Thrifty Solutions for Greener Cleaning


Before having a baby, cleaning was easier than I ever realized.  I didn’t have to deal with the daily challenge of fingerprint smudges on windows or toys scattered across the carpet.  I don’t remember ever getting occasional dollops of mashed yams stuck to my socks when I traversed the kitchen floor.  Then again, life wasn’t nearly as interesting.


Nowadays, I spend much more time cleaning, but luckily I don’t spend much more money.  According to US Department of Labor Statistics, the average family shells out over $600 per year on household cleaning products.  Beyond the economic costs, many mainstream cleaners contain toxins that can harm the environment and negatively impact your family’s health. Our family spends less than fifty dollars a year by using our own cleaning solutions along with a few natural products.  It saves money, saves the planet, and keeps our house spick and span. 


The Homemade Nursery: Eco-friendly Decorations for Baby’s Room

According to Denise and Alan Field’s Baby Bargains, the average American spends $1800 outfitting a nursery—that includes a crib, mattress, dresser, rocker, bedding, and décor.  I managed to spend just $245.  How did I do it?  Well, I did get a lot of stuff for free, thanks to the generosity of friends and family.  I also simply avoided buying all of the nursery “must-haves” on the market, such as a rocker.  My daughter’s room may not look like something you’d find in the pages of Architectural Digest, but it has a certain cozy appeal to it.

Homemade Nursery

Much of the eclectic charm comes from homemade creations.  My daughter received beautiful quilts and blankets from her grandmothers and great-grandmother.  They make great nursery decorations—I hung the quilt my cousin Lindsay made on the wall for all to admire.  My daughter will treasure all of these hand-sewn blankets as she grows up.  After all these years, I still have the baby blanket my grandma made for me when I was born.  Homemade items become keepsakes, making them greener than store-bought goods.

My Adventures in Organic Baby Food

Originally I didn’t think organic baby food would be such a priority for me. No one in my very frugal extended family had considered purchasing organic food because of the extra expense. The turning point came when I read in Consumer Reports, the ultimate thrifty guide, that organic baby food was worth the extra cost not just for the sake of the environment, but for baby’s health.


As if I wasn’t already convinced, last Wednesday’s issue of The Seattle Intelligencer drove the point home with an article entitled “Harmful pesticides found in everyday food products”.  The article describes a recent scientific study of 21 children between the ages of 3-11.  Researchers kept careful records of their dietary habits and found that those who ate mainstream produce showed signs of organophosphates in their urine and saliva samples. These findings are a bit upsetting considering that organophosphastes were developed from nerve gas during World War II. During the winter months, the detected pesticide levels were higher in the children, which most likely showed that they were eating more imported fruits and vegetables.  Now, before you get too worried, doctors aren’t sure what effects, if any, organophosphates have on children.  Still, it feels pretty great not to take the risk.  


When I first did research about pesticides, I was shocked to find that the foods with some of the highest levels of pesticide residues are family favorites such as apples and peaches. I wasn’t sure I could afford to buy only organic foods, so I focused on buying organic for the foods with the highest pesticide residue.  The environmental working group has developed a printable wallet-sized card that lists the top 43 fruits and veggies with the highest pesticide load.  If you simply can’t afford to buy organic, Tiny Footprints, the website of the Oregon Environmental Council, recommends cleansing produce by mixing one teaspoon of dish soap into a gallon of warm water.  Then thoroughly wash and rinse before consumption.  The  photo below shows one of the fruits with the sixth highest pesticide residue: the humble strawberry.

 Strawberry carries high level of pesticide residue

Once I had procured my produce, I was off to become a baby food Betty Crocker (organic-style).  I bought a fifteen dollar baby food grinder when Roscoe started on solids, thinking that it was the only method for mashing his food.  It very quickly ended up in the back of the cupboard when I realized that our blender and some ice cube trays were all we really needed.  I peeled and boiled or steamed the food, tossed it in the blender with some extra water and poured it into ice cube trays.  Then I dumped the frozen cubes into Zip lock bags for storage with labels and dates. Mainly I did large batches at once—which was quite convenient but sometimes backfired when Roscoe decided that he hated my four large Ziplock bags full of sweet potato puree.  You can find some simple directions for home blended baby food on Wholesome Baby Food’s website.  Here Roscoe has decided to use his dinner as a facial treatment rather than an actual meal. 


