Thursday, November 11, 2010

a chemical-free household, Part 2: 8 Simple Rules

Here' s Part 1.

8 Simple Rules for Chemical-free, Frugal, Green Living:

1. Simple. A lot of chemical-free living is about going back to basics. This isn't to mean we should turn back the clock on progress and do everything like the pioneers did, or using methods that our grandparents used that stemmed from old wives tales more so than science. It means going back to the last thing that really worked. For example, how did women moisturize their skin before lotion was put in a bottle with tons of petroleum-based products? With pure oils like olive, jojoba, coconut, etc (NOT mineral oils - Oil-free makeup propagates the myth that oil clogs pores because bad oils clog pores).

2. It shouldn't break the bank. If it's not cheaper for me in the long run, I won't do it. It took me awhile to switch certain things, like shampoo, because I couldn't find a truly organic way of cleaning my hair that was cheaper and just as (if not more) effective than my mainstream shampoo.

3. Think long term. I emphasized the long run in the point before on purpose. Sometimes start up costs are expensive. Cloth diapers, for example, can cost anywhere from $300-$800 dollars to start up. However, you'll probably get this money back in a matter of months. In the end, you can save thousands of dollars per kid, not to mention the long term health and environmental benefits. Also, the slightly higher cost of taking care of your body now is way cheaper than paying exorbitant doctor's bills later. Several decades ago, American's spent 17.5% of their money on food and 5.2% on healthcare. Today, only 9.9% is spent on food and whopping 16% is spent on healthcare. (this is according to Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food.)

4. Give yourself time to implement these changes. My house isn't 100% chemical-free, but it's come a very, very long way.  There are also a few products in our house that we haven't found adequate replacements (like toothpaste and deodorant -although we no long buy anything with aluminum.) Making changes can be overwhelming. Sometimes you might find a product that is better than what you were using, but still has an icky ingredient or two in it. I think that's a huge step. The less toxins we're putting in our bodies, the better off we are. Keep seeking out that truly chemical-free product and I'm sure you'll eventually find it (and probably love it more than what you used before!) If it's stressing you out, take a break and start searching again later. 
Which leads me to my next point...

5. You're more likely to stick with changes if you implement them slowly and easily. 
I have been trying for awhile to go completely paperless in the kitchen, but we're in the middle of a (very slow) move to a bigger house that needed lots of cleaning. Cleaning both the new and the old place and trying to move has been stressful and put a hold on going paperless. I'm not dropping it all together, but just waiting a few weeks until we're settled in the new place. This way, the new habits will stick and not be associated with stress, because it really isn't stressful to give up paper towels.

6. Redefine old definitions, particularly of cleanliness and beauty. Does something need to smell like chemicals and artificial fragrance to be clean? Instead of buying Febreze or Glade plug ins, try sprinkling baking soda on your rugs, boiling some cinnamon sticks on the stove, or just airing out your house by opening all the windows for a few hours. Insanely cheaper, non toxic, and will release all those germs you've been imprisoning in your home.
     Beauty. I'm not going to say go completely without makeup or hair products. It's okay to like to be all gussied up. I do think there is a huge problem with women not feeling beautiful because they don't have their hair perfect and their "face" on. I know I want to teach my daughter to be comfortable in just her own skin so she doesn't feel the pressure to look a certain way to be beautiful. I also know that this mostly dependent on how I talk and act about beauty in regards to myself and others. If she decides that she likes to have her hair fixed up and wear makeup, I hope that I can point her towards products that won't put her health in danger for the sake of beauty.

7. Read labels & educate yourself. I can't emphasize this one enough. The words "natural" and "organic" are completely unregulated in non-food products. Many products mix in essential oils and organic ingredients with the same old yucky ingredients. 
     It does no good to read labels if you don't know what you're reading. Here's a good basic guide on what to look for and avoid on labels. It's important to know not only which ingredients to avoid, but why you are avoiding them. You may end up making a scale for yourself of what products you want to avoid at all costs and which products you are willing to use on occasion. If you can't find a completely chemical-free product, you might be able to find something in the meantime that has a lower risk. 

8. Be reasonable. When I started doing this research, I didn't run out and throw away every product I own (I'm way too cheap to do that). When my old soap ran out, I just replaced it with the new product. I didn't need to replace every product either. I think with going chemical free comes a simplicity - so many things I use have multiple uses.
Another note on being reasonable...if I'm at someone's house and they have hand soap or lotion that isn't chemical free, I don't snub my nose up at it and follow with a huge lecture on the danger of chemicals. I use the product. Our bodies have an amazing ability to get rid of toxins.  The only exception I make to this is when it comes to little children. After my own research, I've determined that it is crucial for my kids to be as completely chemical-free as possible. Little bodies are still doing so much crucial development that they can't process toxins like older children and adults. (The amount of harmful ingredients in basic baby brands like Johnson & Johnson, Baby Magic and even Aveeno is appalling to me.)  Again, this is my own conclusion from the research I've done. It's a choice I'm making for my family.

My philosophy on both food and topical products is to eat/live as healthy as possible about 85-90% of the time. (I love to occasionally wear perfume & eat pizza rolls.) You are welcome to not agree with this. Like I've said in my introductory post, there's no set way to live, eat, etc. The only position I think that is hard to respect is the unconscious consumer. If you've done your research and decided that ______is safe for your family, that's ultimately your decision.

I'd love to know your thoughts on this, even if you disagree with me. :) Part 3 coming soon!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

a chemical-free household, Part 1: Introduction

I've have started several different posts about going chemical-free in our household, but I could never quite concisely introduce the topic. To make this less overwhelming for you (by you, I mean me) I'm going to do this in multiple posts.

