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 lastsΒ 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. πŸ™‚
  • 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!

7 thoughts on “How Our Family Practices Environmental Stewardship

  1. hmm, we’re a tiny bit on related wavelengths today, although I’m not completely touting how we are environmentally conscious. I mention the hand-me-downs/re-use things we do…but I don’t make it sound quite as nice as you do. πŸ˜› (matter of fact, I think I’m kind of complaining about it… yikes!)

    I read your article in the CCL magazine when it came out and I agree…there are lots of things we larger-than-average families do that are simply being good stewards of the environment. We do NFP, although some might consider the use of test sticks with Marquette “wasteful” but I would call it a balance for my sanity. πŸ™‚

  2. Stephanie Butz

    I do a lot of the same things you do but not because I am environmentally conscious. It’s because I cannot imagine spending money that we work so hard for on waste. It drives me crazy! I just imagine I am actually throwing cash away and it drives me to follow many of these rules that you also follow.

  3. Agree 100% on saving money! We began rainwater harvesting [which is fortunately legal in our state] in order to freely water our vegetable and flower gardens (and the large flower garden was planted in order to reduce mowing the useless front yard, lol) …and we’ve started composting this year as well.

    I also save any plastic/glass containers we use for food storage, and for catching extra rain water!
    When the bin starts to overflow, I think “Grab another milk jug! That’s free water!” LOL I’m a bit obsessed. *blush*

    I really want to collect enough to use for toilet flushing and for use in the washing machine. That’s my goal! πŸ™‚

    We cook many of our meals from scratch, and I’m cooking the pets’ meals, too. We discovered our dog had allergies to by-products and artificial ingredients, and it was either DIY or purchase really expensive pet food.

    We make our own detergents, and I buy body soap/shampoo handmade from local gals at the Farmer’s Market. I hang ALL my laundry, all year long, either outside, or inside during the winter.

    It’s a bummer that thift stores get an unnecessary bad rep, because we LOVE shopping at second-hand stores and yard sales for vintage furniture, clothing, drapes, books, practically everything. LOL The quality of 50+ year old pieces of furniture is so much better than what is sold today. And I can’t justify spending $40 on kids’ play clothes. πŸ˜›

    We do have a long way to go ~ sometimes we want a new gadget or toy that comes with tons of packaging ~ but I can recognize our deficiencies and slowly work on them.

    Someday I’d love to be completely off-grid! *sigh* When I start to second guess myself, I need only look at my neighbors’ overflowing trashcans each week, (we generally put out 1-2 kitchen bags ~ for 2 adults, 3 kids, 1 dog, 2 cats), I feel like we are moving in the right direction.

  4. Awesome article. We have been composting and doing our own garden for years. I have come to really enjoy gardening. I still have much to learn. I also use vinegar and baking soda for cleaning. I do still buy laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent though. I have attempted to make my own but didn’t really like it. I should look more into it. We recycle much of our trash but we have to take it ourselves since we live just right out side the city limits. That is such a pain but we usually only have one trash bag of regular trash a week now for a family of 5. I did mostly cloth diapers with my daughters and they both potty trained earlier. Since my son has a massive brain injury we just use disposables, it’s just easier for me and he is now too big for cloth. I do like new clothes though and don’t see myself changing that. πŸ™‚

    • Living outside the city limits definitely forces you to be committed in order to recycle. We lived in the county for 8 years and we did recycle, but man it was a pain. Gardening is really good. I have tomatoes and herbs and a tiny strawberry bed, but that’s all I have time for. Oh yeah, and those pesky covenants make any more than that problematic too. :/

  5. Christy

    We use LunchBots, which are stainless steel lunch containers. They come in several different arrangements so I can send my kindergartner (almost first grader!) off with leftovers and should last for quite a long time.

    I haven’t tried making my own laundry detergent but I’m trying out soap nuts, which are basically a nut that turns into soap when it gets wet. Then of course it’s totally biodegradable, which is great since I plan to try composting this year.

    I also make and sell all my own lotions, lip balms, and other bath products, which saves and even makes money. πŸ™‚

  6. This may not rise to the level of collecting rainwater or composting, but we can all do the earth a favor by retiring that old “second” fridge in the garage. Or even the old “main fridge” in the kitchen.

    I discovered to my surprise this week that refrigerators rank second — behind only the AC — in household electricity usage. And a new Energystar fridge draws about 1/3 the energy as a model that — ahem — may have a few years (or decades) on it. So the investment in a new refrigerator actually pays for itself in a few years’ time…and dramatically reduces any family’s energy consumption. (I’m glad we made the switch, because as it turns out, the new unit does a better job of keeping things cold, too!)

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