Answering the “I can’t afford to be green” brigade

by Diana E – Frugi Customer & Crusader

So I meet a lot of Mums in my weekly whirlwind of toddler groups and baby classes and I love chatting to them about “what being a parent is like nowadays”. Worries revolve around the things we “should” be doing as caring parents, baby massage/swimming/signing…! The list is endless and it is very easy to get absorbed by our own particular worries of baby’s developmental milestones/health problems/work-home balance. The issue of “saving the planet” seems, if not inconsequential, then at least not so close to home.

When it comes to discussing an eco-friendly lifestyle, the initial reaction I get is one of “well that’s nice if you can afford to do that, but it’s not for me”. Now roughly translated this means that green/organic/fairtrade products are viewed as having a financial premium which excludes less well-off families from joining in the great big green party!

My question is whether that is REALLY true? Do you pay for being green? Do people see our family as “rolling in it” because we take the environmental implications of our decisions into account and therefore don’t simply go for the cheapest option?

There is no doubt that you do pay more for fairly traded, chemical-free, quality organic cotton products precisely because they are fairly traded, chemical-free and organic. I do love buying new clothes for my children but I can’t afford to dress them entirely in new clothes and that is fine with me. To compensate for my purchases of new clothing I scour charity shops, nearly-new sales and other friends’ attics (with their permission!) to find clothes that will complete their wardrobe. In short, whatever I buy new I want to be ethically sourced, the rest is recycled or was a gift. I don’t think I spend any more on my children’s wardrobes than a Mum who buys a comprehensive mix’n’match selection of clothing from any one of the High Street stores for each season/size/gender.

Being green for me means not buying excessive amounts of anything, reducing waste (that includes clothes that are worn once before being grown out of!), choosing to make do with much less (the inimitable “quality not quantity” cliche). I get much more pleasure from my well thought out purchases of a few key items than a myriad of poorly made bits of tat that will not withstand the rigours of frequent washing and line-drying (do you know how many clothes say “dry out of direct sunlight”?!!!”). I am striving for those modern ideals of having a clutter-free, minimalist house where the things I surround myself with are either useful, beautiful or have sentimental value, I reckon with a following wind I should achieve that by 2020!

But really, and this goes far beyond clothing, the bottom line is this. Using borax to clean my kitchen floor IS cheaper than using a branded floor cleaner, using soda crystals and vinegar to unblock my sink IS cheaper than Mr Muscle, using collected rainwater to water my vegetables, not washing clothes if they are not dirty/smelly (gasp!)… it’s just not EASIER and it’s not the norm which means that in order to live this way you need to learn how to do it, and this excludes many because they feel they are unable to learn a new way of living.

So if you aren’t ready to take the plunge on the whole borax/vinegar thing then I have a fun suggestion, why not throw a “Clothes Swapping” Party? Invite at least a dozen friends to bring along all their old clothes that don’t fit or don’t suit and get swapping! New clothes for free! Make sure you have a cross-section of body sizes (tactfully) and ideally some nibbles/drink too! The parties I’ve thrown have been a great success and rarely does anyone leave without anything new.

I’m going to be weighing up in more detail what I think my “green” choices are costing me over this summer, so watch this space!


4 thoughts on “Answering the “I can’t afford to be green” brigade”

  1. Do people find it difficult to buy ‘green’ ingredients?
    I wanted some borax the other day, but my local supermarket doesn’t seem to sell it – mind you, the assistant I asked didn’t even know what it was! I’ve even had a struggle buying white vinegar before now….

  2. Hi Diana
    I think you’re absolutely right. I was convincing a friend of mine that because I’d saved money by using cloth nappies (and not spending £20 a week on disposables) I could justify buying the C4C clothes that lasted the term they said they would.

    In our family, we all have enough clothes to last us a week – then they have to be washed to start again. Some weeks are shorter than others! But then you do find you’re wearing everything until it falls apart (and much grief that causes too!) but it means you can spend a little more, knowing that it will last a few years and have done its term by the end.

    Not sure how many would then want to swap with me!

    I did gladly offer my maternity trousers to someone the other day. I only had 2 pairs and wore them constantly in the last 3 months (I had managed with other dresses from my wardrobe up until the buttons kept popping open). Anyway, I went to get them out for this friend and realised I’ve rubbed them thin between the thighs. She wasn’t too keen on using them after that. Hey ho, who was going to see anyway?


  3. I couldn’t agree with this post more! Especially the bit about buying mounds of “poorly made bits of tat” because it is cheap. It’s not thinking very far ahead (or behind I guess) really when you think of labour conditions for people who are making these things, or of the environment. At our house I have a pretty strict policy that we wear only second hand clothes or if new, made from organic materials and ethically produced. That means a lot of garage sale shopping and mostly Frugi stuff for the kids when I buy something new (thank goodness they have just started making up to size 6!). Same goes for toys. It is amazing the amount of plastic stuff people manage to accumulate for their kids….
    I think living like this does work out cheaper in the end, but it is also about teaching my kids to look for other values than the endless consumerism that is encouraged by the media. Knowing when you have enough and not abusing a limited amount of natural resources, choosing responsibly, and going though life in a considered, ethical and responsible way, acting in accordance with your values is also what it is about for me.
    PS Alex; in Australia green ingredients are getting harder to find too. Large packets of Baking soda are getting rarer at my supermarket and every time I go I am afraid that they have finally stopped stocking the washing soda I use to make washing powder. It is usually hidden low on some shelf behind a whole lot of other stuff. If we don’t get more people interested in this sort of stuff it will become impossible to buy anymore…

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