The Pre-Holiday Household Clutter Purge: Making Space for Gifts

If you are expecting an influx of toys, clothes, and other household gifts this season, why not clear a space for them before they arrive? Thrift stores are often inundated with donations just after the holidays, when other shoppers are no longer hunting for gifts. Giving early ensures that your unwanted stuff can make it into holiday packages while making room for what is coming.

Start small. Taking inventory of all your earthly possessions and eliminating unnecessary clutter is a daunting task any time of the year, let alone during the holiday crush. You might just want to pick one room to focus on and set aside an hour to attack. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Categorize. Make a pile for charitable donation (or perhaps for a community toy swap), a pile of hand-me-downs for friends, and a pile to recycle. You don’t want to donate a sweater with a gaping hole or a truck missing all its wheels to a thrift shop. Consider that the biggest expense for most charitable resale shops is disposing of trashed goods that people misguidedly donate.

Let it go. When packing up those onesies and footy pajamas, I would sometimes fall into a paralyzing state of nostalgia that had me thinking of just how quickly my children’s babyhood was whirring by. At the end of the hour, the floor would be strewn with baby garments, I’d be sad and discouraged, and nothing would get done. It helped me to imagine a lovely little babe (like the one pictured above) being toted into the resale shop and then dressed in the adorable old clothes my child would never again fit into. I’d take a few pictures of my favorite garments, and bravely stuff them in grocery bags destined for the thrift store.

Box up your undecided items. Does it pain you to place certain toys in the thrift store box? Are you worried your child might want to play with it in a few months when it is more developmentally appropriate? Toss it into a storage bin and put it in the garage with the date on top. Some slow afternoon in February you can pull it out again and see what happens. If the toy is again ignored, you know it’s time to pass it on.

You may just find that momentum builds when you have success with just one zone of your home. If you can dedicate just an hour a day to this mission, you can even make your way to cluttered kitchen drawers or start pulling the maternity clothes out of your closet. (I know you probably don’t have a full hour on a daily basis, so you may need to just get rid of three things every day instead of setting aside such a big chunk of time.)

Is it worth it? Yes! People who regularly purge never end up on episodes of “Hoarders,” have more conscious awareness of their stuff, and feel good about sharing unwanted items instead of having to look at them on a daily basis. How nice that being generous with your unwanted stuff can lead to a more peaceful household environment!

Our Favorite Organic Cloth Dolls

Dolls are a new play item in our household. Although we encouraged my son to embrace his nurturing side, he wasn’t the least bit interested. My daughter, on the other hand, is fully engaged in rocking, walking, and caring for her dolls. A comment by one of our readers early this week sparked my search for eco-friendly fabric dolls. My mission was to find an organic doll that was inexpensive, cute, and cuddly.

Global Green Pals has a line of dolls that I utterly love. They’re adorable but look sturdy enough to stand up to hours of active play. They’re made of 100% certified organic cotton and stuffed with post consumer plastic PET bottle stuffing. The clothes are removable, the dolls are machine washable, and they’re all under $25.

In our personal search for dolls, I’m always keeping an eye out for one that looks like my daughter. There are so many blond, blue-eyed options, but not always dolls with cinnamon skin and chocolate eyes. For that reason Global Green Pals Pani Rani is my favorite and the one I will probably get my daughter. (I have to add that I am disappointed that Global Green Pals has only one doll of color and hope that they start adding some more diversity to their collection soon.)

Of course, if my daughter had her choice, she would opt for whichever doll was wearing more pink, which would be Global Green Pals Coral Laurel.

Global Green Pals Carbon Offset Chet is rather spiffy in his doll glasses too. (or are they goggles…Hmmm…)

Global Green Pals Organic Kate looks hip–and ready to stir the compost. I love that she’s feminine without ribbon or lace.

If your child is wild about fairies, he or she may love the MiYim Good Earth Simply Organic Good Earth Fairy. The MiYim line of organic dolls are made from fully organic materials and dyed with natural plant extracts.

The MiYim Good Earth Ballerina is similarly adorable and would work well for my ballet-obsessed two-year old.

I have to add that Etsy has some beautiful hand-made dolls that are crafted by other mothers. It’s a great way to support a mom and find something unique for your child. Or you can hit the local craft fairs in your area and find something created by a local artisan. I’m always a big fan of secondhand toys, but haven’t had much luck with fabric dolls. Have you?

Our Favorite Eco-friendly Toys

Do kids even play with wooden toys? Do they always get more fun out of the battery powered plastic gizmos? Will you end up investing a chunk of your holiday budget in something that your child won’t even touch?

