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Turning "Greenish" and Saving Green: Lessons we have learned as a family of 6
May 1, 2012 - Jamie O'Hare
Over the last 10 years, my lifestyle has changed considerably. My husband has gone through grad school and gotten a job. I've quit working full time and started a family. And kept going. We have four kids, and one of our big concerns is the environmental impact of having a larger family. We want our kids to be good citizens who live mindfully, but that's not how our progression toward "greenish" living began. Nope, it began with grad school and soul-grinding poverty. We do this stuff because it has solved problems that we have faced, it saves money, and it actually simplifies the shopping process that would otherwise be taken up by extreme couponing. I consider us "greenish" because I don't sweat it if we can't recycle or compost an item. We don't drive a car that gets anything resembling good gas mileage. And of course we eat bananas that are more well-traveled than I am!
When my husband was in grad school, and we were living on a tiny stipend with kids, I learned to make many of our favorite foods from scratch from bulk ingredients, saving money and packaging, and improving our health. Our first had feeding issues, so I had to experiment to get him to eat anything. After that, making baby food for our second child was a breeze. I had thought about cloth diapering our first, but my mother-in-law talked me out of it. Had I known how long my sons would take to potty train, I would've investigated a bit further, but the initial cost scared me. After my boys spent 3.5 to 4 years in diapers (long story) and I was still washing out funky underpants, I decided to give modern cloth a try for child #3. I loved it, and it brought about a laundry revolution in my house!
With the residue-free detergent needed to maintain cloth diapers, I no longer needed fabric softener (1/8 cup Epsom Salt in the wash for clothes). Also, if I left a load overnight (always), I didn't need to rewash it because there was no build-up on our clothes! I started making my own detergent and scenting it with eucalyptus oil, yummy! I've had to tweak it for Wheeling water, but I have a new formula that's working great! Baby #4 is happy and dry in the same diapers her sister wore, and child number 3 potty trained much younger than her brothers did. I also found that hanging diapers in the sun made them smell clean and look great. We make wipes out of old t-shirts and wet them with a little soapy water.
We cut paper items like paper towels, napkins, and plates early on to save money. Then I mixed up my own cleaners with a few cheap and safe ingredients, and I found that cleaning didn't make me feel sick! When we had kids, we didn't plan for them to be breastfed until just before the first one was born, and he nursed for 9 months. The next three have never had formula because they didn't take bottles, and they've been with me most of the time anyway. Even though we've always qualified for WIC, we haven't had a need for formula for long, which has saved a lot of containers and washing water.
Having a lot of kids means that everyone figures you need clothes and gear and toys and books, and lemme tell you, it's so TRUE. We have been blessed by this fantastic form of recycling, and we are happy to pass it on when we are finished with it! And at our kids' ages (6mo to 8 years), they absolutely don't care whether they are the first to wear something or not. We have found that chasing deals for this stuff takes gas money and time, and amassing too much stuff requires a lot of storage, so we keep enough off-season clothes for one kid's size in a tote bin, and we get rid of anything that doesn't fit in the bins.
Now that our family constitutes a "large family", or so EVERYONE in Kroger tells me, I have to work to keep healthy food in these growing bodies. By slow cooking and then freezing beans, I have a ready supply of BPA-free beans for 1/7 the cost, and the ones I cook are organic! It also cuts out a lot of trash from all those bean cans. By using one container of Stoneyfield yogurt to make all our yogurt each month, I'm saving about $30 and lots of plastic containers (yes, we eat a quart of yogurt every other day!). We make bread that has no icky additives and doesn't require a plastic bag each time (it doesn't last that long with all these kids to eat it!). We're getting back into gardening this summer, and I'm excited to see our seedlings sprouting in the basement.
What I like about our lifestyle is that my kids don't have a sense that we should go out and buy things as a first resort. It has made them more resourceful to see us make things, reuse things, and use things until they're worn out. It helps them to have sense of thankfulness when they do get something new and to take care of their belongings. They are more creative when the toys don't do the playing for them, and that's why they're out in our green yard building a ramp and a catapult at the moment.
Curious about making some greener choices for your family? We have a good thing going at Wheeling Mountain Sprouts, a support group for parents who are interested in any aspect of natural parenting. Check us out on Facebook, or join us at 10am on the 3rd Saturday of each month at Edgwood Evangelical Lutheran Church.
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