Making Laundry Safer for Your Family

If you are looking to reduce toxins in your home, your laundry detergent is a great, effective and really easy place to start. Most popular detergents are potentially very harmful. EWG (the Environmental Working Group) analyzes the ingredients and provides scores for many cleaners on the marketplace (I check everything on here before purchasing). Gain laundry detergent, All laundry detergent, Tide laundry detergent, and Dreft (!!) all receive a failing grade and rank very highly for developmental and reproductive toxicity. 

Yikes, right?

Here’s the good news: this is super easy to fix. Just buy new detergent! The downside is the safe brands can be pricier and aren’t available at all stores. We use Ecover ZERO Laundry Liquid Concentrate, and I usually buy it online (vitacost.com often has the best price). We have an HE front-loading washer, and it seems to work great for our family. I balance the more expensive laundry detergent by making many of my own non-toxic household cleaners for mere pennies.

If you are in the market for a new detergent, here are many options that all receive grade A from EWG (Whole Foods carries a lot of these, and I think Publix has Martha Stewart and Seventh Generation).

Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent

1. Ecover ZERO Liquid Laundry Concentrate  2. Green Shield Organic Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear  3. Green Shield Organic Laundry Detergent, HE Elite Care, Free & Clear  4. Martha Stewart Clean Laundry Detergent  5. Planet 2x Ultra Laundry Detergent, For HE  6. Planet Ultra Laundry Detergent, Hypoallergenic  7. Plant Ulta Powered Laundry Detergent  8. The Honest Company 4-in-1 Laundry Pods, Free & Clear  9. Seventh Generation Natural Powder Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear  10. Seventh Generation Natural Laundry Detergent Packs, Free & Clear  11. Seventh Generation Natural Powder Laundry Detergent, Real Citrus & Wild Lavender

Even the green brands (Seventh Generation, Honest, etc), have certain products that do not rank well on EWG. My advice is to check each individual product on EWG (which is totally free to use) and go from there. Sounds tedious, but once you find your go-to products, you won’t have to look again! To me the extra effort is worth it for our health. (Or just stayed tuned here because I’ll be posting about all of the non-toxic products we use! :))

Lastly, I’ve looked into homemade laundry detergent, as many tout this as a very safe and cost-effective method. I’d love to do this, but every recipe I have found that works in an HE front-loading washer includes Borax, which EWG also grades as an F (contrary to popular thought). I have also read about soap nuts, but I need to look into it more (I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews). If you have another method or idea, I’d love to hear!

Simpler Birthdays

A friend recently emailed, “Wondering if you’ve considered doing a post about kids’ birthday parties and the crazy overload of gifts and toys. I did a “no gifts please” clause on the invite of my daughter’s third birthday, and it was met with quite mixed reactions. And now that she’s turning five and we’ve been to countless kid parties, I’d feel like a horrible parent imposing this again. I threw the idea around with a few other moms and was met with looks of horror. Any suggestions?

That’s a girl after my own heart. Recognizing we all have our own preferences and opinions, I’ll share how we try to approach birthdays more simply.

Gifts: We also tried the “no gifts please” route with our son’s first birthday. We definitely received mixed reactions, too. The tricky part for guests is that it feels funny showing up empty-handed to a party, which I totally get. Our solution was a charitable donation. We added to the invitation “if you can’t resist bringing a gift, we appreciate your generosity and will be accepting donations for X charity.” We collected new toys for a local foster home. Our family seemed to love it. (And yes there were also the rebels that brought a gift for our son, too :)) This year, we will let him pick out the charity to donate to, and he’ll help deliver the toys when the time comes.

But how will your child feel about this? Our son has eyed the piles and piles of gifts at friends’ birthday parties. We’ve been planting the seed that every family does things differently. In our family, we follow the “want, need, wear, read” gift philosophy. He is used to it so he doesn’t expect anything more. Might sound crazy, but it feels like a good choice for our family.

Lastly, a nice trend I’ve been seeing at most parties is that the birthday girl or boy doesn’t open the gifts they receive during the party. Three cheers for this change!

