It’s Time to Talk about Stuff, Again

Child in a messy room

Have you noticed tiny piles of useless stuff gathering in your child’s drawers? It comes from somewhere, and now, just before Christmas, is the time to determine how to avoid this stuff that never quite leaves, if avoid is what you want to do.

Over the years, we’ve revisited often the topic of stuff, wasteful junk that we acquire without really needing it.

Less stuff isn’t just about less stuff, though it is so much nicer to live in a clean space without all of the junk. Less stuff means

  • fewer resources up front to make the stuff,
  • less expense to buy the stuff, and
  • less waste once we throw the stuff away.

Our Latest Story of Stuff

Earlier this year, my family did a 30-day Eco Habits Challenge to reduce, reuse, and recycle. It worked. Our surroundings felt lighter. The daily expectation to make change helps us focus.

My daughter decided we needed a de-stuff challenge, so we spent the past month going through the corners and drawers of the house we inherited from my mother. It turned out that most of the junk we got rid of was plastic kids’ toys. I thought I hadn’t even let those junky little toys into the house, but they kept sneaking in through Christmas stockings, birthdays, gifts, Scholastic sales, and such.

Everything that could be used by someone else was donated, but piles then bags of this stuff was just broken beyond repair and non-recyclable.

Seeing all of this junk of childhood build up even for children I thought were focused on simple, natural toys reminded me again how important it is not to get caught up in stuff we don’t need, stuff we won’t use, and stuff that will just break quickly.

I’m so glad that my children were able to let go of this stuff so easily. They decided what stayed and what went. Everyone had a veto on getting rid of junk, and everyone was generous in agreeing to one another’s choices. They kept the books, toys, and clothes that meant the most to them, but they didn’t worry about letting go. It’s not always easy for everyone to let go, so I’m relieved they won’t be hoarders. I hope they will be able to let go of the ideas, emotions, and incidents of life when it’s time to start clean as well.

As the season of buying and giving stuff is upon us, focus on genuine needs, buy what will last as long as you will need it, and give consumable or non-material gifts to your family and friends.

Spread the good cheer. We all need that.

Image © Udra11 | - Messy Room And Unhappy Girl Photo

Baby on a Budget: What Do You Really Need?

Mother holding newborn baby

When you are on a budget, that list of stuff you just have to buy before your baby arrives can be overwhelming. If you haven’t had a baby before, you aren’t really sure what you need. Let me help you learn from my mistakes.

Before my first baby was born, I read a lot of books, all of which listed stuff I needed. I bought a lot of it. It gave me a feeling that I was preparing well for my baby.

It turned out that I didn’t even use a lot of the essential baby stuff I was encouraged to buy. I probably should have know better, but I didn’t.

Thinking about what you really need for baby, for pregnancy, and for childbirth takes a complete rethink away from hard-sell you get in most situations. If you are ready to rock the foundations, read The Business of Baby by Jennifer Margulis. She is a journalist who goes into depth to help you understand how selling you stuff and services you don’t need has become big business. You CAN resist.

What Do You Really Need for Your Newborn?

Start by understanding that what you need are tools that will fit your lifestyle. Not everyone lives the same way, so you might need something didn’t and I might have used and loved something you won’t. With this in mind, I’m including only the essentials in the top list. You might also need a few items on the second list, but you probably won’t need them right away.

You may also be able to find some items used at a consignment store. Babies grow fast, so a lot of parents will be getting rid of clothes and other stuff their baby has grown out of. Do you have a friend with a baby 6-12 months older than yours? Make a deal to take all of the old stuff off her hands.

Diapers – Your baby will pee and poop—often. Some newborns can eliminate every hour, and, in order to avoid discomfort and rash for your baby, you should be changing the diaper every time it is wet or soiled. Don’t even consider disposable diapers if you are thinking of your budget. You can save big by choosing your cloth diapers carefully. Compare about $750 for disposables & accessories to about $250 for cloth diapers & accessories. (See comparison below.) If you are going to wash every day, you can start with 18 diapers. I know it may seem like a lot of wash, but babies slow down with their dirty diapers, so soon you will be washing less. You could double the number of diapers and wash every other day, but I’m thinking of budget. If you buy 24 prefolds or flat diapers and 4 one-size covers, you could be set. No more diapers to buy. That is my favorite budget cloth diaper set up.

