Canadian Index of Wellbeing

Canadian Index of Wellbeing infographic

How are you doing? How is your quality of life? And, how is your government measuring your quality of life?

Around the world, there are governments making efforts to measure the genuine wellbeing and happiness of their people when they find that GDP (Gross Domestic Product or the market value of the stuff produced) doesn’t give an accurate measurement of what really counts. How a country counts its worth and value says a lot.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) was created over the past 12 years by scholars, government officials, and other experts to create “a holistic, integrated approach to measuring wellbeing.” Right now, they are measuring eight domains of wellbeing:

  • Democratic Engagement
  • Community Vitality
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Healthy Populations
  • Leisure and Culture
  • Living Standards
  • Time Use

The CIW Network has issued their first CIW composite index, something like you would expect from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, to give a snapshot of Canadian quality of life. Hearing that there is a rise of 11% might not mean much yet, but maybe it will in time. They have found that, though the GDP has risen, wellbeing is not rising as quickly. Wellbeing is falling in the areas of Environment, Time Use, and Leisure & Culture.

One of the most interesting points I have found in the CIW is the encouragement of partnerships, including regional partnerships. The first community user has been The Barrie Community Health Centre, which is quite close to in Orillia. This local group includes the county government, the United Way, the local community college, the public health unit, an environment network, and the school board who have come together as The Resilience Collaborative.

“Whenever the CIW produces a national report on a specific wellbeing domain, the Collaborative piggy-backs its own report onto it that compares regional data to the national data and makes suggestions for local policy changes. So, for example, when the CIW released the Environment Domain Report in April 2011, the Collaborative released its own report the same day.” CIW

This is just one idea from CIW how the index can be used. They also suggest ways individuals can use the index. I’ll write more about that later this week. In the meantime, how can you see governments, community groups, and others using the index to improve quality of life?

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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.

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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 stuffbabywearing 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 |

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Babywearing Without Stuff

Mother wearing baby in a long fabric wrap baby carrier

You don’t need a lot of stuff to wear your baby. One baby carrier will cover most situations if you choose carefully. Around the world, women wear their babies multi-purpose lengths of fabric or scarves. Babywearing without stuff is not so difficult.

Most of us will probably opt for a commercial carrier for ease or safety, but don’t assume that is your only choice. If you use a length of fabric for your carrier, just be sure that you know how to keep your baby and yourself safe.

Limit the Number of Baby Carriers You Buy

Make sure your carrier or carriers match your actual lifestyle not the one you dream about. I was not a baby hiker, so a sporty Ergo would not have helped me. I did buy that style of carrier, and I didn’t use it. If you aren’t sure yet how you and your baby will travel around and what you will do, get a simple, newborn-friendly carrier to start. Wraps and slings are simple to start. If they keep working for you, you won’t need to add another carrier.

Buy a Neutral-color Baby Carrier

When you are wearing your baby, the carrier becomes part of your wardrobe. If you buy a more neutral color or design, you might not feel so tempted to get one for every outfit.

I owned several slings. Buying for my first child, I was stuck on the tail-end of the era of “all baby products are meant to make the parent look like a baby.” My first sling was an Over the Shoulder Baby Holder in light blue check with huge padded rails. I really came to hate that sling. As soon as I found my black Maya Wrap, I was set for life—then I bought half a dozen more Maya Wraps in various colors. I didn’t need them, though. Black served me well. It matched my wardrobe (as well as my graduation robes!). The revelation to me was that someone realized the parent doesn’t have to wear pastels just because she is carrying a baby. Hallelujah!

Choose a color or style that won’t deter you or your spouse or other caregivers from wearing your baby.

Don’t Get Accessories, Unless You Absolutely Need Them

If you aren’t going out in the sun, you won’t need an ozone cover up. If you are going to be spending a lot of time outside, you’ll probably be glad you invested in the cover up. If you already have plenty of blankets, why invest in a blanket that is only used for your baby carrier? You won’t need most extras, so don’t pre-buy accessories.