In the beginning, I was determined to make every drop of baby food myself. When I complained to my daycare provider about exhaustion and the stress of preparing Roscoe’s food, pumping breast milk, and writing lesson plans, she suggested a revolutionary idea: buying a little sanity in the form of prepared baby food. In the end I made some of Roscoe’s meals myself but also found deals on prepared organic foods.


The best discovery I made on prepared food for Roscoe came outside of the baby food aisle.  I bought large jars of organic applesauce and boxes of frozen organic pureed squash that worked great as baby food.  I also used cans of organic pumpkin and as my son grew, I used cans of organic beans and as finger foods.  Here Roscoe considers the complex flavors of pureed squash. 


Earth’s Best was our standby in jarred baby food and teething biscuits. Roscoe always loved their food (much better than anything that emerged from my blender) and we appreciated the fact that their whole line of baby foods are certified organic.  By buying large boxes of several dozen jars of Earth’s Best at Costco, the cost was just a few pennies more per jar than standard baby food.


When Roscoe started to be able to feed himself, we discovered Healthy Times puffs.  They are wheat-free, dairy-free, and soy-free but Roscoe never seemed to notice that they were missing anything.  They had much less packaging than mainstream puffs and were very fairly priced. Healthy Times was started by a mom over twenty years ago who was looking for organic, healthy alternatives and now has a whole line of foods including jarred baby foods and teething biscuits.


Annie’s Homegrown is more of a kids brand than a baby food label, but we’ve started Roscoe on the bunny crackers and would love for him to grow up with the brand name.  Annie’s has been around for a decade and were far ahead of the mainstream organic food movement.  They offer crackers, cereal and even organic macaroni and cheese that are appealing to children and much more nourishing than the mainstream alternatives.


The lesson that parenting seems to teach over and over again is, “be flexible.”  If you’re planning on making every drop of baby food from scratch, be open the fact that exhaustion may occasionally trump your plans.  Or, if you think it’s utterly impossible to make your own baby food, give it a whirl and see what you think.  The decision to feed our son organic food has raised my family’s awareness about the quality of our produce and the contents of our fridge are now reflecting our move toward organic foods.  We have the youngest member of our family to thank for propelling us much further on our green journey. 

How Much Money Do Cloth Diapers Save?: A Cloth vs. Disposable Cost Comparison

Consumer Reports estimates you’ll spend $1500-2000 for disposable diapers before your child is potty trained.  Can you save by using cloth?  Yes!  The cheapest option, prefolds plus covers, can cost as little as $243 over 2.5 years—that includes washing and drying expenses.  An all-in-one (such as this one by bumGenius) or pocket diaper (such as a Fuzzibunz) can cost around $17 each, so people tend to buy fewer and wash them more often, raising the total price over 2.5 years to $792.  To see our calculations and learn how to save money using cloth diapers, keep reading.

Prefolds: The Cheapest Diapering Option.  My daughter just turned two.  According to my obsessively detailed calculations, I spent $129.50 on the first year and $66 on the second.  I don’t foresee buying any more supplies, so after 2.5 years (the average age of potty training), I’ll have spent $213.50 diapering my child.  That figure includes all my cloth diapers, some disposables for travel, and washing and drying.

Green Mom Guilt

Motherhood has moved my capacity for guilt to a whole new level—and I was pretty advanced to begin with. The guilt-rants that occur in my brain are often totally illogical (due to sleep deprivation) but it’s amazing how powerful they can become.  Here is a sample of a sudden guilt gush: “Why didn’t I bring mittens to the park? Now he’ll probably get frostbite and never be able to pursue his dream of professional fiddling!”


O.K. It doesn’t always get that bad, but it is hard to feel as though the entire well-being of another tiny soul rests on my shoulders.   So when I throw the health of the planet into the mix, I can occasionally become overwhelmed.  As I’m wheeling my son through the grocery store (and sensing an impending fit) it’s tough to make quick decisions about green packaging, organic products, and price—all while singing Itsy Bitsy Spider and planning a diaper change in a public restroom.