(A fair question would be whether we bring gifts to other children’s’ parties—Yes, but we only give books.)

birthday-party-1967-haight-ashbury

Size: Until now, we’ve done family-only birthdays (with a few very close family friends, too). We always coincide the celebration with our weekly family dinners. I grew up with the tradition of having as many children as you are years old. Our son has been talking about his birthday party non-stop for quite a while, so we’ll probably do a friend birthday party this year, too, with four of his friends (or less). We’ll see how it plays out, but that’s the plan.

Vintage Bday

Decorations. Oh, Pinterest. Do you know how many mothers you have pushed over the edge? Do you know the insecurity and financial debt you have inspired? You are a fabulous source of inspiration and idea-sharing (I actually love Pinterest!), but taken too seriously, and moms lose their minds because of some false pressure they feel from you.

“Pinterest Parties” just don’t align with living simply. We’ve been to plenty of Pinterest Parties and also old-fashioned parties where things are laid back and simple (like the kind we grew up with). The best kid party we’ve ever been to was at our neighborhood park. There were pretzels and goldfish in bowls, pizza was delivered, and there was a Publix cake that the birthday girl picked out earlier that day. The kids just ran around and the parents hung out and drank wine out of plastic cups. I think there were some balloons (maybe?). No theme. Nothing fancy. The child’s name wasn’t plastered all over everything. It was only close families. And we had a total blast—parents and kids alike. These are my kind of people. (Minimalist Mom has a great post if you are looking for simple party ideas).

I totally get wanting to have a cute party. And if you just live for crafting and party planning, by all means go for it. But can the rest of us breathe a collective sigh and agree it just isn’t necessary? If it feels stressful and not fun (and perhaps a little too keeping-up-with-facebook-ish), give yourself a break and keep it simple. Your kids definitely won’t notice or care and you might be glad you did.

For our children’s’ birthdays, we’ve done a few balloons and a happy birthday sign strung up somewhere. We do have some family traditions that make the event feel very personal and special, but they aren’t complicated or fancy. It will probably get a little more involved as they get older, but hopefully not by too much.

Goody bags. From my experience, goody bags usually fall into two categories: either a bag full of junk or something far too extravagant. The exception to this is if a party centers around a hands-on activity like a simple craft. Obviously whatever the children make will be taken home with them. Perfect solution.

So there you have it. It is what works for us, but I recognize every family is different and I love that. How does your family celebrate birthdays?

On Using Our Best

My mom went to Sweden last year and (among other things) brought back some beautiful linen dish cloths for me. The first thing she said was “you just need to use them and enjoy them!” Ah. She knows me too well.

It is easier said than done, right? Using those things that seem precious and special? The lovely dish cloths stared at me for a few weeks. I knew it would only be a matter of time before they were marked with who-knows-what baby food. It’s not that we are careless with our things—a kitchen just gets messy with two young children afoot.

I finally bit the bullet after about a month, and you know what? Every single time I use those cloths to dry my dishes or some sweet chubby little hands, they bring me joy. These cloths are soft and beautiful and exactly what I love. A simple pleasure. They make washing my dishes more pleasant and they remind me of my thoughtful, sweet mother.

And yes. After a year, they are showing signs of wear. But just think of they joy they’ve brought me in the mean time—totally worth it.

Are you saving anything in a drawer or closet for a better time? Maybe today is the day to break them out and celebrate this wonderful world we live in.

If you’d like more inspiration for using your best, check out a favorite blog of mine here and here.

Fog linen dish cloth

Dish cloths similar to the ones my mom bought me can be found here. When mine bite the dust, I’ll be buying these.
(Do you know about Fog Linen? One of my favorite stores!)

4 Tips for Doing Less to Have More

I spend a lot of timing talking with young mothers. No matter how different another mother may seem, there are still so many similarities and areas of common ground. I think many mothers would say that theirs hearts are bursting with joy and love for their children and simultaneously they are dog tired and maxed out.

When I am listening to these sweet mamas who are trying so dang hard—not to be the best, not to be perfect, just to be normal-pretty-darn-good-moms—it always seems to come back to wanting less. Less to do, less to clean, less to fulfill, less to juggle, less to find, less to worry about. Less!

So … what to do?

It is not an easy answer and it totally depends on your life, but to me, we can never go wrong simplifying. Simplify our homes. Simplify our schedules. Buy less. Admire less. Pin less. Have less.

