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.  🙂

Easy-peasy!

*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).

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!
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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.

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“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

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