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.

Nellies Dryer Balls

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.

Mini wet/dry wet bag

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

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.

Reusable obento lunch box

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.

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