Oct 22, 2015

I started selling with a direct sales company and I’ve been embarrassed ever since (or, why my side hustle isn't less than yours)

Truly, embarrassed. Like, haven't-told-my-coworkers embarrassed.

Why? Because I’m not the kind of person that gets suckered into things. Because I am well educated. Because I am a hardcore feminist. The kind of feminist that didn’t shave in college, and for a good amount of her life spelled women with a Y, and would most certainly not have married her husband if he wasn’t a feminist too.

And because I'm assuming that most of my facebook friends are looking down on me. Because I used to do that too. It's direct sales, after all.

Wikipedia says this: "Modern direct selling includes sales made through the party plan, one-on-one demonstrations, and other personal contact arrangements as well as internet sales.[2] A textbook definition is: "The direct personal presentation, demonstration, and sale of products and services to consumers, usually in their homes or at their jobs."[3][4] " I was taught early on to be skeptical of direct sales companies, along with telemarketers, politicians, and shoe salespeople.

But then my twenty-something cousin started selling from a well-known direct sales company. Unlike when coworkers notified me that they were repping some product I didn’t really want, with my cousin, my first instinct was to be supportive of her new business endeavor. Notice I said be supportive, not necessarily support, because while the products weren't a great fit for me personally I knew she was trying to make a life for herself and support her family - two goals that I could really get behind.

I started to think about our acceptance of the mostly-male-run store brands we happily spend big bucks on (big bucks, by the way, that go to CEOs making so much more than any one human needs) and all the ads they buy to get us there, versus my lovely cousin with her genuine, honest, humble goals in life. This company she worked for gave her a nice commission, and was flexible enough to meet her needs. I started to wonder if products from direct sales (predominantly sold by women) weren't a (the?) most feminist choice I could make with my purchases, save for the woman-owned, woman-made local product business (which is still the company I’d recommend above all else if you’ve got access to one).

I assumed someone had already written about this, so I googled it. 

Most of the articles you find when googling “feminism” and “direct sales” are about how they take advantage of women, fooling their poor consultants into believing they can make millions. The Harper’s article “How Mary Kay Sells Women on Having It All” is a great example. It's beef is with the company's non-feminist beginnings, goal of making money off of its consultants, and profiting off of women believing traditional workplaces do not provide flexibility to raise a family. It says, “Most of today’s (insert direct sales company here) ladies are struggling, though, even as the company flourishes at their expense.” Wow. So many things to say about that one. 

Let’s start with this. Have you visited a grocery store or chain store or department store lately? Do you think those stockers, or cashiers, or even department managers are making good money? Yeah. They are not. 

Secondly, traditional jobs don't actually provide a great amount of flexibility. Even if the company itself is ok with a mom or dad taking off when their kid is sick, our society (and the parent's coworkers) most likely aren't. There is a whole lot of guilt that goes along with leaving work mid-day to clean up barf for the next 24 hours. 

And lastly, I’ve got to ask:  How stupid do we think women are? The fairer gender can do math, after all. Percentages, minus the samples, carry the nine… this isn’t a quick trip to financial freedom. Obviously. But to make ends meet, or pay for the extras, it can help.

I’ve seen social media posts from consumers who feel that their friends are using them for sales. This one is my favorite – oh, the anxiety I felt after reading that thread. It still fills me with shame. 

But to put it into perspective, do you have any idea how much your favorite brands are spending (and then charging you) for marketing? But wait! There's more! Do you know that stores are then upcharging the health and body care products you are buying by a 50% markup? It’s true. See the proof here, here, and here. Welcome to capitalism.

This is not to say that local stores don’t need such a high markup (they do). It’s to clarify that the 30-50% that direct sellers make on the products you buy is certainly not out of line with the industry standard. And it’s to say that you aren’t supporting your friend’s bank roll when you buy from a woman-owned direct sales business. At least not any more than you are supporting some rich white man’s bank account when you buy products from your favorite company at your favorite store.

I think what it really comes down to is that when our friends ask us if we are interested in buying something, it is harder to say no. And that is a feminist issue all of its own, amiright?

I cannot stress this enough: do not buy what you do not want. From your co-op, your chain store, or your friend. OF COURSE. I, and I imagine the majority of my colleagues, have no interest in you feeling obligated to “help” us in any way. I promise that you will never lose a true friend because you say “no thanks” to the products they are selling.