Use your simple baby carrier, and ask yourself what is working and what isn’t. Talk face to face with someone who has experience, and show them what you need. If you are near us in Orillia, Ontario, come by our store. We love to help parents solve bearwearing issues. Even if you don’t have someone close enough to help you face to face, call us and we will make sure you get the help you need in finding a carrier (and, sometimes, carriers and accessories) to fit your lifestyle.

Image © Andrey Burkov |

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Breastfeeding Without Stuff

Breastfeeding mother

If your focus is natural parenting, you might be trying to figure out how to navigate all of the stuff of parenting without letting the material stuff become the focus. How much stuff do you really need to breastfeed successfully? Not much. Really.

The key to keeping your stuff simple is an honest assessment of your needs. Don’t let others tell you what you need. Don’t buy a double electric breast pump, for example, if you are staying home with your baby most of the time.

Last week I was exploring a baby store, and I was just astonished by the breastfeeding aisle in particular. First of all, I want to say that I’m really glad to see so much support for breastfeeding. It should be the norm, and seems to be a realistic choice for most families. That is excellent. Along with widespread practice and publicity come the products. Yes, most of these products were created to support breastfeeding, but most breastfeeding mothers don’t need most of the products. Do you see the twist?

The person I want to hear this is the first-time mother who isn’t sure yet what she needs. The person I really want to reach is me when I was pregnant with my first child. I was so excited, and I let that excitement lead me to the baby store—a lot. I didn’t really know what I would need, so I bought a lot of extras just in case. Then, I left a lot of those extras on shelves, in closets, and in boxes. I wanted to jump into everything babies, and so much of what was available was commercial. I hope just one pre-spree parent reads this and says, “Maybe I’ll wait and see if I need those baby things.” You might need them, but they will probably still be available when you do. If you don’t end up needing them, you’ve saved yourself money and simplified your parenting.

What Do You Really Need for Breastfeeding?

When it comes to any breastfeeding products, make sure you start with a clear understanding of the need you are trying to meet so you don’t get caught up in buying for someone else’s needs. What is the rub? What would fix it? Is the need long term? Could you borrow anything that would fix it? Could you make anything that would fix it? Do you have something already around the house that could be re-purposed to fix it? Don’t go shopping until you are sure that is the only way to meet your need.

Start with good nutrition, and you could be all set. If you are going to stay home with your baby and feed on demand, you don’t really need any extras at all.

Breastfeeding book? Actually, I think this is a really good idea for the first-time parent (not just for mothers), but it isn’t essential if you already have a lot of support to get your questions answered. If you want extra information, how about reading Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding or the LLLI guide The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding? If you have a local parenting group, both of these are the kind of books that could be passed around among group members.

Nursing tea? Some kind of nutritious tea, like nettle, is always a good idea. Whether you need tea that will boost your milk production depends on your milk production. Don’t buy it unless you need it. Then, ask yourself again whether you really need it. If your milk production exceeds your baby’s need, you might find yourself engorged and needing breast comfort supplies. Find the balance and be aware of whether your baby is getting the milk needed for normal growth.

Nipple cream? You probably will need to use some kind of nipple cream at some point, but you may not need it much. Start with a very tiny (sample) size if you can find it. If you find that you get cracked nipples often, it is time to invest in a larger size. Also, ask how you might prevent irritation. Perhaps softer breast pads or nursing bra? Don’t just treat the symptoms, but look for a cure.

Nursing bra? Whether you need a nursing bra depends what you are wearing already and how you will be nursing. Support your breasts. They will be bigger and heavier, so you will probably need a new bra. A nursing bra can make things easier, but it isn’t an absolute necessity. A stretchy bra like Bravado can adjust as your breast size changes. Add at least one to your list unless you really need to keep your budget down.

Nursing shirts? This is one place I over-thought and over-bought. I thought I needed a whole new wardrobe. I didn’t; you don’t. Lifting your shirt works. If you will be breastfeeding in public, and you are modest (remember, not everyone is), having nursing tank tops to wear under your regular clothes can be enough. Start without and see if you need a nursing top. If you do, start simple with a tank.