This is very easy and very hard at the same time. I totally get it. And I know reading these words can seem like more (!!!) to do. So here are some suggestions if you find yourself wanting to make a change.

4 Tips for Doing Less to Have More copy

1. Limit Commitments. Think of your commitments that are negotiable. If there is any wiggle room at all and it doesn’t bring you incredible amounts of joy, remove it from your calendar or to-do list. Maybe not forever, but at least for now. Things like the extra unnecessary project at work, the birthday party way across town, the board seat you don’t really believe in or coffee dates with a friend who just brings you down. There are some things in life we have to do—everything else is a choice. Find the things you don’t really enjoy and don’t have to do and drop them like a bad habit. There might be some guilt with this, but it will be so worth the time and mental space gained.

2. Reduce Clutter. Our stuff drags us down. With fewer things, we have less to clean. Our houses feel more spacious. We have fewer decisions to make. It is easier to find something we lose. We have less to maintain. We have more in our bank account. Are you noticing a trend here? Have less to have more.

3. Remove Little Aggravations. We used to have a kitchen garbage can with a broken lid. It wasn’t the biggest deal, but I only realized how much it aggravated me once I finally replaced it. Little annoyances like these pile up throughout the day. How many of them do you have in your life? How is it affecting your mindset? Make a list and commit to ridding your life of these small but impactful aggravations. Maybe even bring in the pros to help (see #4). It will do more for your sanity than I can say.

4. Bring In The Pros. Even if it isn’t in your budget, where might it be beneficial to get help? Housekeeper? Lawn service? Handyman? Painter? Professional organizer (I couldn’t resist :))? Date night babysitter? It might feel indulgent or too expensive, but consider it an investment in your mental health. It will be cheaper than therapy! And if you can totally afford it, stop trying to do it all yourself. Who needs that gold medal? That’s a race I have no interest in winning.

Hang in there, mamas! You are doing the best you can!

Decluttering Technique: This or That

There are all kinds of suggestions for how to declutter your belongings, but so often I feel like they fall short of telling you exactly how to decide on an item-by-item basis. I’ve shared my own rule of asking whether it brings you joy, but even that can be tricky for some people to incorporate. So, I thought I’d share with you my second strategy, in case you are looking for other ideas.

This or That

When I encounter a client really struggling to part with anything, I start breaking it down into very small categories. From there, I let each item battle for a spot. For example, if sorting clothes, I’ll gather all of the black blouses (this assumes someone has far too many black blouses, which is often the case).

First I’ll ask the client to pick her least favorite. Then another least favorite. Then another. I keep going until she gets stuck. Then I let the clothes duke it out: holding up two shirts I’ll say “which one—shirt A or shirt B.” If she keeps shirt A, I put it up against a new shirt that we’ll call shirt C. So now it is shirt A vs. shirt C. She might choose shirt C this time, so up next it will be shirt C vs. shirt D. I keep this process going until we reduce that category to a reasonable amount for her lifestyle and closet space. A client has never disliked this technique and it always seems to work!

If you find yourself really struggling to reduce your belongings, break them down into narrow categories and pit each item against one another. May the best man win!!

Blouses from Isabel Marant and Band of Outsiders.

 

Our Favorite Baby Toys

We do our best to keep the toys to a minimum, but it really is hard isn’t it? I’ve found babies don’t need many toys to be entertained—if given the opportunity, the world around them is interesting enough! But we do have a few in our arsenal that babies seem to love year after year. If you are looking for some new ideas, here are a few my family really likes:

Favorite Baby Toys

 

1. Anatex roller coaster: Babies and big kids alike (honestly, adults too) love this toy. I suppose it is a classic for a reason!

2. Plan stacking toy: The green stick from this toy was our daughter’s favorite for a few months. For whatever reason it fascinated her. There are so many ways to play with this toy. Our whole family loves it.

3. Manhattan Toy skwish: I try to avoid noisy toys, but this one has the gentlest rattle when shaken. It is also very easy for even the youngest babies to grasp. Older babies seem thrilled when they learn they are strong enough to squish it!

4. Wood bowls: My husband turns wood as a hobby (like this wood spoon), and we have small wood bowls that he has made all over our house. The kids adore them. Young babies love the texture and chewing them, older babies like to bang on them like a drum and toddlers have so much fun filling them up and dumping them out (like with the eggs below). Also, my husband finishes the bowls with organic beeswax and only uses non-toxic, local found wood (mostly pine), so they are completely safe. Win-win for everyone!

