A stack of six white hankies on top of a rolled hand towel and beach towel.
Everyone has their own reasons for undertaking the journey of minimalism. Some people want more time with their family. Some people want to lower their carbon footprint and be more environmentally friendly. Others are looking for ways to improve their health after a life changing diagnosis. For some people, all of the above are reasons for getting into minimalism. For others, it’s something completely different.
One of the side effects that typically happen in minimalist journeys is the desire to reduce the use of disposables, specifically paper products. We replace paper towels with cleaning rags. We actually use our dishware and cutlery instead of buying paper plates and plastic forks.
Some paper products are kind of necessary. Toilet paper is necessary. We all know from The Toilet Paper Chronicles, that tp has, in fact, defined my life. There are some that have found ways to go without toilet paper. I am so not going there. Too gross. Plus, my identity. The Toilet Paper Chronicles may need a sequel one day. I digress.
Tissues. Have we ever thought about tissues? This is another area that has the potential to hold the ew factor. However, it’s not as bad as you think.
What ever did we do before the invention of kleenex?
Kleenex is a relatively new paper product that has come on the scene within the past 100 years. Prior to that, everyone used handkerchiefs. With hankies, come the stereotypes of southern belles dropping their painstakingly embroidered linens to get the attention of some passing gentleman. Handkerchiefs conjure up images of cowboys, who stereotypically wore the red paisley kind to display their outlaw status.
For me, it was relatively simple. My grandfather always carried hankies. I was one of 13 grand kids. With so many of us running around, it was rare that grandpa would share a hankie with any of us “snot nosed kids,” but when he did, you felt special. Grandpa’s hankies were always super soft and felt like a feather on your nose compared to the scratchy paper tissues that grandma would bring home from the five and dime.
My grandfather had the stereotypical cowboy hankies. They were paisley. He had them in both red and blue, although I remember the blue most often.
With the improvement of technology, commercially produced tissues have improved. In my childhood, tissues were always rough on your nose. You knew when someone was sick because the tissues would rub your nose raw. Compare this to a cotton handkerchief, which is much softer and does not product the same effect. Cotton handkerchiefs get better with time and use, while paper tissues are a one time thing.
First there was kleenex, now there are puffs. There are other brands as well. If you look at the production trajectory of paper tissues, the goal seems to be to make them softer to use. Not only has the paper gotten softer, but they now also add things like aloe and lotion. Lotion, by the way, is lethal for someone with nut allergies because it contains almond oil.
Due to the lotion issue, tissues are something I always carry with me. I don’t want to be stuck someplace where I’m having to grab a tissue from someone else, and have it contain lotion that all of a sudden precipitates the need for an epi pen and a trip to the hospital. I understand the reasoning for adding lotion to tissues, but can’t the world be accessible for everyone and we just skip the almond oil?
I’m one of those people where my nose runs all the time. It especially runs when the temperature changes. For example, when I come inside from the cold outside, my nose will run due to the temperature change. It is clear snot. I use a tissue, and my nose is done running until I encounter another temperature change (when I go back outside, it runs again). The challenge is that in some buildings, the HVAC system is so screwy, it almost feels like one part of the building is a different temperature zone than another. This can cause my nose to run simply by walking to other areas of a building. It’s annoying.
When I was re-evaluating my budget recently. Where does all my money go? I noticed that I happen to spend a lot of money on tissues. I have tissues at work, in my car, on all floors of my house, in my purse, and in almost all of my pockets.
I specifically use pockets for tissues. This means that every time I do laundry and clean out my pockets, I am constantly pulling out tissues to throw away. We have all had those times when we have done laundry, missed a tissue in the pocket, then all the clothes come out with little white cotton specks on them. It takes forever to get tissue pieces off a load of clothing with those rolling tape things. When it happens to an entire load of laundry, that really sucks.
I have decided to try to go back to the “old days” of my grandparents and return to the use of handkerchiefs. There are makers on Etsy, one of my favorite web sites, that make some really nicely patterned and sewn ladies’ handkerchiefs. Before I make that big of an investment, I want to be sure I can actually make the transition from tissues to handkerchiefs without any issues.