Absorbent breast pads? You probably will need nursing pads at some point, especially if you are going out. They can be simple, though. If you sew, you can easily make them yourself. What kind of pads you need depends on when and how you need them. Are you away from your baby for 9 hours a day? You need pads—and perhaps a small wet/dry bag to keep them in as you switch during the day. Do you have tight or thin shirts? Look for pads that don’t create a giant boob target look. Thicker isn’t always better. Fiber matters, too. Pads with two different layers of fabric—cotton/wool nursing pads, for example—could be used either way, so they give you more flexibility. Start with a couple of pairs of simple pads and only get more if you find that what you have isn’t working for you.

Soothing breast pads? If you are at home, a nice, cold cabbage leaf will soothe hot, sore breasts. A multi-use rice bag could provide warm comfort. You probably don’t need breast pads that are specifically made for hot and cold relief. Try the simple solutions first to see if they do the job.

Nursing necklace? As they find their hands, babies use nursing time to explore. A nursing necklace can keep the exploration focused—keep their hands from your hair quite so often. Nursing necklaces can be very beautiful, but this isn’t a necessity.

Nursing bracelet or tracker? If you track feeding, you might want to put a small notebook at your main nursing station (where you keep a glass of water and a book). If you move around a lot and nurse on the go, you still might not need a specific tracker. I just remembered which side I was on. Swollen breasts have a way of letting you know which is next. If you find that you just forget and you don’t always sit in the same place, you might want a simple tracker. Does it need to be a bracelet? Probably not.

Nursing pillow? I had one. I didn’t use it for breastfeeding. I used it to prop up the baby when I left her sitting on her own. I had a great chair with cushy arms. You probably will need something to prop up your tired arms while you sit with your baby, but you might already have a pillow or furniture that will do the job. Start with the pillows you have and see if they work. If they don’t, ask yourself not just which nursing pillow is cute or which one your friends like but what you need the pillow to do and which will work best for your specific need.

Nursing covers? This is one thing I’ve never really understood the need for. There are a lot of nursing covers available, though, so this tells me that there are mothers who wanted and even needed these enough that they created covers for themselves and then for others. Try breastfeeding in public and ask yourself if you feel the need to cover up. If you don’t, skip it. If you do, start with a simple cover, like a blanket. Multi-purpose stuff will serve you better in the long run that single-purpose stuff. If you find yourself frustrated with the blanket, maybe you do need a cover. It’s worth waiting to figure it out first with this one.

Breast pumps? Most mothers will leave their babies for at least short periods of time, and some mothers still breastfeed full-time even if they are away from their babies for long periods. Simple hand expression works for some. I didn’t get much milk that way, so I used a hand breast pump for the time I was away from my babies. If you do get a breast pump, make sure it matches your needs.

Storage and bottles? If you are pumping, you need a storage system and bottles to feed your baby with the pumped milk. If you won’t be pumping, you don’t need to worry about this at all. But, consider this: even if you don’t think you will be away at all, it might be a good idea to have an emergency supply of milk in the freezer. Most breastfeeding mothers will want at least a simple, safe system for breastmilk storage.

Hands-free Pumping Bra? If you are pumping a lot—because you work full-time, for example—you might find that you lose a lot of time stuck to your pump. A hands-free pumping bra can free up that time for you. If you aren’t in this situation, you don’t need a special pumping bra.

You want to succeed in breastfeeding your child, giving her or him the needed nutrition and comfort while keeping yourself healthy and happy. You don’t need much in order to do that. You might be able to make do with simple solutions, but don’t keep yourself from finding solutions when you need them. If what you have isn’t working, fill the need, even if it means buying stuff. This caution isn’t meant to tell you never to buy anything but to clarify your needs before you buy—or perhaps to make or borrow before you buy new.

Support this beautiful relationship between you and your baby. If you run into problems, you will almost certainly find that someone else had the same problem, and some clever mother probably created a product to solve it.

Image © Elena Vishnevskaya |

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