Kids Clothes and Diapers

7 04 2011

In true Don’t Buy It spirit, Jennifer Labit has a great post on how to diaper a baby when you can’t afford cloth or disposable diapers.

Also, reuse kids clothes on free or swap sites like Freecycle or ThredUp. ThredUp has a good deal today for new sign up where if you enter the promo code EARTHDAY at registration you can order a complete free box of kids’ clothes, free shipping and everything.

(Hat tip to Money Saving Mom for the pointers.)


Don’t Buy It: Toys

5 12 2009

So, it’s Christmastime, and we’ve been inundated with catalogs designed to help the sugarplums dance in my son’s head in the costliest fashion possible. Usually, in all honesty, these catalogs make me remember being a little girl, circling practically everything in the JCPenney Wish Book. But not yesterday. I was paging through a new one from a company called Constructive Playthings, and instead of being filled with nostalgia, I was absolutely astonished that for almost every toy, I could think of a creative fellow blogger who had made exactly the same thing for less money, with more play value, than the shiny new plaything on the page.

Wanna see?

Constructive Playthings’ Dinosaur Park, $60:


vs. The Filth Wizards’ Playdough Dinosaur Island (the playdough is homemade, not commercial, and can you imagine how much more fun this would be, besides being cheaper, greener, and waaayy bigger and more elaborate?)


Constructive Playthings’ Fancy Fun Tutus ($20):


vs. Grosgrain Fabulous’s much more gorgeous and durable Midsummer Night’s Dream tutu


Constructive Playthings’ Mermaid Mountain (an incredible $70):


vs. The Filth Wizards’ Playdough Mermaid Kingdom (check out those recycled mermaid houses! download the templates to turn any dollie into a resplendent butterfly-fairy-mermaid-princess!):


Constructive Playthings’ Pop-Up Flower Tent, $45:


vs. Family Fun Magazine‘s much bigger, and again more durable, Secret Playhouse:


Constructive Playthings’ Personalized Capers ($20, and it won’t make it in time for Christmas, by the way, because personalization takes longer):


vs. Floating World Views’ dead-simple, make-it-today Superhero Cape:


Constructive Playthings’ Lion Around Pillow/Blanket set ($22, and did they totally crib this from Family Fun, or what?)


vs. Family Fun‘s No-Sew Fleece Lion Pillow, which they actually list as a craft so simple kids can make it themselves:


Constructive Playthings’ Tabletop Soccer Game ($35, which is pretty cheap, actually, but not as cheap as….)


The Filth Wizards’ Clothespin Foosball Table:


I could go on for hours like this, but just one more, because I can’t resist the price markup on this sucker:

Constructive Playthings’ Classic Wood Kitchen ($178, Made in Thailand):


vs. Making Do With the Not So New’s (much bigger, fancier, and more fun) Kitchen Entertainment Center ($6.22, no child labor involved):


What are you making your kids for the holidays this year?

Don’t Buy It: The Ubiquitous Swiffer

1 11 2009

Not too long ago I needed some floor wax. I went to Target to look for some, a heavy feeling in my heart. Indeed, my premonition was correct: Target did not sell floor wax. I couldn’t, in fact, find anywhere that sold floor wax, so I didn’t wax my landlord’s floor when I moved away. In wandering through the floor-cleaning aisles, though, I was surprised to see how little was actually there. The floor-cleaning aisle is basically a giant monument to Swiffers.

Swiffers are absolutely mysterious to me: they’re full of mysterious chemicals, they are disposable and very difficult to reuse, and, most mysterious of all: people love them.

My experience with both the Swiffer duster and the Swiffer wet jet is that neither will clean a floor that’s actually dirty, although they work OK if you clean every day. (Who does that?) They’re cheap and flimsy — they don’t stand up to hard use. I don’t understand what they can do that a rag and a bucket of hot water with vinegar and soda — or a well-designed broom — can’t do just as well.

On the other hand, there are times — like when I am mopping my whole filthy basement, where my husband makes sawdust and my geriatric cat makes piss-spots across an area of concrete the size of my whole house — when I refuse to get down on my hands and knees with a rag. In such times you need a mop.

Today a made one, using materials entirely on hand, that puts a Swiffer wetjet to shame. I used this instructable.

Here’s the result:


Homemade Mop

I think it’s a fine mop; I will let you know how it works out over the long haul.

Don’t Buy It: Envelopes (and the end of No Impact Week)

1 11 2009

Amy Karol has this terrific tutorial for making gorgeous, graphic, ordinary everyday envelopes out of whatever you have on hand. Never buy envies again.

If you were wondering about No Impact Week, we spent the rest of it living out Uncle Dave’s Grace; that is to say, we were pretty much living “in the nude, without food, in a cave.” On the weekend, we strapped our local foods in the car and hypermiled it down to Washington D.C. to participate in the International Day of Climate Action (look for Floppy in the yellow slicker) and the Poetic Art Show, a benefit for the Yellow Ribbon Fund. A good time was had by all.

Floppy prefers climate change without rain, thank you.