Or, go diaper free with infant pottying. Even if you go diaper free, though, you will want a few diapers.

Compare prices

Diaper Changing Pad – Most of the time, I used a big diaper under my babies as a changing pad. Sure, it wasn’t waterproof, but that was usually fine. You could use a wool pad or some other useful waterproof mat without resorting to plastic, but you don’t need one of those thick foam pads. Use something you have on hand already.

T-shirts – If it’s summer, your baby can wear a diaper and a T-shirt most of the time. Even under other clothes, a T-shirt is an insulating layer. Buy just a few and wash them often so you won’t feel so bad when you have to buy a new size in a month.

Pajamas – Most babies spend most of their time in pajamas. Sure, you could buy a full hipster wardrobe, replaceable in every size every month, but why? It would be for you not for your baby. Your baby will be fine with 3-6 one-piece pajamas. Stick with simple clothes as long as you can.

Hat & Socks – Newborns lose heat easily. A soft, cotton hat and socks are essentials, but you just need two of each—one on baby and one in the wash.

Car Seat – It’s one of the most expensive must-have items you need on your list. Research for a balance of safety and cost. Don’t buy used.

Blanket - A lightweight cotton blanket is convenient when you are holding your baby. For sleeping, though, babies often throw the blanket off. A sleep bag will do the job better, but you may not need this if your baby doesn’t move around a lot or if it just isn’t cold enough to justify a warm sleeper.

Soft Baby CarrierA sling or baby wrap carrier isn’t absolutely essential, because you could just hold your baby on your hip all day. Your baby will want to be close to you, and a baby carrier gives you and your baby closeness without you losing your freedom to move around and get things done. This was essential to me. I bought a baby sling on a whim, and I’m so glad I did. It opened up a whole world of babywearing to me. The best choice is a versatile carrier that works from baby to toddler. We’ll go into detail on this next week.

Breastfeeding / Nursing Bra – This is low on the list, because I know a lot of people get by without a bra made specifically for breastfeeding. Your breasts may be very heavy with milk. Without proper support, you can experience back pain as well as skin stretching. Plus, it’s very convenient to be able to unhook your bra rather than trying to work around a non-breastfeeding bra. Maybe just start out with one nursing bra and see if it works well for you before you buy one in every color and every style.

Nail Clippers – Babies scratch themselves. Do you need to buy baby size? Probably not. Use your own carefully, but make sure you have clippers.


What You Don’t Need—Probably

Even if you do need some of these items, you can wait until that need show up to be sure. You don’t need to buy these things before your baby is born.

A Nursery – Your baby doesn’t want to be away from you. You don’t need a separate room. If you have a few clothes and diapers, those can often fit in 1-2 drawers.

A Crib – If your baby is going to sleep in the family bed or in a co-sleeper (a sort of half bed that sits next to your bed), you don’t need a crib. I bought a crib, and my baby slept in it as a crib exactly zero times. When she was a baby, I used the crib to hold all of the baby stuff I didn’t use. The bed was convertible into a toddler bed, though, and she did sleep in it for a while when she chose from about 3 years to 5 years old.

Changing Table – I had one. I used it, but I didn’t need it. Most diaper changes happened on the bed. That changing table was convertible, and my kids now use it as a chest of drawers, so it was a good purchase for us, but it wasn’t essential.

Wipes Warmer – Yes, cold water will shock your baby during a diaper change, but it won’t hurt. Warm it with your hands first, if you are concerned. An electric, plastic box that warms baby wipes all day long is just not necessary.

Diaper Bag – Maybe. A go-bag dedicated to carrying your baby stuff is convenient, but you don’t necessarily need to buy a specific bag made for babies. You probably already have a bag that would work.

Breastfeeding Clothes – Most of the time, you can just lift your shirt or pull down your nightgown. I thought I needed a whole new wardrobe, so I ended up with a bunch of ugly, bulky clothes that I hated to wear because they were just dumpy. When you do buy breastfeeding clothing, buy a few essential pieces that let you convert the wardrobe you already have.

