Can We Really Make A Difference?



“Is the wave of sustainable living, local-centered economy and ecological awareness a marginal movement, or can it actually have a global impact? I’ve heard many people say that we won’t be able to make any difference, because for every conscientious consumer there are a million reckless spenders, and for every organic backyard garden there are a million plastic bags of junk food. Others say that the yearning to return to closer, more self-reliant communities is nothing but hopeless nostalgia of people who have failed to adjust to a modern world.”

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post.

Why Large Families Are Environmentally Friendly

Image result for large family cartoon

There’s an argument going on among some radical environmentalists claiming that having more than two children is about the greatest sin one can commit against the planet. While many developed countries are characterized by reduced reproduction rates, I would like to argue that large families – and now that we have four children, I believe we have officially crossed that bridge – are often a lot more environmentally friendly than households with no kids, or two children at most.

We are frugal. On average, with each child added to a family, the per capita income is lower. In addition, it’s more likely that one parent, usually the mother, will stay home to be the primary caretaker. This forces large families to be creative with their resources, and make a little go a long way. Around here, a lot less food gets thrown out now than when we were newlyweds. We use less disposables, among other reasons, because when you need to put out plastic dishes for a lot of people, it gets pricey.

Our households are more efficient. The more people live in the same household, the less, on average, they use up per capita in terms of space, water and energy. Children share rooms. Our electricity bill has grown with the addition of children, but not proportionally to the number of people in our family. That’s because the same amount of energy is used, for example, to bake a casserole for two people or for seven (you just use a larger pan). When we use the water heater, we take advantage of every drop of hot water. We take shorter showers because there are other people waiting to use the bathroom, and often two children will share a bath. Oh, and we have much more incentive to declutter and bring less junk into the house to begin with, because we just don’t have the room!

We are hand-me-down experts. Not only are clothes, shoes, toys, books, baby equipment, etc, passed from child to child, but we’ve become experts at looking for, and finding, the best second-hand deals. That’s because the price of new clothes, shoes, toys, and so on, even if you choose the cheapest bargain, really adds up. It makes a lot more sense to buy a gently used item of good quality, or accept hand-me-downs from friends and family. I currently have three huge bags of children’s clothes to sort through. I’ll choose what we’ll keep, and pass the rest on.

We travel less. Before I got married, I traveled abroad on average once a year. I’ve never boarded an airplane since, and now, with four children, it’s unlikely we’ll do that in the foreseeable future (unless it’s relocation for purposes of my husband’s work). With the addition of a fourth child, a standard 5-seat vehicle is no longer enough. This means we need a bigger car – which burns up more gas, that’s true, but here’s the incentive to drive around less! Plus, when you have a bunch of kids and no babysitter, you have to tote everyone around, and this teaches you to be efficient with your errands.

Our entertainment is more family-centered. The more kids you have, the more expensive (and more of a hassle!) it becomes to take everyone to eat out, to the movies, to an amusement park, or indeed to any paid entertainment venture. Finding a babysitter is more challenging, too. Our outings, if we go out, are family friendly and free – to local parks, the library, farms, farmers’ markets, etc.

Disclaimer: we are religious and do believe that earth was created for the benefit of mankind, and not the other way around. Nevertheless, it is our duty to be good and diligent stewards of the resources we have been given, and make sure we “waste not, want not.”

Beautiful hobbit house

I love hobbit houses with lovely rounded corners and natural materials – and, though living entirely off grid seems a little daunting, I’d move into this super cute little house if I only had the chance! Straw bale building fascinates me so much that I’ve been itching to try it for a while now.

It’s a great inspiration to us all to watch people fight back against mass building and insane housing prices by raising shelters that are sustainable, affordable, beautiful and easy to maintain. In Israel, however, the main obstacle in the way of lowering housing prices are the prices of land. Land is scarce (in most regions – some are sadly underpopulated), and there is also the unfortunate phenomenon of widespread land piracy by Bedouins – which, despite the romantic image of the uncivilized nomad, cannot be tolerated in a small country with few and precious land resources (and, indeed, would not be tolerated in any country with a semi-developed legal system).

I hope, and dream, and pray that one day soon, our government will recognize the potential benefits of low-impact living, with eco-friendly building, environmental awareness and reduced energy exploitation, and will encourage people who would choose such a lifestyle, wishing to tread gently and lightly upon the face of this earth.

Green cleaning: simple and effective

Image result for green cleaning

I have a wide array of all kinds of cleaning agents, sprays, powders, liquids, etc, under my kitchen sink – but in general, I prefer to leave them there. My favorite cleaning agents are vinegar, baking soda, and citric acid crystals. Combined with hot water and elbow grease, these will get almost everything clean.

