We are quiet conservationists. My daily lifestyle and what I model for my four children is more important to me than being a loud activist. If the earth is borrowed from our children, then I had better be raising them to take care of it.
The most obvious way we live consciously, is the lack of paper goods. I’ve eased up a little bit; we have boxes of paper tissues now, but we often use soft handkerchiefs. We use washcloths or cloth napkins, instead of paper. There are no paper towels; the children know to grab a real towel for spills. They use Norwex microfiber cloths to help me clean the house (with less chemicals). The only time we use paper plates is for birthday parties. We talk about how this makes less trash; even if there aren’t lengthy conversations, it is a mindset our children are living out.
There’s other reusable items that they will use more as they grow older. We have a washable coffee filter, so the kids don’t know that paper coffee filters exist. I’ve used a menstrual cup for the last twelve years, and I plan to explain it to my daughter when she’s ready. Sure, these are just small items but they certainly add up, both in our trash bags and budget.
A Resource and A Privilege
My French husband taught me early in our relationship to look at my water and electricity use differently. He couldn’t believe I didn’t turn off the shower water while I shampooed my hair or shaved my legs. He started turning off lights behind me saying, “This is not Versailles!” I assured him that our 400-square-foot apartment wasn’t the legendary French palace, but it gave me a perspective shift.
Don’t turn on a light unless you need it. A light should only be on in the room you are currently in. “Turn off the water,” is heard frequently in our house.
I want my children to know that water and electricity are limited resources and frankly, a privilege. Last Christmas, we donated to a well-building initiative through Compassion International – there are many other organizations too. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about water and why we don’t waste it.
It’s tricky with four small children, but we try to reuse things. That’s your cup for the entire day, so rinse it out. If jeans can be worn two days, let’s do that. I am all for a gloriously messy childhood, so no one gets scolded for getting dirty playing outside. But if it’s not actually dirty, you are wearing it tomorrow.
This idea of reusing things carries into buying used things instead of driving the market to manufacture and produce more. Yes, it’s also cheaper for me to purchase used clothing for rapidly growing kids. But it’s also a way to keep usable clothing from the landfill, and more pollutants from being added to the world by making more. As they grow up, if my children feel any stigma attached to their second-hand clothing, this will be one of my explanations. It doesn’t prohibit me from buying a new Easter dress or cool t-shirt sometimes either.
Being a Conservationist is SO Normal
My main philosophy for teaching my children to be environmentally conscious, is to just make it seem so normal to them. Metal straws instead of disposable ones? So normal. Cloth diapers? Normal. (Not hardcore on that one. Once they eat solids, I’m done with cloth.)
We may not always have a compost bin going, but the kids are used to doing it. They wouldn’t dream of putting a can or glass bottle into the regular trash. They’ve seen my anxious scramble to catch any wrappers floating across the parking lot and they know on a walk or hike that we will pick up any trash we find.
We don’t do any of this perfectly. We make lots of exceptions. But our conservationist mindset is in place and growing. I look forward to discover new and more sustainable ways of teaching my children to care for their world.