But hey.

I happen to be the seller of a set of products that I think are bee’s knees (which is a designation I don't give lightly.)  And it seems pretty silly to me that anyone would avoid them simply because of a selling structure that gives women extra income, freedom to choose their hours, and a bigger cut of the profits than traditional retail.

So. (she takes a very deep breath.)

I sell Ava Anderson NonToxic products. Because I believe in them. You can hear more about why by stalking or liking my facebook page. And if you are interested, you can buy them at http://avaandersonnontoxic.com/joey and I’ll get credit as your consultant.

And that is NOTHING to be ashamed of. 

Sep 7, 2015

The clothes make the gazelle

My husband and I watched this piece a few days ago. In it, you may learn information that you have never heard before. Or, like me, it's possible you know this, and you think about it from time to time, and you may even purchase $300 US made jeans on occasion which makes you feel less awful about the whole thing and your contribution to it.

And you still go to a big box store sometimes and find yourself at the clearance rack, or underwear aisle, or stocking up on cheap-but-appropriate clothes for your office job.

So watch this. Remember what those seemingly benign little purchases are supporting. And consider what part you want to play in it.

Brian and I were hit pretty hard by the episode above. Hard enough that we have committed to making a conscious effort to purchase only used clothing for the foreseeable future. Used clothing does not support any manufacturing industry, and usually will support a small business or a nonprofit creating jobs in your community for unskilled workers.

I expect this system will be a little cheaper even than purchasing off those dang clearance racks, and so we are also committing to purchasing new socks and underwear (and any other textiles that we are not comfortable buying used) at a higher price but from a union-made, hand-made, or at the very least a US-made source. I expect that our overall clothing budget will remain the same (mostly because it is already a fairly small expense for us - we really only buy clothes when we actually need them since neither of us love the shopping experience).

The message of this episode is really the core of the green gazelle philosophy: my frugal lifestyle should not be made possible by the suffering of others in this world. This is something I have to remind myself of almost daily - that suffering is hidden well.

What lifestyle changes have you considered based on information you discovered about their social or environmental implications?

Aug 16, 2015

Back in the saddle

It's been a while, old friends. But I'm back, and more committed than ever to getting out from under the heavy, unbearable-at-times, hopeless-feeling weight of my credit cards, personal loan, and school loans debt. After ignoring and then rediscovering all I owe, I'm just done beating around the bush. It's time to get out of debt, and keeping this blog will hold me accountable.

I can do it. We ALL can do it. We can become financially free, probably in a whole lot less time than you think. So join me in this one last push. I've canceled my Amazon Prime membership. I've talked myself out of a hundred "needs" in the past two days. I've updated my debt snowball. And just like every time, it shows I can be out of debt (minus mortgage) in two years. TWO YEARS PEOPLE.

I've discovered some fantastic, inspirational blogs about frugality, like the Frugalwoods and DIY Natural.

And I'm not messing around this time.

I'm all in. Are you ready? Let's do this.

Oct 1, 2013

Thank You.

There's a lot of bad to see in this world if that is what you choose to look for. I don't. And because we don't do it enough, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you.

Your smiles, your humor, and your small daily kindnesses make this world brighter.

Your passions, your bravery, and your work make this world better.

Your struggles, your empathy, and your heart make this world more compassionate.

Your positivity, or your negativity, reminds me which I want to focus on in this short life.

Your mere existence makes this world what it is. The way you choose to interact with this world and its creatures can change it.

I have seen some great, selfless actions in the past few days. They happen all the time, really, if we just notice them. And little kindnesses tend to ripple out well past the original receiver.

So thank you. For your smile, your kind words, your generous contribution. For caring, for loving, for understanding a different perspective. Thank you for your light in this world. We all have it, and let me tell you, it can shine so brightly that you light the way for those around you.

Today, I hope you let it.

Sep 27, 2013

Four Free Things: September 27, 2013

This image, borrowed from RowdyKitten, shows an example 
of the type of place we could gift to a family in need if we 
all pitch in. Click the image to view the request at GoFundMe.
Four Free Things is a (mostly) weekly feature here on The Green Gazelle. Each Friday, I share four free or almost free things I hope to do over the weekend and upcoming week. Share the free or cheap things you've got planned in the comments section of this post.

