Monthly Archives: October 2011

How Can You Avoid Consumerism This Holiday Season?

Halloween is just the beginning of the holiday season. Stores have long since put out Christmas decorations for sale and many children are already thinking about what they’d like for Christmas. Is there any way to avoid excessive gifts and so forth throughout the holiday season?

Remember Why You Celebrate

No matter the holiday you’re celebrating, remember why you’re celebrating it and think less of the things involved. Holidays of all sorts are celebrated for special reasons, and sometimes these reasons get lost in the drive to participate in the way family and friends have come to expect. This often leads to too much stuff being bought and a lot of stress to make everything just right.

Focus on People, Not Things

What really makes a holiday celebration a success? It’s usually not so much the gifts or even the food. It’s the people. Your best holiday celebrations are shared with people you care about. There may be some arguments and hurt feelings, but there’s a reason why holidays are such a focus for getting family together. Enjoy it as best you can.

Agree to Limit Gifts

There are many ways you can control how much is spent on holiday presents. You can agree to dollar amount limits. You can agree to shop at resale stores. You can agree to give each other things you’re done with that the other would like. You can draw names so that each person only needs to shop for a few.

Handmade gifts are another great option, especially if you have a lot of creative people in your family. Handmade gifts have a lot more personal meaning to them than anything you can give from the store.

You can also agree to simply exchange holiday greetings with extended family rather than gifts. This can be extremely welcome if finances are tight for some families.

Find something that works for your family. It may take some time – sometimes one or more people will agree at first, then fall prey to the urge to continue on as before, leaving others feeling as though they haven’t done enough. It takes a lot to make a limit on holiday shopping work, but it can be done if all participants really want it to.

As for your own children, they really don’t need a ton of presents. In my family, the stuff grandparents give them take care of most of that urge kids have to unwrap presents, while my husband’s and my main gift to them is a shopping trip with one or both of us. A budget is set, and they get to pick a toy and some new clothes, then we head out for a treat. Simple and they beg for that to be their gift each year right now. Kids love it when your time is a part of their gift. I love that the clothes they’d need anyhow can be a gift.

Give to Charity in Someone Else’s Name

A gift doesn’t have to be something that sits in the recipient’s house. It can be given to a charity the recipient approves of.

Think about programs that allow you to buy schoolbooks or livestock for people in need, or that bring clean water to communities without clean water nearby. There are a lot of great charities that help with the specific things communities need.

Think About the Food You Buy

Food is a big part of many holiday celebrations. Everyone has their favorites and their traditions. Some ways, it’s harder to change food traditions than gift giving traditions, but you can make it work.

Start with food sources. What can you buy that was grown or made locally, free range or organic? How much can you make from scratch? Can you avoid processed foods?

It’s not always easy to improve your food sources. It can be downright expensive or impractical, depending on what’s available in your area and your budget. Just do what you can.

It takes time to make major changes to how your family celebrates holidays, but the benefits are great. Not only do you give things that are more wanted, but you get less stress and more time to truly enjoy the holidays and the time with your family.

Which Brands of Chocolate Are the Most Ethical to Buy?

Like many others, I have a strong fondness for chocolate. It’s not quite a food group or anything like that, but a nice piece of a good quality chocolate helps to make up for a lot of stresses. The only problem is not not all brands of chocolate are anywhere near equal when it comes to the ethics of the company.

There is a large problem in the cocoa industry with child labor and slavery. This is a huge issue, and to me the most important reason to pay attention to the ethics of the companies you buy chocolate from.

Sustainability is also a concern. Not all cocoa farming methods have a focus on being sustainable or are organic.

It’s not always so simple to figure out which brands are the most ethical to buy as different sources have different guidelines to determine how ethical a chocolate company may be. Green & Black’s gets an A from Better World Shopper, but only 1.5/20 on Ethical Consumer’s default chart. You have to decide which factors matter to you.

It can be frustrating to lose a favored brand to the realization that they may not be entirely up to par with their business practices. I’ve long been fond of Ghirardelli, and they only got a C from Better World Shopper, as there’s no sign that they buy Fair Trade cocoa or anything like that, so it’s time to switch. I’m glad they aren’t the worst, but I wish they’d be better, because their chocolate tastes wonderful.

Finishing Off Cloth Diapers

We’re in the middle of potty training my youngest. I can hardly believe that soon I won’t have to deal with diapers anymore. Diapers have been a near constant thing in my life since my oldest was born 9.5 years ago. I am so glad we finally discovered cloth diapers so we could cut down on the waste.

Now my youngest is really starting to get it with her potty training. She has enough accidents that we aren’t ditching the diapers yet, although I think we could if we wanted to just deal with the occasional mess. Even nights are getting close to done, although it’s harder to predict when nighttime training will be complete. Now we have to decide what to do with the cloth diapers once we’re done with them.

By done, I mean we aren’t having more kids, so no need to save the diapers for the next little one. If we were planning on having more kids, keeping them would make sense. We’re not, so it’s going to be time for the diapers to go away.

One of the great things about cloth diapers is that even if they’re in a condition where all you feel you can do is throw them out, they break down faster than disposable diapers. Depending on type, it may be a few months or a few years, but they’ll break down, much sooner than the estimated 250-500 years for disposable diapers. But before you just throw them out, consider donating them to charity. Sometimes they have uses for old cloth as rags or someplace they can send them.

If your cloth diapers are still in generally good condition, however, you may be able to sell them or give them to a family who needs them. There are sites such as Diaper Swappers for selling cloth diapers online.

