Flats and Handwash Challenge, Day 5: What I Have Learned This Week

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

‘There are still 2 more full days left of the challenge after today, and I will continue to participate, but I will be taking the weekend off from blogging (I also have a diaper-making workshop to run tomorrow!), so this will be my last post about the FHWC (until next year, assuming my baby doesn’t potty-learn by then!).  Although I participated in this challenge last year, I changed things up this year (partially due to what I learned from last year) and made even more discoveries!

  • So, first of all, I learned that handwashing diapers takes even less physical labor than I thought — and this is after already participating in this challenge once before!  I was able to get my diapers very clean with just some swishing with the laundry paddle, and a good long hot soak in the tub (<–that always makes everything better, doesn’t it? ;)).  No more standing hunched over the sink, scrubbing away with the washboard.  (I should mention that I have a bad back.)
  • Having less diapers than last year meant I had to wash more often, but that, in turn, made the act of washing take less time (and thus less physical energy).  Even though the blankets I used were much larger than the flour sack towels of last year, the new, lazier 😀 way I washed them made it seem like even less work anyway, so it didn’t matter!
  • By sitting on the edge of the tub with the laundry paddle (like paddling a canoe!), I was able to switch sides when my back started to hurt, thus evening out the strain.  The soreness from the handwashing was not as bad as it was last year at the sink, where I was hunched over.
  • By incorporating a soaking period (which I do even when using the washing machine), it not only required less actual agitation (and no scrubbing!) on my part, but it allowed me more freedom with my time.  It took about 10 minutes to get everything set up for the soak.  Then I was free for a few hours.  Then it took about 20 minutes to do the rinsing, wringing, and hanging.  Then another several hours of freedom.  Finally, another 10 minutes to take them down and fold/put away.  AND, unlike baking bread, you can actually leave your house between the 3 stages of work!
  • I have once again proven to myself that it is very much possible to use cloth diapers very little start-up cost AND no washing machine.  Unlike last year, when I said “maybe” when asked if I would consider doing this full time if I needed to, my answer now is ABSOLUTELY!  This kind of thing can seem so daunting from afar, and I know a lot of people think those of us who are participating in this challenge are nutso, but it really isn’t as bad as they think.  It just takes a little dedication.  And with the rewards of using cloth, no matter your initial reasons (our initial reason was sensitive skin and going broke diapering twins!), what’s not to love?  You are saving thousands of dollars AND helping protect the environment!  I don’t know about you, but those two things are VERY high on my priority list.  A little extra back strain and time out of my day for something I love and think is important?  Of course.  🙂

Click the link below to see what other participants have learned this week!

Flats and Handwash Challange, Day 4: How I Handwash

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

Last year, I used the “sink with hands” method.  This year I have tried something different: the bathtub.  I did a combination of a laundry paddle for agitating, and my hands for wringing.

I am using a “wet pail;” a 5 gallon bucket that I had run some water into.  I keep the bucket in the bathtub and run a little more water into it every time I add a dirty diaper.  This is how I washed them on Tuesday (Day 2):

I dumped the whole thing into the bathtub and let it drain out a bit, all while filling the bucket with clean cold water.

Then, I poured the bucket of clean water over the lump of wet, dirty diapers, as sort of a second “prewash.”  I squished them with my hands to help squeeze the water out.

Then, I turned on the water as hot as it would go, plugged the drain, and added All Free & Clear (up to line 2), about 2 tablespoons of Oxiclean, and a capful of Calgon water softener (we have hard water — my nemesis!).

I used my wooden laundry paddle to swish and stir the diapers around so that the detergent was mixed in well in the water and the diapers.

Then we went on a playdate.  🙂

When we got back, the dipes had had a good soak, and the water had cooled to room temperature.

I’d had my washboard ready, but the nice long hot soak had been sufficient, even for the one dipe that was pooped in (I had rinsed it before tossing it into the wet pail via the “dunk and swish” method in the toilet).  So, I just gave the whole lot a good swishing again with the laundry paddle.

Last year, I scrubbed everything, and it was very hard on my back.  This year, I wanted to find the laziest way possible to get the job done, and I figured that the swishing, soaking, and more swishing would be sufficient for the pee dipes and wipes (and the one PUL cover I used for overnight).  Seems like it was more than sufficient, even for the poopy one!

I then unplugged the drain and let the water drain out, and wrung everything out, plopping it right back into the shallow end of the tub.  I then turned the water on as hot as it would get, re-plugged the drain, added about a cup of white vinegar, and let it fill (about halfway).  Swish again for a minute or so, then let it drain.

Repeat rinse, only this time, no vinegar, and warm water instead of hot (I didn’t want to burn myself when I picked them up in the next step!).

After draining the water out, I picked each item up and wrung the excess water out.  Then I put them all in a basket and hauled it outside to my wooden rack.

I snapped the dipes out, and hung stuff up as best I could, considering that most of the “diapers” are several inches bigger than the bars on the rack.

A few hours later, they were dry, and I could fold them up and put them away.  🙂

This method takes about 5-6 hours from start to finish (depending on how long the soak is and how fast things dry), but the actual work takes only about a total of 45 minutes, divided into 3 different segments.  (It reminds me of baking bread!)  It is less physically demanding than the way I did things last year, so that is good.  Now hopefully we don’t develop a stink, or I will have to tweak this method.  If I was doing this full time, I might boil the diapers occasionally to remove bacteria and build-up.

