As a mom of three I am admittedly always seeking the easy route. Just surviving the day to day can be an uphill battle. I care about our earth, and I want my children to grow up caring about it as well- but I’m TIRED. We’re far from perfect, but I’ve put together 10 ways to “go green” that are realistic for growing families and actually save me time and energy- two things that as a parent are a rare commodity.
1.) No gifts on the holidays
This can be a tricky one for people to wrap their minds around – but it is extremely effective in reducing waste. We eased our way into it- but we don’t do gifts. For years we did birthday parties where guests weren’t allowed to bring gifts, only the grandparents. Then we realized even that was excessive and unnecessary, so now when we have parties we make it very clear- NO GIFTS across the board. We don’t get the kids or each other gifts either. The easiest way to teach children that holidays aren’t about the presents is simply to not make the day involve presents. Not only are you saving a day full of unneeded gifts, packaging and gift wrap- but in theory you’re also working to dull down some of the fetishes of consumerism that plagues much of our society. There are other ways to give, show love and generally care for others that don’t involve material goods. But it’s not just birthdays- we didn’t buy a single holiday gift for this past year- not for our kids, not for our parents, not each other- nothing. We did gift my daughter’s teachers some homemade Christmas cookies in used pasta jars, decorated with scraps from our recycling bin- but that was the only gift giving we took part in. Making Christmas cookies was a tradition passed down that I deemed worthy of keeping- even if the making of said cookies wasn’t trash free. And guess what? We had a beautiful holiday that wasn’t stressful with buying, wrapping, packing, sorting and storing. We just spent time with family eating, drinking, talking, laughing. It was amazing. We survived birthday parties of my childrens’ friends where gifts were expected by re-gifting things given to us over the years by rebels who didn’t follow our “no gift” policy. Thankfully, regular and honest conversations with our children about the impacts our possessions have on our planet and the creatures that inhabit it have been effective in curbing jealousy.
2.) Birthday parties
The first two birthday parties I threw for my oldest daughter were Pinterest perfection. They were also stressful, expensive and created so much trash. I loved making the decorations for the party and favors for the kids- they were beautiful. But it didn’t take long to realize what a waste it all was. The kids didn’t care and the adults were over it in minutes. The parties were a blur and then I was left with a giant mess of trash. Generally speaking, I believe celebration is important in life. So now on their actual birthday we go to the beach or a park and invite friends to a pot-luck style lunch or dinner (with birthday cake). We skip out on the trash created by decorations, and with a potluck setup people feel more comfortable not bringing a gift because they are bringing a dish. We also do canned water over plastic bottles, as aluminum is easily recycled. Unlike pizza boxes, which aren’t recyclable, many people bring their food in reusable dishes- I consider that a win-win. Because I don’t do anything else in the way of themes, I let the cake do the “talking” in terms of the party. I let the kids pick out their fancy themed cake as their party decor and they LOVE it.
3.) Decline party favors
Honestly, I pray for the day when party favors are a thing of the past. Declining them, while simple, isn’t always easy. Some people will get upset with you when you turn down gifts, no matter how big or how small. Some people will take it personally, so let’s just go ahead and get it out of the way that despite my best efforts we still manage to find tiny toys in our home and minivan. In situations where our declining isn’t well received we try to discreetly leave the favors behind (then share that we’ve done so publicly on the internet lol). From an environmental standpoint, it doesn’t take long to conclude that excess filler items and small toys are of no benefit. From a practical standpoint- we all know those things just wind up in the trash can- often after being used to cause messes and headache in the house for a few days or weeks, so we just cut out the middleman and leave the favors behind. Again, win-win. We did (willingly) break our rule once for some adorable handmade unicorn headbands that- I knew the girls would wear regularly and put them in their dress-up box- my kids love dress-up …but I digress …
4.) Yellow let it mellow
Kids are not going to fight you on not flushing the toilet. We’re a family of five. If every time we went pee we flushed the toilet we would waste thousands of gallons of water. Why do we need a fresh bowl of water just to pee in anyway? Less water wasted and less time arguing with the kids: “Did you remember to flush!?” While we’re on the issue of bathroom habits I’ll go ahead and mention cloth diapers. If you exclusively breastfeed (which has more than its share of convenience and environmental perks in and of itself) your babe’s poop is water soluble. So those first six months you don’t have to rinse the diaper at all before you throw it in the wash which makes cloth diapering REALLY easy. Once you add solids to the mix things get a bit more trickier. Since we’ve moved to our apartment, cloth diapers have certainly become more work as we’re still trying to figure out what works for us- but when we had a house and hose we would just spray them off in the back yard before throwing them into the washer- easy peasy.