5. Sophie: This was probably unnecessary to mention. What baby doesn’t love Sophie? The hype is real, as you probably know!

6. Wood eggs: These eggs were bought on a whim, but I am so pleased we did. They are the perfect size for a baby to grasp (and gnaw!) but far too big to be a choking hazard. Babies feel like they are getting away with playing with something small :) and big kids love to gather and dump them. I find these eggs all over our house (and my purse ha).

7. Blabla dolls: Incredibly soft, no parts that can be choked on, very washable, not to mention super adorable. Our son’s blabla is part of the family. We like the mini size, although the big size is fantastic, too.

8. Books. Another one I probably didn’t need to mention, but we love love love books. Can’t get enough! (It is the one category that I do let get out of control ha.)

Some of these items are more expensive, but they last. Seriously. And we don’t have many toys. A few more than what you see here, but not by much. We’ve saved by buying fewer but really investing when we do.

 

 

Keeping It Simple: Our Toxin-Free Coffee Routine

About two years into our toxin-free journey, I realized our old coffee maker was not as healthy as I thought. Sure the carafe was glass, but I never considered the water well (where the water is heated), was full-on plastic. How frustrating is that? If you are interested in making your own coffee routine more toxin-free, here are some ideas:

Non-Toxic Coffee Routine

How you brew the coffee: Our solution: A percolator. It is completely stainless steel throughout and very simple to use. I am not sure why they went out of fashion! We absolutely love ours—going on four years strong. Ours doesn’t even require filters, although you can easily find them at the grocery store if you’d like. For us, it is one less thing to think about.

Where you store the grounds: I use a glass canister from Target. We’ve had it for years. We also use a wood scoop that my husband turned himself (those plastic scoops can’t be made of anything good, right?)

What you drink it out of: We use ceramic or porcelain mugs. Never, ever drink a hot beverage out of styrofoam or plastic. We use extra tall mugs for taking it in the car—I’ve yet to find a travel mug that I trust. On the rare occasion we do buy coffee out, we make sure it is in a paper cup and we remove any plastic lid.

Coffee itself: Whenever possible, we buy fair trade organic coffee. We are not picky about which kind—whatever is on sale!

A few tips about using a percolator: Some people think it makes weaker coffee. That’s easy to fix—just grind the beans finer and use a little bit more. To turn it on or off, just plug or unplug (might be obvious to some people, but it took me a good five minutes to figure this out ha!). You cannot program it, and it doesn’t automatically shut off, so you will have to remember to do that. Bonus: It has a small footprint, so you can easily store it in a cabinet when not in use.

A final thought: consider ditching the artificial sweeteners. I know it can be so hard, but if you have to add something sweet, try using organic sugar.

How to Handle a Pack Rat Partner

A friend recently asked how to handle her husband’s pack rat tendencies. This is a wonderful guy, but he has a hard time parting with things, particularly memorabilia and old books. I saw the loot, and I agreed it was quite a lot. Unless you find yourself in a dire situation (see #3 below), I would never recommend cleaning out someone’s things without their knowledge. It is unfair and a recipe for hurt feelings. However, I understand the frustration you feel living with their mess. Here are my suggestions for how to tackle a situation like this:

7efa2a58c60ec48faa54070ff79f3e14

1. Set a size limit. Allow him to keep only what fits in a certain size or number of containers. This permits a reasonable amount of junk to stay while still drastically reducing the stockpile. Don’t criticize or micromanage what he wants to keep—let him decide. The photo above still has far too many containers for my taste, but at least it is neatly sorted and stored.

972a88ee6db4a17bab835e993c6ce6a7

2. Garage sale profits are all his. If your partner has things that are of potential value, have a garage sale (or craigslist them) and tell him he can buy whatever indulgent thing he wants with the money (as long as it isn’t more clutter!). A new driver or perhaps a bottle of Pappy might provide just the right encouragement. Set a time limit on this, though—that the sale has to be completed within X weeks (or then you get to choose how to spend the money!)