I bought a small box of 6 handkerchiefs in the men’s department at Walmart for $4. Unfortunately, they are not the paisley cowboy hankies of my youth. These are plain white. For a trial run, that’s okay. If I make the switch long term, then I definitely want to order hankies from Etsy because I have other cloths that are white and it is a little confusing right now.
In order to get the paisley cowboy hankies of my youth, you could simply buy a bandanna and use it as a hankie. In my experience, today’s bandannas are scratchy no matter how many times you wash them. When you buy a cloth product specifically intended for use as a hankie, it tends to be softer and more gentle on your nose.
Of course, I washed the hankies before use. While they are not as soft as I would like, they are still softer than paper tissues. The softness I remember from my grandpa’s hankies will come with time as I use the hankies and they are washed more.
For the ew factor – first of all, it’s clear snot. Get over it, people. We have paper tissues shoved into every pocket, purse and crevice, what difference does it make if it is a paper tissue or a cloth hankie? The hankie goes in the wash and comes out clean.
If you have multiple people in your household and decide to transition your entire family to hankies, then I would recommend color coding everyone. If everyone has their own color of hankie, then that gets rid of the ew factor of accidentally using someone else’s hankie.
Right now, I have 6 hankies, so I am using one per day. That is enough. I don’t even use the whole thing. Like I said, my nose will run briefly with temperature changes and then stop.
I still have paper tissues in my house for visitors. I have paper tissues at work. However, I have started to carry a hankie in my pocket for my own personal use.
The ew factor decreases if you keep in mind that key point – hankies are for someone’s personal use. Of course, personal boundaries are a little blurred if you have children, but that’s life. How many times did your mom lick her finger to fix your hair or clean a smudge from your face when you were small?
An advantage of using hankies is that if one accidentally gets left in your pocket, you won’t have to deal with little pieces of cotton paper all over your clothes. A hankie is a cloth – if it gets left in a pocket and goes through the wash, it comes out clean. No harm, no fowl.
The benefit of hankies is that I am decreasing my carbon footprint by producing less waste. How many times has your wastebasket been full of just tissues? Yes, I have to wash the hankies, but they are small. It doesn’t take up much space to wash a week’s worth of hankies in with my laundry. In fact, I would say that a week’s worth of hankies is probably about the equivalent of adding two wash clothes to the laundry as far as space goes.
Before we had automation, factories and the growth of the disposable economy, everyone used handkerchiefs. For cowboys, they were versatile. We probably don’t even think of using a hankie to blow your nose, because when we see cowboys in movies, they use them as a fashion statement. They also use them to keep dust out of their face. However, the intended purpose is to blow your nose.
For me, hankies, remind me of my grandfather. They remind me of a time before he had to use a wheelchair when he was still well and would go for long walks on the farm. He would check on all the animals and just walk the land at night to assess what would need to be done the next day. He had a blue paisley hankie that he would use to wipe the sweat from his brow in the middle of a hard, hot day in the saddle. My grandfather and his hankie was the picture of a true cowboy working the land, tending the animals, and loving his family.
Where ever you are on your journey to minimalism, I invite you to at least entertain the idea of the return to the handkerchief. You may not be able to get over the ew factor, and that’s okay. Hey, I live alone, so it’s easier for me. Consider color coding if you have multiple people going for hankies.
For me, in these first few weeks of hankie use, it seems worth it. My nose is a lot happier because the hankie is softer than paper tissues. My wallet is happier because I did not have to purchase paper tissues this month – and I was purchasing economy packs either monthly or bimonthly. The garbage man is happier because I am producing less trash, which means that the bags he’s lifting out of my trash can to put in his truck are lighter too.
While I have been good at throwing the hankie in the clothes hamper at the end of the day, I did have one accidentally go through the wash because it was in the pouch of my sweatshirt. The hankie came out clean and there were not any little white pieces of paper on my clothes. It was great.
I will formally evaluate my hankie situation after a few more weeks. At this time, I am thinking I will go on Etsy and order hankies from a maker. This way I can have a color or pattern so that it is clear it is a hankie and I do not have to think too hard about what is a hankie, what is a cloth napkin and what is a cleaning cloth when I am folding and putting away laundry. I will continue to keep paper tissues in my house and office for guests. Since I am not using the paper tissues, maybe the box will last me a year instead of just a month.
If you want to be a cowboy, find the red paisley handkerchiefs.
Be a rebel. Use a hankie.