I'm a recovering paper towel addict. I no longer use rolls and rolls to sop up messes, dry off lettuce, soak up the grease after fried chicken emerges from the skillet. It's a sometimes challenging journey that started a few years ago on a goat farm. Here's how I kicked the habit and pocketed $653.

edited quillisascut LK milking
Photo by Loralee Misterly

Culinary Farm School

Several years ago, I tried to make the transition from food writer and restaurant critic to professional cook. Long story short, I flamed out. Cooking professionally is incredibly hard work.

But part of my quest involved taking a week-long course at Quillisascut Culinary Farm School in northeast Washington. There, we got up with the roosters to milk goats, and then learned how to turn that milk into cheese. We also talked a lot about the importance of sustainability. Simple lessons learned: Don't let the water run while doing kitchen chores. Compost food scraps if you can. Buy local from farmers you know. And use tea towels instead of paper.

I'm doing my very best to walk the walk. It's not hard on the paper towel front -- because I've traded one addiction for another. Now, I'm hopelessly hooked on tea towels.

So Pretty, and So Strong

My first tea towel purchase was in a kitchen shop in Paris. That bright pink and orange cloth has been through the wringer -- making my granite counters look spiffy, squeezing the last few drops from long simmered soup bones -- and it still looks good.

Tea towels have come a million miles from the plain white, strictly utilitarian kitchen towels of olden days. Now, as soon as I walk into a kitchen store, I head to the linens area and find shelves and shelves of the prettiest towels in every shade imaginable. Friends and family gift me with tea towels, and I collect them when I travel. The red tea towel with cowboy boots reminds me of an awesome visit to Montana, and tropical flowers cover the tea towels I brought back from Maui.

tea towels at sur la table photo by Leslie Kelly
Photo by Leslie Kelly

Let's Do the Math

I used to blow through at least two rolls of paper towels in a week. At $3 a roll, that's six bucks a week; $780 in the five years since I switched over to tea towels. Minus the $127 for tea towels, I figure I've pocketed $653 so far, and counting.

Now, I'm absolutely not trying to guilt anyone about using paper towels. They're easy to reach for, and it's a hard habit to break. But I'm glad I made the switch.

More Ways to Save Money: