De-stuffing with Common Threads

Have you heard about Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative? The initiative encourages Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle, and Reimagine. It’s about de-stuffing our lives—the part of our lives related to consumption of outdoor clothing, at least. They were already repairing used Patagonia clothing and taking back worn clothing for recycling, but now they are pulling all of this together into one program. They are even encouraging customers to buy used Patagonia clothing on eBay, both from the original owners and from Patagonia itself.

Cynics are saying that this is a brilliant marketing scheme designed to ensure customer loyalty, but I don’t think they need that. Patagonia customers are already loyal, and Patagonia has long shown their dedication to the environment through the actions of the company itself and those of the people who work there.

Plus, with so much in the world to discourage a person, I choose to believe that this initiative will reduce some amount of the overused stuff of our lives and that it will help us rethink consumption. We don’t have to consume nothing (yet). By reconsidering what stuff we need and how we deal with that stuff during its lifecycle, we can change our own lives and model responsible, sustainable consumption for the people around us—especially for our children.

While you are thinking about stuff, today the latest film is released from Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff. The latest is called The Story of Broke, about why we DO have enough money in the world to take care of the petrochemical addiction and other issues we’ve created in the stuff economy. Watch the new film. I’m going to watch it and get back to you about it this Saturday.

Stuff That Means You Buy Less Stuff

If I’m going to recommend buying stuff on a week dedicated to living more environmentally friendly lives, I have to have very tight rules—and I do.

Rules for inclusion on my list of best products for reducing the need for stuff:

  • Must be reusable. Must prevent buying and using more stuff by replacing something commonly thrown away.
  • Can’t just be super cool (like silicone popsicle molds, which are on the edge of necessary with a lot of children).


  • Replaces a toxic or questionable conventional choice.
  • Makes life easier.

That said, there are a few products that lighten my footsteps.

Dryer Balls. If you want your tumble-dried clothes to be softer, you don’t need to add chemical softeners. You just need to flex the fibers. The fingers on dryer balls poke and prod your clothes into softness. Really, you don’t need a specific product for this purpose. Put an old hockey puck in a gym sock will do much the same thing.

If you worry about the loud banging that you get with a hockey puck (it is really loud) or you notice that your dryer starts to get little dents, you might find the dryer balls gentler on machine and clothes.

Wet Dry Bags. Wet bags have been around for a while, keeping many mothers from hauling home wet swimsuits or dirty diapers in plastic bags, but a wet/dry bag is a great new innovation that allows you to keep things together. One bag has two separate zippered sections to keep wet and dry separate.

The mini bag is the right size for reusable menstrual pads, so you can keep used and unused pads in the same bag. The medium bag is a great size for swimsuits and the larger bag for diapers. This seems such a logical progression, but it was just wonderfully surprising to me the first time I saw one of these bags in person. Very useful.

Stainless Steel Straws. One-time use products are such a waste. Suck down juice or water with a straw then goodbye straw. I tell my children that I don’t see the need for a straw, but my children seem quite attached to them. Really, with younger children straws prevent accidents.

If your family do like to drink with straws, reusable is the way to go. This also prevents more exposure to toxins that can be present in plastics. Stainless steel straws are very cool.

Obento Boxes. A lunch box or bag is not a new idea, but a surprising number of parents don’t send their children’s lunches in reusable containers. Any reusable bag or box is great. I especially like reusable sandwich wraps, which is yet another example of a new idea based on a very old idea.

My current recommendation, obento boxes, aren’t so much new as new to me and increasingly common. Among reusable lunch boxes, obento boxes are unique in that they don’t hold just any kind of food. Because of the long tradition of making obento box lunches interesting—art food, really—this particular container comes with encouragement to engage children. The laptop lunches system that Parenting by Nature sells even comes with a food ideas book. I’m quite sure that my Beatles lunch box came with no instructions.

No doubt there are a lot of interesting things to buy made out of lower-impact materials, but the first line of defense against the tyranny of stuff is to REDUCE.

  • Reduce your need,
  • Replace the stuff you use but might otherwise throwaway, then
  • Replace the stuff that is reusable but high-impact or just plain toxic.

Throughout March we will offer guides to getting started with some of the basic practices of attachment parenting and sustainable living. This is Environmental Living Week with tips, products, resources, and personal experiences.

Remembering the Cloth Diaper Option

As locals in Coquitlam, BC, wonder if their throwaway diapers will stink as they wait for trash day, one letter to the editor reminds them that they can avoid the wasteful garbage stink with cloth diapers.

Just think how such a responsible decision will help to save us from environmental collapse, landfill collapse — or a stinky neighbourhood at the very least.

Joy Silver, Coquitlam

I love reading letters like this. Every town needs someone willing to help everyone remember a better way to diaper babies.