Back to Basics

Life in the Middle East really tests your values as much as any isolated post can. For a city girl who appreciates the accessibility to sustainable measures like recycling and purchasing natural products, I have noticed just how strong my value of, and appreciation for, Mother Earth really is. When isolation and selective imports prevent you from sticking with your tried and true household cleaning preferences, what can you do except adapt?

Here I start my occasional tapping into some of the other steps of minimalism – leading a simpler life and reaping its benefits, as well as appreciating it. 

I am an organic cleaner. I like certain brands in certain countries, natural products that are equally kind to my skin, my senses and my surfaces. I especially love to discover old home remedies. Here in the Middle East, natural and organic products are hard to come by, available to but a select few middle-upper class expats who both know what they’re looking for and are willing to search every aisle of supermarket shelving in stores all over town to find it.

My particular patch of desert isn’t all that into saving the planet – why would they when they have so much oil? You can’t sell oil and take an environmentally friendly, planet-saving public stance, can you? There is a green movement, but many practices exist either in name or intention only, and have yet to come to fruition. Recycling for instance, is in the early stages of awareness and establishment, and takes a lot of self-initiated patience and organisation, as well as long drives to sporadically placed recycling bins and industrial centres. For the rest of the population, their waste is sure to end up in landfill. Composting is another thing yet to be discovered here, save again for a dedicated few who know what it is and have a compound home with communal space in which to do it.

So this is where a person questions their dedication to sustainable actions.

For me, I have spent each day off, of which I get one per week, scouring various supermarkets, chains and local stores searching and getting a feel for what is available to me. I have researched online to seek out recycling businesses and washed, divided and set aside anything recyclable with dedication, for the time when there is enough to warrant the collaboration with recycling companies to meet and deliver the goods. Compost is something I ponder regularly, since toilet paper cannot be flushed and I look sadly at my waste bin knowing it could so easily be kept out of landfill. If only they sold compost bins here!! The ones for indoors would suit me best, and while I can get them easily online, I find myself wondering if it will be worth it, as I have never established and maintained a compost before and I’m not sure I have the time. For now I’m settling for those degradable green compost rubbish bags for anything biodegradable, like toilet paper and food waste. May as well help it break down in landfill if it’s headed there anyway.

All this in mind, I find myself here relying on a few basic products to save myself from expensive imports that are full of chemicals, damage the environment and are harsh on my skin. These basic solutions used by older generations work wonders and offer a multitude of purposes. Some I’ve used a while and others were worth trying. So, in the interests of minimalist and healthy, pure living, I thought I would share them here. Most would be familiar I’m sure. Maybe you do something similar?

Vinegar

I thank my bestie for this one. I keep household vinegar in a spray bottle with water and each night after meals and dishwashing, spray the surfaces and wipe with a washable chux or vileda cloth which goes in with the towels I wash weekly. No big weekly clean required, but every few days I’ll wipe over fridge and cupboard doors and handles as well. I keep another spray bottle and cloth in the bathroom and do the same thing for the sink area, and before I do my laundry I’ll give the shower and toilet a clean so I can then send my wipe cloths straight to the laundry. It has made such a difference to my attitude and efforts in cleaning, since it is so quick and routine.

You can also put vinegar neat on a lint free or microfiber cloth to clean mirrors, chrome and glass.

Vinegar is a great plant stain remover. Especially for plant stains like cherry, blueberry or beetroot. Just apply neat to the stain, leave 5 minutes to loosen the stain then stretch the fabric and hold under hot tap water to rinse the stain straight through the fabric. I’ve been doing this one for years on many children’s stains in particular and it’s just a treat.

Eucalyptus oil or lemon juice

If I feel like giving things an extra scent I’ll add these to the spray bottle. Eucalyptus is a great grease remover and both are antibacterial so surfaces can get a natural double dose when teamed with vinegar.

Eucalyptus is also handy for removing any leftover gum or residue from stickers, tape and other gum or glue products. It works on range hoods and greasy stove tops too, applied neat in small amounts.

Half a lemon also does a great job cleaning wooden chopping boards. Just sprinkle some table salt over the surface then rub over with the lemon to give it a complete scrub. Rinse to finish.

Bicarbonate soda

My current favourite, bicarb or baking soda is great for sprinkling onto caked-on food residue like cheese cooked onto a plate or saucepans blackened with burned rice. Just add a few drops of water to make a paste, leave a while or overnight then wipe or scrub away easily with the smallest amount of elbow grease.

I keep a bowl of it beside my sinks to cup a small amount in my hands for hand washing. Who needs hand soap? It is so great when you have any grease or product on your hands, it gently washes off everything (except sunscreen -_-) and my hands don’t dry out. So I save on hand soap and moisturising cream. If I need to I’ll just apply Lucas Paw Paw before bed but that’s it. I still keep hand soap too, but I don’t use it nearly as much. Mind you, we don’t get cold weather. I wonder if it’s as effective in cold weather? My tip with this is I try to go with more granular brands rather than the ones that are powder fine, as it is more effective when coarse.

Bicarb as a paste also helped me remove almost all the red pen spilled on a white t-shirt recently. It took a few attempts, effectively removing a bit of the brightness each time. Almost the entire stain was gone after a couple of days.

***

I know there’s other uses for these products but these are what I use them for. I located a natural/organic dish soap as well, hallelujah, as I love that there are less bubbles and therefore less rinsing is required (so time washing dishes is reduced and water is saved). I also picked up in the US some convenient and organic pods of washing soap for the laundry, a brand called Grab Green. My laundry smells lush with gardenia scent. Mmmm.

That’s all I need to keep my house clean, believe it or not. It makes me feel so good to be helping the planet while saving my skin (I always notice when I have too much chemical product around me in nanny homes) and not being overpowered by the scents of the chemically based super-brands. Funny that being cut off from healthy consumer choices is what led me back to basics, but it’s another thing to be grateful for in this journey!

What do you use? I’m always looking to blogs and forums for other natural tips. Perhaps you can share yours here?

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