Monday, June 7, 2010

"Mommy, I need a hanky!" -- How Our Family Switched to Handkerchiefs

A while back I read a blog post on a blog about having a "paper-free home".  For the most part, we've followed suit (the only thing in this post I can't bring myself to do is the cloth wipes, as in a 'toilet paper substitute'.  No way. Ever.).  Having a paper-free home not only saves money, but it also saves a few trees in the process!  I mentioned the rag bag a few months ago, about how we ditched the paper towels and do all our cleaning with cloth. Today, I'm writing about one of our steps toward a paper-free home: my family's return to the old-fashioned handkerchief.

Being the lover of period piece films (Jane Austen, anyone?), you can't help but notice the frequent, chivalrous offers of a handkerchief to a weeping woman. Like the part in Sense and Sensibility when Elinor is offered Edward Ferris' carefully monogrammed handkerchief.  If I remember my college Shakespeare classes well enough, I think a handkerchief played a pretty important role in Othello. I also remember in the Disney movie 101 Dalmatians that a wet handkerchief breaks the ice between the two main human characters. In any case, I only mention this because it seems as if the handkerchief, once so commonly used and sometimes socially significant in certain cases, is mostly a thing of the past. But why? Some think it's unsanitary and prefer a disposable option. I say, that's what hot water and detergent are for.

Did you know that when Kleenex started making tissues, they weren't intended for noses, but for removing make-up?  Once they realized people used them for blowing their noses, then the company started marketing them as a disposable handkerchief. I think tissues have their places - in schools, churches, and other public places - but the cloth handkerchiefs work well in the home.  I even pack a few in my bag when we go places. 

Anyway, our switch to the handkerchief started a month or so ago when my little boy woke up with a runny nose that kept running and running and running. Only a few minutes had passed and we already had a few wads of toilet paper (yes, I'm too much of a cheapskate to buy actual Kleenex) on my nightstand. Then it struck me -- that paper-free post! I thought I remembered her mentioning making and using homemade handkerchiefs.

Making homemade hankies is so easy -- I'm only categorizing it under sewing because there's fabric and a sewing tool involved in the process. I made all our hankies in about five minutes or so, in my pajamas, in my bed with my cold-stricken boy. All you need is a some fleece fabric and a pair of pinking shears.  I used some old baby blankets that had become worn and faded.  Just cut them into squares and you've got a good set of hankies! I cut mine out with regular scissors and then went over the edges with pinking shears. It's a good idea to use pinking shears - those scissors that cut in a zigzag - because it will keep the fabric from fraying.

It took a tiny bit of adjustment, of reminding Max to use the handkerchief instead of his sleeve, but soon enough, it was the norm for him.  Now we use them all the time - for runny noses or drying tears.  Whenever the need strikes, Max always says, "Mommy, I need a hanky!" (totally tugs at the heartstrings when he says that when he's upset). Once they're used, they're tossed in the hamper or dirty laundry baskets. I wash them in hot water, with detergent and a little non-chlorine bleach, and they're ready to be used again.

I keep the clean hankies in baskets in the bathrooms, which works well for us. Seems like a fitting place for them.  I'm totally converted to the hanky. It's economical, but also friendlier.  I don't care what all those Kleenex commercials say or how much lotion they put in the tissues, my nose gets raw when I have to wipe it for the thousandth time.  With the handkerchief, it's softer on your face and keeps your nose from getting sore. That stinging, bring-tears-to-your-eyes feeling when you have to wipe your red, raw nose just adds insult to injury when you have a cold.  And then there's just something that feels extra-nuturing and a little old-fashioned when you wipe little tears away with a hanky.

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