Why the urban life…

September 26, 2009

I figured it’s about time that I go into a bit of detail about why the urban life goes hand in hand with my “simple” and “green” themes. I will preface this by saying that I KNOW that not everyone will see the benefits I list in the same light I do and also that I AM NOT deliberately trying to cast aspersions on suburban living (though it may seem like it since the point of this post is to point out the advantages of the city–next I’ll do a post of the disadvantages, k?). There are many great things about both, and a person can be simple and green and happy in either place. I grew up in the suburbs and would say I pretty much had the perfect childhood. I just happen to love the city now–and love it so much that I have to share why!

1. I have nearly no outdoor maintenance. This is simple because, obviously, my husband and I just have to sweep a 10×8 ft. patio from time to time and try to remember to water the flower boxes out front. This is green because we do not have to use any water to keep a big lawn alive!

2. It costs almost nothing to heat/air condition our house. We live in a row home–which means the two long sides of our house are attached to the homes next to us–which means only the front, back, and flat roof are true outside walls. We get away with turning our heat and air on much later in the seasons than you’d expect, and even once they’re on, the bills just don’t skyrocket.

3. We only have one car. I was so happy the day we downsized to one! No more second insurance payment, no more buying gas, and no more taking it to the shop. Now I walk or take the bus/subway/train everywhere. Is it a little annoying from time to time that I can’t always get to a place as fast as I want or escape the elements when they catch me unawares? Yes, but I think the trade-off is worth it in saved money, saved carbon, and a whole lot of automatically built-in exercise for me to boot.

4. On the car note, I love the fact that I am forced to do virtually no baby-schlepping in and out of hot cars to run errands. I pop her in the stroller or Ergo and away we go by foot–no trying to keep her happy behind me while we’re sitting at endless stoplights, no finding parking and loading her in/out/in/out of different carts and strollers and carriers. And again, bonus that we’re not dumping lots of extra pollution in the air being in the car all afternoon. (And maybe a bonus to our general safety that we are in a car so infrequently–if you follow the news AT ALL it’s hard not to be convinced that you’re about to be mowed down at every moment by a crazed text-addicted 20-something! You doubt me?–See this vid at minute 2:15!)

5. The people-watching is amazing. This has nothing to do with the environment (unless you want to make an argument that too much homogeneity crushes the soul), but man, can you “simply” entertain a baby by parking her stroller at a good vantage point in a city square and just letting her watch the ridiculous variety of people passing by. The perfect “zone out” activity for that 6-7 pm hour before bed! (Which does remind me of another related advantage–that you can take about 10 quick walks per day in the city and have them all be to completely different genres of destinations even though you’re staying in the same 5 square block radius–really helps when you’re at that “I’m completely bored with my infant who can’t really do stuff yet but I don’t want to admit it to anyone lest they judge me” phase.) Of course, you can’t choose which types of people walk by, which can really be a burn sometimes.

All right, I know there are more, but that’s a good start for one night. And I will post a rant at some point about all the things that piss me off about the city. Because there are plenty of those, too. But actually I think I already covered the biggest one a minute ago.

I have this friend who works full time and loves the idea of cloth diapers but does not love the reality of making them work when her children are going to be spending more time out of the house than in it during the workweek. My post about cloth diapers inspired her to do some serious research comparing prices of chlorine-free diapers to the regular kind, and seeing if she could figure out some deals that would make her feel like buying the more ‘spensive non-chlorine brands was easy enough on the budget to commit to it–since it’s a much earth-friendlier choice than all-chlorine all the time.

She came up with this nifty spreadsheet for starters that breaks down pricing at various stores on a per diaper cost if you use the best standard deals available (bulk, etc.). We plan to keep updating it as we poke around for more information. It’s a work in progress, but what we did notice immediately is that the price difference is not THAT great–if you are somewhat committed to the environment and making a few small sacrifices where you can to do what little you can. I think we expected it to be an “OMG it’s TWICE as much! That’s insane!” kind of thing. But it’s just not. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be if you order wisely!

Update: At some point we will expand on all this to include discussions of the other earth-friendly options, like bio-degradable diapers and “diaper-free” living (which from hereon will be referred to as: “Never-ever-leave-your-house-or-wear-clothes-that-can’t-get-peed-on” living).

Update 2: Until then, this article nearly does it for us!

Fun with Cloth Diapers!

September 13, 2009

Before the arrival of the li’l one, we talked with some friends who were living the dream–all cloth diapers all the time. We expressed an interest in doing the same, so they referred us to this website: www.greenmountaindiapers.com–which has more helpful information than I ever really needed to know even existed about cloth diapers and the options available.

After WAY too much research about the different types/approaches (warning: for me this step was NOT simple–but perhaps that is my own personal problem with the paradox of choice, which is why I try to AVOID situations that present too many options in the first place!), I settled on a “plan.”

It involved the purchase of the following items:

2 dozen small yellow pre-folds: $48
10 infant fitted diapers: $80
5 small hemp doublers: $15
4 small super-snap covers: $44
1 dozen two-sided wipes: $13

And let’s not forget, a bottle of Charlie’s Soap for cleaning all of this stuff: $20

That’s a grand total of $220. Ouch.

But as I placed the order I told myself that I would be saving money in the long run because I would be using far fewer disposable diapers. On top of that, I would not be adding the li’l one’s toxic human waste to landfills…so there’s that eco-feel-good factor, too, of course, which is worth a small financial sacrifice on our part.