~ Michelle

*Click below to see other participants’ thoughts on handwashing!*

Flats and Handwash Challange, Day 3: How I Use My Flats

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

So as you may know (from yesterday’s post), I am using (rather crudely) homemade cotton flannel swaddling blankets as my flat diapers.  And, in yesterday’s post, I pretty much told you how I am using them.  But let’s take a closer look:

*This is one method of using the blanket-diapers.  I have to tweak the method depending on the blanket because they are inconsistently sized.*

I have a large square of fabric.  I fold it into quarters, placing it with the edges at the top and one side.

I fold the front corners over so that the wings in back are still at full length(/width?) and the front corners touch the other side at an angle.

I lay the baby on it, and fold the front flap up between her legs.

I gather the sides so that they overlap in the middle, and pinch the flap and wings together between my fingers and thumb.

I use the other hand to put my super awesome, super sharp, locking diaper pin in (I have been holding it in my mouth this whole time).  I secure the pin, through all three sections (12 layers of flannel), and voila!

I pull the wool soaker over it all and we’re done.  🙂


*Click the link below to see how other participants are using their flats*

Flats and Handwash Challenge, Day 2: What Supplies Am I Using?

I am taking part in the Second Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry.  For 7 days I will be using only flat cloth diapers and handwashing them in an effort to prove that cloth diapering can be affordable and accessible to all.  You can learn more about the rules and why this challenge was started by visiting the announcement post.  This year there are over 450 participants from all over the world! 

Last year during the FHWC, I used flour sack towels and Thirsties covers.  This year, I have decided to change things up a bit, because when it came time to experiment with folds and such, I found that my baby has grown quite a bit over the past year, and I was finding it difficult to figure out a way to use those old flour sack towels in a way that would be effective.  I really wanted to be able to use my regular wool covers, but that requires using a fastener on the flat.  I absolutely loathe Snappis, by the way.  My baby is now 18 months old and weighs about 27 lbs.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out a fold that would give enough rise and enough absorbancy where it counts and still be able to be fastened with a Snappi or pins.

So, my solution?  Receiving blankets.  Well swaddling blankets, actually.  I have quite a few swaddling blankets that I made last year for my big baby who liked to be swaddled up until she was about 10 months old.  I couldn’t afford those lovely Aidan & Anais ones, which were the perfect size for a big baby (and nice and thin, so they aren’t too hot), so I took it upon myself to be resourceful and try to solve my problem with things I already had on hand.  Fabric.  Soft, cotton, flannel fabric.  I was not interested in anything fancy, so I simply took a pair of pinking shears and cut large rectangles of flannel.  I was not too strict with the measurements, either.  Most are 36″x45″ (a yard cut of standard fabric, with selvages intact).  I washed them and trimmed the strings off, and now they have soft, fringey edges.

I had made about 6 of these swaddling blankets, and as I sat pondering what to do about my dilemma with the flour sack towels, they popped into my mind.  I have recommended folks using receiving blankets as flats before, because 30″x30″ is a standard size for both blankets and flat diapers (genius?).  The 30″x40″ ones are even better for a larger baby, because they can be quarter-folded and used just like a prefold.  The blankets I made are a bit larger than that, but I figured I’d try them out and see if I could make them work.  I found that quarter-folding them and then laying my baby on them with the longer part horizontal (unlike with a prefold, where the longer part is vertical — running up and down the child’s body) works great.  This way, the rise was not too long for her, and there was plenty of room for a fastener.

I brought out the diaper pins (like I said, I detest Snappis).  With some of the blankets, I am even able to get away with one pin in the middle, since there is enough fabric on either side to overlap in the middle, and I just pin through all 3 sections (which ends up actually being 12 layers of flannel, but my pins get through it easily).  Yes, there is a lot of extra fabric, and if I were to use this as my regular diaper system, I would take some measurements and trim the blankets down to a more practical size (and zig-zag the edges for a cleaner look, like the one pictured above).  But for now, I’m leaving them be. I liked the way this worked so well that I went to my sewing room to pull out more flannel and make more of these swaddling blankets!  I think I now have an even dozen.  Perfect!

The best part of this (other than there is a lot more absorbancy and softness than the flour sack towels) is that I get to use my wool soakers!  And the extra fabric is no biggie, because the way my soakers are made, there is a lot of coverage of the bum and upper thigh, so all of that fabric the blankets leave around the legs fits just fine under the soakers, even though I do tend to tuck some of the excess blanket in with my fingers after pinning.

Oh, and another best thing: such adorable “diapers!”

Other than the blankets and wool soakers, I am using my flannel wipes (most made by me, some out of the same fabric as the blankets) with my homemade wipe solution (1/4 cup each of Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Castile liquid soap and organic olive oil, filled up to 1 gallon with water).  For the handwashing part, I have an old-fashioned washboard (like the one pictured below) and 2 wooden drying racks (like this one). Last year I used old-fashioned lye soap to wash with, but this year I think I will try actual laundry detergent (All Free & Clear is what I’m using these days).

~ Michelle

Click below to see what supplies other participants are using!

The 2nd Annual Flats and Handwash Challenge, Day 1: WHY Am I Doing This?

Last year, I participated in the 1st Annual Flats and Handwash Challenge, hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry (you can read my post about it here).  There were about 200 participants last year.  This year, for the 2nd Annual Flats and Handwash Challenge, there are about 500!  So, why am I doing this, especially since I already experienced it last year, I do own a washer and dryer, and I have 5 children to tend to (the younger 4 of which are home full time)?  Why do I want to take the time and energy to switch from my normal diapers (cotton fitteds and wool covers) to flat diapers, and then handwash them???

Well.  First of all, it’s fun.  It changes things up a bit.  It’s a challenge.  When I was a little girl, my favorite books were The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I must have read each book 6 times, maybe more.  I have even re-read them as an adult, and we are currently reading them to our children at bedtime (something that will keep us busy for months to come!).  So, as you might imagine, I was(/am?) a little obsessed with the pioneer period.  And how did the pioneers do their laundry?  Why, by handwashing, of course!  So, you see, by participating in this challenge, I get an excuse to play pretend as an adult.  😀  I even use an old-fashioned washboard.  But that’s just the fun part.

On to the business part.  The real point of this challenge is to prove that cloth diapers can be used by those who do not have washing machines at their disposal.  And since flat diapers are the LEAST expensive type (averaging $1 each NEW), it is easy even for those on the smallest of budgets to acquire a decent sized stash for the price of a week or two’s worth of disposable diapers.  Then they don’t have to buy any more – EVER!  (Well, that’s not entirely true — diapers do wear out, but again, flats are super affordable, so even replacing them as they wear out will barely make a dent in the budget!)

I founded and co-lead a local cloth diaper group.  Its purpose is to educate families about cloth diapering; from the different options available to how to use and wash them.  By participating in the FHWC (again), I am able to be a local, in-person witness to the possibility of cloth diapering in the face of two challenges: thinking you can’t afford cloth diapers, and/or thinking you can’t use them because you don’t have a washing machine.  Of course, there are those that simply do not want to handwash, and that is understandable.  You really have to be committed to cloth in order to be willing to do this kind of thing full time.  But when your budget is so low that you have to choose between buying diapers and buying food or paying your utility bill (I’ve been there!), you have a problem.  Some parents have begun to keep their babies in disposable diapers much longer than they should, or even try to wash out and reuse them!  All in the name of saving money.  What is with this madness??  This practice is unhealthy for numerous reasons.  They end up sitting in their own filth, which is just plain unsanitary.  There are also toxic chemicals in disposable diapers.  Why would you want to prolong their exposure to them?

There is a simple solution: cloth.  No money? Flats.  No washer?  Handwash.  I am taking this challenge to help prove that it is doable.

Tomorrow I will tell you what kind of materials I am using this year — I have tweaked things a bit since last year.  Stay tuned!  🙂

~ Michelle

To see why others are taking this challenge, click here (and scroll down to the linkys at the bottom of the post).

Beach Vacation on a Shoestring

It has been somewhat difficult for me to compose this post, because our situation is unique and I can’t tell you to just do what we do.  So this is not a “How-To,” but a “How We Do It” type of thing.  So let me tell you how our large, low-budget family is able to take 4 vacations a year to America’s Oldest City.

I am writing to you from St. Augustine, Florida, where we are currently taking a brief vacation while my husband has a week off between semesters.  I love this place.  There is little housework because we pack very light, and there is always so much to do, even if we don’t have the cash to “play tourist” (I say “play” because my husband and I have both been vacationing here regularly since we were toddlers, so it’s kind of home-away-from-home).

So, first.  We are fortunate enough to have a condo that we are able to stay in for free.  My in-laws own 2 fully-furnished condos that they rent out, so they let us stay in our favorite one (the one we honeymooned in) whenever it is available and our schedules allow.  Generally we go for Spring Break (March), Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day — usually for a 3-day weekend, but sometimes longer if we are able (this March we stayed for a whole week!).  So there go the lodging fees.  We do pay $75 for a cleaning fee when we leave, or if we are seriously broke, we can do all of the cleaning ourselves instead (I have not done that in years, though, since the addition of children #4 and 5 — it’s too much!).

Because of the nature of the condo (being the owners’ family), we are able to keep a stash of personal items in a locked closet.  We have a full set of toiletries, some activities for the children, beach toys, and a supply of non-perishable food.  There is enough food to get us through one dinner and one breakfast, so if we arrive late at night (as we did this time), we don’t have to worry about rushing to the grocery store or finding the nearest drive-thru.  So, we only have to pack clothing and whatever personal items we need (like current library books and knitting ;)).

Next, we don’t eat out (much — sometimes we’ll take a celebratory trip to O’Steen’s, where we eat the best fried shrimp ON EARTH; caught that morning).  We go to the grocery store when we get here, and get enough food for the whole stay.  I actually seem to get more home-cooking done here, because of the lack of distractions (like chores!).  Today for breakfast we had fresh cantaloupe, bacon, and a spinach fritatta (which my youngest son called a “piñata,” and then my husband called a “fruitista” within minutes of each other, hahaha).  Then we had a picnic lunch while we were out being touristy, and had salad, green beans, and grilled steak for dinner.  (Incidentally, we are on a starch fast while we are here, to help detox from sugar.  So none of our meals have had any starches.)

So as for touristy stuff, we have some advantages there, too.  Because of the museum-related consulting work that my mother-in-law does here, we have free access to certain museums, like the Government House Museum (local archeology) and the relatively new Pirate Museum.  We are fortunate that our children love museums, and it’s all part of homeschooling!  🙂

We also have a Florida State Park annual pass, which we used here for the first time this trip.  We visited Fort Mose, which was a refuge for escaped slaves back when Florida still belonged to Spain.  They have a little museum and nature trails.  That’s where we had our picnic today.  Since we have a pass, we got in free.

