But paper napkins and tissues were another story. I think I could safely say that we went through at least 2 boxes of tissues a week - and even the cheap ones are not cheap. Paper napkins have been the only source of napkin for us for years—or a halved paper towel when they're out temporarily. So I decided to change my habits for environmental as well as economical reasons.
I was never a fan of handkerchiefs. My father and grandfather used them and I just thought they were gross. So I had to open my mind up to the idea. First of all, every one I had ever gotten close to had been scratchy and I have terrible allergies—I need soft! Without even looking I found the softest, 100% cotton bandanas from India - so thin and light they're almost sheer - in a head shop next to peace sign jewelry and tie dyed tees. I grabbed a few just because they looked cute and they didn't cost much—but a month or two ago they went from my neck to my pocket and became my handkerchiefs. I love them!!! They're pretty big, so I use one all day long and then toss it in the laundry. I don't iron them; they could not be more low maintenance. And they're so soft that my allergic nose never minds them at all.
For cloth napkins I had tried many times to solve this with various methods of identification for family members. Finally I realized that the obvious solution was best. I took a paint marker and drew fanciful big initials on some simple wooden napkin holders I picked up at Pier One for a real bargain (I think it was 6 for $3 on closeout). I am using some batik napkins I bought in Malaysia a few years back - again no ironing. They're 100% cotton and nice and absorbent. Kids and visitors (they get a version of a "V") can pick the napkin they like out of the napkin holder and use their napkin ring to identify it for the next round of eating if it doesn't get too messy.
I'd love to start a fabric fad. These great Indian hankies were not expensive and they barely add anything to a laundry load. I'm saving close to $300 a year in paper products and keeping our napkins and tissues out of landfills. Why do we need paper? There's really no reason. I'll stick with my "Small Steps" Marcal toilet tissues... there's no moving away from paper there... but noses and fingers can be just as happy with fabric.
That's my 2 cents on clean livin' without the paper wastin'!