cloth diapers, the simple way

A few wool diaper covers, as well as a prefold and some snappi fasteners.

We’ve been cloth diapering for over a year now, so I thought I’d share about our experience for those who are also interested in ditching disposables. Coming from a family that used cloth diapers, I was surprised to learn how many new parents are warned against cloth by their friends and relatives. Why all the cloth diaper hate, folks? That said, I know how overwhelming it is to learn yet another new skill while also trying to care for a newborn in those first weeks. My hope is to shine some light on the mystery of cloth diapering for those who are intimidated or just plain confused by it.

Let’s start with a few facts:

1. I had never changed a diaper of any kind before having William. (In other words, no experience required!)

2. Cloth diapering can be simple or complicated, cheap or costly. More on this below.

3. It’s okay to start slow. Set a goal of using at least one cloth diaper per day and then increase from there as you become more comfortable with it.

Cloth Diapering Can Be Simple

It can be as simple as buying a couple dozen diapers, putting them on your baby, and washing them as you would very, very dirty laundry. That’s it.

Of course, you probably have more questions. So I will elaborate.

I learned most of what I know from Fluff Love University. There is so much info on their website that you’ll likely feel your brain exploding with details the first time you read through it. In today’s consumer culture, there are a hundred different cloth diapers, a thousand different laundry detergents, and who knows how many washer models. Remind yourself that your great grandmother probably just pinned dish towels on her babies’ butts and you can too, if that suits you.

Most of the products I reference are available on Amazon, though I made a point to link to small businesses instead. If you’re a fan of Prime, no worries! I’m personally a fan of buying from my neighbors via Craigslist or FB Marketplace. You do you. 😉

Our Cloth Diapering Experience

If you’re the type of person who would rather learn from a friend than ask the entire internet how to do something, you’re in luck! Here is our diapering routine, after much trail and error. You will still have to adjust it if you live in an area with soft water or don’t have a washing machine (yes, people still use cloth without one!) but hopefully this gives you a good foundation to get started.

Type of Diapers

In a perfect world, I would only use natural fiber diapers (cotton and hemp) with wool covers. Obviously, my world isn’t perfect. I know microfiber and plastic-lined diapers will contribute to pollution because they are made with synthetic materials that don’t naturally break down and end up both in wastewater and landfills. However, these diapers are typically easier to use*, especially by those who want something as close to a disposable as possible. I figure it is still better to use an imperfect cloth diaper when I’m feeling lazy than a disposable.

*One exception to this rule is cotton or hemp fitteds, such as Green Mountain Diapers Workhorses. These are both environmentally friendly (especially the snap-free variety) though can be used by an amateur. We had about a dozen of these in size medium until William grew out of them.

My Current Stash

6 Truly Charis stretchy hemp flatsTruly Charis is a wonderful little family-owned company that sells beautiful wool diaper covers and several types of hemp diapers. Their stuff is expensive, but handmade in the U.S. and worth it in my opinion. Check out their buy/sell/trade FB group to score some deals. These hemp flats were a game-changer for us because they are so much more absorbent than cotton. We use them mostly at night with an added insert and wool cover.

8 bamboo inserts – I’m partial to hemp over bamboo (it is less likely to be mixed with synthetic fibers from what I hear), though I found these used and they work well when a diaper needs extra absorbency. These hemp inserts would be a good new option.

8 BumGenius pocket diapers with inserts – I have more of these on the way, thanks to a great deal I found on the Cloth Diaper Swap FB group. I’ve tried several other pocket and AIO (all-in-one) styles and BumGenius was the only brand that didn’t leak. When it comes to “easy” diapers, I prefer pocket style because they dry much faster than thick AIOs.

10 prefolds – These are the most multi-purpose diapers that I come back to again and again. You can use them as burp cloths, tucked under a newborn when they need some diaper-free time, or as inserts in your pocket diapers. They are cheap and though you have to learn a few folding techniques, you don’t have to worry about elastics or snaps that will wear out over time. The same goes for flat diapers, which are basically large dish cloths that you can fold to fit any sized baby. I use the “airplane fold” with my flats, which leaves extra layers in the front for boys.

2 PUL snap-on covers – We have both a Thirsties and a Flip cover. I use these a lot when my wool covers need to be washed and lanolized. PUL covers can be used a few times before washing unless they get poop on them.