Help Out a Single Mom

I'm starting with the one I think is most important. It isn't free, but it doesn't cost much and it has the potential to make an enormous difference in the lives of a single mama and her two teens. I've set up a GoFundMe fundraising site to help a friend of mine with her small, tangible, eco-friendly wish: a tiny home or travel trailer that they can always call home. Any donation size helps, even a dollar, and anywhere you can spread the message helps too. Here's the description. Together, we can give this family a home.

"Please help me raise money to give a family in need a home!  
I've got this amazing friend who always finds the positive, despite often dealing with hardship. Perhaps you know her. Maybe you don't. She found the strength to leave a bad marriage, and now she's raising two teens on her own - with child support checks that are insufficient and undependable. She is an extremely hard worker and fantastically thrifty, but still money is always really, really tight. Imagine how difficult that must be.  
After moving from one temporary housing situation to another, her simple dream is to own a tiny house, travel trailer, or some other small dwelling - a guaranteed, forever place for her family to live. That is such a small, humble thing to wish for in this world, don't you think?  
She's a strong woman, but she can't do it alone. Please help me make her dream come true. This mama and her kids deserve a home.  
Any size donation is greatly appreciated. If we all chip in what we can - $1, $5, $10, $25, $100 - in no time this family will have the funds to own their own little abode (or at least a great start on one). And you would have helped a lovely, kind family have a little more security and certainty in their lives - and one less thing to worry about. Thank you for considering, and please share this link."

Screen-Free Saturday

I think we all know that I spend too much time on the computer. This Saturday I'm taking the day off. As a bonus, I'm planning to do all of my house cleaning tonight so I don't have to do it tomorrow. That means I get to play outside all day, and read, play instruments, or play board games all evening! Doesn't that sound fantastic? Are you taking a screen-free day this week?


I want to use a prize wheel during some events I'll be tabling at. The trouble is, I don't have access to one, and I really don't want to spend money on one. So I'll be attempting to make my own prize wheel this weekend out of cardboard and such. Wish me luck! It should be a fun project. What are you building or making this week?

Visit the Library

I think we also all know that I love, love, love the library. This time, though, my visit will be very specific. We are looking at a house (I know, I know. More on that later) that is listed as a 1950's home but actually looks much, much older. Our local library has a great North Carolina history room, complete with actual physical Sanborn Maps. These are maps that were created every few years by the Sanborn Insurance Company for insurance purposes, but now serve as an excellent resource for historic research. I'll pull those dusty old maps out and see when this house showed up on the maps to help me know how old it really is. What kind of research is peaking your interest these days?

Have you found any fun or interesting free opportunities in your area during the next week? Do you have tips for others on where to look for free activities?

Sep 24, 2013

Ditching the Personal Printer - A True Story

Why are home printer ink cartridges so dang expensive? They never last long, they always run out at the moment you need them the most, and they are made out of a ridiculous amount of plastic. And the refilling options seem to have an unacceptable failure rate. Does anyone else feel like perhaps we are being scammed here?

This infographic gives some shocking stats on ink cartridge costs and wastes. But while these numbers are of concern (especially in green-gazelley households such as yours and mine), the negative impacts we aren't talking about might be even more important.

It wasn't until the end of my last long-term office job that a friend of mine tipped me off to the health hazards of printers. Some studies show that desktop inkjet printers that you often get free with your computer, and that everyone has in there home or office or both could be really bad for your health (laser printers appear to be safer for now). It turns out that the offices of old, with their separate copy room housing ink-using equipment, might have been much better for us than the conveniently-located personal printer of today. Once I heard that, it was so obvious. But it had really never crossed my mind before.

I was once someone who couldn't imagine not having my own printer. For a while I even had a large format printer able to print 11x17. As one who dabbles in both graphic design and photography, I loved being able to see my work on paper. As one who is falls in the age group who is computer savvy, but still prefers to read from actual paper, I enjoyed the ability to rest my eyes from too much screen time while still reading something from the web. Environmentally friendly? Heck no.

But when we moved in January, I took the leap. I ditched our home printer. I had nearly finished school, we had just downsized our living space, and I didn't want to buy any more ink.

