When I heard about Your Baby, Your Way, written by my colleague Jennifer Margulis, I immediately thought of all those aunties who, when confronted with the idea of buying a bassinet for a new baby, balked and pshawed about an empty dresser drawer working just fine for their babies. When it comes to minimalist parenting and leaving consumerism in the dust, we could learn a thing or two from them!
Back in the days before advertising and corporate conglomerates parents did just fine with a limited amount of baby-centric paraphernalia – or none at all.
Though I am well beyond my baby years, I sat down and read this book cover to cover.
What an insight into consumerism and corporate manipulation of our spending habits. Jennifer is doing some myth busting right here on Attainable Sustainable. Read on for Jennifer’s take on things new parents and their babies don’t need, along with a greener option.
Here she is:
Consumerism baits parents
As anyone who works in corporate sales already knows, people are more open to changing brands, trying new things, and spending more money when they are at a “life change point”: going off to college, getting married, buying a first home, having a baby.
“You suddenly have new needs that you’ve never had before, and in those moments you’re more likely to change your behavior,” Leslie Becknell Marx, who spent two years working in sales at Proctor and Gamble and is now a Unitarian minister, explained to me when I interviewed her for a chapter of my book.
Companies, not surprisingly, capitalize on this human receptiveness to change, feeding consumerism. They market their products to pregnant women and new moms as aggressively as they can.
The problem with this tried and true capitalist method is that parents often get duped into believing they need things—lots of things—for themselves and their kids.
As I told a reporter for U.S. News this week, when you have a new baby, the things that you need the most are not things that money can buy.
Parents need support with housework, help with meals, a sympathetic shoulder to cry on (those postpartum hormones can get you), and time to do nothing more than sit on the couch and gaze lovingly in a newborn’s myopic eyes.
Here are five things that parents — and children especially — don’t need. Plus some alternatives that are cheaper and don’t feed corporate consumerism.
1. Parents Don’t Need Paper Towels
If you’re a long time reader of Attainable Sustainable you know this already and you stopped using them eons ago.
That slim mom in the Bounty commercial looks great but there is no reason to buy paper towels of any kind at any time in your life. If you’re in the habit, go cold turkey. That’s what we did when our oldest was an infant and we were desperate to save money.
My mother-in-law is at a loss at our house (she can use an entire roll while cleaning up the kitchen) but we never looked back.
Minimalist Parenting Alternative to Paper Towels
Buy dishtowels at a secondhand store for less than $1.00 a piece. Get more than you think you need so you don’t ever run out. They work for everything, including draining bacon after frying. Throw them in the washer on cold. Extra credit and extra savings if you make your own laundry detergent.
2. Kids Don’t Need Toys
With our first baby our house looked like a department store, it was filled with so many toys and games. A perfect example of consumerism gone wild.
But babies don’t need plastic toys made in China. It’s a well-kept secret that most toys for kids of any age are a waste of money and end up gathering dust in the corner.
Despite outrageous claims by manufacturers, educational toys will not and cannot make your baby brainier. (Breastfeeding and human interaction, especially when you and your baby take turns talking, are what best promote brain development.)
Minimalist Parenting Alternative to Toys
Let your teething baby gum measuring spoons, let your toddler play with a potato (the heft and weight is particularly interesting to this age group), make goop for your preschooler out of cornstarch and water, shoo older kids outdoors and nature becomes their playroom.
3. Babies Don’t Need Diapers
Plastic diaper companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars funding “science” that purports that the environmental impact of plastic is equal to the environmental impact of cloth.
While this is blatantly false, both plastic diapers and cloth diapers have some negative environmental impact.
Minimalist Parenting Alternative to Diapers
There is a perfect alternative that is used to great effect by parents all over the world (besides not having kids): let your baby go diaper free. I was too close-minded to try this with three of my four. But my youngest daughter got the benefit to being diaper free and I was delighted by how much fun it was.
Read about how the Vietnamese use whistling instead of diapers!
4. You Also Don’t Need Baby Wipes
Why wipe a baby with perfumed chemical-laden “disposable” wipes that are kept in plastic containers and that end up clogging the landfill? The “natural” versions are more expensive and still get thrown out (only, like all human trash, they don’t actually go anywhere).
Minimalist Parenting Alternative to Baby Wipes
Use warm water and a washcloth on your baby’s sensitive bottom. Or you can make your own wash cloths/wipes by simply cutting pre-fold cloth diapers into quarters. Sew the edges if you’re crafty (I’m not.) Keep a stack where you change your baby and a stack in your bag for outings.
5. Families Don’t Need to Drive so Much
Traffic accidents cause over 30,000 deaths a year in the United States. Driving is one of the most polluting activities we do as individuals. A recent study by researchers in Denmark showed that kids who walk or bike to school have better concentration for up to four hours than kids who are driven or take public transport.
Yet even in my walk and bike-friendly town in southern Oregon that only covers three square miles, the vast majority of parents drive their children to school and after-school activities.
Minimalist Parenting Alternative to Driving
Scooter, bike, or walk anywhere that is less than two miles away. Take public transportation. Use driving as a last resort instead of the default option.
If you really have to drive, park half a mile from your destination and walk the rest of the way. You’ll save money on gas, save wear and tear on your car, and get more exercise. An added benefit: kids tend to share their secrets when you are walking somewhere together.
Your budget benefits from this minimalist parenting mindset, too!
But what will you do with all the money you save from not buying things you don’t need? Put it in a college fund for your kid (and ask well-meaning relatives for savings bonds in lieu of gifts). Education is sustainable.