It Works! 30-day Eco Habits Challenge

Air-purifying indoor plant

We often assess our lives at the new year then lose momentum soon after. I want to help you and me both get past the typical obstacles.

One problem is that we make the goals so big that we don’t know where to start. Looking around me at my space, I was sure this was the problem. That is how this year’s 30-day Eco Habits Challenge was born.

Before I could improve my family’s eco-life, I needed to make space.

Nine years ago, my family moved across the continent to take care of my sick mother, then she died soon after. I found myself living in the house where I grew up, in the midst of my mother’s stuff with a whole house full my own stuff in storage.

Nine years. I’m usually quite disciplined, but this was a difficult obstacle for me. “Get rid of my mom’s stuff” was on my list every year. I didn’t know where to start. The grief of an only child, added to the fact that the house was familiar from my childhood, made it easy not to change anything despite the ever-present vague goal.

When a change is big and involves a lot of small actions, it’s tough to start unless you recognize that you need to take the small actions. That is true of my clearing my house, of living without plastic, switching to reusables, replacing non-fair trade or non-organics throughout the house, or lowering your family’s carbon footprint. These are big changes, and they can feel overwhelming.

My solution: chop it up into so many tiny pieces that I couldn’t resist. Then, each day for 30 days do one small thing. This not only lessens the pain of big change but it creates a habit of the change.

At the beginning of this month, I outlined my plan. I ended up with a list of 83 items I wanted to change. Each day I cleared off one shelf, cleared out one drawer, emptied one box, or read through a pile of old letters. It still feels overwhelming, because I’m not finished, but I’ve replaced a lot of my mother’s life that I was living inside with my own life.

I did’t just want to back up a dumpster and get rid of all traces of my mother. I wanted to find ways to make her stuff useful—to let the clothes be worn again and the books be read again.

It feels great! Gone is a hideous (and dusty) dried plant thing that lived on the wall, replaced with an air-freshening living plant. Gone are my mother’s high-quality business clothes, given to a local charity that helps women get back to work. Before she died, my mother told me to donate her clothes there. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t. So, we stopped when we delivered the clothes and told them about my mom and about her commitment to their work. She was a long-time donor. I’m so happy that dozens and dozens of women will be wearing my mother’s silk dresses and wool suits to job interviews. Maybe those clothes will help them feel confident about their futures.

So, this is me reporting back and telling you that it works. It’s possible to tackle that very difficult, huge goal you have.

  • Choose a general goal that you’ve been meaning to tackle
  • Make a list of every tiny thing you can think of toward the goal
  • Choose one of the tiny actions, and do it now
  • Tomorrow, choose another tiny action, and do it
  • Check in with a family member or friend on your progress
  • Tell yourself you only need to do this for 30 days, then you can decide whether you need to shift your focus

On my master list, I put the date beside each thing I did. On my daily actions list, I started with “Do 1 Make Space action.” I couldn’t check off my day until I did it, and that usually got me past my bump of hesitation.

After about two weeks, I had taken the easiest actions, and I just had to do the more difficult actions. I’ve still only done 30 out of 83 items, so I am going to keep working on my list through February. I’ve renewed my commitment to Make Space.

It doesn’t matter when you start. Every day can be your first day. Earlier this month, I outlined a few ideas to get your started on your own eco habits challenge.

Good luck. I’m not telling you it’s easy, but I know you can do it.

Is air quality on your list? If air-purifying plants are on your list, look at the research done by NASA for the international space station. Mother Nature Network provides a list of the top choices for air-purifying plants.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

30-day Eco Habits Challenge

Woman with a power drill

Join me in challenging yourself to make real change become a new habit in 30 days. We all aspire to live more eco-friendly lives, so let’s inspire one another with our changes.

I love New Year as a time of reflection on the closing year and optimism about the coming year. You probably already know that resolutions are difficult to keep. Generally, people choose actions that are difficult for them to take, wishes for their changed future. Then, people gradually, naturally resist change, and the resolutions fall by the wayside.