Another wonderful thing we have at our disposal is a military discount.  My husband served 10 years in the USMC, and is a veteran.  St. Augustine is a very military-friendly town.  They offer deep discounts all over the place.  For example, we are able to tour the St. Augustine Lighthouse for free with our military IDs.  And just today, we did the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum (again) for $5/person age 6+, as opposed to $15/person!  I think Potter’s Wax Museum was also free — we did that last year.

So, that’s about all there is to say about it.  I am so thankful that we are able to get away every now and then and just enjoy nature and each other.  So funny, though — when we come to the beach, you’d think we’d be spending a lot of time on the beach, right??  Hmmm, nope.  This is what they always want to do instead:

But I took the baby down to the beach this afternoon so she could do some exploring, since she was not happy at the pool.  I didn’t have a baby carrier on me, so I did a make-shift Kanga carry with a beach towel (not my first time doing this, either!).

So I guess if I were to give advice on how to have a budget vacation, it would be pretty basic stuff.  Go where you can stay for free (with friends/family), avoid eating out and buy groceries and cook instead, and find the cheap and/or free entertainment.  Genius!  😀

~ Michelle

Yummy Monday: Freedom Through Basics

We all have to eat.  For many people it can be a challenge when first starting down the road of culinary delights to really settle on what are the things that they truly need to devote their time to learning.  As time goes on we learn short cuts and figure out which things are more trouble than they are worth.  We also learn how to “cheat” on a recipe and what substitutions are acceptable and which will only bring a disaster to our plates.  When I first started cooking I was all over the place.  I bought way too many cookbooks and developed a habit of making too many menus that were overly complicated and hard to keep up with.  In short, I ended up seeing cooking as a dreaded chore instead of the adventure it had first seemed to me.  After a while though I arrived at a wonderful place of compromise where I had standard dishes that were relatively simple and easy to fall back on and could be made with either pantry basics or were such that I could improvise with whatever we had on hand any given day.  Occasionally I still make those every so delicate pastries and spend a few hours whipping up a masterpiece but I now feel far more free to experiment and take it easy only doing the more time intensive meals when inspiration and motivation strikes.   Today I would like to share with you the top 5 things I believe every home cook should take the time to learn and in the end make cooking easier and more enjoyable.

Spice and Herb Blends

This is one of those things that I think many of us are afraid to try when we first start cooking.  Particularly if you were not raised in a home where the person cooking trusted their own judgment and not that of a nice tidy foil package in flavoring their foods.  This is also one of the single biggest, and easiest, things you can do to improve the flavor of your foods.  There are countless websites and cook books that will walk you through the process step by step and that is a wonderful place to start getting the hang of it.  After a while though you will start to discover that no blend will fit every family exactly right.  We all have such varying preferences when it comes to food, not to mention allergies.  This is where the fun part comes in, no, really!  After you start learning how different spices and herbs affect your favorite meals you can start adapting the recipes to suit your own personal preferences.  For instance many mixes will call for either flour or corn starch to help thicken the food (taco seasoning comes to mind) but I found that I much prefer to use arrow-root powder, also my husband has developed a much more sensitive stomach over the years and I have found that by reducing ingredients like cayenne pepper I can make some of his old favorites without it tearing his stomach up.  Once I arrive at a combination that we all like I quadruple the ingredients mix them up and put them in an airtight container.  When it is time to make my dish it makes it simple to just spoon out the required amount and move on.  Trust me once you start making your own spice and herb blends you will never go back to the store-bought ones.


Let’s face it, casseroles are hard to get a good picture of.  They are often ugly and spilling over the sides but wow are they easy and so tasty!  The “Oh no, what can I cook tonight?” champion in my book.  The casserole magical formula is take your leftovers (meat or veggies) or a cooked pasta and add a binding agent along with some seasoning.  Cream soups and stuffings work great for this but I have used a few eggs beaten together with some milk in a pinch before.  Bake at 350 degrees until it gets all bubbly and then let set on the counter until it cools down to a temperature less than that of a volcano.  Dig in, and don’t be afraid to add cheese, it can make just about anything taste good.


Soups are another one of those wonderful “Let’s see what we got to throw in” sort of wonderfulness that I love so much.   It, like the ever so forgiving casserole, is very forgiving and can be made with just about anything you happen to have on hand.  It also has a magical formula.  Take a base liquid preferably stock (chicken, beef, tomato, vegetable, water if you are desperate… you get the idea) and then just add what you have.  You might make some stinkers along the way but I promise you will eventually learn what works together and what does not.  One of my favorites that I made this way was my chicken stew.  I started with a chicken stock that I swirled in a can of tomato paste and added cubed potatoes with the skin still on, sliced carrots, left over chicken that I pulled into bite size pieces and sliced fresh mushrooms.  Then I seasoned it with dried minced onion, thyme, garlic powder, minced garlic, onion powder and sea salt.  One of our favorite meals, hands down.  


Is there anything more forgiving and easily adaptable than a salad?   Growing up salad was some iceberg lettuce with some torn pieces of american cheese mixed in pushed somewhere off on the side of your plate.  It makes me a little sad to think of all the years I missed out on the beauty that is a good salad.  Throw some greens in a bowl add protein and anything else that sounds good and dinner is served.  Does it get any easier?  One of our favorites is to get several types of lettuce and add chicken, bacon, tomatoes and cheese.  Simple and filling.


