Some simple principles can help you take action to reduce toxic chemicals in your home:
1) Use less stuff. Do you really need those dryer sheets? Or the umpteenth “miracle” cream just taking up space in the medicine cabinet? Go back to basics by figuring out what you use need on a daily basis, and chuck the rest. Save your fancy makeup for the evening out. And whenever you can, pick fragrance free or go without the smelly stuff. (Most fragrances are loaded with pthalates. Mmmm.) Also, treat the plastic you own more carefully — never heat plastic in the dishwasher or microwave (pop food out of the container and handwash the sippy cups). I find that having to hand-wash stuff becomes its own reason not to buy more plastic!
2) Repurpose items. Rather than buying new furniture for the nursery. convert that dingy old dresser into a changing table. (Ask relatives what’s in their attic or look on Craigslist or at yard sales for what you need.) The off-gassing from materials, if any, will long be over, and you can often even find deals on solid wood. Spend your dollars on what will really matter, like wooden teethers and a decent and safe new crib. And some of the cutest baby clothes, once out-grown, can be packed away to be used as doll clothes one day.
3) Replace as you go. Instead of tossing everything out at once, replace items as they run out or wear out with safer ones. When that non-stick pan begins to show wear, replace it with an enameled or a cast-iron pan instead. When the coffee maker starts to sputter, think about replacing it with a French press to avoid heating plastics every time you brew a cup. And when all those plastic food containers show stains, substitute glass containers with BPA-free lids. Lastly, when you need a new vacuum, buy one with a HEPA filter to reduce both allergens and toxins in the dust.
4) Enlist help. Tell friends and family that for the baby shower, holidays and birthdays you would like “green” gifts that help your family to detox your home. Help them pick suitable toys through a registry or just a note with a list of things you’d prefer they get for your child or home. They may even want your research so they can make their own positive changes! (Or they may grumble and say you’re nuts, but really, do you want all those loud, annoying plastic gizmos?) And make your friends and family leave their shoes near the door (or better yet, the garage), which really reduces tracked-in toxins and pesticides.
5) Scrounge a bit. Keep tabs on your local parents’ list serv or check out yard sales, book sales, and thrift stores for nicer items and used books. A little quick action in response to a post from a parent selling a premium toy can save a lot of money! (Our oh-so-fancy wooden Svan highchair came used off our neighborhood listserv for less than half the price of a new one.) Check ebay and craigslist as well for deals on a particular item you covet.
6) Prioritize. Can’t afford to go all-organic? Just pick the dirty dozen (a list of the most pesticide-heavy fruits and vegetables), plus milk and peanut butter, and buy those organically. (Dairy, berries, apples, peanuts and potatoes are the worst.) Or start with cleaning supplies, which can be made simply with baking soda and vinegar or other homespun recipes. Skip convenience foods and more processed foods, which contain less nutrition, are far more likely to have harmful preservatives and additives, and are less likely to be organic. Buying food from the edges of the supermarket (vegetables, fruit, dairy, and breads) will save you money and keep you safer and healthier as well. Besides, cooking with children is great fun, and teaches measurements, flavors, and how to help mom.
7) Air it out. It’s free and easy to roll down the window in your car for a minute or two whenever you start driving, to air out the VOCs (or volatile organic compounds, as in paints) emitted by all the plastics in cars, as well as the flame retardants in your kiddo’s car seats. It’s also a good idea to open your windows at home when you can to let the house breathe a little, and to run cold water from your kitchen tap for 10 seconds before using it for cooking. (Don’t use hot tap water directly from the tap for cooking, as it can contain heavy metals from the pipes.) And skip the vinyl cover for strollers — it’s better to get a little wet than to have the baby breathing flame retardants, PVC and nasty pthalates.
8) Think ahead. When you go bargain hunting, think about what your child will need over the next few years, not just today. In thrift stores, I look for clothes that are like-new and good labels that are two, or even three, sizes ahead of where Maya is today. She’ll get there all too soon! And for toys, I invest in really nice toys if they will facilitate open-ended play that will enable them to grow with her – wooden blocks, imagination starters like animals, and cardboarc puzzles that are images now and a puzzle later. Hand puppets and finger puppets are wonderful ways to learn about animals, and lead to fun. Dress-up clothes can come from thrift stores around Halloween, when the costumes are plentiful. And even baby rattles can be kept for the box of musical instruments, or you can buy shakers that double as gorgeous rattles for baby.
9) Buy in bulk. Many areas now offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) opportunities to buy directly from a local farm, usually for a season and often pay-ahead. This is terrific way to know much more about where your food comes from (and some have visiting days for kids). The food can be certified organic, or can be from a farm that uses farming practices that are very close to organic (or better) without certification, but do ask. Although you pay ahead of time, over the season, costs may be lower than paying at the supermarket for premium meat, fruits and vegetables. The offerings are always seasonally appropriate, and will be very fresh. (To find CSAs near you, look here.)
10) Let it go. Small changes really do go a long way in reducing chemicals. But stress and anxiety are also not good for parents or kids. So if your efforts to reduce toxins are causing you late nights rather than peace of mind, pick your battles, make your choices, and let the rest go by.(Fifteen minutes of exercise or meditation also helps the body cope with hazards to our health.)We all just do what we can do to protect our children. That has to be enough.
And number 11 is: Stand with groups like Healthy Child, Healthy World in telling your member of Congress and the Senate leadership that you, as a parent, voter and citizen, support more reasonable standards for chemical safety. The best way to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals for every family, and every child, is to enact stronger rules in Congress.