A little back story - how did I get even interested in going chemical-free?

Whoever said "Necessity is the mother of invention" had it right on our case. A lot of our simpler, greener lifestyle initially happened by chance. Overweight and feeling gross? Let's look into what the heck we're eating. Is the monthly budget tight? Let's see how can we streamline our household products/toiletries more cheaply. I was having horrible skin problems, so we looked at what chemicals we were using in our soaps, which made us investigate other toiletries, detergents and cleaning products. My dad has has had a long, painful battle with cancer. Something that shakes up your life that much makes you think - how did this happen? Not that his cancer was caused by these products, but who knows? If you've had cancer or know someone who has battled it and seen how ugly it can be, you want to run away screaming from any products that have been linked to the disease. He started doing research of his own and sharing alternative products with me. (By the way, they work better and are cheaper than anything I was using before. More on that later).

Recently, I was passing along my basic knowledge of cloth diapering to an inquiring friend. This spawned an out of control conversation about living economically and chemical-free. She asked questions way faster than I could answer them. Each time I began an answer, it opened the door for another question. How do you answer a question like, "If it's not safe for us, why do they sell it?" to an extremely overwhelmed person who wants your years of research on living chemical-free in 20 minutes? After the conversation she told me that she wasn't going to remember everything I said and I needed to send her a long email and take her shopping to point out which products were good and which ones were not. 

It was my turn to feel completely overwhelmed. It has taken me YEARS to become a conscious consumer (and I'm still learning so much). Even if it was possible to take on the daunting task of giving her a complete education in one sitting, I wouldn't. I know the only way these changes have worked for me is that I have done them gradually. They started with something or someone inspiring me to _______ (cloth diaper, eat better, etc.) which led me to tons of research and subsequent trial and error when implementing it into our lives. I've taken research and advice and combined it with my own conscience to decide what's best and safest for our family. 

There are a ridiculous amount of ingredients that are not banned in the U.S. that are linked to cancer. These ingredients aren't in just "occasional" products, like oven cleaner. Substances known to cause cancer (as well as reproductive problems and hormonal imbalances) are in our makeup, soaps, diapers and baby shampoos.

Before I get ahead of myself, here's a video called The Story of Cosmetics  from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (not just makeup, but shampoo, lotions, shaving cream, baby wash, etc.) I think it's a good introduction to being a conscious consumer in general.

I'd really love to know your thoughts so far. Another post is coming soon!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

a solicitation for advice

As excited as I am about the baby coming, as intensely as I have researched labor & delivery, parenting and discipline methods, breastfeeding, etc. I am still truly terrified of one thing - the baby registry. I immediately recoiled in horror at the enormous list of "must have" items that Babies r Us provides. Freaking ridiculous.

All that "stuff" just overwhelms me. I have a strong dislike for stuff. I like items in my home that are useful and beautiful. I hate junk. I get stressed enough making the obligatory Christmas list (more on that in a later post). I feel that creating the baby registry is like someone saying "Hey Nicole, can you make a list of all of the absolute essentials that you need for your child to be a well-rounded person. Be sure to make good choices even though this is your first kid and you really don't know how you are going to parent your child specifically." I've added pressure to myself by wanting to have safe, useful, practical things that can last through multiple children, fit a "green and frugal" lifestyle and also not take up too much room in a small house.

The more I research, the more I remove items from my registry. And re-add them. And remove them again. So I'm turning to my readers for help. Even though most don't publicly follow my blog, I know you're out there. When I run into you somewhere and you know what I think about certain things and what is going on in my life, I know you are reading this ;) Seriously though, it thrills me! But it's time to come out of hiding and help an ignorant mother-to-be out. My burgeoning belly is apparently a signal for everyone in the world to give me unsolicited and (sometimes harsh) judgments on my parenting decisions. Here is your chance - I'm asking for advice.

To give you guidance, this is my (current) parenting philosophy after nannying countless kids and considering our current lifestyle. (I'm allowed to change this after my baby is born...a mama's got to be able to learn and grow too!) I'm going to start out with the intention of baby wearing, cloth diapering, breastfeeding and room sharing (a form of co-sleeping).  I'm not opposed to things such as playmats and bouncers, but I do want minimal junk in my house. I prefer to have a small amount of toys that are safe, simple and encourage creativity.

Please. Educate me. Wear the comment button out!

Curses and Blessings

Yesterday was a curse and a blessing.

There were several accidents on the way to work yesterday, making me late. Curse.
I got to listen to Danielle Rose a little longer in the car - her music always makes Baby Reed dance and she's even starting to obviously have favorite songs. It's such a joy getting to know her personality already! Blessing.

While nannying, I fell down the stairs - 6 and 1/2 months pregnant and holding a five month old baby in my arms. Curse (and painful).
While I lay at the bottom of the stairs crying, I realized that I had managed to protect both my huge belly and the baby in my arms who, coincidentally, was cracking up laughing - his new favorite activity. Baby Reed almost instantly started bouncing away, assuring me of her safety. Huge Blessing.

Our apartment is a disaster. We're living in the old apartment while all of our stuff is in the new house. (Read: We have all of our furniture and neatly packed boxes at the new house, while the floor of our old apartment looks like the carpet violently threw up all of our possessions.) Curse.
Deciding to make lemonade out of lemons, we turned our bare living room floor into a picnic ground completely with sleeping bags, fluffy pillows, cannelloni, apple crisp and a viewing of our favorite movie. Blessing.

This morning I woke up in so much pain from my tumble down the stairs that I could barely get out of bed. Curse.
My little girl continues to dance away in my belly, oblivious that her mother is a klutz with a messy house who inevitably falls asleep by 9pm - the only blessing I need.