Sunday, January 23, 2011

Evolution of Our Lifestyle

Andrew and I try to be as environmentally conscious as possible without being crazy hippies. People may say we've ventured into hippie-dom (minus the pot), and I believe that some people who visit us may just think we're nuts. "You're out of plastic wrap. What do you mean you don't buy that? What will we do with these leftovers? Re-usable containers? Well, that just seems like a lot of work."

We have made many, many little changes over the last 10 years motivated not only by our desire to reduce our impact on the environment, but for health reasons as well. When you compare how we lived 10 years ago to now, it's a huge difference and it looks like we've completely overhauled our lifestyle, when in fact, it happened so gradually we hardly noticed.

How It All Started
We started small. Andrew is very sensitive to chemicals (fragrances especially) so we started to seek out fragrance free soaps. Once we were in the stores that sold these types of soaps, we started to discover you could also purchase all sorts of things that were better for you and the environment. I decided to try out one new product each time we went to those stores. One new thing each time, if we didn't like it, then, meh, at least we tried. We tried biodegradable, phosphate free hand soap. Then bath soap. Then we tried out eco-shampoos. When I became pregnant, I was acutely aware of everything I put in or on my body and the fun really began! Then we tried aluminum-free deodorants. Unscented hand and face creams. Organic food and chemical free cleaners entered our house and I became a vegetarian.

Once we knew that any product could be more environmentally friendly and less harmful, we started to seek them out and at EVERY purchase we made we considered the following:
1) Is it friendly to the environment? Is it biodegradable? Is it over packaged? Can it be re-cycled or re-used? Was it unnecessarily shipped in from the other side of the world? Is the manufacturing process of this product harmful to the environment?
2) Is it friendly to our health? Does it contain harsh chemicals or fragrances? Do I know what every ingredient is on this list? Would I feel safe giving this to my children?
3) Do we really need it?

It's this last question where the true savings comes in, both for the environment and our pocketbook. You may be thinking all that enviro-crap is expensive and who could afford that? In general, products that are better for the environment tend to be more expensive. Why? Because garbage is cheap. If a manufacturer has the choice between a chemical or a natural ingredient, they are going to pick the cheap chemical. If you are getting a deal, it's probably not good for you or the environment. But hey, you save a buck right? "Oooooh *sarcastic tone*, I saved a dollar, broke out in hives and poisoned a lake somewhere, I'm so much happier!" In a lot of cases, you will pay more to be less harsh to the environment. We are ok with that, because for us, it's worth it to be kind to our bodies and the earth and because we have decided that whatever it is, it's one of the few things that we really need. Most of the time, the absence of a product in your house is the most environmentally friendly and cost effective thing you can do. There are a lot of things that we no longer purchase and many things that we re-use, so we either save money or it's a wash. In some cases, the items we purchase are highly concentrated, so per use it's actually cheaper.

Here are (most of) the changes we have made. We didn't do it all at once. We did it one little change at a time. None of these changes were hard. Not one.

Eco- or Body-Friendly Items We Use
Body Soap
Hand Soap
Toothpaste (Liam)
Face Cream
Hand Cream (this also replaced shaving cream and hair product - not kidding)
Dish Soap
Dishwasher Soap
Laundry Soap
All Purpose Cleaners
Organic Dairy Products
Free Range Eggs
Organic Nut Butters
Locally grown food (preferably our backyard)

Things We Reuse
Cloth diapers & training pants
Cloth baby wipes
Cloth napkins
Plastic food containers
Food scraps (compost!)
Large cardboard boxes

Things We (Happily) Do Without
Disposable anything: diapers, wipes, plates, cutlery, glasses, napkins
Plastic wrap
Ziploc, plastic or paper lunch bags
Dryer sheets or fabric softener (use dryer balls)
Hair products
Shaving cream
Scented lotions, potions or perfumes
Most harsh cleaning products
Plastic grocery bags
"Play Doh" (we make our own)

Other Decisions
Green power (Bullfrog)
Hybrid family mover and a small work vehicle
Low flow toilets, showerheads
High efficiency furnace & washing machine
Low VOC paint
Religious recycling

So, when you look at it as a whole, it seems like a lot of changes. But for us, because it was a gradual evolution to the current state, it is simply the way we live now. We don't even think about it (except for now, when I'm writing this blog...).

It is important for us to raise our kids in a home where concern for the environment is a priority. Liam gets excited about putting a ball of tinfoil in the recycle bin. He helps Daddy with the garden and the compost in the summer too. We also try and make sure that whatever goes into our kids bodies is the healthiest and safest it could be - this means we eat a lot of whole and organic foods. We really try to minimize our use of processed foods (with the terrible exception of Kraft Dinner for me - I have a weakness, it is thee) and shop mostly along the perimeter of the grocery store (or at farmer's markets - our favourite!). We hope that by minimizing our impact on the environment we will maximize the impact on the health of our family.

There are many more things we can do, and plan to do. If you have other ideas for us or recommendations on how we can get started with these, we'd love to hear them!

Things we could do better or are not (yet) doing
More backyard (or in our case frontyard) food gardening
More organic and/or locally grown food
More efficient appliances (dryer, dishwasher, fridge)
Smaller living (heating/cooling/cleaning) space
Self-sufficient energy (geothermal, solar, wind)
Rainwater collection
Raising own egg-laying hens
Alternative to dandruff shampoo

The Farm
Some of you are aware of our "farm dream". *Cue the Little House on the Prairie music* One day, we hope to build our own small farmhouse on a piece of land surrounded by rolling hills, open fields, forest and a stream. We hope to raise (most of) our own food, generate our own power and live a simple, healthy life surrounded by nature. No kidding. We have been planning this for years. Andrew has drawn up at least 50 versions of drawings for "the house". We have scoped out land in the area from Windsor to Stratford to Woodstock to Port Stanley (if you know of land for sale in this area we would like to talk to you). We have nightly chit-chats about sources of alternative energy. It will day. We are closer than ever, so that makes us happy. Maybe this is why people think we're hippies?

Where to Shop
When you know you can get the same product that is better for your health and the environment, a little pang of guilt shoots through your body and you think "I know I really shouldn't buy this brand...". Listen to that. It is the earth screaming "DON'T KILL ME!". Just kidding. But seriously, the excuse that "It's the only thing available around here, I don't have a choice." is generally a load of crap. It's out there, it's not that hard to find - if you want to. In Toronto, you can get anything. When we moved to a teeny tiny Ontario town, even they had a health products store. We bought things online. We popped back in our favourite healthy stores in Toronto and stocked up for the year. We found new stores. We shopped in the natural food section of the Loblaws. If you want an alternative, it's out there - you do have a choice, no matter where you live. See the list below for some ideas, or seek out your local health store and just try ONE new thing! If you are curious about which brands to buy, leave a comment and I'll let you know which ones we've found work best for our family. If you've found a great product I'd love to hear about that too!

The Big Carrot (OMG this is the best store)
The Sweet Potato
St Lawrence or other farmer's markets listed here
Plan B CSA
Front Door Organics

London & Area
The Healthy Lifestyle Store
Covent Garden Market
Trails End Farmer's Market
Western Fair Farmer's Market

Everywhere in Ontario
The Natural Foods section of Loblaws Stores (Superstore, Loblaws, Your Independent Grocer) or other grocery stores.
Your local farmer's market


The Healthy Lifestyle Store
Charlie's Soap
By Nature

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