Wasteless Family #1

Wasteless Family #1

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Hi, I’m Hannah and I’ve got two small children. A few years ago, at a meetup of local people with an interest in sustainability, there was some discussion about children which ended with a young woman stating that ‘breeders can’t call themselves environmentalists.’

I didn’t have kids at the time but I was hopeful that I’d become a parent in the near future… and hearing that stung. And it stayed with me. And I totally disagree. I reckon that anyone with any sort of responsibility for raising a tiny, feral child into a functioning adult has a responsibility to model, discuss, challenge, protest, teach and do whatever it takes to equip that child with the knowledge and understanding to create a more sustainable future. Every parent can and should be a environmentalist. This is the first of four blogs to share my experience of trying to raise a family that generates as little waste as possible.

One of the many ways of approaching ‘sustainable parenting’ (is that a thing? Let me google it… apparently it’s a thing) is to be thoughtful about how we choose, use, and dispose of resources. It’s no secret that children come with a lot of stuff…but is this stuff really essential? If you’re a first time parent it’s actually pretty hard to work out what you genuinely need. In this post I’m going to break down that avalanche of baby gear into a manageable list of essentials, talk pre-loved versus new, and suggest some ways to avoid accumulating too much stuff before the baby even arrives.

In future posts we’ll talk about nappies, food, and ‘crap and tat’: that mysterious cloud of plastic debris that seems to orbit every small child, making its way into your home and your life no matter how hard you try and avoid it.

But before we start I’d like to make you three promises:

I promise not to lie to you about my own family’s wasteful habits.
I promise not to tell you to buy expensive stuff.
I promise not to tell you to strive for unachievable, stressful, aspirational eco-perfection.

There. Now let’s talk about stuff, and how to use less of it.

Make a plan, be vocal about it.

When you tell your friends and family that you’re expecting a baby, stuff starts to appear. Onesies start to pile up, toys, blankets… so many blankets! All this stuff is given in love and given with excitement so it can be incredibly difficult to ask friends and family to chill out with the spending and the consumption.

You need a plan.

If you don’t feel weird about it, choose one bigger purchase and ask everyone to make a little contribution towards it. People do this for their honeymoon so everyone is pretty used to the system, right?

Ask for books. If that’s too vague ask for books from your own childhood or books on a theme that’s meaningful to you – adventure and travel, for example. Asking people to write a little message inside each book goes a long way towards soothing angry aunties who don’t like being told what to buy.

Create a collection. Before my daughter was born I decided to create a collection of wooden animals that she could enjoy as she grew, and potentially pass on for another child to enjoy in the future. There’s no way I could afford to buy a whole set of these myself so I asked anyone who enquired about a present to choose their favourite animal and add it to our collection.

Ask for practical help – or even meals for the freezer.

If you’re dealing with gift overload for older children then ask for experiences, such as tickets, an annual pass, or even a subscription to an awesome magazine like The Phoenix.

If you’re planning on using cloth nappies then ask everyone to buy you a nappy so you can build up a decent stash.

Ask friends and family to choose pre-loved items – there’s no way mine would have agreed to this but who knows, yours might!

Make a list, stick to it, choose preloved.

You know how people say not to go food shopping when you’re hungry? Well the same goes for babies: don’t go wandering around Mothercare (or Amazon!) when you’re planning for a new baby without a budget and a list. The entire baby-industrial-complex (I can’t believe I just typed that) is finely tuned to play on your anxieties and good intentions, encouraging you to spend, telling you that the more stuff you have the happier, and healthier your family will be.

So decide what you need, stay firm and – where possible – choose second-hand. You will save a staggering amount of money but you’ll also be keeping resources out of landfill and avoiding the huge amount of plastic and polystyrene packaging on new products.

Almost everything you and your baby will need (see below for a few exceptions) can be found preloved: Gumtree and Facebook marketplace are you new best friends. Most places have a local ‘mum’ group on facebook where people are always looking to shift their baby gear and you can post ‘in search of’ messages, and there are some useful national groups too; I really like Family Cycling UK, Cloth nappies for sale/ wanted, and Slings For Sale. Tabletop sales such as NCT Nearly New sales, Cheeki Monkeys, and mum2mum (apparently dads don’t need baby stuff) will throw up unbelievable bargains that will have you shaking your head in pity at the poor dumplings getting the hard sell in Mamas and Papas.

