How Our Family Practices Environmental Stewardship

Fall 2013 Portraits 020small
Not a “big” family. Just an ordinary, average one.

Every so often it occurs to me that to many people it might sound hypocritical for a person who chose to have four children to say she values conservation of resources. In this day and age, it’s sort of assumed that more people automatically converts to greater strain on the environment.

Well, we had many reasons why we chose to have a larger-than-average family (I will never call four kids a big family)–all of them long-term reasons. But the interesting thing I’ve found as I encounter other larger-than-average families is that a lot of us are more cognizant and deliberate about consumption because of our family size.

Because let’s face it: the consumer model the first world is built upon is very, very expensive. And many–not all, but many–earth-conscious choices also save money.

So I thought today I’d share some of the things we have chosen to do to approach the resources of the earth from a standpoint of good stewardship. Maybe something on this list will strike a chord with you, too.

  • First, we practice natural family planning. I’m not taking pharmaceuticals that end up in the water supply. There’s no packaging and no other, er, disposables to throw away. The method we use even has an app now, so you don’t even need paper anymore.
  • We make our own bathroom and laundry cleaners. This sounds crazy-granola-crunchy, but it’s really not that big a deal. I have a spray bottle I fill up with vinegar and water, and we keep a box of baking soda upstairs. The laundry detergent is borax, Fels Naptha, washing soda and water. You make it in a big pot and store it in old milk jugs. It lasts 2-3 months, even for a family of six.
  • We used cloth diapers for all the kids, all the way through, and we toilet trained “early”–in other words, at the traditional age. We have used pullups in the later years when overnight is an issue, and we traveled with disposable. But basically we used cloth.
  • We buy very little prepared food. I cook all our meals. We pack our lunches and we wash out the sandwich bags for reuse. Yes, I know that’s hard core. It’s an annoyance but it’s worthwhile. Think of all the plastic bags that would have to be manufactured, only to get dumped in the landfill.
  • I try to remember to take my cloth shopping bags not only to the grocery store, but also to Target et al.
  • We turn off the cars. We don’t sit in parking lots with the engine running, because the radio works without the engine running. We even know where the long stoplights are, and we turn the cars off there too. The rule of thumb is if you’re going to be sitting longer than 30 seconds, turn the car off.
  • We combine trips and accept a certain amount of killing time between. We might go to a playground, or sometimes I’ll just sit and work on my NEO in the car while the kids play in the driver’s seat. Yes, this means there will be times when we’re warmer or colder than we’d prefer, but we’re tough. If it’s really too hot or cold outside to stay in the car, we vacate the vehicle. Find a shady tree to sit under, or go inside to wait. Much better than idling for twenty minutes, especially when we’re driving the van!
  • We try to combine errands with exercise to reduce car travel. So, for instance, when I needed to run to Target on the same night as choir, we parked at church and I walked to the mall. Christian has been known to run a mile to the grocery store and pick up whatever I forgot, then run back. And he’ll frequently drop off the car for an oil change and run home.
  • We keep the thermostat at 67 in the winter and 78 in the summer. We might vary a degree or two on occasion but basically we follow that rule. We also replaced those useless, ugly and easily-broken Venetian blinds with room-darkening shades and insulated curtains. It is crazy, how big a difference this makes in how much the heater or A/C runs. When it gets really severe, Christian pulls out sheets and hangs them over the big windows, but even I think that’s a little over the top. 🙂
  • We use leftover water from meals to water plants.
  • Which reminds me: we drink water. We don’t drink much juice, and virtually no soda at all. Not bottled water, just water through the PUR filter on the tap.
  • We have a compost bin, which saves on trash output and on garden fertilizer.
  • One word: Freecycle.
  • We buy hardly any new clothes. We’re blessed to have people offering us hand-me-down kids’ clothes, and I’m a huge believer in Children’s Orchard and garage sales. (And the uniform closet at school!) And I don’t buy much new for myself anymore, either. I’m in love with consignment.
  • We don’t replace things until we really need to. For instance, we’re still using the picture tube TV we bought right before Alex was born, because it works just fine. And that TV replaced a model dating to the 1970s. And we only have one, by choice.

So there you go. A few of the things we have chosen to do to reduce our use of resources and be good stewards of the earth. I’d love to hear from other families, too. I’m always on the hunt for new ideas!