5.) Buy everything used
There is no shortage of used baby and kids items. Kids outgrow clothes, toys and furniture like nobody’s business. And seasoned parents are always trying to find someone to unload their hand-me-downs. Between thrift stores, garage sales, online sales groups and consignment shops, buying used items couldn’t be easier. Plus by buying used you’re (usually) supporting small businesses and/or/ families in your community at a more realistic price tag. The over-production of STUFF is a HUGE environmental issue that we can curb simply by not demanding new goods. We don’t need the newest latest greatest for our kids despite what the world tells us. Given the opportunity kids will turn anything into a toy. My kids turned a bucket of concrete leftovers from a yard project into a bucket of blocks and loved building castles with real “stone” for months. When we constantly buy them the newest toy we wind up robbing them of their inherent creativity. But for instances when you really need or want something for your kids or yourself know that it doesn’t need to come from Target. Sometimes you don’t even need to buy it second hand. If you just ask around- most people are holding onto items they are no longer using and will gladly gift you these items to get them off their plate.
6.) Skip the bathtub
We skip the plastic baby tub and baths in general. From the time my babies’ cords fall off, they go straight into the shower with me or my husband. Baby, toddler hood and childhood- they stay in the shower. The shower uses SO MUCH less water than filling up the tub. When kids are used to showering from day one they love it, or at a minimum don’t know any different. The old joke -“save water- shower with a friend” comes to mind. Half of the time I have all three of my children with me in the shower. The other half of the time I have the three of them in the shower together without me, but there is always a buddy system in place. Showering with your kids also makes it easier to get in and get out. The relaxation factor is removed since you are crowded and fighting for the water. The resulting reduction in shower time saves more water. In the winter the kids only shower 2 to 3 times a week. During the summer showers are more regular, but we will gladly skip a shower if we’ve been at the beach in the evening (though we do rinse off the excess sand at the beach showers so we’re not sleeping in beds-turned-sandboxes).
7.) Trash-free lunch box
Packing lunch for school is a pain in the butt. I forget it often and am always throwing something together as we’re running out the door or grabbing something from the grocery store right after drop-off. All that to say- I TOTALLY get the need for convenience here. But in all seriousness, it’s just as easy to throw an apple, orange and banana into a lunch box with her PB&J as it would be to throw a granola bar, gummy snack and fruit pouch or whatever other individually packaged “convenience” item they market to us moms. So my daughter’s lunch bag is almost always: PB&J or carrots+hummus with a bunch of fresh, package-free fruit. Easy.
8.) Go meat free
It’s just as easy to cook a meal without meat as it is to cook a meal with meat. It takes about 2,400 gallons of water to produce just ONE pound of industrial beef. That just blows my mind no matter how many times I read it. The environmental benefits for eating a vegetarian diet are seemingly endless. Then when you think of the health benefits and treatment of animals it’s a no-brainier. I first gave up meat in grade school, and my mom wasn’t the best cook (sorry Mom- love you) so I never really developed a taste for meat. Unfortunately my last pregnancy changed that and we’ve admittedly fallen off the bandwagon. I can say without a doubt my health has backslid since I started eating meat again and I’m looking forward to getting our family back on track with not eating meat.
9.) Keep a minimal wardrobe
My three children share one dresser. We keep roughly 5 winter outfits and 7 summer outfits for each kid. The only things hanging in their closet are winter coats, wet suits, and Christmas dresses. We’re more aware of just throwing things into the hamper when we know we don’t have a million other outfits to burn through before having to do laundry- which means we’re better about wasting resources washing laundry. Contrary to what we’ve been conditioned to believe, the less clothes we have the less I feel a slave to the laundry. Even if everything we own is dirty- clothes, towels, sheets, rags- we can make it through washing it all without dedicating a ridiculous amount of time and resources cleaning, folding and putting away laundry.
10.) Get outside
The more time we spend in nature the more we care about it. It’s pretty simple. Sometimes we go for a walk with the dogs, or we go to the park, or down to the beach. But sometimes we just go sit outside and dig in the patch of dirt in front of our apartment building. It’s not always something big but we make a point to go outside regularly. When we walk to the park or the beach we pick up trash along the way. My daughter likes to count the trash we collect and announces how many birds and sea creatures she’s rescued by getting the trash before the animals did. In the name of win-win: my children ALWAYS behave better and are more enjoyable to be around when they spend more time outside. And the more time I spend outside with them the better I feel too.
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