This past year, I did a decent job of making some big changes. I did a rotten job (again) of taking specific actions, though. This tells me what I should already know: I’ll only do what I want to do, and what I want to do changes over the course of a year.

So, as I’m thinking about the coming year, I’m asking myself what worked well last year—not to congratulate myself but to see if I can learn from that pattern. I kept making changes and adjusting what changes I made to build core strength and health, and I made those changes because I felt great. The better I felt, the easier it was to make more changes and to make those changes habits that I don’t resist. My conclusion is that only the underlying WHY kept me moving toward change.

So, this year I want to ask myself WHY I want to make changes before I create a list of resistible actions. I want to focus on one area where I seem to have had some trouble in the past. I’m looking at what is blocking my way from making change, and I want to propose a similar challenge for you.

At bynature.ca we carry information and products to inspire natural families. Here on our blog, EcoBabySteps, we want to help you get where you are going in your own time. That is exactly what I want us to do in this challenge: that one small step after another toward the natural life we (you and I) aspire to.

Our 30-day Eco Habits Challenge

Today, take one baby step to nudge yourself toward eco change. Just one tiny step. Then, tomorrow take another. Make it small enough every day that it doesn’t hurt—or only hurts a little. Make your daily step irresistible.

So it won’t be overwhelming, I’m going to start with a 30-day challenge. If I can make it through my first 30 days, I will add a new 30-day challenge for myself next month. If you want to stop after 30 days, that’s OK. We’re all choosing our own challenges.

Also, to keep me on track and accountable, I will check in with you in a month.

Your Steps:

  1. Your Area. Choose an area where you want to make change
  2. Name It. Get out a piece of paper and write “My 30-day Eco Challenge” along with the name you are giving your area
  3. List Steps. List 50 baby steps you could take in that area
  4. Stay Accountable. Tell someone else or a group of people about your challenge
  5. Remind Yourself. Put your list where you and others can see it
  6. Start. Take one step. Start with a hard one or an easy one—doesn’t matter. Just take one step.

Potential Areas for Your Eco Challenge

If you already know what area you are ready to face for your challenge, stop reading and start now.

If you need ideas, I’ve added a few areas with ideas under each just to get you thinking. Take what works and add to the items on the list until you have at least 50 ideas.

Why 50 ideas? By the end of the month, you really won’t want to do some of the items on your list. If you don’t want to, you won’t. So, give yourself enough choice that unrealistic, overly ambitious, or just odious items don’t become your roadblocks.

Stuff

  • Don’t buy new stuff
  • Repair stuff that is broken or worn
  • Clean, paint, or otherwise renew old stuff
  • If you’ve been hanging on to old stuff you don’t use anymore, let go of it. Send it somewhere it can become someone else’s useful stuff.

Knowledge

  • Research a topic that you’ve been wondering about, like GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or natural remedies for common ailments
  • Set up a Google alert for your topic, so you get a daily reminder
  • Join a discussion group on your topic, so you can share knowledge with others
  • Go to the library and get a children’s book on your topic. Read it with your kids

Health

  • Remove barriers to sleep (tough for parents of babies)
  • Drink more water. Add a squirt of lemon or organic apple cider vinegar to your first glass of the day.
  • Build muscle tone in your idle moments
  • Switch to a doctor who will listen to your concerns about conventional medicine

Transportation

  • Take public transportation to work
  • Teach your children to use public transportation
  • Service your bicycle
  • Take your kids and dog for a walk
  • Buy new socks or repair old ones so you don’t have an excuse not to walk

House

  • Replace toxic cleaning chemicals with natural alternatives
  • Add an air-cleaning house plant in one room, then in another
  • Clean out an old cabinet full of junk and fill it with something sitting around waiting for a place to go
  • Open your kitchen cabinets and see where the plastic is. How could you replace that plastic with glass, metal, wood, or another material? Make a plan.

Energy

  • Teach your children to turn off the lights when they leave a room
  • Open the blinds rather than turning on the lights
  • Turn the heat down and put on a sweater
  • Look around the edges of all of your doors. Do you see light? If so, replace the weatherstripping.