So I will admit that this one took about a year of trial and error to get just right.  The mood would strike and I would try my hand at it again, reworking an old recipe or trying a new one.  Now bread might not be easy and it certainly is not very forgiving when you get your measurements wrong but it is so worth it!  You have not tasted garlic bread until you have had your own homemade fresh from the oven loaf.  Top it will some marinated veggies or meat and you have yourself an amazing lunch.  Before you know it you will be making not only your own bread but also crackers, croutons, and rolls all the while wondering why you tolerated the store-bought version for so long.

*Photos purchased from depositphotos.

Are Big Families Really the “New Green”?

Welcome to April edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama. This month’s topic is “Celebrating Our Earth – Green Living”. Please scroll down to the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants. Enjoy!

So…ARE big families the “New Green”???  I like to think so!  So many people scoff at large families and try to argue that they are hard on the earth when actually, large families often tread even more lightly on the earth than many average-sized families — by necessity!

Below are my thoughts in response to this article.


“Cars Count”

I have often thought about how “efficient” it is that we cram 7 people into one vehicle on a regular basis. Sure, our 10-year-old minivan gets a measly 15mpg on average (city), but that’s actually better per capita than a family of four driving a 45mpg hybrid (if my mental pseudo-math is correct). We do go places often, unlike the author of the article suggests. I try to get out of the house every day, even if only to the grocery store (and that, preferably with just one or two children in tow). We go to parks, homeschool events, the library, and playdates at friends’ houses. And these things are located all over the metropolis, which isn’t very green, perhaps, but at least our metropolis is relatively small compared to most — the furthest we ever go is 25 minutes or less away from home, most being 5-15 minutes.

“Economy Size”

Yes, it takes the same amount of electricity to light and cool (or heat, for a very brief part of the year) our home, no matter how many people inhabit it. We definitely use more water than most families, at least for laundry. I estimate that we have 10-15 loads of laundry to wash per week. We do, however, have a “super capacity” washing machine, and I am a stickler to “run only full loads” rule.

When the children were younger, we would combine their baths, to the point that the water consumption probably equaled an average-sized family’s bathing habits. Nowadays, we still combine baths, but are now transitioning to showers often, which, with our low-flow shower heads, I’m hoping use even less water than their “up to your belly-button” baths.

“Cozy Quarters”

There are 7 of us living in a 3 bedroom house (well, 4 bedrooms of you count that tiny room in the addition that I use as a studio…but I don’t).  Yup, that’s the same size as an average  house for a family of four.  But our children don’t each have their own rooms, obviously.  Right now there is a kids’ bedroom, and a playroom, and it works great for our current needs.  When they are older (like, when the older ones hit puberty), there will be a boys’ room and a girls’ room.  I like to think that having one’s own room is overrated.  😉  I have heard many people who grew up in large families talk about how much they loved it, and how close they are to their siblings.  I imagine being crammed together like sardines contributed to that!

“Reduce & Reuse”

We definitely have a tight budget, especially since my husband got out of the Marine Corps and went back to college.  We are currently subsisting on a military housing allowance, grant money, and student loans, so our money must be stretched.  I am a big fan of thrift store shopping.  One of my favorite thrift stores runs daily specials, the best one (in my opinion) being the “Fill a bag for $5” days.  I am able to cram 10-15 pieces of clothing, often brand name, into one of those bags, and then pay less than the price of one new baby outfit from Walmart.  Now that’s thrifty!  I have gone out thrifting and spent $50 total for 2 garbage bags full of stuff.  So much cheaper than buying new!

As for reusing, we definitely do a lot of that around here!  We are almost entirely paperless; the only paper product we buy is toilet paper (well, and printer paper, but that is recycled!), and even that may be on the menu for (at least partial) extinction down the road, although we do use disposable storage bags as well (something that is on my list of things to remedy; I plan to make some reusable food storage bags eventually).  We use real dishes (our original supply is supplemented by thrift store replacements to compensate for children breaking them), and drink out of repurposed pickle jars.  Our babies’ bums don real (cloth) diapers, and cloth baby wipes are used for diaper changes as well as “field showers” for dirty/sticky little hands and faces.  I use cloth menstrual pads that are washed with the diapers.  Instead of paper towels, we use cheap washcloths, bought in bulk.  I think we must have 50 of them, and I go through at least 5 a day, or many more depending on the level of mess!  We use sturdy cotton napkins as napkins, and thin, soft, thrift store ($4/dozen!)  cotton napkins as handkerchiefs!   So that just leaves us with toilet paper, and I have been known to use a dry flannel baby wipe in an emergency, or a wet one from the warmer in place of those flushable wipes.  I love cloth!

Other ways we “reduce” is by me breastfeeding the babies (I finally made it without using a drop of formula with baby #5!), and eating leftovers.  I don’t understand why some people won’t eat leftovers; so many things taste better the next day!  I am a big fan of one-dish meals, so that is especially true for us!  And food that doesn’t get eaten in a timely manner often gets either composted or fed to the chickens; either way making its way back to our table, whether through eggs or garden harvest!

“Make Do”

Our house is almost entirely furnished with hand-me-down furniture.  Seriously.  It boggles my mind when I think about it.  The only things we have bought new (over the course of several years) are our king sized mattress, one twin mattress, one crib mattress, our entryway table, 3 cheap book cases, 6 folding chairs for our dining table, the folding tables in my craft room, and some patio/camping chairs.  EVERYTHING else is donations from family and friends.  Everything.  And I would venture a guess that at least half of our other possessions are either hand-me-downs, gifts, or bought second-hand.  Yes, we are terrible consumers, but it is mighty friendly to both the earth and our pocketbook!

