As an entrepreneur and mom of two kids under three, I am always thrilled when I can find time to catch up with friends at a local event that also dovetails with my work in sustainable fashion.
I got the chance to attend one such event recently, and I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I was excited to re-connect, and we dove into recapping our latest news and adventures in life since we’d last spoken. At one point during our chat, which took place as we stood surrounded by people who’d come to learn and talk about ethical fashion, my friend paused, looked around and asked, “Don’t you just feel guilty every day?”
At first I was surprised. I had expected her to echo the chorus of eco-friendly cheerleading reverberating throughout the conversations at this particular gathering. But like so many working parents today, she was wracked by guilt and stressed about balancing the choices that seem right for the environment and those that seem to go arm-in-arm with parenting today. Like disposable diapers and stockpiles of cheap, plastic toys and snacks individually packaged and cased inside boxes shrink-wrapped with plastic.
It feels hard enough for many parents just to make the Tetris game-like acts of daily life work. When you pile on a desire to find and buy environmentally-friendly products, reduce plastic intake at home and manage all the things that kids supposedly need to thrive, it can get downright overwhelming.
I’m a mother, as well, so I know all about it. Parenthood is one of life’s most beautiful experiences, but it is often difficult and tiring. Even for people living with ample resources and lots of support, some days, the very basic building blocks of life feel hard to put together.
So I understand where my friend was coming from when we had that catch-up talk. But I also know it’s possible to include eco-consciousness into your life as a parent without losing your mind and becoming totally overwhelmed and stressed out. But the incentives don’t stop there.
Children are always watching, and they learn more from their parents than anyone else.
Eco-conscious living can teach children how to analyze the impact of every day, small choices that we all make. Along with that, the entire concept of minimalism can do wonders to ease stress and clear your mind. Without all the extra stuff you don’t really need cluttering your world, you can focus on what’s most important, which is the beauty in relationships and the every day experiences that make up a life well-lived. Rather than focusing on the short-term satisfaction of accumulating things, you will be able to focus on what studies show brings lasting happiness: connectivity with others.
With that in mind and drawing inspiration from my conversation with my friend, I’m sharing tips and advice to help parents ditch the eco-guilt in favor of a new paradigm: eco-conscious, minimalist parenting as actually far less stressful than the alternative. In fact, adopting an eco-conscious approach to parenting and having fewer things has actually led to far lower stress in my own life, and it can in yours, too.
If you’re looking to lower your stress level and make more eco-conscious choices as a parent, start here:
Lean on tools to do the research heavy-lifting
Being an eco-conscious parent means doing research before you buy, then aiming to reduce, reuse and recycle whenever possible afterwards. It’s the research that’s often the hardest to implement. It’s time-consuming and the information out there today is often difficult to verify at first pass. For many busy parents, trying to compare eco-choices from food to fashion to furniture and children’s toys prompts instant groans. Using trusted tools that do the research for you can help cut down research time while also upping the chances you’ll end up buying products made of higher quality materials and longer life expectancies, which ultimately means producing less waste and spending less money. Win win, right? I recommend using a site like DoneGood that aggregate products to find and vet new purchases and tapping into podcasts like The Wise Consumer to pick up extra wisdom while you’re doing other things. Just be careful, greenwashing is real, so you want to make sure any third party tools are ones you trust.
Reduce what you allow into your life
Modern culture has made us think we need many, many things to live and thrive. But we actually need very little to live a truly fulfilled life. And now…a meritorious excuse to be lazy AND cheap. Yes, you read that right. Just find a way to use what you have without buying more. Children are raised all over the world by people with less means than those reading this article, people who never have a baby shower or know the concept of the “latest” toy. Additionally, research shows that having fewer toys enhances creativity and children’s attention spans. And when it comes to children, don’t forget that creativity and human interaction is more important than anything. Just your singing voice and whatever acting abilities you have can be your child’s favorite entertainment. When I buy new physical items for myself or my home, I like to aim for products that have a life of at least five years whenever possible. Search for objects that will hold up and last. And when you do buy toys, invest in toys that work for kids in a range of different ages (e.g., Tegu blocks), so you’ll be able to use them as your child or children grow and may have similar appeal for others you’ll gift them to in the future when you no longer need them.