Here are things that are perfectly safe to buy second hand (assuming your baby has no additional health needs):

  • A pregnancy pillow
  • Maternity clothes
  • A birth pool (or rent it)
  • A tens machine (definitely rent it)
  • A cot/ cosleeper (with some caveats – see below)
  • A moses basket (but not the mattress – see below)
  • Pushchairs and buggies (look for a British Standard BS7409 sticker on the frame)
  • Slings and baby carriers
  • Muslins and burp cloths
  • Clothes (opinions differ on shoes as they mould to a child’s feet. I do buy second hand shoes for my kids).
  • A baby bath
  • A potty/ toilet seat
  • A changing table and changing mat
  • Washable nappies and accessories
  • Toys (avoid any creepy ones that might be possessed)
  • A changing bag (also known as just… a bag).
  • A breast pump
  • A feeding pillow
  • A nursing chair
  • Sleepsacks/ grobags/ swaddles etc
  • Baby bottles and sterilising equipment
  • Cups, plates, cutlery, bibs
  • A baby monitor (test it out)

To make sure you’re buying something safe it’s worth checking the Trading Standards recall list and googling the latest safety recommendations for a particular item. When choosing a cot, avoid drop sided cots entirely and anything old enough to have been painted with lead-based paint (unless you’re confident in stripping it fully and repainting it).

More information on choosing a safe second-hand cot can be found here.

Here are the things you should probably be buying new:

A cot mattress/ moses basket pad: although the nature of the link isn’t entirely understood, there is a correlation between second-hand mattresses and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Plastic free mattresses, like these ones from The Little Green Sheep, are plastic free.

A car seat: even fairly gentle bumps can make a car seat less effective, and there have been some recent changes to the rules regarding which size/age kid needs which kind of seat.

Bike helmets: as with car seats there may be some hidden damage to a bike hat that you just can’t see so a new one is recommended.

Don’t buy that yet

My first child was born a few months before moving out of our rented home. We didn’t have a bedroom for her so we used a co-sleeper cot attached to our bed and put a changing table and a single storage unit on our little landing. We had no space and we knew we’d be moving within six months so we put off buying too much, thinking we’d stock up on baby gear once we’d moved. This, it turned out, was an accidental but valuable lesson in exactly how little we needed and I lost count of the times I found myself saying ‘thank goodness we never bothered buying X.’

‘Getting the nursery ready’ is such a staple of sitcoms, lifestyle blogs, and our collective understanding of what planning for a baby’s arrival involves, that we panic. We think everything needs to be perfect, an untouched little haven of pristine onesies, neatly folded muslins, and a row of tiny shoes. We buy everything in advance, forgetting that cars, shops, and next day delivery exist, and so we end up spending more money and generating more waste than we needed to.

So hold off on that extra pack of vests, don’t panic. You can always pick it up if you need it.  

Tiny fast fashion is still fast fashion

Oh my god baby clothes. Baby clothes, oh my god. I had NO IDEA that I would be as into baby clothes as I am. I dress myself like crap but show me a miniature version of any item of clothing, (bonus points if there’s tiny pockets or smocking involved) and I’m all over it. And it is so easy to fall into the trap of buying way too much, doing some mental gymnastics to convince yourself that nothing this adorable could ever be wasteful. However –  if you’ve chosen to read this then you probably don’t need me to tell you about the harmful effects of cotton production, textile dyeing, microfibres in the water system, and unwanted materials piling up in landfill, let alone the ethical concerns around working conditions and pay.

Chances are you’ll receive more baby clothes than your child, despite their most gallant efforts to cover everything with spit and stickiness, could ever wear. A friend and I with babies born close together pooled the clothes we had inherited and been gifted, together with the very small number of items that we bought and – honestly – it’s a bit disgusting. There are at least forty newborn vests in there, and probably the same number of baby grows; even if my kids had worn a brand new vest each day they would only have worn each one twice before growing out of them.

So what can we do? Well – lots, actually!

Go preloved. As I mentioned earlier, table top sales and online marketplaces are the way to go – look for bundles of clothes sold by age for ridiculous bargains.

Buy less. Don’t be tempted or pressured to stock up on mountains of clothes. Keep a few of everything on hand and add more if you find you need them.

Buy better. There are so many ethical and sustainable kids clothing ranges out there, you won’t have any trouble finding clothes that match your values. They’re never going to be Primark prices but if you’re buying less then the costs balance out.

Love them for longer. Before my son was born I tie-dyed a bunch of slightly sad, greying newborn clothes that had taken some punishment when my daughter was little; they looked better than new (and twice as funky). Vest extenders – little patches of fabric with two sets of poppers, massively increase the lifespan of vests (and help them fit around washable nappies). And don’t forget, drying light coloured clothes in bright sunlight (not always an option here in Wales I’ll admit) will brighten them up a treat. If you’re a little handy with a sewing machine then here are some more hacks to keep clothes out of the bin.

Donate. Many, many organisations, such as Stripey Stork will collect and distribute baby clothes to those who need them most.

Upcycle. If you can’t bear to rehome your baby clothes then lots of clever crafters – including our very own Twin Made here in Cardiff – can turn them into a memory quilt or a cuddly toy for you.

Downcycle. If your kids clothes are covered in stains too persistent to remove (and too unspeakable to sell or donate) then cut them up for cleaning clothes.

So: Buy less, buy better, love it longer, pass it on.

Do you have any tips for raising kids with less stuff? Talk to us on Twitter and look out for the next blog in this series where we’re going to talk dirty: yep, it’s washable nappies.

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