Breast Pump – I did actually use a hand pump for the few times I left my baby, but I would not have used an electric pump. I didn’t need it because we weren’t separated much. If you are separated from you baby—working all day, for example—taking an electric breast pump with you can be very helpful. This one depends completely on your needs.

Baby Bath – The sink usually gives you a close enough space to bathe your baby safely, since you probably will be holding the baby in your arm the whole time.

Baby Shoes – Since babies don’t walk, they don’t need to protect their feet with shoes. Think about it. Socks are enough for a newborn.

Snowsuit or Swimsuit – Birth season, your local weather, and your family’s activities should guide you. It is nice to have one of each for the right season.

A Stroller – If you shop a lot, you might want a stroller to hold your bags, but a baby carrier takes the place of a stroller. Once I had a toddler and a newborn, I sometimes put my toddler in a stroller when we were travelling fast, but I only had a lightweight, fold-up stroller. Not necessary for a baby.

Burp Cloths – Use a diaper. Simple.

Baby Monitor – You can monitor your baby without the use of a speaker system.

Toys – Newborns don’t even know yet that they have hands. Once they find them, their hands are toys enough for a while. You won’t need toys for a while, and, when you do, simple toys are best. Something to shake (a rattle) and something to squeeze (a soft doll) will do it.

I haven’t come close to addressing everything you might find on a list of baby essentials. You don’t need anything new that makes it easier for you to ignore your baby (like a mechanical arm that gives your baby a bottle—and, no, I’m not joking. I saw this at a baby trade show last year).

For most of the baby extras, wait until the need pushes you to seek a solution, then see if you can meet your need without buying. Buy new stuff and gadgets as a last resort.

What were your genuine essentials? What did I miss? I’m happy to add to the list.

More Baby on a Budget

Image ©  |

Imports at What Cost? Sustainability

Sometimes the cost of cheap imports is sustainability both local and global

Cheap imports are cheap precisely because they cut costs by cutting corners—pay less for labour, think less about quality, design less for safety, and don’t worry about the environment. Good business? Only in the moment. In the long term, these short-term savings leave us with big bills to pay.

Over the past month, we have been looking at the true costs of cheap imports. In the cases of unpaid labor, unsafe products, low quality, and pollution, we have focused on what isn’t sustainable. Today, we want to shift toward the positive to show what sustainability looks like when it works.

Give It to Me Quick
Truly sustainable products don’t pass on real costs to others but accept and embrace the real costs, redesigning the product and the supply chain not to externalize the costs but to internalize the benefits.


We reach sustainability when we can meet our own needs while not interrupting the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, issues with imports overlap because they all lead to larger issues of sustainability. As long as we buy cheap products that externalize real costs, we have not yet reached true sustainability because we will pay those costs one way or another. There is no one answer to sustainability, but we can aim in that direction through constant improvement of our choices.

Sustainability isn’t just good for us as consumers. Sustainability is good for business. Happy, healthy workers who are paid a fair wage without being pushed beyond reasonable limits of endurance are more likely to do quality work over the long-term. Designs that start with safety in mind are more likely to become beloved products that provide profits over the long-term. Materials that don’t exploit the environment or cause health issues for those near the point of extraction or for the children who will use the final product are more likely to be stable resources over the long-term.

Yes, the theme is the long-term. Sustainability acknowledges that tomorrow matters.

Does it mean we don’t want people overseas to have jobs? Of course, not! If they build their own sustainable local economies, they will benefit in the same ways we will from our own. If they build sustainable products, there will be less hesitation from others to buy those products.

Does that mean we shouldn’t buy anything made outside our own country or even outside our own communities? Of course, not! For most of us, not everything we want or think we need is made in our local communities, anyway.

Sustainability builds on the positive at the same time that it works to eliminate or lessen the impact of the negative. Sustainability shouldn’t be about creating a collection of insular communities that seldom interact. Sustainability puts the priority on the simplest solutions and looks for those solutions locally first.

What Sustainability Looks Like

One of our favorite brands that we carry at is Montreal-based Bummis. They make great cloth diapering products, but that is only part of the story. They are good people who believe in sustainability at every level in their business. They are meticulous in their design and testing; they are careful in their sourcing; they are generous in their business dealings; and, by all reports, they are a great company to work for. When we look for ethical products, we look for companies like this.