“Pass it on”

We are happily involved in the hand-me-down loop.  We don’t have as many sources for receiving hand-me-downs as we really need, because most of my children are older than most of my friends’ children.  But, when they outgrow things, I enjoy giving things away to friends who can use them.  As I have said, though, most of my childrens’ clothing is secondhand or gifts.  Within our family, however, it’s pass-down central!  I have 3 boys and 2 girls, so technically (though not completely in practice), I should be able to get away with only buying/acquiring clothing for the oldest boy and the oldest girl.  Things are then passed down from sibling to sibling.

I love it when I put something on one of my younger children and mentally count how many children have worn that particular piece of clothing.  There is, for example, a pair of size 2T Old Navy denim overalls that I purchased used when my oldest was a baby, and every single one of my children has worn them since (it helps having twins who are different sizes because then some clothes can be handed down between them!) — so those overalls have been worn by at least 6 children!  To keep the system organized, I use dots, marked on clothing tags with a black Sharpie.  The oldest boy gets one dot, the middle boy gets 2 dots, the youngest boy gets 3 dots.  (I don’t do that for the girls [yet] because they are 6 years apart, so it is pretty easy to tell which clothes belong to whom at this point.)  This dot system helps avoid confusion come laundry time.

All of that said, clothes do wear out, so we do need to acquire “new” clothing (and shoes) for the younger children as well.  That is where thrift store shopping comes in handy.  For example, I have found high quality shoes in excellent condition for $1-3 many times!

“What the Future Holds”

I like to think that the lifestyle we live will make an impression on my children that they will carry into adulthood.  Urban homesteading, something that we aspire to but I haven’t mentioned yet here, is another “green” practice we have.  We are not there yet, but we have chickens and a decent-sized vegetable garden, and there are many many things planned for the future as far as our urban homestead goes.  That, combined with all of our other earth-friendly (and frugal) practices, are a way of life for us.  When my children are grown and gone, they will have these practices ingrained in their minds and hearts, and will carry on the legacy of protecting our earth and saving money at the same time, no matter how many children they end up having.  I, for example, learned a lot from my grandmothers, who were teenagers during The Great Depression and carried many of the penny- and resource-pinching ways of their childhoods into the next few generations.  The things I learned from them made an impression, and I hope to do the same for my own children.

~ Michelle


Visit The Positive Parenting Connection and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Yes, You Can Use Cloth Diapers, Even Without a Washing Machine!

“Real Diaper Week” (aka Cloth Diaper Awareness Week) kicks off on Monday!  As the founder and co-leader of my local cloth diaper group, this is very exciting for me!  To wrap up the week, hundreds of locations all over the world are participating in The Great Cloth Diaper Change on Saturday 4/21, when we will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for most cloth diapers changed simultaneously.  The event is hosted by the Real Diaper Association. Click here to find the event nearest you!

***Please take a moment to sign this petition to get WIC to provide recipients with cloth diapers!***

In honor of Real Diaper Week and the above-mentioned petition, I want to share my experience participating in The Flats and Handwash Challenge, a blog carnival that was hosted by Dirty Diaper Laundry last year.  It had approximately 200 participants.

[From my personal blog, entries dated 5/27/11 and 6/3/11 ~Michelle]


My “Day 5” Entry, with photo tutorial on sink washing…

This week has been interesting. As you may know, I am taking part in the Flats and Handwashing Challenge. Lots of experimenting (but perhaps not enough), lots of aching back muscles. I have found that the actual use of the flats has been no big deal. Sure, they hold less than my fancy dipes and thus have to be changed more often, but that’s okay. Brigit is not used to not having a stay-dry liner, so she “asks” to be changed more often anyway. Always keeping us on our toes, that one!

My stash includes 20 (27″x28″) flour sack towels (which I am essentially pad-folding with an angel wing poo-pocket), 4 medium Thirsties velcro covers, and a big wool soaker (handknit by me) for over the night diaper. (I am also adding a smaller pad-folded Gerber Flat (about 27″x24″) inside the flour sack flat for overnight. No problems so far.) Yes, I am doing this overnight, too, even though the rules state that I don’t have to. 😀 I realize that I could technically have one more regular cover and not count the soaker, but I already had 4 Thirsties covers and the snappi/pins thing just doesn’t work well for us, so my ample supply of soakers and other pull-on covers (like these Dappi ones) was kind of useless this week. Incidentally, I am also including my flannel wipes and washable nursing pads in the handwashing. I chose to only use my Dr. Brown’s nursing pads and none of my Milk Diapers (which I usually use overnight) because they are thicker and I was concerned about drying time, especially if I had no direct sunshine available (which in Florida, with random thunderstorms, you just never know), I worry about mildew from the humidity and too-long drying times.

This is the routine I’ve worked out so far (this may still change if I happen to wash again before the challenge ends):

Pail: wet (also serving as presoak). I’m pretty much keeping it in the bathtub, and running more and more water into it as the day goes on to make sure everything in there stays good and saturated. I’ve also discovered that it makes washing easier if I rinse the poopy ones in the sink (it’s EBF poo, so, not too nasty). I spray 5-6 squirts of half-diluted Biokleen Bac-Out over the mess a few times a day, too.

Wash: I am using my kitchen sink, old fashioned lye soap, and a washboard that I picked up for $10 at our local flea market. So…

1. Dump soaked dipes from pail into right side of sink to drain. Meanwhile, left side of sink is filling with hot water, with the bar of lye soap sitting on the bottom of the sink.