3. Give negative notice. Sometimes there are desperate situations where one person refuses to cull their belongings—to the detriment of the family. In these extreme cases, I would suggest taking a page from your attorney’s book and give negative notice. This means you say something like “whatever is not cleaned out in X weeks will go to goodwill. If there is anything you want to keep, pull it out and organize it before then.” This will be a tough one to pull off peacefully, and I don’t recommend it lightly, but if someone won’t budge, it might be the only option left.

A final note: Be sure your partner has an area in the home that is all his own and he can keep however he pleases. My husband has a drawer that is stashed full of who knows what, but I never look in there and I never complain. Everyone needs at least a small place that is hassle free. Above all, choose an ideal time to discuss this and try to be as kind as possible. And … good luck!!

My Morning Skin Care Routine

Just before I became pregnant with our first child, I really started paying attention to the products I used. I was surprised to learn many of them contained harsh ingredients. I’ve been learning and altering my routine and products ever since. Before buying anything, I check the product on EWG’s Skin Deep database. It is free to use, and reviews thousands of products. I try to only buy products rated 0-2, which is the least toxic, with a 3 sneaking in there every once in a while. If a product is not on EWG, I will create a custom report, which is super easy.

Everybody’s skin needs and budgets are so different, but this is what I have found works for me (for now!). In case it helps, I have somewhat dry, very fair skin. Here is the breakdown:

Non-Toxic Morning Skincare Routine

1. Acure Organics Facial Cleansing Cream Olive + Mint. This face wash is gentle, creamy and smells like a spa. (EWG 2)

2. Acure Organics Argan Oil. I love using argan oil on my face and my hair. It has almost no scent, goes on smoothly and absorbs quickly. I apply this before my moisturizer. (EWG 0)

3. First Aid Beauty Dual Repair Eye Cream. I have circles under my eyes no matter what. This product really does help with that—the best I’ve ever used. (EWG 3)

4. Devita Solar Block SPF 30. This sunscreen is not too thick or white and moisturizes very well. Even though it is meant for body use, I like to use it on my face and neck, too. (Devita has a face formula, but I don’t like the consistency). Don’t pile it on too heavily or it will leave white patches. (EWG 1)

5. Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. This isn’t skin care of course, but I brush my teeth after applying moisturizer so it has time to soak in before applying make up. (EWG 1)

6. DeodoMom cream deodorant. I’ve tried so many kinds of natural deodorant and none of them work for me—until now. This is a miracle product. You apply it like a cream, which takes a few days to get used to, but now I love it. It also seems to moisturize and soften your underarms. I’ve yet to use it during a hot Florida summer, so I’ll let you know if I feel differently then. It also comes in a roll-on version, but I have not tried it. Worth every penny. (EWG 0).
 

24 Hours With … Deena

Deena is one of those people you immediately love. I met her a few years while volunteering for the Art & Antiques Show. She is so warm and welcoming to everyone, and you feel like you’ve known her forever after one conversation. Thankfully Deena and her family recently moved just down the road from us, so I get to see her a lot more! Brace yourself for a brilliant take on dinners. I can’t wait to try her technique! Please say hello to Deena:
Print
Deena and fam BW
1. Do you work inside or outside of the home? If outside of the home, what are your hours? I work outside of the home and I’m so grateful to have very regular hours from 8-5!

2. What is your childcare/schooling situation?
Our daughter, Grace, has been home with a nanny since she was 4 months old (now 21 mo.) and started going to a mother’s morning out program 2 mornings a week when she was 19 months.  I pick her up from school on those days and bring her home to be with the Nanny the remainder of the day.