Reuse what you can when you can
Along with reducing what you purchase and sticking to high-quality items that lessen the need for regular replacements, you can also make a habit of reusing or repurposing things in creative ways. For example, I’ve used teaspoons as baby spoons instead of buying those specifically created for that purpose. Towels can be burp cloths, fingers can be pacifiers, pillows and blankets can provide hours of entertainment. When it comes to toys, a creative technique I love is rotating groups of toys we already have instead of buying new ones.
Repair what you can
Have a mending kit, super glue and other supplies for making simple repairs at home when garments get holes or buttons fall off or your child’s sneaker soles start coming away from the bottom of the shoe after it rains. I often do what I call “book surgery” and fix torn pages so we can keep reading our favorite books. Doing this not only means we can read the book for longer, but it also teaches kids how important it is to care for what they have. Seeing the tape on the book pages is a little reminder to them to care for their things.
Recycle – and responsibly dispose – of items at the end of their life
Caring for items at their end of life is about more than recycling the plastic containers from the grocery store and bringing your plastic bags to a drop-off location whenever you can. It means looking for the best end-of-life option for items you no longer need, whether it’s food scraps from your table that get composted or finding an electronics recycler who will accept old appliances, that electric toothbrush that suddenly died or frayed phone charging cords. You won’t be able to do everything all of the time, but taking steps to research and be aware of objects’ end-of-life is a great place to start.
When you’re ready to start, set a reset date
When you’re ready to begin or rekindle your eco-conscious parenting journey, I recommend starting with a reset. Set a period of time where you aim to buy as little as possible. During that period of time, use what you have in the house in creative ways. Assess what you actually need and try and wait a month before you buy anything new that’s not crucial to daily life. Seeing if you can do without is a great way to determine what you really need and love having in your life and what’s just extra stuff. For help, tap into a great resource for smart decision-making and donation suggestions for items you won’t use such as Elizabeth Cline’s book The Conscious Closet.
Share your new goals and intentions with others in your life
Don’t be afraid to ask those in your life, from your friends to the server at a restaurant, to help you make better eco-choices. You may be surprised how open your daycare is to cloth diapers or how a restaurants can supply an alternative to plastic cups when asked.
Find a community that shares your values
Connecting with a community is so important for parenting, especially during the early years. Find local social media groups or listservs of other parents who share your values to get tips, ideas for as recycling options and collaborative efforts like handing down clothing and rotating items from your home to theirs and vice versa.
Say no when it’s right for you
It’s okay to “Just say no,” to people in your life who want to bring toys and objects that create waste you’re uncomfortable with. But make it less awkward by telling them in advance that you have a household rule against bringing in new stuff.
Set up a system for saving what’s most important
All of us want to save important documents and keepsakes from our childrens’ growing up years. Create a system that works for you so you keep mementos without drowning in the clutter. You can save the most important keepsakes from your children’s childhood in one bin per child, create an art storage portfolio or special area of the home for recent creative projects, and keep essential documents “on the cloud.”
As you move through the process, get help and lower your stress by looking into the philosophies behind Montessori parenting and minimalism, which focus on natural materials, only things that are necessary, and order. If you’re interested in exploring these concepts more, books like The Montessori Toddler can help you organize your home along these lines.
Above all, remember that one of the most amazing things about children is that, despite their young minds and lack of experience in the world, they can spot BS right away. The whole “do what I say and not what I do” approach doesn’t work with them. Leading by example is the only way. At the end of the day, your only job as a parent is to love your kids, do what’s right and realize that, within that, there really are very few “musts.” Parenting with an eye toward eco-consciousness is a creative way to teach children how to do the right thing in a world that will tell often them otherwise. Meanwhile, minimalism offers the gift of allowing you to focus on what’s most important: building a thriving life for you and your kids. After all, parenting ultimately brings a deeply meaningful chance to live your deepest values and help humanity to evolve and improve.