we have a casual party involving close family or friends, I’ll turn it into a “confetti party,” featuring a crazy-quilt combo of all the different colored party napkins, utensils, plates, etc I’ve collected over the past year. Note: party supplies in a variety of solid colors or simple prints will gel together much better than cartoon characters and the like.
5. Reach for paper towels that go the distance. I’ve long been a loyal fan of VIVA paper towels because they’re so thick and thirsty that you can cover a lot of ground with just a towel or two. Recently I’ve started using VIVA Vantage towels and love them even more. They’re stretchy and feature a weave texture that makes it easy to use them for everything from bathroom clean-ups to scrubbing dried-up ketchup off counters after a get-together. Plus, the choose-a-size feature lets you tear off a smaller towel for tiny clean-up jobs. You’ll pay a little more for VIVA brand, but they work so much better that you’ll use far fewer of them in the long run.