An ordinary family’s last minute dash into the eco-zone.
Apparently this week is Cloth Nappy Week. Which is sort of brilliant but also slightly absurd, as a) I would never recommend trying cloth nappies just for a week, and b) I tend to associate this type of thing with people who never stop banging on about them! I mean, dear life, do they really need a Week devoted to them too?!
Well… Yes. Probably.
Because… well, because of people like me.
People like me, who manage to get to the grand old age of 33 and the grand finale of child number three, before they fully understand the weight of their waste and their responsibility to do something about it. People like me who, despite a brief fling with Essential Oils and a lifetime-ago flirtation with pink dreds, doesn’t actually consider herself a “hippy” or the cloth nappy “type.” (Come on… you know there’s a “type”!)
Nope, not me. See, I’m the type who rather absentmindedly became outnumbered by three small children, and subsequently began driving them around in a big Diesel Tank Engine. I’m the type who feeds them out of an American Fridge-Freezer, washes the stains off in a 10kg washer-dryer and then orders a Take-Away because we are now housebound on Date Night. I’m the type who would care, at some point in the future, about all of these things, if I wasn’t too utterly exhausted to think.
I’m also the type who saw this David Attenborough post on Facebook about a year ago and realised that exhausted didn’t quite cut it.
I’m also the type who saw another Facebook post, by another non-cloth-nappy-type, during last year’s Cloth Nappy Week, about her conversion to the cause. It stated that the average baby uses approximately 4 to 5 thousand nappies before they’re fully potty trained. That’s at least 4 thousand… FOUR THOUSAND… per individual baby.
And we’d had three.
In fact, by the time this sank in, I had a two month old baby and two potty trained toddlers. Which means that our little family had already dumped at least 8,200 disposable nappies into landfill… none of which will decompose…. before I’d even thought about it. And that’s before you even consider the ridiculous volume of disposable wipes we’ve churned out over the years!
There was just no way I could ignore this any longer. No way that I could turn back after working all of this out. And so finally, unfit and out of breath, chasing after the bolted bandwagon, our belated eco journey began.
Now, I am well aware that the Internet is full of very useful articles and blogs about going eco, all written by well-informed experts on the subject. I, however, have long come to accept that this is not my place on the Blogosphere!
Rather, as per usual, I am here to offer lessons from my messy mistakes. The stinky truth, as it were, about what went wrong… and how we put it right. Thus, if you are a chick-pecked hen, a desperately desperate housewife, and absolutely not the cloth nappy type… then friend, you’ve come to the right place. May I offer a short lesson in:
How NOT to Cloth!
- DON’T start out impulsively.
Husband reads about two things: Theology and Football, and not necessarily in that order. Trying to get him to care about stuff like, I don’t know, the planet, at the end of a long day can often feel like an impossible task. So, when it came to this nappy thing, I was so eaten up with existential guilt and so convinced that he wouldn’t listen long enough to be convinced, that I rather desperately bought the first reasonably-priced, second-hand box of “cloth nappies” that I could get my hands on and hoped for the best! No research, no time, no clue. I bought them while he was away on a Priesting Retreat, hoping to have mastered them by the time that he returned.
Ha… ha… humph.
2. DON’T buy before you try
Turns out there’s a lot more to “cloth nappies” than just nappies made of cloth. There are different methods, different styles, sizes, systems, types. Unfortunately, I quickly realised that the type I had bought weren’t right for us, when every single one of them leaked. Interestingly, however, another friend tried these same nappies and found they worked perfectly. Turns out she had a chunky baby who didn’t wet all that much and I had a skinny squirter! There’s just no way of knowing this until they arrive. Tempting as it is to invest in a special offer stash before the baby comes… I’d strongly suggest waiting a bit to try before you buy.
3. NEVER underestimate The Queen of Cloth!
Tip number 2 was a good one. Really. But even reading it back I know that, given the same circumstances, I’d still have done it again if it hadn’t been for The Queen of Cloth. See, after wasting thirty quid on leaky nappies, I read various articles on different websites about the type that might suit my baby. But the information was overwhelming, the jargon was confusing and the prices quite frankly scary. I didn’t have the time or the mental capacity to get my head around it all. I was flailing. Eventually, however, after a couple of weeks of struggling on my own and debating how much money I could realistically throw at trying different things, I finally asked the advice of a friend who had cloth-nappied her four kids.
She invited me over. She got out her extensive stash. She explained everything, demonstrated everything. She listened to my preferences and my experience so far. She advised me about why the nappies I’d originally bought didn’t work for my skinny-legged, heavy-wetter and gave me a couple of options she thought would work so that I could try them at home before buying anything else. If only I’d swallowed my pride and gone to her in the first place! I still don’t quite know why I didn’t to be honest.
That morning was a game changer. The two-part, wrap-and-booster system that I eventually went for wasn’t actually listed in any of the articles I’d read so far. The Thirsties Duo Wraps and Blueberry Capris, with their double linings for skinny legs, hadn’t been listed in anyone’s recommended favourites either. The next time we met up, she advised me on what to buy new, what to find second-hand, which selling groups to join, which shops to browse, and how many of each thing I would need.
Articles are good. Blogs are ace, but seriously… There is nothing like talking poo with someone who knows their s**t!
Find your Queen of Cloth! Everywhere has one. But if you really can’t think of an acquaintance, find a nappy library and start there. Trust me, it’s worth it!
4. DON’T presume you know better.
Families, babies, humans… we are all generally bad for the environment. It’s just that some “bads” are worse than others, and sometimes that just has to be enough. So, when it comes to nappies, you just have to accept that following advice like rinse-cycling first, washing at sixty degrees and tumble drying pre-folds is still better than throwing a disposable into landfill. I was incredibly reluctant to do either of those things to begin with, nodding politely and thinking “not a chance!”, until I tried otherwise. Skipping the rinse resulted in having to perform a second wash; washing at 40 just didn’t do the job, and line drying a pre-fold… well…
That wasn’t much good either!