No Impact Week Day 4: Local Foods Only, Please

22 10 2009

In contrast to the transportation challenge, eating local is easy for us. We live in an agricultural community, and we’ve been CSA members for 11 years, across two states. Most of our diet is local anyway, but we *tried* to eat exclusively local today. We weren’t perfectly successful, but I think we came close.

For breakfast, we ate homemade No Knead Bread made with Sir Galahad King Arthur Flour, toasted, with Franklin Heyburn’s Vermont honey. Now, I think of King Arthur Flour as being local because the employee-owned company is headquartered in Norwich, VT, which is about 10 minutes away from my house. However, looking closely at their website, I see that at least their home-use flour is made from hard red winter wheat grown in Kansas. We don’t use the home use flour — we buy our flour in 50 pound bakery bags, and unless we’re feeling flush enough to buy the organic, we usually buy their Sir Galahad variety (it’s the cheapest — about 40 cents a pound). But it’s all hard red winter wheat, which I gather isn’t grown around here. Well, I don’t feel bad. King Arthur Flour is good stuff. If you call KAF flour local, the only non-local part of breakfast was my tea and the salt in my bread. (I should have skipped the tea, but I forgot.) And the salt may have been local — I see there are salt manufacturers in Portsmouth NH.

For lunch, I had what I always have — leftovers, consumed at my desk. In this case, it was a salad made with lettuce and carrots from Cedar Circle Farm, our CSA, croutons made from homemade bread sauteed in Cabot butter, local eggs, and a salad dressing made from local yogurt,the aforementioned honey, local maple syrup, and other (non-local) ingredients. The non-local components of the salad included mustard and milk (originally powdered) in the salad dressing, ginger chips and raisins in the salad. Then in addition to the salad, I had a Cedar Circle Farm butternut squash roasted with a filling made out of more homemade bread, local goat cheese, farm garlic, and (non local) olive oil and nutmeg.

Dinner was homemade bread again and squash soup made with Cedar Circle squash, local potatoes, farm carrots and turnips, and organic but non-local frozen corn, as well as non-local spices. My husband drank local beer, but my son and I had non-local tea sweetened with homemade grenadine made out of non-local Pom juice and non-local sugar.

I tried to use the carbon diet calculator, but it doesn’t account for the locality or organicness of the ingredients, nor does it have everything, so I have no idea what the numbers mean. Still, I think we did OK, which maybe offsets how much we suck at the transportation issue. I again did not arise early enough to catch my morning bus, and after work, I went to my son’s school open house. My husband picked me up for that, since they had to drive anyway, and his school is about a mile from my work. I offered to walk, but my husband said he was out burning up the atmosphere anyway.

Trash wise I did fine — I think the only trash I generated today was my dental floss. And I haven’t purchased anything since the week began except a cheap hotel room in DC, after my couchsurfing request didn’t work out. I would like to have stayed at a green hotel, like the Kimpton chain, but I couldn’t justify the expense. Tomorrow is energy day. I have no idea how that will go.

No Impact Week Day 3: Transportation

21 10 2009

Today was the No Impact Challenge I’d been dreading. No Impact Transportation Day.

Now, just because I live in a rural area doesn’t mean I don’t have access to public transit. I’m embarrassed to say that my options for low-impact transportation are overall excellent, and the failure to use them is thus all mine. There is a free, convenient, congenial bus that goes down the highway about a quarter mile from my house. If I ride it in the morning, it picks me up at my mailbox a little after seven, and drops me off at work 20 minutes later — as quickly as the trip can be made by car. There’s an express bus at 5:10 in the evening, which gets me home about 5:45.

I enjoy both the ride and the walk that bookends it. Tonight, walking home along the gorgeous rail trail that leads to my house, I watched the sun sinking over the lake and the fall colors. I saw a pheasant, sitting angrily and uncomfortably high up in a tree, squawking at our neighbor’s cat Midnight, who was sitting on the road stalking her. It couldn’t have been a more wonderful slice of country life. Besides, riding a bus in a little town is a uniquely communal experience. Everyone knows everyone, everyone works in the same place and lives in the same place and rides in the same seat every day.  The gossip is brisk, and the driver is roundly teased for any errors in driving. She’s always ready with a sharp riposte, and she remembers where everyone gets off, so there’s no need of the bell. It’s adorable.

But besides all that, I don’t even drive. My poor husband has to drop me off at work on days I don’t bus it, and he has to pick me up — double the driving for a single errand. I should be on that bus every single day.

And yet I almost never am. I dreaded today, and I didn’t even do all that well at it: I took the evening bus home today, but I missed the morning bus and my husband had to drive me.

What’s wrong with me?!?

Colin often talks on his blog about how many of us are consuming as consolation prizes in the rat race — as ways to take solace in the fact that we’re working as hard as we can, and harder. I identify with this. I do good work, and I’m proud of what I do, and there are a lot of people who would love my job and love to trade places with me. But I work many — sometimes most — days from 8 in the morning until well after 7 at night, and I’m tired.

