Always on hand

Screen printed bicycle on a linen handkerchief. Photo: Bearface Designs via Etsy.

I’ve finally reconciled myself to the fact that I have a distinctly weepy side.

The littlest things make me tear up, and just as often when I’m happy as when I’m sad.  Adding to this liberal release of bodily fluids, I have recurrent bouts with allergies.

Who’s crying for the trees?

All this could add up to the use of a lot of tissues, which would add up to the use of a lot of trees.

According to the website, it takes ninety years to grow one box of tissues, all of which ends up in the landfill, not recycled, except maybe 2% of the boxes.

Then there’s the energy and water used in the manufacturing process, the packaging and the transportation fuel to get the boxes to our local Super-Size-Me Grocery store.

Finally, mostly old growth forest is used for facial tissue production. The paper industry is among the largest polluters and the 3rd largest industrial contributor to green house gas emissions. You can guess what all of this is doing to our health and wellness as well as to the critters that live in forests.

Who’s crying now?

Methinks a handkerchief is a better way to go.

There’s absolutely no question that on every front handkerchiefs use far less energy in production, packaging, shipping and use, even though they need to be washed.

Clearly people used hankies or other cloths for most of human history before the disposable tissue came into the Western world during the fossil fuel era.

Somehow humanity managed to survive even though later ad campaigns convinced people that hankies would make you sicker, spread tuberculosis and were just plain gross.

But after movies like Thank You For Smoking it’s common knowledge that industry will suppress and conflate evidence to make sales. And the paper industry is certainly in the business of making sales.

Double talk plus

Just look at tissues now dabbled with “antibacterial” ingredients.

It doesn’t matter how much we’re told that too many antibacterial products harm rather than help human health. Still, paper companies produce their antibacterial tissues and like lemmings we pony up to buy them.

It’s a never ending battle.

The humble hankie

But let’s look at it from our perspective.

Not only are handkerchiefs vastly greener than tissues—even those made from recycled products—but they’re cheaper too. The average family of four can save about $40 a year by cutting facial tissues and replacing them with handkerchiefs.

What’s great about handkerchiefs, too, is that there’s millions of them to buy from Etsy, antique shops, thrift stores, church rummages and yard sales.

The happy hankie

Hankies are among the ultimate reuse products and are available in plentiful supply “gently used” and are fairly inexpensive new unless you want a particularly high-end brand.

Handkerchiefs are dainty and pretty and you can buy a bunch for your kids, color coded so you know whose is whose.

Men look charming with them in their jacket pockets and nothing’s more thoughtful than a guy offering you his clean spare hankie to pat your tears dry.

They make great gifts, can be used to “wrap” presents or for crafts and have an old fashioned charm that can’t be beat.

The heroic hankie

The world survived for millennia with handkerchiefs. Let’s help it survive for many more by using reusable hankies from now on.

You’ll not die a dread disease because your nose-blower isn’t disposable. You wont “spread germs faster.” What you’ll do is live with finer materials at your fingertips, and a kinder relationship to our Earth, seen and unseen. So here’s a few must-dos in the handkerchief world.

  1. Always carry two. You can blow your nose or dab your tears with the same one twice, but always carry a spare.
  2. Handkerchiefs go into the laundry bin after one day’s use.
  3. Take a fresh set of handkerchiefs with you daily. Same for your kids.
  4. Use handkerchiefs on your children from birth, using the same cleaning tips listed above. Then teach them on hankies when the nose blowing lessons arrive.
  5. Wash your hands as you would in normal coughing, sneezing, nose-blowing situations.

And for those of us who want to put our personal style flair into such an accessory, there are all kinds of designs from the past and into the present to give your hankie your own stamp.

Use them. Doing so will make your cry just a little less over the environment.

–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List

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About Lindsay Curren

Lindsay Curren has no intention of ending up the Scarlett O'Hara of the 21st century, dizzy and confused as neo-Rome burns. Instead, the Staunton, Virginia based writer, designer and high-heeled survivalist writes Lindsay's List, the women's conservation blog and edits Transition Voice, the online magazine on peak oil and the coming life of sweaty labor and, hopefully, nicer manners.


  1. Lindsay–great article-hope it turns some heads-nice to meet an advocate and user of handkerchieves.They’re so superior to tissues in every way.I have a large collection of mens’ and ladies’ handkerchieves and use several daily.Those that don’t use them have many misconceptions that quickly change when they try them.There’s also an element of etiquette involved,e.g.,if they’ve outlived their usefullness,put them away and start another.I always use the same side,which makes it easier to find a clean spot and nothing is visible from the opposite side if people observe you.All this has been forgotten since the 60-70′s.Hope there’s a big revival! Thanks for your efforts.

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