Food & Drink

  • Look at your coffee package. Is it fair trade, shade grown, and organic? If not, research a new brand
  • Clear out your refrigerator and re-organize to put the healthiest foods where you will notice them first
  • Look in your freezer. Is there anything you reach for often that you could make from scratch, from whole foods instead?
  • Do you have a local CSA? It’s time to sign up. Find out how much it will cost and get on the list now.

Clothing

  • Clear out clothes that don’t feel great on you and give them to someone else
  • Repair clothes that you’ve been avoiding because of wear
  • Look at your tags. Where are your clothes made? If not where you think, consider researching clothing made locally
  • Give away kids clothes that are too small
  • Move your summer clothes out of the way until you need them so you really know what winter clothes you have

My Eco Habits Challenge

I wrote above that I’m looking at what is blocking me from making change, and it has become apparent to me that the blocks are actual piles of stuff blocking my way. Does that happen to you? You make a pile of stuff that is very important then you set it aside to deal with it later—and later doesn’t quite come. My other issue is that I moved into my mother’s house when she died, so I’ve been living around her stuff for a long time. I’m ready to clear out what I can’t or don’t use and share it with others. I am going to deal with the stuff in my way and help others as I go.

I’ve already started this over the past week. I got rid of 8-year old magazines that I’ve been stepping over. I kept them because I hadn’t read them yet. I didn’t read them. I just put them into the recycling. I also asked my husband to take a pile of boxes from my sewing room to recycling. He filled our car completely full and opened up a big space for me. We always recycle, but we don’t have curbside pickup. We have to save everything, fill our car, and take it to our city recycling center. We don’t question that; it’s a well established habit. But, getting rid of big items is sometimes more difficult for us to face because we only have a small car.

Nevertheless, I’m ready to meet the challenge. I’m ready to let go of stuff and open up my space. I figure that by the time I make it to the end of one month of moving all of this stuff out of my way, I will not want to fill up the space with more stuff. I hope that the habit will be one of maintaining clean and open space.

I won’t bore you with my list of 50 items (actually 70 and growing), but I’ll share a few. For bigger items, I created sub-items that I can count as a daily baby step. My list is big and scary already. I can feel my resistance welling up, but I find it comforting that I only need to do one little thing a day. I know I can do that.

30 Days: Jan 1-30
My area: Make Space & Recycle Stuff

  • Give away old kid clothes
  •      /Go through 1 box of kid clothes (anything to wash, repair, or save?)
  • Give away old adult clothes
  •      /Go through 1 shelf or drawer of adult clothes (anything to wash, repair, or save?)
  • Give away my mom’s quilting books
  •      /Put quilting books in a box
  •      /Call library to see if they want books for their sale
  • Put baby books in storage
  • Get rid of old furniture
  •      /Empty a drawer of photos and set aside for new storage
  •      /List furniture for giveaway on Craig’s List or local paper
  • Get new storage that uses space better
  •      /Measure one space and check available cabinets
  •      /Move stuff in the way into new cabinet

If you make a list, drop us a note or leave a comment. I want to know what you are ready to tackle—and I know it will help you if you tell someone.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

Back-to-school Eco Baby Steps

Mother and daughter walking to school

For those of us who are trying to lower our overall social and environmental impact, every new situation is an opportunity to find new ways to improve.

Greening back-to-school time is not just about replacing high-impact products with other products. Sure, we can help you with school supplies if you need tree-free pencils or if you want a backpack that is ethically made.

To truly lower your impact, though, you need to think differently. You might want to ask whether you even need that stuff at all. Don’t just accept the models you are given and consume just as much stuff bought from a different shelf in the store. Do you need that stuff?

Where can you go deeper to rethink back to school?

Where You Might Take Baby Steps

Lunch. Waste-free lunch is a good example of greening a situation that can generate a lot of garbage: wasted bags, plastic utensils, plastic cups, sandwich wraps, and even wasted food when we send lunches that our children don’t like. It can take some training to help both you and your child embrace new habits, but lunch doesn’t have to generate waste. It helps if the whole school supports waste-free lunch, but you can make the choice as a family.