2. Squeeze pail/presoak water out of each individual item and plop it into the hot/soapy sink. Fish out the bar of soap, lather it up (as if washing my hands) then dunk bar and sudsy hands a few times, then place soap bar at the top of the washboard on the soap lip/shelf. Washboard is now perched legs-down in the sink.

3. Agitate the hot/soapy sink fulla dipes with a wooden cooking spoon. Start taking each piece and scrubbing on the washboard. Pee dipes are scrubbed very briefly, as the swishing and dunking in hot/soapy water seem fairly adequate for cleaning them. (I may skip the actual scrubbing of pee dipes next time, and stick to swish/stir/dunk.) Poopy dipes get spot treatment with soap, and extra washboard scrubbing until the poo stains are gone (taking much less work than I expected). As each piece is processed, it is re-dunked in the soapy water, wrung out, and plopped into the right sink (which has been filling with clear, cold water this whole time).

4. Drain left (hot/soapy) sink, spray out soap residue, etc., replug and fill with clear, cold water for second rinse. Swish/knead/stir the dipes in the first rinse water (right side sink). Take piece by piece, dunk, wring, and plop into second rinse sink.

5. Repeat #4 (except don’t fill another sink with rinse water unless you used way too much soap originally — don’t ask how I know that :)). This time, wring extra well, and snap out a few times to get even more water out.

This pic would be my third rinse from day 1 when I used waaay too much soap. *blush*

6. Hang to dry on the wooden drying rack. I have two of them and ended up using both for today’s wash, as I waited a little longer than before and the one rack was pretty crowded before anyway. Place rack in sunshine (not so today — it started to storm just as I was finishing up the second rinse…so my racks are blocking the entryway now, positioned under the A/C vent ;)).

Please pardon the naked 3-year-old in the background. LOL

The whole process takes 1-1.5 hrs and really hurts my back (remember, my spine is a chiropractor’s challenge and is easily strained by moderate physical labor). That, and my baby inevitably started to fuss/whine/cry at some point during each washing session, when I would attempt to employ various older siblings to play with her and keep her happy for just a few more minutes… She did end up on my hip for a few stages of each washing session, which made it take that much longer. I know I could have put her on my back in the Ergo, but…well, I didn’t. I was afraid the double strain on my back by wearing a 21 lb baby on my back while hunching over the sink would end up forcing me to drop out of this challenge. 😦


These are my (long-winded) answers to the exit survey for The Flats and Handwash Challenge (a lot of the questions did not offer an exact answer for me, so I had to choose the closest answer). [I realize that this part is long and potentially boring, so feel free to skim/skip it; I just thought some might be interested to read.]


– I took this challenge because I wanted to prove handwashing is possible for low income families.

– I had never used flats before this challenge.

– One “newborn” participated (well, she’s 6 months old, but not crawling yet, so…)

– The poop situation was “newborn/breastfed” (technically, she’s an early eater, but just barely, so not enough to be considered “peanut butter poop” ;))

– Rashes: we did not have rashes before or during the challenge.


– How many? I said “20-24”

– What kind? 20 flour sack towels and a few Gerber Birdseye flats used as doublers for night time.

– I estimated that I spent “1-3 hours” (total) researching folds.  I perused different tutorials for a while a few times, experimented with folding, then tried out several folds on the baby in the weeks before the challenge began.

– The fold I used the most was (“other”) the angel fold…basically the pad fold with the top corners pulled out to make a poo pocket. 🙂 However, I did have to make an adjustment to the rise of the dipe, which meant that there were only 6 layers in the very front, 12 right at her pee exit area 🙂 and then about 4 layers at the back.

– The hardest part about using flats was “learning how to use them.”

– Covers: I used “sized PUL covers” (Thirsties velcro, size medium)

– Accessory I feel is a must: “drying rack”.  It was great to have a portable drying rack that I could hang the dipes on straight from where I was washing them (if desired) and then follow the sunlight around the yard if I needed to. (I would have said washboard if that had been an option, because I thought it was really great for scrubbing poo stains out.)

– Estimated value of my flats challenge stash: “$75-100”

$20 ….. 20 dipes (flour sack towels)

$44 ….. 4 Thirsties covers ($11/ea at Nicki’s Diapers)

$20 ….. wooden drying rack (like this one)

$10 ….. washboard (new, from our local flea market…unable to find web link, sorry)

$94 ….. TOTAL

Ideally, I would suggest 25 dipes, 5 covers, and 2 drying racks, which would put start-up costs at $120…and this also does not account for wipes (mine are double-layer flannel, mostly handmade by me out of old receiving blankets, so essentially this could be “free”), and soap (both for wipe solutions and washing the dipes), but I guess people would already have some baby shampoo and laundry detergent on hand…


– My washing method: “sink with hands”.  I washed in the kitchen sink the most times [described above], but I did try the “bathtub with hands” method once, for the very last washing.

– I disposed of solid waste by: “dunk and swish”.  (Actually, there wasn’t much solid waste, as baby is EBF’ed and having tiny tastes of solids now, but I pre-rinsed the poopy dipes in the bathroom sink to make it easier to scrub the stains off, and “dunk and swish” was the closest answer to that.)

– How hard was handwashing (scale of 1-5)? I said “3” because the actual handwashing wasn’t difficult, in theory, but it was quite hard on my back.

