By Emily Little
In the last two years, between babies two and three, I have worked hard at shifting my family’s ecological impact by living a zero waste lifestyle. (To clarify for new-to-zero-waste-readers: for most people, living a “zero waste” lifestyle doesn’t mean you actually create zero waste. You try your best to reduce your waste as much as possible and accept your successes and failures in the process.) When I learned I was pregnant with our third child I was so happy, but I was also really stressed out about our family’s environmental impact. By making the choice to have a third child I knew I was going to be burdened by the feeling that we would be using more resources than other families simply because there were more of us. In order to lessen, but not eliminate, this feeling I made a full effort to be less wasteful.
In daydreams I wish that I had started this zero waste journey before I had kids, but there is no rewind. If I could start my journey of motherhood again from the beginning, using a zero waste mindset, I would apply the old wedding tradition of “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue” to baby stuff. I think that by adopting the old, enlisting the borrowed, choosing the blue and then backing up with the new you can bring simplicity to the necessary material items one accumulates with babies and children. Let’s start with my favorite: something old.
When I got married I pinned my grandparents’ wedding rings to the inside of my wedding dress. The “something old” represents continuity, and I felt as if I was carrying a piece of their marriage and family with me into my future, as well as maybe the luck of having children (my grandmother had six!) The “something olds” that I use with my children bring me so much joy. Almost all of our clothing would fit into the category of old. We have been the lucky recipients of hand-me-downs from several families and I have been able to fill in a few pieces from consignment sales in my area of Virginia. Certainly some kids clothing gets worn to shreds, but most of it makes it through one kid easily, especially the little baby stuff. Several friends have sent me curated boxes of hand-me-downs that I have loved so much: Patriots gear, stripes, corduroys, overalls… these are a few of my favorite things. Reach out to friends, family, your online community, or any other community you belong to, and see if there is anyone looking to send on baby gear or clothes. This will save you money, time, and it will bring continuity from the past to your baby’s future. Now that we are done having children nothing thrills me more than seeing pictures of my friends little ones wearing things my kids wore.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I polled people about what they couldn’t imagine living without and I also read more than one list of “Things You Wish You Had Never Bought for Baby." I thought that by gathering all this information I’d come up with a neat and tidy list of things I needed. The problem was that while some people found a certain item essential, others found that same baby item useless. My list wasn’t neat or tidy.
What I realized is that we all have certain things that we feel we can’t live without for baby. Then you have a second baby who despises things the first one liked and you realize there is no perfect list. Sometimes you don’t need something until you NEED IT! (In the middle of the night on day 7 of no sleep.) This is where something borrowed comes in. Now, I will admit that situations like these have made me impulse buy a couple of things on Amazon. I’m not proud of how many bottle nipples I possess. I will also admit that those impulse purchases haven’t always panned out. Every child is different and every stage is different. Borrowing items from friends or family or community (instead of buying them new) means that you have less stuff in your space, that you can trial something without a commitment, and you can connect with someone else who has kid stuff all over their house.
I have borrowed a lot of things but there is one borrow that I would describe as life changing. My first baby was the dream sleeper; from the beginning she had sleeping skills. Skills you don’t mention to other parents unless you want to be shunned. My second baby, who came when my first was 13.5 months old (I told you she was a good sleeper), was an okay sleeper with challenges and regressions, but always manageable. My third baby has required, how do I say this nicely, his parents to become baby-sleep wizards. My first two babies had happily gone to sleep on their backs on the firm, flat co-sleeper. They easily followed all the early safety rules and slept. Third baby, not so much. He hated being flat. In my sleep deprived haze a voice reminded me about the Rock-n-Play. People swore by those things. I hadn’t needed one the first two times around but I had to try something new.
I messaged ALL the groups. My Buy Nothing group, my 2013 mom group, my 2014 mom group, a general parenting group, Facebook marketplace. (I resisted the one click Amazon option that I might not have resisted a couple of years ago.) “Anyone have a rock-n-play that needs use?” A mom I knew a little bit had one. She asked for my address and by that night she had delivered it to my house, freshly washed. She told me how she used it for her two babies and that she was hoping to use it for a third someday, but had just had a miscarriage and so wasn’t sure now. I felt so honored that she shared that with me, her story and her freshly-washed-saving-my-sleep rock-n-play. In the wedding adage, the borrowed item represents borrowed happiness. In borrowing this item I had borrowed happiness from that mom and she had given it freely. It made me feel more connected to my mom community here in Virginia. A feeling of connection between mothers is not something you can register for, but is invaluable as you navigate motherhood.
The “something blue” that brings you luck on your wedding represents purity, love, and fidelity. Applying this to babies, for us, meant that we pretended it was 1970 and didn’t find out the genders of our babies until they were born. I needed the added surprise during the pushing phase of labor. The unforeseen bonus is that when people don’t know the gender of your baby they often give you “something blue” or something that can be used for both a boy or a girl (AKA all future babies.) Whether you find out the gender or not, consider making choices, especially larger more permanent purchases, on ones that could work for all genders. I also love having a diaper bag that is a backpack and a black baby carrier so that when my husband grabs them and puts them on he can feel comfortable and like a dad who does it all.
By the time you gather your old, borrow from friends, and ask for people to think about your future babies’ colors, I think there is not much left that you need. However, there are times when you have to choose new. You can’t use 10 year old amoxicillin to treat your baby’s first ear infection. The Nose Frida feels pretty personal. Car seats are really important and can’t have a history of an accident, so new is usually needed to ensure safety. Diapers and wipes, food and health items are usually new, but sometimes investing in making your own reusable wipes, or cloth diapering, can be a way to invest in something new that you can reuse again and again.
I bought my white (and a couple blue and orange) cloth diapers new for my first baby. Then I took a break and let my best friend borrow them when I was overwhelmed by two-under-two in diapers and then took them back, a little old-er, to help potty train both kids and to use for our third baby. I anticipate the day I will close the diaper portion of motherhood and can send them back to my best friend for her to use on a future little. New is part of the adventure too, and new represents the future in the old wedding tradition. The most important new thing will be the new baby. There is nothing as new as a new baby.