(Speaking of your holiday budget, don’t forget to enter our Charlie Banana Hybrid Diaper giveaway! The contest ends on Wednesday and you can enter up to four times!)

I cannot totally guarantee that your tot will love the following toys, but I can attest to the fact that my children have played with them vigorously for hundreds of hours spanning years of their lives. For us, they were worth the investment!

I wrote an entire post about how much we love our daughter’s Green Toys Tea Set. Made from recycled plastic, this sturdy and cute little set has already been thoroughly enjoyed just in the last few months. I love the simple design, interchangeable lids, and lovely colors in this little ensemble. (The Green Toys Recycling Truck was my son’s favorite vehicle for a full year.)

Grandma and Grandpa purchased this Melissa and Doug shopping cart for my daughter, but I wasn’t sure it would be worth the hefty price early on. I was entirely wrong! Both my kids push it around the house on a daily basis and it doubles as a doll stroller and block transporter as well.

Something about the shape and size of City Blocks makes them a staple building tool at our house. The kids have made pirate ships, bridges, and complex skyscrapers over hours of playtime.

I love that the Alex Toys in My Kitchen Set is small and colorful. It’s glorious being able to avoid a giant plastic kitchen while still enjoying hours of imaginative play over those bright burners.

Many of the hand crafted wooden vehicles we have been given have sat neglected over the years, but Automoblox are a grand exception. The fact that each vehicle comes apart and can be combined with other vehicles has made them hugely popular around here. My son received a set when he was two and is still messing with them three years later.

If all of us had a limitless holiday budget, we might buy dozens of sustainably crafted heirloom toys for our little ones. But if you can only buy a few, which ones will you be purchasing? Will you end up buying used or possibly even making some of your gifts by hand this year? What’s on your gift list?

Best Wooden Toys for Babies and Young Children

I’m one of those mean mothers who doesn’t want her aesthetic sensibilities offended by blinking plastic toys all over the living room. But, in an effort to prove that my heart isn’t completely dry and shriveled, I do allow tasteful, wooden playthings to cozy up next to the plants and furniture.

The Plan Toy Chalet Dollhouse with furniture ($179.46) won’t fit in Audrey’s bedroom, so it lives right on the living room floor. This toy has endured as one of her favorite-ever Christmas presents. She received it two years ago now and plays with it almost daily. It makes future gift-giving easy for relatives, too, because there are always more accessories to add to it.

Audrey loves the Plan Toy doll house nursery ($15.49), which brings a little wooden baby to the household.

And of course you can’t play with the dollhouse without The Plan Toy Modern Doll Family ($12.22). The Melissa and Doug wooden family doll set ($16.06) look pretty cute, too.

Aside from the dollhouse, the wooden toys that have gotten the most mileage around here are the wooden food playsets. Audrey has had the Melissa and Doug Cutting Food Box ($15) and the Melissa and Doug Food Groups ($13.59) for years now.

We never had the space for a wooden kitchen, but the  Kidkraft Suite Elite kitchen ($109) looks like a great deal. Last year we posted a round-up of wooden kitchens you will want to check out.

For babies, I’d recommend old-fashioned wooden blocks (starting around $12). Audrey has had a set since birth and still gets them out and plays with them sometimes. Ditto for the wooden stacking rings (starting around $8).

This year I may surprise my five-year-old with the Melissa and Doug Shape, Model, and Mold ($15).

What are your (oh, and your children’s) favorite wooden toys?

To Pacify or Not to Pacify: Should Your Baby Use a Binky?

Many mothers I knew had hard and fast opinions on the use of pacifiers. Here are a few of them that I can remember off hand:

“I don’t want my child to have a piece of plastic in her mouth at all times. It’s not natural, it makes it difficult for her to speak, it could hurt her teeth, and I’m not confident that the materials used to make pacifiers are safe for the kind of use I’ve seen in small babies.”-Margaret.

“I waited three months so that we could really figure out breastfeeding and ensure that the binky wasn’t going to get in the way. After that, I had no problem using a pacifier, as long is it was BPA free.”-Kathleen

“From about two months of age, I trained my child to start putting her finger in her mouth. She learned it easily and was able to pacify herself the same way kids have been doing for hundreds of years, using her own body.”-Valerie

I didn’t want my child sucking her thumb, simply because you can’t take that away whereas you can wean a child from a pacifier. For that reason, I did use a pacifier early on to provide her with something that could soothe her but that I could remove as she got older. -Chao

If you read Monday’s post you know that I have used pacifiers with both our children, more out of desperation than conscious choice.  My daughter covets them and we search them out on daily basis, despite the fact that we have at least eight lurking somewhere in our home.  I’m looking forward to a binky-free future sometime in the next 1-2 years.  It does happen, right?