It turns out that life without a printer is pretty great. I still have things to print on occasion - resumes, doctors office documents, proof of car insurance. I go to either the local university or copy center to print by the page. The public library also offers printing. Often, forms a doctor asks you to fill out and bring to your appointment (for example) can be printed by the office and filled out there if you just let them know you don't have a printer. 

But believe it or not, there is much less necessary printing in my life than I would have thought. I have gotten used to reading digitally more often now, and much of my filing is now done on my computer (paperless) as well. Eliminating my home printer has reduced my use (and therefore expense) of paper, electricity, ink, ink cartridges and packaging, time trying to print something I really didn't need or those lengthy nozzle cleaning checks, and the new, better, gotta-have-it technology in printers that can convince us to replace an existing hunk of plastic made in China with a brand new one. Are you feeling me here? 

There are many of us who pretty much need a home printer - if you or a child is in school and needs to print regularly (like more than once a week), if you have a home based business and you have to print a lot, etc. In that case, perhaps there is a closet or porch where you can locate your printer to maintain good air quality in the areas of your house you tend to breathe in more often. But if it is necessary for you to print once a week or less, you might consider getting that beast out of your house. You'll save money, natural resources, time, and quite possibly your lungs. 

Have you chucked your printer, or are you considering it? How are you managing, or what are you worried might make it hard to live printerless?

Note: Links to other articles are provided to peak your interest in the topic. I am not guaranteeing their accuracy. You should always do your own research and fact-checking on anything you read on the internet.

Aug 9, 2013

Four Free Things: August 9, 2013

Me enjoying the view on the Blue Ridge Parkway during last
weekend's motorcycle ride. I know, my life is so rough.
Four Free Things is a (mostly) weekly feature here on The Green Gazelle. Each Friday, I share four free or almost free things I hope to do over the weekend and upcoming week. Share the free or cheap things you've got planned in the comments section of this post.

Well. It has been quite a while since my last Four Free Things, hasn't it? I've had too much to do for the past few weeks to look for free entertainment. This weekend and next week, though, I've got a few free things on my to-do list. How about you?


Saturday. Pajamas. All day.

Yup, my plan for Saturday is to have absolutely no where to go, and nothing to do. We in the gazelle household are taking the day off of expectations and accomplishments. The only thing I'm requiring myself to get done on Saturday is to stay in my pajamas. Maybe I'll read. Perhaps I'll rearrange a room (because that is my idea of fun). Or start a knitting project, or pick up the banjo. I'll certainly drink too much coffee, and hopefully eat scrambled eggs. And probably nap. After I sleep in. Yep, a day off this Saturday is deserved and needed, and I'm allowing myself to take it. Go ahead, give yourself permission to celebrate Pajamurday!

Hiking Hounds!

As you might know from past posts, an awesome volunteer at our local humane society created the Hiking Hounds program to get volunteers out on hikes with pound pooches twice a month. We've been trying to go once a month, but this month we're committing to both trips. The hike is usually about 4 miles on a mountain trail, which takes around two hours. The pooches get lots of attention, and I get a bit of exercise and fresh air. It is probably the most fun volunteering I've ever done. If you don't have a Hiking Hounds program in your community, you could start one! Or, if you are not quite ready to jump in that deep, you can grab your family (furry or otherwise) and get out on a trail this weekend for an hour or two.  

Sourwood Festival

'Tis the season for festivals nationwide, but I particularly love the ones here in the mountains of North Carolina because they are centered around old time and bluegrass music, dancing and clogging, and crafts. You have no idea how happy this makes me. We'll swing by here after Hiking Hounds on Sunday, hopefully in time to catch some of the clogging. 


You know the best part about traveling by motorcycle instead of car? You can smell the forest and feel the wind. It is so much more participatory than auto travel, and I love it. We planned to refrain from getting a motorcycle, but it turns out that a bike is one of the cheapest (and funnest) ways for B to get to work. They get excellent gas mileage... and around here, the cycling season is more like 10 or 11 months instead of the 3-6 month window of the midwest. To top it off, this area has some of the best motorcycling in the country because of the many twisty mountain roads. We'll most certainly get out for a ride this weekend.  

Have you found any fun or interesting free opportunities in your area during the next week? Do you have tips for others on where to look for free activities?

