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Low-Waste Lessons for New Parents


Published May 4, 2021 at 10:00 a.m.

Meredith folding laundry with her daughter - COURTESY OF MEREDITH BAY-TYACK
  • Courtesy of Meredith Bay-Tyack
  • Meredith folding laundry with her daughter

Welcoming a baby into the home is incredible, awe-inspiring and overwhelming. When I was a new mom six years ago, I felt all those things and more. One unexpected way I found my footing was by adopting low-waste practices and becoming more deliberate about my consumer habits.

I will admit that, due to clever marketing — or maybe the hormones and emotions that flooded my body during and after pregnancy — there were times I thought I needed certain things in order to be a good mom. I came to understand that parenthood is about my relationship with my children, not owning a particular product. Even as my kids grow older, I have to remind myself of this regularly.

Read on for a few other valuable lessons I learned as a new mom.

Less is still ... a lot

Minimalism and being environmentally conscious are inextricably linked. The more mindful you are about each item you consider buying, and the less you bring into your home (and subsequently toss out), the better it is for our planet. Before having my first child, I had already taken a lot of steps toward decluttering and minimizing, and so had my husband.

Once we committed to using cloth diapers, it led to more research about how to be eco-friendly with a baby. I filled online carts with what I thought were the best, most environmentally conscious choices. As the items (and dollars!) added up, I took a step back and realized that even a pared-down list was still a lot. We were adding a new, needy human to our household, and that came with the inevitable addition of new things. Instead of throwing out my ideal of minimalism, I focused on finding balance.

My philosophy on baby items became avoiding plastic in favor of natural, durable materials as much as our budget allowed. We focused on buying secondhand and accepting high-quality hand-me-downs whenever possible. I looked for items that could grow with our children and have multiple uses.

For example, we bought larger pants and simply folded up the bottoms so they'd last through multiple growth spurts. We skipped baby-only feeding items in favor of kid-size utensils that worked from babyhood through toddlerhood and beyond. From the start, our kids used regular plates, bowls and cups. You'd be surprised by how few pieces they broke. We still ended up with quite a few new plastic items, but I was proud of the balance we achieved.

Embrace being unprepared

As a new parent, I sometimes erred on the side of minimalism, which led me to get caught unprepared on occasion — like the time we realized our baby didn't have any pajamas that fit! A couple of slightly frantic in-person and online shopping trips helped me fill in the gaps

Knowing what I know now, would I have bought those things to begin with? Not necessarily. Some needs pop up that can't be anticipated. All babies are different. You might have a baby who drools a lot, or not. You might end up bottle-feeding more than you thought you would, or less.

It's OK to be picky

Parents sometimes develop preferences for how to dress their baby. Some may put them in a short-sleeve onesie or shirt as a base layer. Others like "playsuits," aka footed pajamas. These come with zippers, snaps or buttons. Then there are pajama "gowns" for really easy overnight diaper changes — but they are trickier to navigate in a car seat. Some prefer separates such as tiny jeans or pants and shirts. Try to think about how you'll be spending those first months, and do your best to plan around that.

The same goes for toys. We all have preferences for aesthetics and function, but we don't really know what our babies will enjoy most. It's OK to curate your baby's space (and yours). We graciously accepted all gifts from generous family members and friends, but we stored or passed along items that weren't a good fit for us.

Babies grow fast, but the moments go slow

Try to purchase things that can be used beyond the first few months. We swear by Turkish towels (also called peshtemal) for babies and kids instead of hooded baby towels that are outgrown quickly. Open-ended toys such as wooden blocks are delightful for both a 6-month-old and a 6-year-old. A stretchy swaddle blanket can be used to wrap up a 3-month-old during nap time and later as a beach or stroller blanket — and even a scarf!

We also bought lots of stuff that we only used for a few months, or even a few weeks. There are so many challenges to navigate as a new parent. Try to figure out what your priorities are, but also give yourself grace during this special time.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.