Five Reasons I Don’t Buy Cleaning Products Off the Shelf*

*usually

1. I’m Cheap Frugal
I just don’t like spending any more money than I have to. Using vinegar at approximately $3 for 4L, is far cheaper than buying, say, a brand-name cleaning product at $2.90 for 540ml.

2. I’d Rather Stay Home
I’ve gotta be honest with you: I hate cleaning. I hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. So when I’m in the mood to clean, I really have to make hay while the sun shines. The last thing I need is to stop and take a trip to the store because we’re out of some cleaning product.

3.  THE SMELL
Anyone else just find off-the-shelf cleaning products smell funny? I just can’t stand all those fake scents they put in them. Give me the smell of vinegar and Tea Tree Oil over that any day.

4. I have kids who like to help
Of course, they’ve been known to empty an entire bottle of my homemade cleaner on the dining room table, but it’s the thought that counts. I love to just give them a bottle of vinegar and water and let them go to town, and they’re content to just spend a half-hour dusting the dining room and living room while I clean other things. They’re busy, I’m busy, the house gets clean, everyone wins! And the only thing I have to worry about is someone getting vinegar in their eyes/mouth/hair/etc.

5. The Ingredients
Apart from your average chlorine bleach and bottle of Windex, do you actually know what’s in your cleaning products? I don’t. Don’t go check, that’s cheating!

 

What I DO use (the recipe)

cleanerWell I suppose it wouldn’t be fair if I told you why NOT to use something without providing you with an alternative (I hate it when people do that), so I’ll tell you the things I DO like to use.

Actually, you only need one thing, when it comes down to it: White Vinegar. Really. Just use it diluted, and you have yourself an incredibly simple cleaner that you can use on most surfaces (anything porous, though, you should test first in a discrete area). My formula is 1/3C vinegar in my 2C spray bottle, just fill the rest of the way with water. This is *the * best for mirrors, and doesn’t leave a residue like most store-bought products do.

So, that’s a great little cleaner, but what about those greasy areas? Or the dry, sticky mystery puddle the kids left on their nightstand? Or that area under the highchair that keeps getting missed? Don’t you need something more?  I’m glad you asked!

This is where my powered-up version comes in. It only needs one more ingredient, and when you fill the bottle with hot water (instead of whatever’s-coming-out-of-the-tap-at-the-time water, which is what I usually use), this really packs a punch. Ready for the recipe?

1/3C vinegar
hot water
and…
wait for it…
Up to 1Tbsp of Dish Soap.

No, seriously, that’s all. You don’t even have to measure it. I just drizzle a bit into the mostly-full bottle until it looks like there’s a lump of it big enough. Again, use it everywhere but test it blah blah…

The one caveat is that this one is not as good on mirrors, because it will streak a little bit. In a perfect world, I’d keep one bottle of the powered-up stuff and one bottle of just vinegar & water, but I can never keep track of which is which (I’m not that organized), so I just use the powered-up stuff and do a really good job of drying and polishing the mirrors. Of course, with the kids having their own bathroom now and performing heaven knows what kinds of experiments in there, I tend to need a little extra power for their mirror (which just happens to be the second-largest in the house), so it works out.

Finally, the only other ingredient I’ll use (sometimes) in my household cleaner is essential oil. Usually it’s Tea Tree Oil (for the natural disinfectant qualities, as well as the scent), but occasionally I’ll switch it up and use lavender. One thing to watch for if you do use Tea Tree Oil: Don’t let the kids spray the dog with it, as it can apparently be quite toxic if animals ingest it. Three drops should be plenty, and you can add it to either the standard vinegar and water or the powered-up version. If you do this you pretty much HAVE to have a separate bottle for mirrors, though, as I do find it adds to the streak factor quite a lot.

So there you have it! Happy cleani—no, I can’t say it. More bearable cleaning!

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Swiftly Shared

I have only one short thought to share tonight (to make-up for the length of my last post).

Don’t underestimate the impact that small changes can make. Financially, put $25 into a savings account, cut back on your cellphone plan, skip the trip to the coffee shop. It may seem like such a frivolous amount, but if you sit there and think, “whatever, it’s not going to make THAT big of a difference,” you’re not going to get anywhere at all, are you?

Let me be really frank: there are ALWAYS going to be hard times. It’s frustrating as all get out…I’m having “one of those days” myself, when I just want to give up (which is really why I’m writing this…to remind myself more than you). But don’t stop. Keep going anyway. And be prepared.

Keep your budget tight during the months where there is plenty and plunk the extra in a High-Interest Savings Account you can’t access from your wallet the next time you’re at the mall. Do it as soon as that bonus or extra paycheque comes in (if you’re on a two-week pay schedule you’ll have two months out of the year where you get three paycheques…use them wisely!) Once you have an emergency fund (aim for $1,000.00 at first, then make your next goal 3-6months of expenses) THEN you can make some extra fun money out of that bonus.

Write down every trim you make to your budget.  Heck, don’t even do the trimming yet, just make a THEORETICAL list of the things you could cut back and how much. One coffee a week. Fewer services on your phone bill (even caller ID is a WANT not a NEED! Sure, it’s convenient, but so is having an Emergency Fund.) Do the math. You’ll be surprised.

Shakshouka

It’s funny how you just don’t feel like going out for groceries when it’s a frigid minus twenty degrees Celsius, no matter how bare the pantry is or how close to dinner it’s getting. It was on such an evening that we discovered Shakshouka (I’ve also seen it spelled “Shakshuka,” and I have no idea whether one is more correct than the other…I just think it looks better with the “o”), a Middle-Eastern recipe tucked in the back of the latest issue of House and Home. Made with inexpensive ingredients that we ALWAYS have, this dish has quickly become one of our favourites.

Because it was a very simple recipe, and because I still didn’t feel like going out, I modified it to use only what we had in our pantry, based on the House and Home recipe and a few others I found on places online, like Allrecipes.com. I don’t know how “authentic” my version is, but it sure is fast. And cheap. I hope to know exactly how cheap by the end of this week (I’m afraid I couldn’t find the receipts I needed to tell you now). You can serve it over white or whole wheat bread, or with homemade flatbread.

Swift Shakshouka
1 can tomatoes (I used diced), drained well
1/3C tomato sauce (optional, you could instead simmer tomatoes longer and add more spices)
1 T basil
pepper to taste
eggs (1-2 per person)

Simmer tomatoes in a deep frying pan with tomato sauce and basil until reduced and darker in colour (about 10-20mins). One at a time, make a well in the sauce for each egg and carefully crack egg into it. Cover and cook until eggs reach desired doneness. Season with freshly ground pepper as desired, serve with flatbread.

To make an easy flatbread, heat a frying pan on medium-high, with a small drizzle of olive oil. Mix about 1C flour (I use whole wheat) with a pinch of salt (I like to add garlic powder too, feel free to experiment). Stir in about 1Tbsp of olive oil and enough water (about half two two-thirds as much as the flour, but I always start with less) to make a sticky, stretchy dough, adding more flour or water as necessary. Knead, then divide into four small balls. On a floured surface, roll each ball as thin as you can without it becoming impossible for you to handle. Place them, one at a time, in the frying pan. If the pan is hot enough, it shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes on each side.