It’s especially important to avoid most commercial cleaning products if you have allergies. Quoting from this article:

“Most household cleaning products are harmful to children. According to research done by the University of Minnesota [1], several chemicals found in the home are linked to allergies. They cause birth defects, cancer, and psychological disorders. The Consumer Protection Safety Commission [2] states that since 1970, asthma cases have increased by 59 percent. Children under 15 years of age have suffered from asthma at a higher rate of 41 percent. The data is alarming to healthcare professionals.”

While it may be difficult to find an unequivocal link between this or that cleaning product and allergies/asthma, one thing is certain: cleaning with stuff that you can actually put in your food has to be safer. It’s better for the environment, too. And as a bonus, it will save you a bundle in the long run!

Read more about green cleaning in this post.

Using less disposables

plastic cups holder

Do you use disposable kitchen utensils? I really, really wish I could ban these things from the house altogether, but still succumb to the convenience especially during busy times, such as Friday afternoons and the pre-Pesach rush. Still, I have taken some steps around here to use less paper and plastic. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“I have devised strategies to using less disposable plates, cups and utensils that work for us. The first and most obvious would be to buy less of them, and make sure they are reserved for such water-less emergencies as I mentioned above. Also, it makes sense to buy the flimsiest, least convenient sort, to make the use of them less tempting.

Another method is to keep disposable plates and cups well out of sight. When my husband bought a disposable cup holder and placed it on the kitchen counter, declaring it would be convenient, I declared it’s a bad idea. Of course it would be convenient! But we don’t want it to be.”

Mean Green Cleaning Machine

Do you like to clean? I think I see a couple of you shaking their heads and smiling… yes, I mean you. And I’ll be brutally honest – while I, in fact, appreciate a clean bathroom and floors, there are many other things I’d rather be doing – like baking cookies, taking a walk with the kids, digging in the garden or writing.

However, cleaning must be done in order to maintain a livable, inviting atmosphere, and while I’m at it I’d rather avoid harsh dangerous chemicals as much as possible (and save money along the way, too). Check out my latest Mother Earth News post on this subject:

“When standing in the household supplies aisle in a supermarket, it’s easy to be dazzled by all the various cleaning agents in colorful bottles and packages. However, most of that stuff isn’t just outrageously expensive, it’s harmful for the environment and can even be downright dangerous. Luckily, it’s possible to clean house simply and effectively, just the way our grandmothers did – combining simple materials which don’t cost a lot and aren’t dangerous to keep around small children.”

citric acid crystals

Above: citric acid crystals – one of my favorite green cleaning little tricks.

The Diaper Debate


A long time ago, when I was pregnant for the first time and we had many lofty ideas about our own capabilities, my husband and I talked about cloth diapers. We pretty much decided we are going to use them, for the sake of frugality, sustainability and baby’s skin health. It just seemed the right choice all around, until one day, when I was getting pretty big, we had the following conversation.

DH: “But where would we wash the diapers?”

Me: “What do you mean, where? We put them in the washing machine.”

DH: (wrinkling his nose): “What, you’ll put poopy diapers in the same machine that we use to wash our clothes?”

Me: “Not in the same cycle. We’ll wash them separately, you know.” 

DH: “I still think that’s gross. Think of all the bacteria that will be left over.”

Me: “Well, what do you suggest?”

DH: “My Mom always washed our diapers by hand.”

Do I have to tell you? We’ve been using disposables ever since. And at times I’ve been feeling guilty about it, too, especially when I haul out a big garbage bag full of almost nothing but diapers and think about it adding to some tremendous landfill.

It wasn’t just the gross factor that put us off; we’ve had plenty of poop in our washing machine anyway over the years, what with newborn blow-outs and all. There were periods when changing a poopy diaper equaled changing a whole baby outfit, every time. We’re still all alive and well.

It was also that conveniently made cloth diapers are a pretty hefty initial investment, one we hesitated to make, and I’m not up to sewing my own. And, of course, there’s the convenience; at times, I’ve been so overwhelmed by laundry (especially not having a drier, on long rainy weeks in winter) that voluntarily adding more seemed an effort of will beyond my capability.

As a compromise, I have tried doing early potty-training, with babies running around bare-bottomed around the house on many a summer day. The little tushies got a pleasant breeze, we saved some money on diapers, and I felt better about the ecological aspect of it all.

In the place where we live now, we have frequent electricity and water shortages, up to the point that everybody living in the neighborhood often gets requests to save on electricity and water as much as possible by trying to minimize the usage of air conditioners, ovens and, of course, washing machines. An extra load of diapers every day or two just doesn’t seem feasible in such conditions.  I actually believe that in Israel, where water is a precious commodity, bio-degradable diapers may be more eco-friendly than cloth.

There had to be, however, a compromise: green and convenient; eco-friendly but disposable. So lately I’ve started looking into the option of switching to bio-degradable disposable diapers, such as these. I’d love to hear from any of you who care to share your experience. Cloth? Bio-degradable? Plain ol’ Pampers?

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