Aug 3, 2013

Winning the Battle with Me Stinky Pits

My Pot of Pit Purifier. tee hee.
UPDATE #2: Due to my own pit sensitivities, I stopped using my homemade and had to go back to some horrible antiperspirant brand. And then I found the Ava Anderson deodorant stick. AND IT WORKS. I'm now an independent consultant for their products. Take a look at the whole nontoxic product line on my affiliated page.

UPDATE: I have heard mixed results from users of this deodorant recipe. Everyone seems to think it works really well - better than store-bought brands I've heard - on B.O. But folks have also experienced rashes in one or both pits - sometimes pretty severe. Try it at your own risk, but here's a couple of tips that might help: 1. Rub it in very gently. That baking soda is scratchy and I think rubbing it in hard could be contributing irritation that leads to rashing. 2. Try just coconut oil. This doesn't work on B.O. quite as well as the original recipe in my opinion, but it definitely provides some protection without the irritation of the baking soda. Just be sure to use a very small amount (just touch the tip of your finger to the oil and rub in really well).

Oh, B.O. Why do you love me so?

Some people have a really pleasant, earthy, musky body odor. But not me. My B.O. is sharp. Ripe. Stinky.

And hard to cover up.

For years, I refused to use antiperspirants (because of my health concerns associated with it) and instead used more natural deodorant brands. They didn't work. I found that especially when I was wearing a shirt or sweater that was a blend (having some poly fiber mixed in with the cotton) the natural deodorants didn't last an hour. I would spend the rest of the day trying desperately to remember not to lift up my arms.

Even at office jobs, I get stinky. When I began working in a professional office and in someone else's home, it felt unprofessional to subject the people there to my naturally-deodorized (but not really masked) B.O. So I bought a trusty store brand.

For a while, I would try to wash it off as soon as I got home. Eventually, I got lazy and stopped doing that. But I never stopped looking for an alternative to the chemical deodorant that I had to use to manage my stinky pits.

Whether or not you believe that antiperspirant can have negative health impacts on your body is your own decision to make. But there are a number of other reasons I didn't want to continue to use store-bought antiperspirant (or even store-bought natural deodorant, for that matter).
  1. I try not to use chemicals on my body, especially for things like lotion or deodorant that stay on long enough to absorb into my skin.  If I'm going to clog my sweat glands, I'd rather it be with something natural.
  2. I like to be able to pronounce the ingredients in my body care products (and food, and cleaning supplies).
  3. Even the "unscented" antiperspirant that I used had a pretty strong unnatural odor. Yuck.
  4. Deodorant comes in a ridiculously un-reusable containers. And it isn't cheap - especially the natural brands. 
  5. Plus, even many of the natural brands are owned by huge corporations that I don't really want to be supporting with my limited funds. (Here's a fairly shocking flowchart of ownership you might be interested in.)
So I made my own. In about five minutes. Inexpensively, with two ingredients. AND IT WORKS. Here's the breakdown of my results after about a week of use:

  • Wearing a 100% cotton shirt: at the end of the day, there was NO SMELL at all. No fragrance, no B.O.
  • Wearing a cotton shirt with some poly mixed in: Most of the day was the same as the 100% cotton shirt. By the end of the day, my pits had a very, very faint sweat odor when I stuck my nose in them and took a deep whiff. Still completely acceptable. Amazing.

So how do you make this wonder pit concoction, you may be wondering? Here is the entire recipe:

The Green Gazelle's Seriously Unscented Pit Purifier

  1. Pour baking soda into a small bowl.
  2. Add coconut oil by the spoonful and mix together very well until you have a very thick, crumbly paste. If you've added too much oil, just add a bit more baking soda.
  3. Scoop about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon out of the jar with your fingers and massage into your armpit. It should feel more grainy and gritty than creamy. Rub in until it isn't too oily. Repeat on other side.
  4. Wash hands.

I've left measurements out so you can run a small trial batch to see if it works for you. In case you were wondering, I haven't yet had any oily spots show up on my shirts, probably because the consistency is so baking-soda heavy. The only issue I had was when I wore a black tank top and a light dusting of the baking soda ended up on my shirt. I just used a lint roller to remove it, and went on my way.

Mine sits in this cute little ceramic bowl on the back of the toilet. And I will never, ever buy deodorant in the store again.

These are wonder ingredients, I swear. What do you use coconut oil for? Baking soda?