Clothes. School clothes don’t have to be a huge expense if you don’t mind used clothes. You can buy used at a consignment or thrift store, but you could also just pass clothes around. I was at a friend’s house last month. As I looked at her son, I suddenly said, “Hey, those pants look familiar! I think those used to belong to my son.” My son hadn’t worn the pants for 10 years, but here they were still circulating around town among my friends. Clothes sharing and buying used clothing isn’t just about saving money. It helps your family avoid the waste of new clothes worn for only a few months before your child grows out of them.

Transportation. We usually think of the stuff of school because that is the focus in the relentless advertising we see this time of year, but consider the other new situations you face with school. You need to get your child to and from the school building. If you live close to the school, how about walking. If you aren’t close enough to walk, are you close enough to ride a bike? Walking or riding a bike will give you exercise as well as sharpening your child’s focus at school. Getting to and from school could be a time when you and your child chat about the day without too many other distractions. Even riding the bus takes much less energy than driving your own car.

As you go through these first few weeks of the new school year, help yourself become aware of the choices you are making. Take steps to lower your environmental impact as you go. Greening your choices isn’t about being perfect. It’s about taking steps as you become aware of them.

Image © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com

Green Your Child’s School Supplies

Child in the rain with water bottle

Does your child’s school give you a list of supplies for the first day of school? We can help you choose non-toxic, low-impact school and lunch supplies—and the bag to carry them in.

If you are working to avoid toxics at home, the last thing you want to do it give your child a bag full of toxic supplies to spend the day with at school. We have carefully built up our supply of school essentials with the lowest impact products we can find from ethical companies. Our children use these same products.

Kids Green Lunch Supplies

Our goal is to get good, healthy food to school safely without leaving a wad of garbage to throw away at the end of lunch hour. Waste-free lunch adds up.

Lunchbots Bento Box
Lunchbots Bento Lunch Box

We have a big selection of lunch bags and boxes. One of my favorites is the Lunchbots Bento Lunch Box. I like that it is stainless steel, and I don’t have to send partially plastic containers to school.

Sling Sisters Snack Bags

Reusable snack bags

For snacks and sandwiches, forget the plastic baggies. Sling Sisters reusable, zippered bags can be wiped out at the end of the day or tossed in the wash on cold.

Klean Kanteen Water Bottle
Kids Reusable Water BottleTo keep children from reaching for sugary drinks at school, we need to give them an easy alternative. A small, reusable water bottle is easy to carry around and to refill. The kid-sized bottle has a top that is easy to sip—without being a sippy cup.

Kids Green Classroom Supplies

Recycled Pencils
Recycled Newspaper Pencils

Kids go through a lot of pencils, so you want an option that is low impact without being terribly expensive. We like the Earthzone recycled pencils. They are tree-free, made with recycled newspaper. You can see the newsprint change as you sharpen the pencil. This will be a kid talking point as they figure out exactly how a newspaper was used to make a pencil.

Non-toxic Glue
Non-toxic school glue

Glue is one of those supplies that sneaks in some nasty plastic. It gets on the kids’ fingers; the fingers go in the mouth. You know how it goes. No worries with this glue. This is a safe, odorless, water-based adhesive that holds fast once dry but can easily be removed with water.

Natural Hand Sanitizer
Mint natural hand sanitizer

What do you do to clean up from all of those germy activities? Send your child to the restroom to use the synthetic hand sanitizer with Triclosan and Benzalkonium Chloride? No! This mixture of essential oils and natural materials gives your child a natural way to clean hands. It smells really nice, too.
Backpack

Dabbawalla Backpacks
Cute kids backpack Dabbawalla

To carry everything, you need a backpack that is easy to clean, because you know it is going to get dirty and sticky every single day. Dabbawalla backpacks and lunch bags are a favorite every year. Kids and parents love these cute bags. Dabbawalla backpacks can be machine washed. The material is insulated as well, so they will keep the cold lunch colder longer and the hot lunch hotter longer. Durable as well as adorable.