3. What is breakfast, lunch and dinner like in your family? It totally depends on the day!  My husband travels for most of the week, just about every week, so our week days usually go like this:Breakfast – Nanny is out our house and has breakfast made for Grace before Grace even wakes up (She’s a keeper!!), I usually make a protein shake for the road, and when John is in town, he usually works from home for a little in the mornings and will make whatever he feels like. On Saturdays we have a big breakfast all together at the table!Lunch:  I usually bring a lunch to work and every few weeks I like to go out to lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in awhile.  One of the perks of working is the ability to schedule childless lunch dates.  It’s one of the few occasions I get to eat out without having to chase/entertain a toddler so I really look forward to these lunches out!  When John is in town, he will usually try to do lunch with a friend or colleague.  Grace either eats the lunch I pack for her at school or eats at home with the nanny. Dinner:  When John is in town, we do our best to eat like civilized people at a table and together.  When he’s gone, I’m usually chasing Grace around the house with a fork full of food crossing my fingers she will take the bite.  We start off at the table, but after a few minutes, she’s throwing food all over the place and climbing out of her chair, and that’s when the great food chase begins.  I’ve actually resorted to feeding her in the tub a few times (2 birds, 1 stone) since she’s perfectly distracted while she’s in there and doesn’t even realize I’m feeding her.  I’m praying this is a stage she will grow out of because I really prefer the civilized way of eating.  When John is gone, I’ll usually eat once Grace is asleep or I’ll pick on my meal during the great food chase.

4. Do you meal plan or wing it? Do you like that? I meal plan, but not in the way you may think.  I typically decide what we will eat for dinner for the week on Saturday and then I grocery shop on Sundays.  Our nights are too hectic for any real cooking, so I usually make two meals on Sunday.  We eat one meal on Sunday night and the other meal on Monday night.  I make enough for left overs, so then we eat Sundays left overs on Tuesday and Mondays left overs on Wednesday.  Thankfully my family doesn’t mind leftovers!  If I can’t make two meals on Sunday, I’ll only make one and then make another meal on Monday night after Grace goes to bed, that we will eat on Tuesday and we will eat Sunday’s leftovers on Monday.  I usually have the Nanny cook on Thursday (she’s Cuban and her food is incredible…did I mention she’s a keeper??) and then we usually have dinner plans on either Friday or Saturday so we eat the leftovers on whatever night we don’t have plans.  

5. What is most challenging part of your day? Dinner Time!!

6. What is the easiest part of your day? Bedtime and the free time after that!  I’m so fortunate to have a child who loves to sleep and goes down very easily!

7
. In terms of running a house with a family, what do you feel like you have figured out? Finding great help!  Like most woman and moms, I want to do it all.  We all want to do it all and do it perfectly!  The only way I’ve somewhat been able to find a work/home life balance is by bringing on a wonderful Nanny, who not only loves and takes great care of Grace, but also keeps up with the daily chores.  This allows me to be able to fully focus on my family when I am home.  Once I realized I couldn’t do it all and get it all done perfectly, we brought on the Nanny, who has been such a blessing!   

8. Does anything still stump you?  What doesn’t still stump me??  I would love to know how to cook a great meal while simultaneously watching a toddler – I know tons of you do it and I’m amazed!  I seriously only cook when my daughter is asleep!!  I’m also still struggling to get back on a regular workout routine.  With a traveling husband, early mornings and after-work workouts aren’t possible, so for now I’m sporadically fitting it in at lunchtime.   

9. How do you take care of yourself and recharge? If I can’t get to the gym during the day, I try to at least go for a walk or jog with my daughter in the evenings and always on the weekends!  I’m recharged through bi-weekly Bible Study meetings with a great group of girls.

10. If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it? I’d read for fun!11. Any other organizing tips you’d like to share? I love schedules and structure, and have found that I accomplish the most when my entire day is mapped out.  I schedule almost everything I do in my calendar.  This ensures I don’t forget all the countless “to-do’s” always running through our minds.  It not only gets the to-do’s off my mind and on paper, but everything get’s it’s own time-slot (and a reminder alarm) so that every day is hopefully a productive day.  It also ensures my to-do list doesn’t get too long and unmanageable.     


12. What does a usual 24 hours look like in your house?
6:30 AM Wake up; get dressed & ready for work
7:30  AM – Nanny arrives and gets breakfast started for Grace
7:45 AM – Grace wakes up – eats breakfast
8:00  AM – leave for work (School Days we leave at 8:45AM)
1:00 PM  (school days) – Pick Grace up from School and take her home
5:30 PM – Get home from work
6:15 PM – Dinner Time/Bath time
7:00 PM – Begin Bedtime routine
7:30 PM – Bed Time
8:00  PM – Freedom for the night!!Thank you, Deena, for sharing your day with us! Truly, I love your dinner ideas. We are all about the leftovers in our house too! And workday lunches are so amazing—no babysitter to schedule! Grace is a lucky girl to have such a sweet mama!