Some types of cloth diaper lend themselves well to repurposing. Just how you repurpose them depends on the type you get. Some are good as burp cloths or dust rags. Some cloth diapers use microfiber inserts, which can be good for a variety of cleaning jobs. Obviously you want to be sure you’ve cleaned them very well indeed before you reuse any cloth diaper for other purposes, and you may still gross some people out with the thought of it.

Of course, the same goes for your cloth baby wipes. They’ve done one job; now you can come up with a new job for them.

Why Are We Addicted to Cheap?

Price is a big factor when most of us go shopping, especially if the budget is tight. It makes a lot of financial sense to go for cheaper items when they’re available. If you want to consider ethics, however, cheap isn’t always the way to go. Despite this, many people are addicted to cheap products.

Cheap products can be ethically challenging due to the circumstances under which they’re made. It’s not just the environmental issues, although those are important. It’s the human rights issues, products being made under sweatshop conditions and/or with child labor. It’s the humane treatment of animals.

Paying just a bit more for clothing and other products could go toward significantly improving the living conditions of the people who create these products. Unfortunately, it’s not just price; it’s also the willingness of the business to pay their workers well. Clothing made for Ralph Lauren can be just as problematic as clothes made to be sold at Walmart.

How Can You Keep Your Shopping More Ethical?

Ethics aren’t an easy thing to manage when you’re just trying to keep your family going. You don’t have a lot of extra money to spend sometimes. Even so, there are ways you can buy more ethical products without breaking the bank. It’s one of your few chances to buy cheap while doing good for others.

When it comes to clothing and other reusable products, shopping in thrift stores is often your best choice in terms of ethics and budget. It’s much cheaper than shopping anywhere else, and the money goes to support what are usually good causes in your area.

You can also check out the social responsibility of different companies online. Better World Shopper and Green America offer resources to help you with this.

Supporting co-ops is another good way to go. This isn’t just about food. Many fair trade products are made by co-ops.

Watch Out for False Claims

If you don’t know much about the brand you’re buying, just that they claim to be green or eco in some way, watch out for false or misleading claims. Too many times these claims are poorly regulated at best. If you don’t have time to do the research before purchase or at that moment, keep it in mind for the future.

At the same time, remember that you can’t always make the perfect ethical choice. Better products may not be readily available to you in your area, and you can’t always wait for shipping. Do your best with what’s available to you.

Thinking About Food Waste – Blog Action Day 2011

#BAD11 – I enjoy participating in Blog Action Day each year. The topics are very interesting, and can be quite important. This year’s topic, food, lends itself to so many possibilities, but I decided to write about food waste in particular. With 3 kids, food waste happens, you can’t stop it entirely. You can try to control it.

Food waste is a huge part of the municipal solid waste generated every year. According to the EPA, it was 14.1% before recycling, and only a small percentage of food waste was recovered through recycling. You can read a detailed report on this at This doesn’t count composting at home; it’s just about what goes into the waste stream.

Some food waste is just in the nature of preparing food. The term includes the scraps that come about from preparing food. If you have a compost bin, the waste from preparing fruits and vegetables can at least be kept out of the waste stream and benefit your garden. Those bits aren’t as problematic as other kinds of food waste.

Cutting Down on Food Waste at Home

Home is the place where you have the most control over food waste. You have the ability to buy only what you need and to make sure leftovers are eaten in a timely manner.

Buying only what you need is often difficult, short of going to the store daily, which has its own serious problems. Most of us are simply not perfect at keeping track of the fresh foods in the fridge, and it often gets worse when those fresh foods become a part of leftovers. Even so, we need to try.

Some foods last better than others, of course. Just compare the shelf life of an apple to a banana. When you have fresh foods, think about preparing or serving the foods that spoil quickly first, saving the more durable fresh foods for later in the week.

To control leftovers, start with your cooking habits. How much will you and your family really eat at a sitting? How can you cook enough to satisfy everyone without having leftovers, or at least have fewer leftovers?

Next, figure out how to get people eating leftovers when you have them. If you have the freezer space, you can make them into frozen lunches to go to work or for those days you don’t want to spend much time on lunch. You can also make it a goal to eat those leftovers before freezing them becomes necessary.

Don’t forget your smaller amounts of leftovers. Sometimes you may need to combine two days of leftovers to get a good new meal out of them.

Kids can be some of the biggest offenders on food waste, and the hardest to control. I can’t tell you how often I have to remind mine to finish a half eaten apple or try to figure out a way to get them to eat a dinner they didn’t enjoy that much. I have a few standby additions my kids reach for when they don’t enjoy a meal, which really help limit the complaints and uneaten meals. The right cheese solves many problems with children. So does ketchup.

You should talk to your kids about why it’s important to not waste food. The recent Sesame Street special on food insecurity really hit home with my oldest, who had been quite reluctant to watch something as babyish as Sesame Street; then she had to watch it again the next night because it touched her so much. When I checked, they had the entire Growing Hope Against Hunger episode on that page.

Benefits of Wasting Less Food

The first benefit of wasting less food is obvious. You spend less money on food. That’s pretty simple. A 2006 study found that people throw away an average of 14% of the food they buy. Cut that number down, and you can save a nice little chunk off your monthly grocery bills, or about $600 a year for a family of 4.

Food waste is also an environmental issue. When food waste goes into a landfill, it decomposes and produces methane. Composting it, on the whole, is probably the better answer when you can’t avoid wasting food and have a way to compost it. Just make sure you aren’t doing anything that will attract rodents or other pests.

Is There Anything Else You Can Do?

While there’s only a little you can do directly about it, I suggest you take a look at the EPA’s food recovery hierarchy for more ideas on how to limit food waste. Most of us don’t have enough excess food that can be safely donated to food banks and such, but it’s good to know what kinds of things you should be encouraging in your community.