Clothing for UV Protection This Summer

UV Sun Protective Suit for Children

The best way to keep the sun’s UV rays away from your children’s skin is to cover their skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation calls clothing “Our first line of defense.” Dressing your children in clothing with a high UVF rating is a smart move when you go to the beach or the pool this summer.

A physical barrier to the sun gives better protection than a chemical barrier. We wrote about the importance of a physical barrier to UV rays in our review of natural sunscreens. Clothing can create a barrier without the mess of sunscreen. Clothing is a good option if you must be in the sun with a baby (since you shouldn’t use sunscreen on babies under 6 months old) or with a very fair-haired child (since lighter skin has less natural protection against sunburn).

There is a history of skin cancer in my family, so I am very cautious about sun exposure for my children and myself. Even in extreme heat, I wear long sleeves. It will be 90 degrees Fahrenheit today. I’m going to an outdoor event to hear my husband and son play in a bagpipe band. Based on experience, I’m guessing someone will ask, “Aren’t you hot in that long-sleeved shirt.” Don’t be deterred by those who second guess you when you cover yourself or your children. Fabric is the easiest, most effective way to avoid sunburn and the long-term damage caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.

How UV Protective Fabric Works

In much the same way that minerals in natural suncreen block or absorb UVA and UVB rays from the sun before they reach our skin, fabric can absorb or deflect sunlight. Think of how much light different curtains let in to your house. Fabric that prevents light prevents harmful rays.

What to Look for in Fabric

A tightly woven or knit fabric gives better protection because there is less room between the threads for sun to peek through. Darker fabrics with a lot of pigment give more protection. Because of its structure, polyester is the most effective lightweight fabric for sun protection, but heavier weight natural fabrics, like dark blue jeans, can block most of the sun’s rays. There are also chemical treatments that are added to some fabrics for extra UV protection. We prefer to avoid the chemical treatments and go with fabrics that provide protection through structure.

UPF Rating

Sunscreen has an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating that tells you how effective a product is against UVB rays that cause sunburn. UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) ratings are given to clothing as an indication of how effective a product is against UV rays of both kinds (UVA as well as UVB). UPF 50+ means that clothing has been tested to block 99% of UV rays. UPF 50+ is a rating of Excellent.

Sun Protective Swimwear for Children

Full Sun Protective Suit
UPF 50+
Size: 0-6 months through 10 years

UV Protection Sun Suit for Children

We carry sun protection suits (half-sleeve and half-leg) in sizes 0-6 months and up for babies through 10 years for children. This is the fastest way to cover large areas. 100% polyester. Comfortable, stretchy, chlorine resistant. Made in Canada from specialized Australian fabrics.

UV-Tee
UPF 50+
Size: 3-6 months to 18-24 months

Bummis UV swim wear

Bummis has a new line of sun protection clothing that coordinates with the prints of their popular Swimmi swim diapers. These T-shirts cover the shoulders, often the first spot to get burned at the pool. A separate top and bottom is a much quicker way to get out of the swim suit fast, which is very important when your child is potty training. Soft and durable. Chlorine resistant. Made in Canada from fabric made in Canada.

Tankini
UPF 50+
Size: 0-12 months or 12-24 months

Bummis Tankini swim top for babiesIf you aren’t necessarily looking for protection over the shoulders, the adorable Tankini swim top gives the same UPF protection of 50+ to the full torso. Halter clip is adjustable for a wide range of sizes. Use sunscreen for arms, faces, and ears. Made in Canada from fabric Made in Canada.

Sun Cap
UPF 50+
Size: 3-6 months to 18-24 months

 Swim hat made in Canada

Don’t forget to cover your child’s head. Bummis Sun Caps are made from the same prints as their Swimmis reusable swim diapers. Crown and visor have UPF rating of 50+. Coordinates with UV-Tee and Tankini swim tops. Made in Canada.

Should you go outside with your children? Definitely. All of us need to play in nature. Just be aware of the risk of sun exposure and mitigate that risk with UV protection through clothing and sunscreen.