5. That said… DON’T underestimate the power of nature either!
When it comes to stains… nothing bleaches whites like the sun! Who knew?!
6. DON’T presume full responsibility…
… but do be patient and explain things well!
Another shout out to my most excellent Husband. When I finally broke the news to him, I swore he wouldn’t have to do it if he didn’t want to, promised I’d do all of the stinky washing and reasoned that even if I used cloth and he used disposable we would still be using half as many land-fillers. “No, no,” he shrugged. “If it means that much to you, let’s do it.”
What a guy!
There were a few faux pas, naturally. This one leaked after 5 minutes because it was on backwards… I mean, I don’t even know how he managed that to be honest!
And the first time he went rogue and put a wash on without telling me, I found a bucket full of soiled ones had gone in at 30 degrees – along with his clergy shirts! However… a few hairy weeks and a spectacular Husband-friendly storage system later… we got there!
By 4 months old, we had a completely disposable-free baby, and have honestly ever looked back. Not only is Husband fully on board now, but he’s even evangelical about it – “I mean, imagine what we would have saved if we’d made the switch years ago!” Imagine indeed…
7. DON’T open the bag at the dinner table!
When you finally get to the stage of using them out and about, and you’re so giddy to have gotten through an entire day on cloth that you start telling people over dinner, and they ask where on earth you’re keeping these things… don’t open the bag and show them. No matter how excited you are. No matter how pretty the bag is. That smell ain’t pretty and it don’t go back in! It certainly doesn’t convince any sceptics either. Keep your wraps under wraps, my friend… everybody wins!
8. DON’T drop the nappy!
Obvious but… there is a certain advantage of dropping a disposable straight into the nappy bin, I’ll give it that. The system we use has a few parts to it, which don’t take well to being folded up next to a kicking leg, or just out of reach of an arm you thought was out of reach, or balanced precariously on the end of a public changing table! Whatever you do… plan your safe spot first!
9. DON’T be shy.
Especially if you’re NOT the cloth nappy type!
It’s sad, but I hold my hands up. Roughly four thousand disposable nappies were not thrown into landfill over here because I scrolled down Facebook.
“If they can do it, so can I”.
The new power that be.
10. BUT … don’t overdo it.
You know what I’m talking about. There’s a reason it took me this long…
11. DON’T do everything at once.
When we were finally up and running full time and I shared our switch with friends, several asked if we were going to do cloth wipes next.
Well, that would have been wise now, wouldn’t it? Not only had I decided to switch all of our nappy-changing materials at exactly the same time, but I had simultaneously attempted to change soap bars, shampoo bars, loo roll, cleaning products, kitchen-wear, food shopping, service providers, eco-bricking… you name it, I tried it, all in the space of a few weeks (slash hours). With a tiny baby. And 2 pre-schoolers. No the wonder Husband found me shaking in the kitchen one afternoon, in floods of tears, trying to unsuccessfully colour-coordinate cheeky wipes into upstairs, downstairs, front door, backdoor, head ache, give up and cry!
Slow. Down. Do what you can do, when you can do it, and accept that some changes will have to happen later. Do a few well and you might just stick it out; try too many and you might just give up!
12. DON’T presume it’s too late.
Even after my initial guilt-fest, I reasoned that starting with cloth nappies for my third and final baby was too little, too late. Until a friend who was also on her third and final baby shared her own journey and took away my excuse! We’ve now been disposable-free for a year and Tiny shows no signs of slowing down. Environmentally- that is well worth it. Just think, every single desposable nappy you don’t use, counts. Educationally- that is also worth it. I’m glad I had the chance to do it this way, as I can now fully recommend reusable to anyone considering it. And financially, you know- this is still worth it. It’s just a shame that it would have been so much more worth it had we bought them five years ago and used them with all of our children! Still, the resale value of the things we bought new is pretty good, should we choose to pass them on that way when the time comes.
13. DON’T presume you have to use up your stash.
Here’s the thing. If you’re going to switch to cloth nappies and wipes, it’ll take a while getting used to, and will cost you the same then as it will do now. You’re not saving any money by using up your disposable stash first. Secondly, there are some people who would never switch, even if they wanted to, and are quite possibly experiencing circumstances which prevent them from wanting anything over immediate need. Those people are quite possibly using food banks and/or shelters. So… Why not donate your disposable stash there? That’s what we did with the boxes of wipes we’d bought in the Aldi sale, and the Size 5 nappies we had left in the loft! They’ll still end up in landfill, but could save someone who needs them, who would only buy some anyway, from having to go out and buy more. In the long run, it’ll all balance out!
14. DON’T give up.
Early on, when we were chasing our tales with washing and falling out with Velcro, Husband said, “You do realise I’m only doing this for you, don’t you?”
“Yes but… surely you care about the environment too?” I hoped.
He shrugged. Not so much.
“Not at all?”
“Well,” He sighed. “I mean, it’s probably Biblical, isn’t it?… Anything hard and sacrificial usually is!”
Now, however, he loves it! Honest!
It is hard. It really is at first. But once you work it out, it’s so much easier, cheaper and satisfying for the soul… it really is worth hanging on!
15. DON’T stop there…
Once you do get the hang of it; reusing something so messy that you could so easily and forgivably dispose of; so many other changes seem so very small in comparison! I will write about the things that have stuck here in the past year in another post. But, as I said before… Don’t do it all at once! Once you’ve mastered one thing, move on to the next. Bit by bit, little by little, even families like ours can harm the planet just that little bit less.
Until next time… Be blessed!