3 wool covers – In William’s current size, I have a Truly Charis soaker, a Disana soaker, and Bumby pants. I have also tried upcycled wool covers, though they are typically thinner and might leak if you have a heavy wetter. A good wool cover can be used again and again for weeks before washing—wool is amazing! Just make sure you shop used if you don’t want to spend a fortune.

36 cloth wipes – I love cloth wipes so much that I don’t even bother with disposables for travel anymore. Cloth works so much better. Some people make a solution with a bit of soothing oil and soap, though I just use water.

Note: I also had a newborn-sized diaper stash for the first few months, a combination of smaller prefolds and AIOs mostly, which I had borrowed from friends and family. I highly recommend going with easy-to-learn styles like pockets/AIOs during this stage because you will be overwhelmed and sleep deprived. If you have enough patience and time to watch a few YouTube videos, by all means, save your money and just use flats.

Accessories

Bambino Mio diaper pail w/ mesh liners – Honestly, you can use anything for a diaper pail. Brands will try to convince you to pay $80 for theirs, which is essentially a glorified trash can. I really like that ours has a handle on it and fits under our changing table, though I don’t like that it is plastic (for environmental reasons) and only holds 60% of our diapers. I’m not aware of any plastic-free pails on the market, though I’m sure you could find a metal trash bin or just buy used. If your bin doesn’t have a handle, the Planet Wise large pail liners work great with many trash cans and make it easy to transfer diapers to the wash.

3 Wet Bags – The smaller one lives in our diaper bag and the two medium-sized ones are used for overflow from our too-small diaper pail. I’ve tried several brands and Planet Wise is by far the best quality. If you are a crafty person, you could upcycle a few thrift store sweaters into wet bags by simply cutting two rectangles and sewing them together. Attach a piece of yarn to fasten the opening, treat with lanolin to waterproof, and make sure you’re using real wool, not acrylic.

4 snappis – There are other types of fasteners and pins, but I’ve never tried them.

Random hippy balm – William has never had diaper rash, though I put some all-purpose balm on him whenever I notice redness. It is just a blend of olive oil, beeswax, and a few other soothing ingredients. Most popular diaper creams are not good for cloth diapers, FYI, but you can buy disposable liners for your cloth to protect it.

Our Laundry Routine

I wash our diapers about every 4 days. Any longer, and things start to smell and stains set in deep. Since William eats solids now, I try to rinse poopy diapers with our toilet sprayer as soon as I can rather than waiting until laundry day. If your baby only eats breastmilk, there’s no need to rinse poop off before washing.

On laundry day, I check for any last diapers to rinse while I toss them all into the washer. I do a very short wash cycle on hot with one line of detergent, then a long cycle—also on hot—with a full cap of detergent.

Per Fluff Love’s recommendations, I started using unscented Tide powder and noticed an improvement over my usual plant-based detergent. Recently, I’ve been wanting to return to plant-based, so I bought Seventh Generation’s Ultra Power Plus formula to try out. I’ll let you all know how it goes. One of these days, I hope to find a detergent that is plant-based, effective, AND has plastic-free packaging. A girl can dream… ;P

I add about 1/4 cup of Borax in both laundry cycles because we have hard water. Calgon is another water softener that many people seem to like. Without a softener, hard water might make your diapers less absorbent or even smelly over time.

For my wool covers, I have a special wool wash and then use 100% lanolin to waterproof them every 3-4 weeks. I do this by hand, though some covers can be washed on gentle cycle. I could write a whole post on wool care, so if you’re curious, let me know. YouTube has many helpful videos as well.

Line drying diapers in Washington worked great last summer, and I was able to get some intense poop stains out thanks to sun-bleaching. We use a collapsible metal dry rack from IKEA. If stains and smells linger, you might consider a bleach soak.

I would love to line dry again this year, though the Phoenix heat has a “starching” effect on my cotton and hemp diapers, which makes them feel stiff and rough. If anyone knows how to get around this, let me know!

Last, if you haven’t already, please check out my post on saving money on diapers—especially the tip about elimination communication (EC). I feel like cloth diapering and EC go hand-in-hand, because early potty training means less laundry and a smaller diaper collection. On another money-saving note, I would estimate that I’ve spent only $150 on cloth diapers by shopping used and I should be able to make at least $75 when I sell my stash.