Pacifiers in Both Pockets: How Our Household Binky Addiction Began

My official stance on pacifier use was influenced by lactation specialists who advised that I hold off until baby reached three months of age to ensure we kept up a good breastfeeding latch. For approximately twelve weeks my son’s remarkably ear piercing wails were the norm, sometimes for several hours at a time.

When he hit three months and we popped that magical little (BPA-free) device into his mouth, we experienced a wee bit of heaven. It was quiet, he was content, and the addiction began. Every night (sometimes while cursing under our breath) we searched the house for pacifiers to ensure that he was surrounded by at least a half dozen while he slept. Otherwise we’d wake to his siren scream at 3 a.m. and find ourselves groping under his crib in the dark to find those tiny providers of peace and quiet.

At some point, which we honestly can’t now remember due to sleep deprivation, he just gave them up. We happily celebrated the end of our nightly binky searches and life went on.

Consequently, we didn’t worry much about giving our daughter a pacifier when she hit three months. Little did we know that her attachment would be personal and all consuming. She kisses her binkies, carries them around in tiny purses, and wails for them when they are out of reach. The other day she announced, “I’m a big girl. I don’t need my binkies anymore!” I happily packed them away and then began a two hour attempt to get her to sleep during her nap. I could have held the line and pushed ahead, but instead I popped a binky in her mouth and she zonked out in seconds.

So should you ever start using pacifiers?  What has your experience been?  We’ll share opinions from a variety of my mom-peers on Wednesday, but I’d love to hear more from our readers.

Using Car Seat Covers to Keep Newborns and Babies Warm

Since we’re nestled here in the Pacific Northwest where our biggest complaint is rain, I can’t quite imagine toting my newborn home in sub-zero weather. We’ve hit a patch of chilly days here lately and it had me wondering what mothers in cold climates do to keep their infants warm on winter walks. After all, part of maintaining the motivation to live a green lifestyle is simply getting outside and connecting with nature–which can be challenging in places like Northern Alaska. Finally, I can across an image of a car seat cover.

So just what is this contraption? It fits around the outside of the car seat to provide a cozy cocoon for a newborn or infant. The one pictured above is a JJ Cole Carseat Cover and costs just under $30.

The Jolly Jumper Sneak-a-Peak Infant Carseat Cover keeps baby entirely enclosed within the car seat, providing just a tiny window for peering out. It’s also water repellant and is elasticized for a snug fit with any car seat.

Babbaco’s Babbacover Snuggle Fleece Beepbeep wins the prize for being being utterly adorable, but it’s also one of the pricier covers at $61.00. It’s nice that it does have a flip down window so that you can cover baby if she’s napping.

Are car seat covers really worth buying? It depends entirely on your geographic location and your personal values. If you live in an incredibly cold climate and are feeling desperate to get outside, it might warrant the cost. You can clip the carseat into a travel system stroller with the cover and take baby out for a walk on a freezing day without feeling like you’re risking her health. (Would you then need to put the stroller on skis? Hmm….)

Or you may just want to purchase some ultra warm baby clothing and skip the car seat cover altogether. Of course, if you only experience severe winter cold for a few weeks out of the year, it’s probably not worth worrying about car seat covers or extreme winter clothing for baby.

Have you ever even seen an infant car seat cover in use? Are they common where you live? Do you use one?

Cloth Diapering Myths

Although I really wanted to cloth diaper, I was haunted my myths that I kept hearing from non-cloth diapering moms. Luckily I had Rebecca, who guided me through the world of cloth diapers and later became my co-author and co-blogger here at Now we can support other new parents by dispelling some of those cloth diapering myths that we found to be utterly untrue.

Myth #1: You’ll have to use pins and plastic pants.
When I tell people that I cloth diapered my children, it’s amazing how many of them say they just couldn’t imagine having to use pins with small infants. I show them pictures of the hourglass design and velcro and snap closures and they are amazed.

Myth #2: Cloth Diapering is very expensive in the beginning.
I was worried about spending a few hundred dollars on cloth diapering, only to find out that I couldn’t manage the laundry (another myth) or that the diapers were the wrong fit for my baby. Rebecca helped me clear this hurdle when she took me to a consignment shop where I picked out some gently used super whisper wraps and a half dozen other diaper covers for just one dollar each. I then bought three dozen gently used cotton prefolds from a diaper service and was ready to go with only a thirty dollar investment. (Note: Many of our readers have shared that Jillian’s Drawers allows you a no-risk cloth diaper trial for only ten bucks. They’re also tremendously supportive for trouble shooting.)

