Monday, April 14, 2014

“Aren’t You Ruining The Environment?!”

Many large families hear this quite often, and ours is no exception. Forgive me for being a bit on the defensive with this one, but there comes a time when that is necessary.

If you happen to find yourself mumbling under your breath:  “Don’t they KNOW the 
effect their huge family has on the environment?” then this post is for you. I thought I'd take some time to reveal some of our environmental positions. Bear with me here. One of the issues we face as a large family is dealing with people who are so in love with the environment that they can not be happy for us having another baby. It’s not that uncommon, actually, to hear remarks from total strangers, who don’t even KNOW us, questioning our allegiance to particular environmental practices, but even less uncommon is the questioning by extended family members or acquaintances who actually do know us, or at least a little about us. The extreme emphasis on environmentalism causes people to become genuinely concerned about our family's long-term impact on the earth and I hope to lay some of those fears to rest here.

Yes, we do care about the environment.

As Christians, we believe that God put us in charge of the earth and that we are to be good stewards of His gift. So in our family, we try to teach resourcefulness as opposed to wastefulness, which is so prevalent in our American culture today. While we may not do everything 100% “environmentally conscious,” I can say that we are getting better and better as we learn and grow and we are becoming more and more self-sufficient.

After years of observing not only our own family, but smaller families as well, I can safely say that our family tends to have better environmental practices than most other people we know who even have much smaller families.

“So what are your environmentally friendly practices? Maybe you’re ruining the earth for everybody!”

I can’t speak for other large families in this post, I can only speak for ours. (Although what I'm about to share is practiced by nearly every large family I personally know. You may be surprised to learn that the majority of large families are indeed very earth conscious.)  These are small but valuable ways that we take care to minimize waste. So here goes:

~We recycle and compost. Can’t really get more basic than that.

~We  strive to be chemical free. We want healthy bodies. We want our children to be healthy and the best way to do that is to live as chemical-free as possible. One way we do this is by making our own laundry detergent. For the last five years, we've made all our laundry detergent using natural ingredients and essential oils. We believe that keeping chemicals and dyes out of the water stream is very important. Plus it saves a ton of money. With all the clothing that must be washed around here, this is a way we can make a healthier choice than buying commercial detergents. Not only is this better for our bodies, but for the environment as well.

We make our own liquid hand-soaps. Using a natural, paraben-free, dye-free bar of soap, I can make a gallon of liquid hand soap for our bathrooms. Better for skin, better for the earth. (And yes, we reuse the same hand-pump for YEARS.)

We make our own chemical free cleaning products. Using white vinegar and essential oils, I can create a cleanser that is very effective, cleans perfectly and is chemical free. We use this cleanser for virtually everything from windows to floors.

Natural, fluoride-free toothpaste is another way we roll. We aren't spitting chemicals down the drain. We use natural and/or organic soaps and shampoos, for all the reasons mentioned above.

~We don't use pesticides. We don't spray chemicals on our garden or on our grass. I'd rather have weeds than pesticides. 

~We buy very limited amounts of processed foods. Since we purchase foods in huge bulk bags or boxes, we eliminate all the packaging that would be tossed into a landfill if we purchased foods the way most Americans do. We rarely eat out. By cooking natural/organic whole foods from scratch, we eliminate a LOT of waste.

~We have High Efficiency appliances. (Just throwing that out there in case you’re foaming at the mouth at the thought of how much water we use for dishes and clothes washing.)

~We don’t buy paper towels. I mean ever. We use rags. Washed and reused until the fibers are virtually disintegrated. If you see a roll of paper towels at our house, it’s left over from Thanksgiving or some holiday when my mom brought it over.

~We use cloth diapers. We do our best to keep the disposables at bay, though there are times we use them. But it’s primarily cloth.

~We are also in the process of switching to washable cloth feminine/sanitary products. Just think of the waste eliminated by not throwing away pads and "feminine hygiene" products every single month. Most countries use washable products. Strange that it’s so uncommon in the US.

~We love our clothesline. I wait all year long for spring and summer so I can hang laundry out to line dry. I love the smell of line-dried linens and bedding. It saves a lot of energy using the sun as our dryer. 

~We use hand-me-downs. Instead of items ending up in a landfill somewhere, our family re-uses things others might throw away. We buy most of our items used and re-purpose them.

~Bath-time. There are rarely less than three little kids sharing a bath at one time. This conserves water.

~We are growing our own foods. We've had a garden for several years to grow veggies that our family consumes most. We have laying hens this year for organic eggs. As time goes by, we are learning how to be more and more self-sufficient and self-sustaining.

~We use less natural gas than most families. Larger families generally don’t need to use as much furnace heat. Because as a group, we just stay a bit warmer. On top of that, we burn wood during the colder parts of winter and this conserves electricity and natural gas.

~Nobody here uses any prescription drugs or hormone filled pills/ drugs/supplements. In other words, we aren't peeing out all that stuff into the water-stream. Just for the sake of mentioning.

~We don't have credit cards. What? What does that have to do with anything? Well we aren't cutting up plastic cards to go in the landfill every few years when new ones are issued. Something small, but still worth thinking about.

~We tend to carpool. In addition to that, we try to run all our errands in one shot so we aren't guzzling up gas going multiple places on separate days. 

~It takes the same amount of electricity to light a room for 12 people as it does for one person. Think about it. 

Let's talk honestly for a minute......

"But Michelle, I see what you drive! You drive a huge van!"

Yes, that's true. We do. We drive it 2-3 times per week in limited distances. We bought it from a company that was using it all day long, every single day. Our owning it actually means it's being driven far less than if it was sold to another industrial company, which is what was going to happen in this case.

Allegiance to the concept of GREEN, or environmentalism can really get people hyped up and angry, and even accusatory where they really lack knowledge of someone's family habits. And sometimes environmentalism creates more waste than if we'd left well enough alone.

Take for example the hard-core fanatics who want their house to be GREEN. It's a nice enough thought, but ripping out perfectly good cabinetry and flooring so you can buy "environmentally friendly" cabinets, counters and flooring, at a very hefty price tag, makes little sense to me. Because where does your old stuff go? To a landfill, of course. Stuff that was perfectly functional is now piled up in a dump. That only seems illogical to me. 

Another example is the idea of buying GREEN vehicles. It's a splendid idea, until you break down the thought process. If you want to stop driving your inefficient, gas-guzzling vehicle and buy a GREEN car, what will you do with your old car? If you junk it, it goes to a landfill. If you donate it, it may get used for certain parts to aid other cars (just like it) in getting back on the road, then go to a junk yard. But MOST people will SELL their old car because that makes more sense financially. So it's still being driven around, "polluting" the environment while you heavily financed a GREEN car in the name of being environmentally savvy, and to save a few bucks a month in gas. Well done.

I'm just not a fan of jumping on a bandwagon that doesn't actually work, so I'd never be able to call myself an environmentalist. I'm just a mom, trying to raise responsible adults who will honor God and be good stewards of all we have been blessed to manage. 

Our family isn't perfect, but when we learn better, we can do better.
Little by little, we can all make changes that are healthier for our families and our world. 
Whether a family has one child or ten children, we can all do our fair share to minimize waste and maximize efficiency.

It's certainly a goal of ours.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Lanita. I'm sure you've heard it all yourself over the years, about how large(r) families ruin this and that and use up all the resources, bla, bla bla etc. It's an attitude that really gets annoying. Especially coming from people who are clueless...

  2. Way to let it roll off your back...