Parenting with Less Crap

April 25, 2011

Guest post by Sarah Goupell

Julie asked me to take a stab at relaying some advice about more conscious parenting, or as I like to call it, “parenting with less crap.” I live with my husband and our 11-month-old son in a two-bedroom apartment and have strived not to accumulate a bunch of baby crap that is going to end up in the dumpster. This keeps in synch with my husband’s and my life philosophy against consuming to excess. I suppose we credit our three-year stint in Vienna, Austria, for giving us a more realistic perspective on what we really need to live. Two people’s lives can in fact fit into four suitcases.

Here are some tips to minimize your global footprint as a new parent and keep accumulation of baby stuff under control.

First, opt for cloth diapers instead of disposables. Economically, you will spend more money up front (plan on about $500), but you will save $500 or more in the long run, especially if you have more than one child. Also, you will really enjoy not having to haul disposable diapers home from the store all the time. Granted, you will use more water to wash the diapers, but at least you’ll keep a bunch of synthetics out of a landfill and won’t consistently give money to an evil corporate entity. Research has also shown that children in cloth diapers are toilet trained at an earlier age (they can feel that they are wet).

Modern cloth diapers are very user-friendly. There is no struggling with cloth triangles and pins. I have tried Bum Genius, Haute Pocket, and Fuzzi Bunz pocket-style diapers. In my opinion, Fuzzi Bunz are worth the extra money. They are made of high-quality, soft material and are highly adjustable with snaps and Velcro. They also have proved more durable. The company even sends replacement leg elastic with each diaper. The Haute Pockets fell apart in the dryer after about three months, and the Bum Genius aren’t as soft and tend to leak more around the leg openings.

To wash the diapers, you don’t have to boil water in a huge steel pot or anything. You do a cold rinse and then a hot wash. We have high-efficiency washers, so we do one full cycle on cold without detergent and then one full cycle on hot with a small amount of eco-friendly detergent. Air dry (best for life of diaper) or tumble dry on delicate for about 45 minutes. It’s pretty easy. I have about 21 diapers and wash them twice a week. However, I do put my son in disposable diapers at night. I got tired of washing the crib sheets nearly every morning.

We also use cloth wipes (we have 30) and a homemade “butt spray” made of olive oil, baby shampoo, and water. Using cloth for both the diapers and wipes requires only one receptacle. Our diaper pail is a galvanized steel farm/utility bucket we picked up at Ace hardware for about $15. We figure we can use it in the garden when it’s done being a diaper pail.

Second, scavenge, borrow, and purchase used goods or make your own new goods when possible. We scavenged and scored big in two areas: high chair and child’s dresser, which we found by the dumpster in our apartment block. If you’re a stickler for aesthetics, scavenging probably isn’t for you, but a lot of stuff can be jazzed up with a few personal touches. I made a new cushion for the high chair that matched our living room décor, and my mom purchased some new knobs to update the dresser. Our car seat falls in the borrowed goods category. Whereas everyone in our birthing class had brand new basket-style infant car seats (the ones the babies will outgrow in six months but that are easily carried around if they fall asleep in them), ours was a hand-me-down from my husband’s coworker. Granted, it was pushing the 10-year-old limit for safety and the cloth pieces were faded, but it suited us just fine. Ask around and see what people you know are looking to clear out of their basements or garages.

As for used goods, we decided to buy a used crib. New ones are astronomically expensive, and think of all the dead trees! We got ours for $50 on craigslist. It’s the “death trap” drop-down style, but we thought outside the box and just fixed the movable side with scraps from our friend’s woodshop and some duct tape. It has not budged since. In the arena of homemade baby goods, I hand-knit four baby sweaters, a couple hats, a couple pairs of warm socks, and a couple novelty items (a ball and a diaper cozy). I also received a couple handmade items as gifts. They have held up very well and their quality and style is unmatched. Purchasing used baby clothing is also an excellent route to take because there is hardly any wear on the stuff unless the babies wearing it are older and highly mobile. I’ve found outfits in new condition for less than half the price. Also, bear in mind, you will most likely get a bunch of baby clothes as gifts and hand-me-downs.

In addition to clothing (if you’ve got the skills), making your own baby food is a great thing to do. In the beginning, when everything is pureed to near obliteration, all you need is a standard food processor and some puree-friendly foods. I was also given some ice trays with lids, which were nice for freezer storage. When you make your own baby food, you are more aware of the food’s origins and can be assured that there is no crap like salt, sugar, and pesticides in the ingredients. I was even able to make quite a few meals with fruit and veggies I grew myself in a community garden plot. Roasted pie pumpkin, steamed zucchini, steamed green beans, raw papaya, raw banana, thawed frozen strawberries, and stewed apples or pears with prunes—all pureed well and were well-received. A lot of books also recommend avocado, but my son still hasn’t taken to it. When introducing meat, I found that beef stew and beef barley soup worked really well. Stews and soups are nice because you can make them for the whole family. Just leave the salt out and add it to the grown-ups’ bowls at the table. Puree the baby’s without the salt.

Lastly, decide what your big-ticket items are going to be. These are the things you want to spend a fair chunk of money on and sacrifice space to because they will make your life easier and/or more enjoyable. For us, it was a fancy stroller that can transform into a bike trailer or jogger with a few adapter pieces. We use the heck out of it, and it does make our life more enjoyable. We rode 20+ miles on our tandem bike with the trailer in tow when my son was only four months old. We also would have purchased a nice rocking chair had we not received one as a gift. In other areas, we went as minimal as possible. For example, instead of buying a rigid plastic baby bath (also outgrown in six months, coercing you to buy the next larger version), we opted for a simple sponge the baby can lay on (a $5 investment). We also eschewed buying a changing table in favor of getting the table-top changing pad. When buying things like crib sheets and towels, two of each is usually plenty. Remember: just because someone makes and sells some baby-specific item, it doesn’t mean you should buy it.