Bummis Made Here

Bummis tells consumers about their sustainable products in a Made Here campaign, in which they tell

“How value for us means so much more than just money – how it has to do with integrity and standards and sustainability. And how when you buy something from us, you are buying into our dream – a dream in which business is on the cutting edge of social change and where the bottom line includes the well-being and prosperity of all.”

In addition to making cloth diapering products Made Here and Worn Everywhere, Bummis has a store in Montreal, Boutique Bummis, where they sell baby and parenting products. Before a new employee can work in their store, they learn about the store Manifesto, which starts: “Everyone that walks into the store should feel welcomed and cared about and secure. Grumpy customers should be loved more because they need it!” Every guideline in the Manifesto, indeed every product in the store, builds connection.

“Our mission is to facilitate the attachment of parents to their children by offering products, information, resources and support that will promote that attachment. And the vision behind that is the belief that profound attachment of parents and children can create a paradigm shift that can engender powerful personal and social transformations.”

Bummis co-owner Betsy Thomas sees the store “as a statement of who we are and what we believe in – a place where every day we actively manifest our company values.”

I learned about the store Manifesto when Betsy Thomas and I sat together on a customer service panel at a business conference. I was particularly impressed that these instructions to employees include statements from past employees. This shows me that the concern isn’t just with who people are in their space in the moment but with who they are long-term and who they become through their experiences. One former employee in particular wrote about how her time at Bummis taught her to naturally present “information and options in a non-biased way,” a skill she carried into her training as a midwife—a skill her midwifery preceptors said made her the most advanced student at any level because people often struggle with the skill of compassionate teaching.

I love using Bummis as an example of ethical products and sustainable business because they practice sustainability on so many levels. They are conscious of having a positive impact on all who come in contact with the company.

Organizations Building Local Economies

Many cities and towns have Buy Local campaigns. If yours does, you can get involved. You can expand and shape the way you and your neighbors think about about and act within local economies.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is a national nonprofit organization supporting “environmentally sound and equitable community development.” The focus is local self-reliance, and that includes buying local. Yes, buying at a local business helps the business, but that isn’t the most important reason to support locally owned businesses. Consider local jobs, local innovations, and product diversity. Read their “Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses” for more reasons.

The Business Alliance for Living Local Economies wants to create “real prosperity by connecting leaders, spreading solutions that work, and driving investment toward local economies.” In their decade of research, they’ve come up with Core Four strategies: local first, DIY entrepreneurs, local capital, and better together. Their members are business owners and other leaders. Read their “Localism 101″ to see what they find matters in building living local economies.

Keep in mind the Local Multiplier Effect. The organizations above and many others recognize that feeding your money and energy back into you local economy multiplies the effect. Buying local is good for you in more than the way it makes you feel. Research shows that when you buy local, $.45 of every dollar is reinvested locally; when you spend a dollar at a corporate chain, only $.15 of that is reinvested locally. Your money works harder in ways you will notice when you spend it locally. This Local Multiplied Effect feeds back into your own community and creates greater wealth than exporting your money to corporate headquarters.

What You Can Do

  • Avoid exploitation. You need to know more about the products you buy in order to know whether workers or environment were exploited to produce them.
  • Be a localist. Look for local solutions first without avoiding solutions from afar when they really will work for you.
  • Only buy what you need.
  • Buy what you need from people you trust. Especially with parenting products for new parents, you need support. You need to know how to use a baby carrier or a cloth diaper. The questions you want to ask are sometimes quite personal. Building a trusting relationship with a knowledgeable store owner can help you focus on what you really need and avoid those baby products you might leave on the shelf and never use.
  • Meet more people so you can develop more of those trusting relationships. When people trust one another, they are accountable to one another.
  • When you do buy, look for products that meet high standards. At we help you with that by adding the icons for our Safe Family Promise to every product in our store.
  • Think about what makes you happy and put your focus there.
  • Shift your focus from stuff to relationships between people. The Canadian Index of Well Being includes tools to help you build resilient local communities.
  • Be part of the change in your local community, building a local economy that is more focused on happiness than stuff.
  • Don’t get caught up in the negative. Reading about child and forced labor can be devastating. Work to right the wrongs, but also work to enhance the rights in your life. Feed the positive relationships in your community.