To ride the morning bus — there is only one that will get me to work on time — I have to get up 20 minutes earlier than my six year old son. On days I don’t ride the bus, I get to cuddle with my son for 20 minutes. And sometimes that’s the only 20 minutes I see him all day. Getting up in time to catch the bus is too big a trade off — it’s too much to give up. In the evening, I love to ride the bus, but there are only two buses that go to my area after five — and none after six. I’m rarely able to leave my job before six.

I’ll try again, of course, to get up in time tomorrow. But riding home tonight, staring out the window at the New England fall colors, I felt dispirited with the idea of personal no-impact. I’m the sole income earner in my family, I’m not a big consumer, I have the best of intentions — and yet I’m seduced by things like “mortgage” and “college fund” and “having enough so I don’t starve when I’m old and alone” that I work a life that isn’t — and can’t be — sustainable. Not for the planet, and sometimes not even for my family and me. The change is imperative — if we don’t find a way as a culture to stop making trash, to stop buying, to take the bus, to eat local, to use a minimum of energy and water — we won’t have anywhere left to live, on a timeframe with urgency expressed in months or years, not decades. And yet, as individuals, we’re caught in cultural and economic forces powerful enough that even determined people, who care about the planet and want to do better, who are trying hard just for one week as an experiment — find it too costly even just to take the morning bus.

No Impact Week Day 2: Trash Day

20 10 2009

So, today’s No Impact Week assignment was simple: Go forth and make no trash.

Simple, but not easy. Now I should say we do not, as a household, make much trash. We live in a rural area, and so any trash we make, we have to take to the dump ourselves. We see, and smell, what happens to that trash. We have to pay, by the pound, for every bag we dump. If everyone in America had to deal with their trash as directly as we do, I suspect we’d have very little trash problem.

Still, though, we generate plenty of garbage. Yesterday, to prepare, the manual asked us to keep all of our trash in a single receptacle, for sorting later. Here’s what went into it yesterday:

  • A used tissue (first thing Sunday morning, I got up and blew my nose before I knew what had happened. Damn!)
  • Two used maxipads and the wax paper backings and plastic packets associated with them
  • Two sheets of clear vinyl that had come off the corners of a mirror we had purchased a long time ago. To the mirror’s credit, these two small corners were its only packaging — at least, the only packaging that made it to us. I pulled these sheets out and am keeping them to make something out of.
  • Dental floss
  • Used q-tips
  • Used up tape from a child’s supposedly “no impact” art project
  • Empty plastic/metal packages that contained the cat’s special kidney diet cat food
  • A plastic ziploc bag the cat barfed on — We just decided to wash it in ultra hot water and keep it after all. Now none of you will ever accept a ziploc bag from me, right?
  • An ice cream container would have gone into it, except I upcycled it into a seriously gorgeous royal purple gift box that I’d be genuinely proud to give anyone. Go me!

So today our objective was to add no more trash to this pile. It was hard, and we weren’t totally successful. In the morning, I flossed my teeth (my dentist insists). I can’t think of a good substitute — would buying dental picks and picking my teeth instead work as well, do you think? Any dental hygienists in the crowd to advise me?

I skipped the q-tips, which was a hard personal sacrifice, I tell you.

I folded up a rag in my pants for the maxi pad, and this worked just fine. Another wonderful illustration of marketing-invented need. I didn’t bleed all over, and I suppose the only innovation I might make to make this into a permanent change would be to add some velcro strips to some undies and some rags to keep me from dumping the rag in the can. But that’s a nicety, not a necessity. I’m left wondering why I ever used those disposable diapers for women, anyway!

In the morning, anticipating my usual sources of trash at work, I brought along a dry erase board eraser (I don’t have one, and am ashamed to admit that hitherto I was using Kleenex culled from virgin forests in insane quantities to wipe my whiteboard) and several rags to work. A rag to be a maxi pad, a rag to be a napkin for my lunch, and a rag for a hankie. Then I got to work and promptly sneezed, grabbing a Kleenex instead of my rag! Phooey!

I made a lot of paper recycling, and I brought home my apple core for our compost pile, but otherwise I didn’t make any more trash at work.

At school, Floppy used his t-shirt for his napkin at lunch (and was thrilled to do so, I might add). Otherwise, he said, he forgot all about it and threw away two paper towels and a milk carton with abandon. He recycled his paper.

Here working at home, Jeremy threw away a tissue (he also forgot!) and a cat food container. He had to buy catfood today, and we’ve decided the cat also gets the food-buying exception to nonconsumption. He asked at the vet if the food came in any more environmentally friendly containers. The answer is no. However, some vets here carry other brands of prescription kidney disease cat food that come in cans, so we may try to switch.

At the end of the day, I pulled a string off of the rag that was destined for my pants, and then went, hell! What do I do with this? But we decided to put it with the garden things, for tying up next summer’s tomatoes.

So that was our trash for today. We reduced somewhat, but we certainly didn’t eliminate. And we were struck by how angry we were at our trash, and also how automatic it has become to generate the stuff — so automatic we don’t use alternatives even if they are literally in hand.