Now, to parse out the “savings” if there are any, in more detail. This becomes a fairly difficult task because it depends on many factors that vary person-to-person. For instance, do I calculate the savings based on the very cheapest diapers available (on-sale with a coupon!), or on the more expensive chlorine-free option (that of course never go on sale) that I try to buy when I can? Also, every person’s child grows at a different rate–in our case we have gotten a lot more use out of these “small” sizes without having to pay for an upgrade yet because the babe has doggedly remained in the 5th percentile all this time. Many other kids would have grown out of these in a matter of months, however, thus requiring another $100 investment in fresh supplies. Also, clearly the savings are greater if you exclusively use the cloth, which we have not done due to the kiddo starting daycare part-time at 3 mos. The only thing I hate more than inconveniencing myself is inconveniencing others, so I was not about to demand that her sitter go cloth for us.

So, understanding that any calculation is subject to quite a lot of variance depending on your situation, I will do my best ballparking here.

Let’s assume that each disposable diaper you use costs twenty cents. (That number comes from buying a carton of 200 Luvs brand diapers at Target for $40.) Let’s assume that you use an average of 7 disposables per day. That brings you to about $10/week in diaper costs. At that rate, it would take 22 weeks for you to come out even on your initial investment if you were using all-cloth-all-the-time. And that’s not considering the cost of washing/drying all those diapers, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms. If I estimate that each load of wash costs $.75 and I wash the diapers 2x/week, that’s another $6/month in cloth costs. Which means it will take until week 26 for the costs to actually meet up. By then the average person would definitely have already had to buy more diapers in the next size up to accommodate their growing child.

Of course, you could also consider the fact that you will be able to use these supplies again for subsequent children–so maybe I have not saved myself anything this time around, but by next time I will not need to spend ANY money on the cloth. So there’s that at least, as long as you’re planning on having more than one kid!

But what of the environmental value? In the past six months, you just threw 1,176 fewer diapers full of human waste into a landfill! (Holy crap, that’s a lot of diapers!) Then again, you also just did a lot of extra laundry, using up resources like water and electricity. Then again, the carbon footprint of CREATING all those disposable diapers is heavy, too.

In the end, I found this article to be fairly thorough in its weighing of the comparative and controversial costs of each–and for myself concluded that cloth probably eeks out disposable in terms of environmentally-conscious choices, if not necessarily in terms of your budget. Fortunately, the article also very kindly reminded me that HAVING A BABY in the first place was the selfish, environmentally destructive variable that truly matters most in the whole equation.

DAMNIT!!!

Keep it simple, stupid!

March 21, 2009

I am a simple lady. Although in recent years I have given in and started paying more than $10 for my haircuts, and I have tried to invest more time in accessorizing according to the Friday night admonishments I receive from Stacy and Clinton (my kicky Kate Spade purse has pink lining, people!), I still can be found without makeup many days of the week and I can’t ever seem to keep more than one pair of jeans in the house that I actually feel comfortable wearing in public.

I tell you this so that you have some context when I try to explain how woefully unprepared I was three years ago when I passed from the uncomplicated, carefree bliss of single womanhood into the mystical, surprisingly intractable social construct that is WEDDING PLANNING. When I had bothered to envision this momentous step of my life at all, I assumed it would go like most things in my world. My husband-to-be and I would keep it simple, map out some general plans, make a few phone calls, and make it happen. Little did I know that weddings are this living, breathing entity with a mind of their own, and that if you are ill-prepared or not paying attention (or are an overwhelmed and exhausted inner-city teacher), your low-key celebration can turn into a recipe for bridezilla mania!

This is not to say that I don’t now appreciate having a Kitchen-Aid handy and all, it’s just that if I could have a do-over, I would have invested more time and vigilance into ensuring that the festivities bucked more of the typical “wedding” stereotypes and reflected more clearly a few of my own core values. But you can’t have a do-over (well, not if you’re really into your current husband, which I am). What I realized I DID have, however, was another chance with the next BIG event in the average woman’s life—the arrival of the first baby.

This time I would be prepared! I would take charge and preemptively simplify at every step possible. I started by trading my high-stress 60-hour-per-week teaching job for some low-stress part-time desk-work (like, is this even WORK?). Then I decided the next step would be avoiding at all costs having a baby shower that would drown me and my growing belly in the tell-tale piles of boxes, bows and ribbons that to me scream, “AMERICAN BABIES MUST HAVE ONE OF EVERYTHING IN THE BABIES-R-US STORE IF THEY ARE TO SURVIVE IN A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTY! WE WILL SHIELD THEM FROM THE CHAOS BY MAKING SURE THEY ARE SURROUNDED BY AS MANY TOP-OF-THE-LINE PLASTIC PRODUCTS AS POSSIBLE!”

Thus it was that when I became pregnant, I began announcing EARLY and OFTEN to anyone who was listening or just had the unfortunate luck to be within earshot that I would only be accepting reused and recycled items as baby gifts. To ensure that my wishes were actually followed and that my friends and family didn’t think I was just making idle threats, I made a website explaining as much that could also double as a bootleg “registry” for said used items.

Nearly ten months later, and with everything ready for the new baby, I can proudly say the sum total of “brand new” supplies in my house would probably fit inside two grocery bags. Absolutely everything else has been handed-down, re-gifted, bought at a thrift or consignment store, or lent to us by friends who jumped at the chance to free up storage in their house until their next newborn comes along.

But gathering supplies was just the beginning! Now I’ve got a living, breathing, pooping-machine whose sole purpose on this earth right now seems to be generating dirty clothes and diapers faster than I can even get them off her little body. (Question: how can something so tiny emit so many fluids simultaneously out of so many orifices?!)

So, welcome to my blog, a chronicle of a first-time mom’s part-time pursuit to find cheap, simple ways to lighten her adorable offspring’s imprint on the world.