Jul 24, 2013

TV, schmee vee

Edit: This was originally posted on this blog in 2008, but still applies (at least in our home) today. Our most recent solution involves going tv-free every other day. How do you view your relationship with tv? How do you limit your screen time?

How many hours a week do Americans watch television? Nationmaster.com says 28 - we're tied for most hours watched per week with the U.K. 28 hours. That's another part time job's worth of time. That's almost as many hours as kids are in school each week. That's an average of four hours per day. Imagine the beautiful meals, winter hats, decisions, plans, gardens, breads, peace, conversations, blogs, furniture, backyard sanctuaries, jams, and more that you could make with four extra hours each day.

But instead we subject ourselves to marketing ploys telling us that we're not good enough. My beef with television isn't the actual shows, although the quality has gone down exponentially in just the last five years. Why do we flock to these reality tv shows? My guess is that it has something to do with the fact that we are bored with our own lives because all we do is work, sleep and watch tv. And many of the prime time television shows' characters' lives create this unreality in our minds that says that we should make more money, have more stuff, and never, apparently, have to go to work. But there are also some really wonderful, intelligently written, beautifully acted shows out there that make for excellent free entertainment (until their inevitable cancellation). And if you can find those shows, who doesn't support a free entertainment source that keeps you in your home with your family, perhaps not for four hours a day, but for some time anyway?

No, my beef with television is really mostly with commercials. They're louder than the show you're watching. They're flashing and jolty and bright, often completely changing your mood and possibly even your heart rate. Their goal is to make you feel like you need something you don't or you aren't good enough as you are. And that is not good for anybody.

We've found a couple of solutions to this in my household. You could, of course, throw out your television. If you can do it, this would be the best step. There are just so many more stimulating and productive things to entertain yourself with. But, alas, lifetime habits are hard to break, and sometimes you just need to veg after a day's work. So what do you do if you're like me and can't (or don't want to) kick the habit completely?

The first and easiest step is to get familiar with your mute button. I learned this trick from my fabulous stepdad when visiting last year. As soon as the commercial comes on, hit mute and take the opportunity for a little peace and quiet or brief conversation. In my house, we also tend to give ourselves a task that needs to get done before the end of the show- folding laundry, cleaning the kitchen, etc. We use commercial time to do it and don't subject ourselves to the brainwashing.

Another option is to create a schedule of the shows you actually like, and limit your tv time to those. I'm one of those people who will watch an infomercial if nothing else is on, just because I get so sucked in to the television. Creating a schedule allows you to get in the habit of turning off the tv when your show is over, or not turning it on at all on days that nothing good is on. I make sure I have a plan for those days too, because I know I'll be tempted by that rascal tv when I run out of steam for the day. My current diversion plan is to spend what would be tv time reading a good fiction book (which is almost like watching television but stimulates your brainwaves much more) or knitting.

If you really want to kick the tv habit without giving up the free entertainment option, try this. Disconnect your antenna. Go to the library and check out a dvd- they often have movies and full seasons of popular or interesting television shows. Try interlibrary loan for a better selection- ask your librarian for help if you've never used interlibrary loan before. Then just watch those in the evening when you get the tv craving. Tv shows on dvd are really great- a show that is normally an hour is only 45 minutes and you don't have to watch any commercials at all. Plus, when the episode is done, the next one doesn't start automatically. You get to make a conscious decision whether or not you want to continue to sit there and watch something. It makes it much easier to limit your tv time to only 45 minutes a day.

Like radio and the library, television is one of those rare free things that by all rights should cost something in America but still don't, and I really appreciate that. But we pay a little extra for tv, with our time and with the marketing we subject ourselves to. Its habit-forming ability can be very detrimental, just like any other habit-forming substance. But we can take the power back and enjoy the good parts of owning a television- free entertainment!

Jul 23, 2013

3 Frugal & Green Hacks To Replace Costly Store-Bought Cleaners

This little beast makes bathroom cleaning less horrible.
Ugh. None of us want to use dangerous chemicals to clean our homes or skin, but holey buckets are natural cleaners expensive! And still you don't know if they will work for you until you buy them and bring them home to use. Don't get me wrong, I think it is worth it to spend more for nontoxic cleaners, and I have found some that really work for me. But I've discovered some cheaper natural solutions that reduce or eliminate my need for these expensive items. These are just as convenient to use as something you'd buy (no extra elbow grease needed). They also happen to work better for me than their pricey, store-bought counterparts. As a bonus, they are all stored in reusable containers so I'm using less packaging too. Win-win-win!  