– How time-consuming was handwashing (scale of 1-5)? I said “3” here too.  I found the washing/wringing/hanging to be quite time-consuming, but I tried to compare it to the involvement of resetting the washing machine, adding soaps and such, transferring to dryer, waiting and waiting and waiting…so I figured it’s not that much worse than machine-washing, just that it occurs in a more concentrated time frame.

– How clean were my diapers (scale of 1-5)? I said “5 – very clean.”  Whatever minor staining I did not scrub off with soap and the washboard got sunned out while they were drying.

– I washed “whenever it was convenient, and dried outside.”  I did end up having to bring the racks in to finish drying after sunset a few times, and once, I had to dry inside the whole time because it was monsooning outside, heheh.

– The most difficult part of handwashing: “the physical effort” (with “the time commitment” being a close second).  As I have said before, I have a bad back. ‘Nuff said.

– The least difficult part of handwashing: “getting the diapers clean.” That was surprisingly easy.


– Do I think others could do this if they had to if they were given the proper education and tools? Absolutely!!!

– If I was in a washerless situation, would I do this full time? As much as possible.  This is one of those things that I feel I can’t answer in absolutes due to differing possible circumstances, like whether there is any money for back-up ‘sposies, etc., because if there wasn’t, I would definitely do this full time, but if there was…well, I might need to give my back a break every now and then.

– The most surprising aspect of this challenge? That my diapers were clean!  I don’t know why this was so surprising; I mean, everyone used to handwash everything and things got clean, duh. I guess I just figured it would take a lot more effort than it did to get them clean…it really puts into perspective how dependent we have become on modern technology, because really, a human can do a better job than a machine for many things (think: attention to detail ;)), getting stuff clean included.

– I washed “10+” flats at one time (once as many as 20! That was cutting it close!).  I think if I were to do this all the time (use flats, I mean, not the handwashing part), I would definitely not want to wait that long…I’d aim to wash every 1.5-2 days (tops), so that I would not be so anxious about things getting dry by the time I needed them (I was totally imagining having baby wear a regular kitchen towel if it got to that!). Luckily, flats dry fast. 😉

– It took my flats “2-3 hours” to dry.  In all honesty, I might have been able to answer “less than 2 hours,” but I didn’t pay that much attention to them and wasn’t checking on them at regular intervals. I just waited several hours (probably 2-3), checked them, and they were dry. The times I had to bring them in because it got dark, or the time I had to dry them indoors completely, it may have taken slightly longer, but again, I don’t really know…(apparently I’m lazy! LOL)

– I washed “2-3” covers at a time, which could be rather nerve-wracking since I only had 4 (my 5th cover was just a big wool soaker for use over the night diaper, was not terribly useful for anything else, since I couldn’t find a fold that worked with pins/Snappis that was useful, absorbancy-wise). I would have to carefully examine the covers before a washing to see which ones needed it most (e.g. ones that had gotten poo on them, which I carefully wiped off so they could be used again before washing time rolled around). Only once did I have to wash 3 at once, and it was nerve-wracking.

– I approximated that it took my covers “3-5 hours” to dry.  The parts that took the longest to dry were the edge bindings and (especially) the front panel where the velcro is, as it is double-layered there. I imagine the Thirsties covers are among the fastest-drying PUL covers, though, as the inner layer is slick and not absorbent (unlike the Bummis covers, for example, which are very difficult to wipe out and reuse in the case of a major poo-splosion, and would, IMO, not be suitable for using in this type of [flats/handwash] situation).

– My favorite thing about the challenge: “storing flats” (i.e. seeing them neatly folded in a stack on the changing table shelves?).  I didn’t really like this question’s answer options (washing, folding, hanging); I wish it had an “other” fill-in-the-blank option, in which I would have said “The sense of good that I was doing, treading lightly on the Earth as well as our pocketbook.” 😉

– My least favorite thing about the challenge: the handwashing (ahem, BAD BACK).

– Will I continue to use flats in my every day diaper rotation? Maybe.  There were many pros about using flats, including the ease of getting them clean due to being one layer, the natural material and single-ply nature of the dipes (which to me would imply that stripping would rarely be needed), the low cost of flats, the versatility of items that can be used as flats (e.g. flour sack towels that I used, or flannel receiving blankets which can be acquired very easily, cheaply, or sometimes free if you have the right hook-up!).

On the other hand, I do enjoy the convenience and cuteness of my pockets (Fuzzibunz) and all-in-ones (Bumgenius), but don’t particularly like the fact they are made entirely of synthetic materials, which make them hot and sweaty in the summertime (and not too Earth-friendly), and they need to be stripped a lot, due to residue build-ups and the resulting stinky smells (which I admittedly use bleach for, occasionally, depending on the severity of the stink). [Haha, in that last sentence I was talking about Earth-friendliness, then mentioned using bleach. Ha. I’m so paradoxical.] The stink, in fact, has in the past caused me to switch entirely to natural materials (cotton fitteds and wool soakers), but our house has been re-piped since then, and a filter installed, so our “bad water” issues are not so bad anymore, making synthetic dipes possible to use again. At this point, though, I don’t know what my diaper stash will look like when baby outgrows her current ones… [Update: the synthetic diapers went away as soon as she started eating solids (and thus making stinkier poo); we are back to cotton and wool!]

Thank you so much to Kim at Dirty Diaper Laundry for organizing this wonderful learning experience!


***Again, please take a moment to sign this petition to get WIC to provide recipients with cloth diapers!***