True Sustainability

True sustainability acknowledges true costs. Businesses that measure their success by a triple bottom line of People Planet Profit already understand that paying up front for people and planet pays dividends to them and their customers in the long run. We don’t need to embrace business that puts profit ahead of people and planet. If we want to give our children the same chances that we have, we can’t put profit ahead of them and their future.

When Betsy Thomas talks about Bummis, one of the things that really sticks with me is her observation that new parents turn naturally toward sustainability when their children are born because children give a face to the future. You and I as parents have a passionate stake in long-term sustainability through our children.

More in this series

10 Ways to Give without Stuff

Knitting scarves as Holiday gifts

On the most commercial weekend of the year, you are bombarded with messages to buy stuff so you can give stuff. If you are trying to keep stuff to a minimal in your house, you can extend that attitude to your giving. My daughter is my model of good giving this year.

If you are like me, you have a closet full of yarn (or craft supplies, beads, wood to carve, paints, or some other kind of craft supplies). Yes, the crafters I know tend to be hoarders of a sort. This year, perhaps you could pull all of those supplies out of the closet and see what you can do for the people you care enough about to make something personal. That is what my daughter has done.

Much like a hobbit, my daughter started around her birthday in July thinking of what she could do for her family for the holidays. We are going to spend a rare holiday with her grandparents and cousins, so she wanted to knit each person a scarf that suits them in particular—favorite colors, textures, and patterns. First, she emptied out my mother’s yarn closet, then she matched up yarn to people. She had to buy a couple of skeins to fill in, but that was only a couple out of about fifty balls of yarn. She did really well turning our closet into a beautiful pile of scarves. We leave for our holiday in a couple of weeks, and she is knitting the last scarf now.

Her advice is to start by thinking of the people: who they are, what they wear, and what kind of style they like. She used the same knitting stitches for every scarf because that is what she is comfortable with right now, but she made the scarves look quite different. She says your homemade gifts should not be about you but should match up the personality of the person you are giving to with your skills and time.

10 Ideas for Low-stuff or No-stuff Giving

1. Tuck a note inside an old book as a gift. Tell them why you enjoyed the book and why you think they might as well.

2. Sew old jeans into a bag. We made small jeans bags out of stray jeans legs. My son’s pant legs seem to come off as he wears holes in the knees that eventually join around the back. He gets long shorts for the next year, and he has a variety of legs in his closet waiting for a purpose. This year, he is giving his friends small bags that fit the cards they trade back and forth.

3. Create a craft kit for your child from some of your craft supplies. You could just to the closet with your child and choose, but the possibilities can be overwhelming. I always found kits exciting as a child. Write a note or draw a picture for younger children about the possibilities they will find in the kit.

4. Give a digital download of your favorite movie to a friend. I like gifts that keep on giving. Be sure to say what you like about the movie.

5. Create a family calendar. We did this for several years. We used big photos of our children then included birthdays and holidays for all of our extended family members. I still remember the year my aunt did this for every one of her nine siblings’ families. If you want to make this a regular gift, write on a certain day of each month a reminder to family members to send you more photos for the next year’s family calendar.

6. Give your child a big book of several hundred world folk tales then read one every night for the next year. I did this with each of my children, and they still talk about the stories. We not only shared all of those bedtimes, but we all have a common vocabulary of narratives

7. Make a holiday ornament from your craft scraps.

8. Make a photo album in a small book with photos from a typical day in the life of your child for a grandparent, aunt, or someone else they don’t get to see often enough. Sharing the little details can help them feel much closer.

9. Give the family a board game and a full afternoon of time to play. Yes, that’s a little bit of stuff, but this shouldn’t be about zealousness but about getting to the heart of giving. What your kids want is your time.

10. Bake cookies for a neighbor, and add a personal note of gratitude. Include a note thanking them specifically for chats, vacation mail pick up, shared dog walks, and anything else you appreciate.

Don’t just give for the sake of giving. Think about the person and what they mean to you, but let the feeling show more than the material stuff. Would a card or a phone call be enough? Don’t overdo it. You want to enjoy your holidays yourself as well, so give in ways that are personal to you and to the receiver without making yourself feel overwhelmed and frantic to get it all done.