Green Maternity Fashion

One of the downsides—or upsides, depending on your perspective—of pregnancy is that it requires a brand new wardrobe. The average woman spends $1200 on maternity and nursing clothes. This seems like a lot for clothing you’ll wear just a month or two before you have to go up another size. If you hunt around for tips on saving money on maternity clothes, the two big ones you’ll see again and again are 1. Borrow maternity clothes from friends, and 2. Wear your husband’s clothes. The great thing about these tips is that they not only save you a bundle of cash—they’re also eco-friendly alternatives to shelling out over a grand on barely-worn garments.

Natural Teething Solutions to Soothe Gnawing Worries

Our 16-month-old notifies me that he’s teething by forcefully biting my finger or clamping down while breastfeeding (SO painful!).  He also produces loads of saliva to be used for slimy kisses or casual drooling. On a late night trip to the local drug store in search of a teething solution, I found that the only teething items on the mainstream market are all different shapes, sizes and colors of plastic.


While I hated using plastic because of its impact on the planet, I didn’t initially know about the health concerns. If you haven’t yet heard the recent news reports, here’s the update in a nutshell: Certain plastics leach carcinogens and toxins that could affect your baby’s development and/or reproductive health.  Ack! You say, my baby is chewing on a large hunk of plastic as I read this!  Luckily, there is a wonderful website,, that will send you a wallet-sized card to help you select safer plastic products for your child.  The site also has excellent information on green cleaning,  green baby showers, and many other topics.


Product Review: Danish Wool Nursing Pads

As a notorious cheapskate, it may seem out of character for me to consider wool nursing pads that cost almost $20 a pair. While I was pregnant, I obsessed over this purchase. Nursing pads were something I’d never thought about at all pre-pregnancy. I hadn’t even considered their existence. After doing some reading, I came to the startling realization that lactating women leak. This frightened me.

I learned that there was a simple way to prevent soaking all my shirts in breast milk: wear nursing pads. I didn’t want to buy disposable nursing pads, and I heard cotton nursing pads soaked through too easily and resulted in a cold and clammy chest. Somehow I found, a website promoting wool nursing pads. Intriguingly, the website claimed you only really needed one or two pair, because wool has the magical ability to feel dry even when wet. According to the website, the lanolin in the wool “has an antibacterial effect and removes odors.” It goes on to say that “even if wool is wet with sweat, urine or breast-milk, the lanolin goes to work cleansing the wool—it need only be washed when the lanolin needs replenishing.”


Cloth Diapers: The Real Poop on Going Green

Have you ever heard the “cloth diaper scare stories” before?  When I was pregnant, these frightening tales worried my hormone-filled mind.  I was so concerned about being “ready” and was sure that I was making my life far too difficult by using cloth.  Most standard baby guides had no information on cloth diapering, except to recommend against it.  I couldn’t seem to figure out all of the vocabulary associated with pre-folds, liners, G-diapers, and all the other products on the market.  What if I invested lots of money in cloth diapers and then found it all to be just too hard?


Luckily, I had Rebecca as my guide to the cloth diaper world.   I went with her to a resale shop and bought some covers, watched her expertly diaper her baby in less than twenty seconds, and realized that even I could easily manage cloth. A year and a half later, the truth is that cloth diapering isn’t even remotely a hardship.  We toss in an extra load of laundry every few days and fold diapers while zoning out in the evenings.  It has saved us hundreds of dollars and quite a bit of landfill space.


Washable vs. Disposable—Environmental Debates to Ponder

Both Joy and I are committed to cloth diapering our offspring. First of all, we’re cheap, and our cloth diapers are much cheaper than standard disposables. We were also under the impression that cloth diapers were better for the environment than disposables. Well, we looked into it. It turns out that a major diaper study completed by the British Government in 2005 determined that the environmental impact of both diaper systems is more or less equal. How could this be? In a nutshell, disposable diapers harm the planet during their production and disposal while cloth diapers take a toll on the environment by sapping up water and energy.