Making family life a little bit less of a waste land

We had to work way too hard to give this changing table - still in perfectly good shape - away to someone who could use it.

We had to work WAY too hard to give away this changing table – still in perfectly good shape – to someone who could use it.

While in the midst of another holiday season, the phrase “waste not, want not” has been rolling around my head a lot.

I’m doing pretty well with the second part. Really. Whether it’s a consequence of the perspective that comes with middle age, or with witnessing friends and family members struggle through a recession, or with really taking to heart Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s existential pep talks on the recent “Cosmos” reboot, I’ve now arrived at a place where, when my oldest daughter asks each Christmas, “How come Santa didn’t bring you anything?” I answer, “Well, I’m really, really lucky. I have the things I need, so I told Santa he didn’t need to worry about me.”

And he doesn’t. Joe and I have been fortunate enough to hang on to our jobs through a rough economic time, so we have what we need, and we’re grateful.

But you know what makes the “waste not” thing nearly impossible? Young kids.

I mean, think about it. How many barely eaten kids’ meals have you carted home, only to forget about them and have them go bad in the fridge? How many times have you brought home clothes they refuse to wear, or will wear for only a few weeks before they no longer fit? And what about all that plastic junk every place on the planet is suddenly giving them at every turn (swim school, dentist’s office, etc.)?

Waste drives me crazy – for both financial and environmental reasons. Why buy new things when used stuff serves you just as well? I’m puzzled as to why we buy as many new things as we do, frankly. So here are a few ways I try to minimize waste in our lives.

1. Mom-to-mom sales. I started going to these sales – which appear to be scheduled nearly every weekend of the year in Southeast Michigan – shortly after Lily was born, and probably 90 percent of her (and later Neve’s) clothes were bought at a mom-to-mom sale, on-the-cheap. And this doesn’t even include the other stuff (strollers, a jumparoo, games, toys, books, exersaucer, shoes, swim suits, Halloween costumes, etc.) I purchased over the years. Given the super-low resale price on all these items, and the fact that most of them get such short term use that they’re in terrific shape, mom-to-mom sales are a no-brainer. (Plus, when you buy an outfit for $2, you’re much less likely to get stressed out when your little one spills chocolate milk all over it.) Yes, at times, the sales are crazy-crowded and overwhelming, but if you go after it’s been open for a while, you’ll have a calmer, less stressful experience. (And the grandma of mom-to-mom sales, hand-me-downs, are nearly always welcome, too.)

2. Social media. Lily, now 6, has pretty much aged out of the sizes you’ll find at mom-to-mom sales, but that hasn’t stopped me. Now, when she’s on the verge of needing new clothes, I put out a call to friends on Facebook, and I have absolutely no shame about this. More often than not, someone needs to purge a bunch of clothes that size from their own home, and they’re more than happy to pass them along. This works in reverse, too, of course. One day, when I recently borrowed Joe’s car, took out the kids’ car seats and loaded up our changing table to donate, I first tried a women’s shelter, which didn’t have room for it, and then the Salvation Army, which turned it away because it was apparently missing a drawer (by this time, I almost felt I was being punished for trying to do something good). As a last ditch effort, I posted a photo on Facebook, and someone from a low-income daycare center quickly claimed it. (I delivered it the next day.) Because the changing table had been in really good shape, I hated the idea of just dumping it on the curb for the garbage men to pick up, so using Facebook was a means of finding a mutually beneficial solution to the problem.

3. Buy Nothing community sharing. This is by far my favorite new option. The Buy Nothing Project is a national effort to encourage community sharing via a localized Buy Nothing page on Facebook. Someone in my town launched one, I was invited to join, and since then, I’ve claimed some old movies someone wanted to get rid of (and that I thought my girls would enjoy), while also giving away boxes and bags of baby clothes, a stroller (yes, the one that I originally got at the mom-to-mom sale), and in one instance, a car seat snap-n-go stroller. In that case, a woman claimed them for a young woman who was pregnant and on her own, with the father out of the picture. Once I learned that, I also left a Diaper Genie, a feeding chair, a baby monitor, some pacifiers and some baby toys out for her on my front porch, too. (Generally, the trading works in this way, wherein you arrange to come by and pick up whatever it is at your leisure. Couldn’t be easier.) It’s so much more satisfying to know that your stuff, which you no longer need, is going directly to someone who could really use it within your community. I always feel, when I drive stuff to the Salvation Army, that my donated things are just heaped onto a huge, chaotic pile, and I have no certainty that it will get to someone in need. This way, I know it will, and because it also gets this stuff out of our house, it’s the ultimate win-win – not to mention the fact that my young daughters are now witnessing the benefits of this gift economy regularly, which is a bonus. (Here’s a video about the origins of the Buy Nothing Project. I’m totally in love with this movement right now, and am thus a very active participant.)

4. Pre-holiday toy purge. We’re now in the process of clearing out toys that are broken or no longer played with, determining which can be “Buy Nothing”-ed away, and which just need to be tossed. The danger, of course, is that suddenly the girls become re-fascinated by these things they’d previously ignored or forgotten about entirely – but with the influx of new stuff coming at them via our interfaith family’s holidays (Hanukkah with one family, Christmas with the other), I’m quietly squirreling things away. In most cases, where they’re concerned, it really is a matter of out of sight, out of mind.

3 thoughts on “Making family life a little bit less of a waste land

  1. Crescent says:

    I love this post! I am an admin with Buy Nothing in Seattle and love seeing how this movement is touching lives every day!

    • Jenn McKee says:

      Buy Nothing came into my life at exactly the right time – which is to say, when I needed/wanted to clear a bunch of random things from my house that others might want/use. I can’t tell you how much I love and value Buy Nothing. Thanks for your work as an admin! Community sharing rocks. 🙂

  2. LaTonya says:

    My latest gift is finding my way here. Love your writing and perspective. Thank you.

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