Cloth Diapering Without Stuff

Mother holding baby

If you are serious about cutting down on stuff, it is simple to cloth diaper your child without all of the extras and accessories because the simplest diapers do the job beautifully.

Diaper-free without Stuff

If you are very serious about cutting down on stuff, go without diapers altogether. Elimination communication is a beautiful way to respond to your baby’s needs. Most diaper-free babies do wear cloth diapers occasionally, but they aren’t generally going through a dozen a day. If you are willing and able to focus on your baby enough to catch cues, you won’t need more than a few cloth diapers.

Wake Up to Marketing

Even if you decide to go full steam ahead for cloth diapers, you don’t need a stash, one of every brand, one of every color, or all of the accessories. And, you don’t need to believe the biggest ad campaigns that plant specific brand names in your mind as The Diaper to Own.

A week ago on Jian Ghomeshi’s Q on CBC, I listened to his interview with Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed. I knew I was going to be writing about cloth diapers today, so I was very excited to tell you about this interview and this book. Martin Lindstrom is a marketer who wants to helps us as consumers understand how market research leads to subtle tricks that persuade us to buy. The stories he tells as he outs his own industry will shock you, and they should. He tries to make the process of persuasion transparent for us.

Applying this to cloth diaper marketing, step back from your non-conscious reactions diaper brands’ ads, posts, and carefully shaped personas to prioritize your actual needs over what diaper brands tell you your needs are. Sure, you want a free diaper, but do you really need to buy five new diapers to get it? Sure, you like prints, but do you really need one of each? Sure, you want “eco-diapers,” but are single-use diapers inside reusable, plastic-laminated polyester covers really your idea of “eco”? Bring your reactions into consciousness to make your decisions deliberate and transparent.

Be Conscious of Your Actual Needs

The not-so-secret secret to parenting without stuff is letting your specific needs guide your buying rather than letting yourself be swept away on a wave of marketing. The five points of Patagonia’s Common Threads Initiative are Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle, and Reimagine. Even if we do find ourselves in need of a solution to some parenting issue, we don’t necessarily need to buy new. We can make, repair, borrow, and buy used to meet the need. We think we need diapers, but we can reimagine that need by learning more about elimination communication. There are far more answers available to us than the conventional.

Start by asking yourself what you need then give yourself some time for creative thought. How might you meet that need without buying a single-use problem solver and spending your hard-earned cash?

How Many Diapers Do You Really Need?

I’ve told the story before of my friend who has never bought a diaper. Her second child is approaching two years old. She has always used cloth diapers, but she is just open to accepting hand-me-downs. All of her diapers are passed on to her from others. I’ve seen some of my children’s old diapers in her stash, so I know those diapers are circulating around the city doing diaper duty for baby after baby. If you have a community of like-minded parents, it will be a lot easier to cut down on buying the stuff of parenting.

If you are collecting or even buying, what do you really need? Plenty of my friends used nothing more than 18 prefold diapers, a couple of wool soakers, and a bucket to hold them until wash day. You could cut up ragged towels (sew around the edge, so you don’t have strings that could hurt your baby) and knit a soaker. Don’t sew or knit? Look for used diapers. Can’t find any? Buy a few simple diapers. Start very simple then only expand your diaper stuff when you find that what you have isn’t quite working yet.

If I were starting over, even after years of using and making so many diapers, I would use flat diapers and wool covers. That’s all.


Your bonus for breastfeeding without stuff, babywearing without stuff, and cloth diapering without stuff is saving a lot of money.

A cloth diapering advocate local to me posted a photo last week of a huge pile of boxes of disposable diapers at a big box store. They were on sale—reduced some ridiculous amount. She said, “Even if you buy these diapers at this reduced cost, it will cost you more to diaper your baby than if you use cloth diapers.” If you use prefolds rather than diapers that tout useless innovations to solve problems you don’t have, you will save hundreds of dollars a year. Be vigilant!

You’ve probably already read a dozen messages today asking you to buy stuff this week. It’s the biggest sales week of the year. Saturday, I’ll share a few ideas for giving without stuff.

Image © Jason Stitt |