The Luddite approach to home and yard care

When I traded a carpet for a wood floor, I also graduated from a vacuum cleaner to a broom — and have never looked back. I use old socks in place of Swiffers, tansy leaves instead of ant traps. On the other hand, I’ve been seduced by the power mower, and as my meadow gets taller and taller I’m tempted to replace my wood-handled, double-edged weed whacker with a motorized one. Here are the advantages and disadvantages I’ve found in using old-fashioned, low-tech, and green means of maintaining my home and yard.



Non-motorized lawn mower

Pros: Instead that annoying roar, it makes a lovely swish-swish. Good exercise. Cheap — I bought mine for $60, while power mowers start at $150, plus oil and gasoline. Few moving parts, so mine has never broken. Non-polluting.

Cons: Takes twice as much time as a power mower, so it’s a lot of work if you have a large yard, never mind a hill. If you don’t mow at least every week, you have to weed-whack first, or the grass flowers just bend under its passage and spring back up. Forget attacking anything over six inches high.



Grass clippings for lawn fertilization

Pros: Leaving grass clippings on the lawn after mowing is a natural way to restore nutrients to the soil and takes no effort. You don’t have to buy one of those push contraptions to spread expensive chemical fertilizer, which causes pollution in the manufacturing process and warps the soil composition.

Cons: Brown clumps on the lawn are unattractive until they decompose and the grass grows higher — but that only takes a couple of days.


Non-motorized weed-whacker

Pros:  Instead that annoying roar, there’s a satisfying thwack-thwack. Good exercise. I expect it can benefit your golf swing, especially if you move from the hips. Cheap — around $14, as opposed to anywhere from $30 to $270 for a power trimmer, plus gasoline or electricity and plastic string. No moving parts at all, so it’s really hard to break. Non-polluting.

Cons: Needs room to swing, so it can’t get into tight places or attack thick weeds. Takes more time than the motorized version. Not effective against really stout stems.



Broom and dustpan

Pros: Quiet. Inexpensive. Lighter and easier to handle than a vacuum cleaner. Uses no electricity. Great for wood floors, which are more esthetically appealing and less allergenic than carpeting, although less insulating — but you can get area rugs, which can be shaken out when they get dirty.

Cons: Not much use on wall-to-wall carpeting.


Tansy leaves for repelling ants

Pros: Costs nothing, as you can pick tansy, a common weed, in the wild, a more esthetic experience than buying little tins of chemicals, which contain toxic ingredients and are polluting to manufacture. Easy to use — just place a few leaves along the path ants are taking into your house and onto your counters. At first the ants will walk right over the leaves, but by the end of the day they will disappear.

Cons: You have to be able to identify tansy (see photo and/or field guide). Must be replaced with fresh leaves once a week. Leaves are mildly toxic to small humans, so stick to countertops, rather than floors, if you have a baby crawling around.


Tea tree oil for repelling mice

Pros: No dead mice, no droppings. Just soak a few cotton balls in tea tree oil, available from a health-food store, and place the cotton balls in strategic places around the kitchen (drawers, counters). Replenish every month or two. Smells less cloying and is more effective, in my experience, than peppermint oil, which is recommended by some sources.

Cons: Might be slightly more expensive, over time, than a reusable mousetrap. Although tea tree oil is not toxic to mammals, don’t put the cotton balls on the floor if you have babies or pets. The medicinal smell may be strong at first, but it fades from the air after a day or two.


Old socks for cleaning

Pros: If you can’t bear to throw out those expensive, warm, fuzzy wool socks when the heels wear out (actually I wear them upside down for another season, with the holes on the tops of my ankles), this is a good way to recycle. The fluffy linings are absorbent, so slip an inside-out sock over your hand for dusting, cleaning venetian blinds, mopping tight corners of the bathroom, etc. Add a little tea tree oil to the cleaning water for anti-microbial action. If the sock doesn’t get too disgusting, it’s easy to wash off for reuse. If it’s too gross or you used it soak up an olive-oil spill, just throw it in the trash.

Cons: Socks don’t have handles, so you have to get down on your knees if you’re cleaning the floor.


Homemade scouring paste

Pros: Easy to make — just mix borax powder and washing soda (both available in supermarkets; use baking soda if you can’’t find washing soda), add a little water to make a paste, and optionally, throw in a dash of liquid soap, like Dr. Bronner’s. Add salt to heighten the abrasive quality. Unlike commercial scouring powders, it’s easy to rinse off, leaving virtually no residue, and it’s less toxic and less polluting. Pour vinegar on top for extra cleansing and that volcanic reaction.

Cons: You have to open more than one container to make the mixture.


Clothesline and clothespins

Pros: Makes you feel like a pioneer housewife. Way cheaper than a dryer. You get to be outside in the sun, and your clothes have than clean, sunny smell.

Cons: Makes you feel like a pioneer housewife. Time-consuming. Useless in winter or on a rainy day. Actually, I never hang my laundry out — I draw the line at clotheslines.