We have recently made the decision to switch to cloth napkins. This is following a more conscious effort to create less waste in our home. Instead of reaching for paper towels, we reach for dish towels, Swedish dishcloths or cloth napkins. There are many reasons why people make this kind of choice. Environmental awareness, scientific knowledge, smaller footprint, cost savings, etc. These are important factors, to be sure. However, they aren’t our primary motivator.
Linguists know, and so do we all deep down, that the words we use shape the way we think about the world. Something as simple and basic as changing a single word or phrase in a sentence can give us a fresh perspective on any number of perceived divisions, attitudes and injustices. For example: “These people are different than I am” or “These people are similar to me.” Or the classic Catholic example, “We have to go to Mass” versus “We get to go to Mass.”
The little things can make all the difference. After watching the Netflix show Cooked Ben and I have been talking a lot about how “disposabley” minded our American culture has become. Worldwide, roughly 140,000 disposable plates and cups are thrown away every second! In one year, approximately 73 billion Styrofoam plates and cups were disposed of in the US alone. Combine this conversation with our subscription to a website called MightyNest which offers sustainable products designed to encourage people to create less harmful (primarily plastic) waste and we landed at our dinner table. Specifically our napkin holder with its ever-emptying supply of paper napkins.
Now that Eliza is capable of getting up on the table unassisted (not at the table, on the table – literally), our napkin usage has skyrocketed. John, Rosie and Clare also tend to revile dirty fingers so you can quickly see that in a single day we could easily burn through 15 or more paper napkins. Most meals included at least one if not multiple napkins per kid, and not because the napkin was unusable. It was just more convenient to grab a new one. Ridiculous! We had created napkin monsters!
Maybe this isn’t a big deal in your house, and that’s awesome! But for us, we have chosen to see this tendency as a foundational building block for a less disposabley-minded life (I know, I totally made that word up but I like it).
Just like we are taught from the earliest ages that it is polite to say “Yes, please” and “No, thank you,” shouldn’t we be taught to be mindful of the things we use? Humans were placed on the earth not to use it or abuse it, but to be good stewards of it (see Genesis 1-2). In this way, we are helping our children (and ourselves) to be good stewards of something small, a simple napkin. But, hopefully, it will help to form their conscience in a way so that when they are called upon to be stewards of something larger, they already have a good habit pattern to follow.