Here are my three favorite cleaning hacks that actually work:

1. Magic Bathroom Cleaning Stick

This. Actually. Works. I found it on Pinterest (as the link above can attest), and I am so glad I did. For about the cost of one bottle of eco-friendly bathroom cleaning spray you can get a dish washing want—which you'll use as a tub and tile scrubber that you simply refill with dish soap and vinegar.  Something about the vinegar mixed with dish soap actually cuts soap scum in record time and with little effort. Because the solution is kept easily accessible and ready to use in a dishwashing wand, I can quickly wash down my shower walls while I'm in there, or just before hopping in. It also works really well for the sink bowl. This one item has changed my relationship with bathroom cleaning.

Tip: Find a way to store this out of the shower stream so that it can dry between uses, like maybe hang it from a suction cup at the top of the tile wall opposite the shower head. I also squeeze mine out when I'm done using it to speed up the process.

2. The Oil Cleansing Method

I have crummy skin. Oily and acne-prone, my face is also easy to dry and flake. Gross.

Over the years, I've spent an arm and a leg to find a product that would work for me and keep my skin from drying out and flaking, or getting greasy in the middle of the day. There are a million product choices, and in the natural skincare lines the face cleaners can get ├╝ber expensive. I'd buy one, and if it didn't work, I'd be out that $20 or $30 bucks and on to another one. Honestly, I never found a face cleanser that I loved...only some that I didn't react to as badly as others.

And then.

I stumbled into the oil cleansing method (OCM) on the interwebs (see the link above for the post that convinced me to try it). To call this discovery life changing would probably not be an exaggeration. It's basically a mix of castor oil and olive oil that you can adjust for your skin type. You use OCM in place of face cleanser. Yup. Oil. Instead of soap.

This is what happened to me. I saw a massive reduction in the number and severity of acne outbreaks and deep, painful blemishes. My skin stopped feeling tight and dry after cleaning. I mostly stopped having any flaky, dry skin on my face. With less irritations, my skin had time to heal and is now much less red and blotchy. And perhaps the best thing was how balanced my skin became. Before, I had always (ALWAYS) gotten shinier over the course of the day as my face tried to replace the oil I had stripped from it during cleaning. With OCM, I no longer get greasy mid day. Ever.

Bonus? You use maybe four or five drops a day of the castor-olive oil mix, which ends up being really inexpensive. And you know exactly what you are putting on your skin. My skin feels great. I have more confidence. And I spend WAAAY less money to get better results than I did with even the highest end natural store-bought cleansers. I wish I would have discovered this two decades ago.

3.  A Better Hand Soap

This one I didn't find on the internet, but discovered on my own. If you're purchasing a natural brand of liquid hand soap you know that it ain't cheap. We've tried to make our own hand soaps for years using liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronner's peppermint, if you must know). We bought fancy recycled glass soap dispensers. We added tea tree oil, thinking it might act as a natural antibacterial. We used different ratios of soap to water. But my sensitive skin wasn't a fan. I found that the castille-based liquid hand soap was too harsh on my skin, and my hands would dry and crack. We went back to store-bought natural hand soap, which was just a little gentler on my skin... but definitely not on my pocket book.

But as it turns out, the dispenser can make all of the difference. When we purchased our first bottles of liquid hand soap in foaming dispensers (ours were Everyday Shea brand), I decided to try again. Once it was empty, I refilled the foaming dispenser with a Dr. B's-water mixture (to your liking—I think our ratio is somewhere around 1/4 soap to 3/4 water).

I don't actually know why this worked so well, but it absolutely did. Here's what I think:  The foaming mechanism mixes in air and creates a bubbly, foamy hand cleaner using less actual soap than a regular pump would dispense. Since it is already so foamy, I use less of it, and so I've got less soap drying out my skin with just as much cleaning power. It lasts a long time, it doesn't dry out my skin, and I can pronounce all of the ingredients (which is usually not the case even with "natural" liquid hand soaps).

Do you have any tricks for housecleaning or body care that are green and frugal, and that really work well? Share them in the comments!