Myth #3: Cloth diapering is more complicated and labor intensive than disposable diapering.
Rebecca and I are self-confessed slackers. The diaper laundering systems that we used in our households are not rocket science and require very little effort. (We go over this system in detail in our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide.) The very best part of cloth diapering is never having to strap your screaming infant into a car seat to go buy diapers. What a relief to have everything you need at home!

Myth #4: You need to choose one cloth diapering system and stick with it.
I agonized over whether to use prefolds or all-in-one diapers, and after careful research, I chose prefolds. (For this reason, we include graphs, cost comparisons, and illustrations in The Eco-nomical Baby Guide for those parents who want to understand their cloth diapering and hybrid diapering options.) Prefolds worked just fine, but when I was sent a batch of FuzziBunz pocket diapers, I fell in love. Then some friends gave me their BumGenius all in ones, and I saw how convenient they were. In short, different types of diapers work best in different situations and it’s perfectly fine to have a mix of diapers. Why limit yourself?

Myth #5: Cloth diapering is less eco-friendly than using disposables.
Intuitively we all know that washing and reusing something is more eco-friendly than tossing it in the landfill. In The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, we take a careful look at recent studies and provide detailed comparisons of cloth and disposables. We also show how using the right washing methods can cut down dramatically on environmental impact and share how hybrid diapers and greener disposables fit into the mix.

Myth #6: You have to choose between cloth or disposable diapers.
Sometimes families shy away from cloth diapering because then they think it requires a total commitment. A good percentage of our readers use cloth diapers exclusively but some families use cloth during the day and disposables at night while others use disposables about half of the time. In truth, using cloth even part of the time saves money and trash. Hybrid diapers such as Grovia Diapers and g-Diapers incorporate both disposable and cloth options, making them an appealing choice as well.

Now that I’m on the other side of cloth diapering apprehension, it’s fun to see how people don’t seem to know how incredibly easy cloth diapering has become. As a result, people look at me with admiration and awe while I perform a cloth diaper change in a public bathroom. I didn’t imagine that cloth diapering would make me appear to be a genius while changing a poopy diaper, but I don’t mind it either.

Have you dispelled any myths while using cloth diapers? Have you found them to be far easier or more challenging than you first imagined?

Our Favorite DIY Costume Ideas for Babies and Kids

Maybe one of these years I’ll think of a truly creative Halloween costume idea for my child and spend my whole summer putting it together. But not this year. Audrey has decided to be a princess (again). At our favorite consignment store, I found this dress for $4.50. After mending a torn ruffle and safety-pinning a piece of Velcro back in place, it’s ready for some serious trick-or-treating.

Need more of our favorite eco-friendly Halloween costume ideas for babies and kids? Look no further!

Our Favorite DIY Halloween Costumes of 2010

Last-minute DIY Halloween Costume Ideas for Babies and Kids

DIY Halloween Costume Ideas for Kids and Babies

What are Your DIY Halloween Costume Ideas?

Family Themed Halloween Costume Ideas

The Saturday Question: What are Your Best DIY Halloween Costume Ideas for Baby?

The Two Dollar Halloween Costume

Should You Buy an Organic Crib Mattress?

Your infant sleeps for hours on end each day. (Not in a row, but still….) How important is it to choose an organic sleeping surface for baby? And why are there so many concerns about traditional crib mattresses?

In our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, we thoroughly explain why many families opt for organic crib mattresses, despite their extra expense. Although we’re big believers in reducing, repurposing, and buying used baby gear, an organic crib mattress is one of the two items that we recommend parents purchase new. Still, there are some critical questions to consider before you invest in a secure place for baby’s (fleeting) sleep.

Are you going to co-sleep?
If you’re planning on bringing baby to bed with you for the first few months or even years, you may want to think about buying a queen or king sized organic mattress for your bed instead.

Are you having your first child?
While it’s tough to shell out the extra cash for an organic crib mattress, you may have other children who will benefit from it as well. If you convert it to a toddler bed down the line, you can get several years of use out of it.

Can you afford it?
We should point out that organic crib mattresses have really come down in price. Pictured above are the LA Baby Organic Cotton Crib Mattress on sale for just over a hundred dollars and The Sealy Naturalis Mattress with Organic Cotton also on sale for just under a hundred bucks.

If the expense is still an obstacle, consider using an Organic Waterproof Crib Cover or Naturepedic’s Waterproof Fitted Crib Pad. They will at least provide a natural barrier between baby and the crib mattress.

An organic crib mattress can be expensive is a great item to request for a baby shower or family gift. Everyone can pitch in a bit of cash and you’ll receive a quality organic mattress and maybe a whole cloth diaper kit too! Have you opted to go with an organic mattress? Why or why not?