I deliberately left plenty of advice out of this post, in the spirit of keeping things simple. I would love to hear your questions and any hesitations you have toward cloth diapering. Just ask and I will happily answer. 😀

As always, thanks for reading.

William playing outside in a Disana wool diaper cover.

10 Ways to Save Money on Diapers – Cloth and Disposables!

William rocking his pink diaper. It was cheaper than the blue one!

I thought I’d share a few things I learned from a year+ of diapering on a tight budget. I hope you find some useful tidbits! Stay tuned for another post on our experience with cloth diapering.

Tip 1: Use Your Calculator

Diapers come in many differently sized packs, so it takes more than a quick glance to know if you’re getting a good price. Instead, take the price, move the decimal two spaces to the right, then divide by the # of diapers. For example, a $25.00 pack is 2500 cents. If the pack has 100 diapers, that’s 25 cents per diaper. We used disposables as an occasional backup for cloth, so I made a goal to buy packs only when the unit price was less than 20 cents. I could have gone a bit cheaper, though I personally avoid brands with added lotions and fragrances. I was able to buy Seventh Generation, Earth’s Best, and Honest Co. brands, all for 18-20 cents per diaper.

Tip 2: Collect Coupons

Most disposable diaper companies will send you coupons if you fill out an interest form on their website or contact customer service. These coupons can sometimes be combined with other store discounts. You can also find coupons on grocery store apps, such as Safeway or Kroger.

Tip 3: Shop Sales

Sales + coupons = the best deals! Most cloth diaper companies have regular sales and bundle discounts. Start following brands like Green Mountain Diapers and Cotton Babies on Facebook and Instagram as you build your stash.

Tip 4: Amazon Subscribe and Save

I hesitate to recommend Amazon, as I often found better deals elsewhere. That said, they offer a discount if you sign up to purchase diapers at regular intervals. I found a great price on a jumbo pack with a subscription discount. But by the time they tried to send me another pack, it was unavailable for the same price and our baby had gone up a size anyway. Use at your own discretion.

Tip 5: Honest Co. BOGO Bundle Sales

The Honest Co. offers discounts on diaper and wipe bundles. A couple times a year, you can pay for one month’s bundle and get the second month for free. If you use primarily cloth like us, you’ll have a year’s supply for ~$80. Just remember to cancel your subscription after the second month (unless you’re okay with the regular bundle discount).

Tip 6: Check the Clearance Section

This applies both online and in store. I regularly found 50% off disposables on the Safeway clearance shelves. Many cloth diaper websites will offer good deals on older prints or styles.

Tip 7: Keep Receipts

Babies grow—surprise!—and there’s no way to know exactly how many diapers you will need, despite what Pinterest charts may tell you. Always keep receipts in a central location so you can exchange diapers for the next size up. Also check return policies at cloth diaper sites. In general, avoid stocking up too much unless you find an amazing deal.

Tip 8: Buy Secondhand

Disposable – No, I am NOT suggesting that you buy dirty diapers. Rather, you’ll find plenty of new-in-package disposables on Facebook Marketplace and other secondhand sites. Many families stock up and find themselves with more packs than they know what to do with!

Cloth – You’ll find directions for cleaning and sanitizing used cloth diapers on Fluff Love University. Aside from a couple covers, I don’t think I have ever bought a new cloth diaper because they are just SO much cheaper used. I actually sold several diapers for the same price I bought them for, so they were essentially free! Do make sure to ask each seller about the condition of the elastic and snaps on a diaper, if they don’t specify. And even if you would prefer a brand new stash, try buying or borrowing a range of brands/styles used, just to see what you like before making the investment.

A few places to shop secondhand – Your local consignment shops, diaper-specific or brand-specific Facebook swap groups, VarageSale app, Facebook Marketplace or local buy/sell groups, and Craigslist.

Tip 9: Try First, If Possible

So you bought the 300 pack and now your kid has diaper rash and constant blowouts? The good news is that you can, as mentioned, sell your open pack at a discount to another parent, or donate it to a women’s shelter. Next time, try to score a few free diapers in sample packs or from other parents before committing to a particular brand. This principle also applies to cloth! I am forever thankful to those who loaned me so many different types of cloth diapers to try out before investing my own money.

Tip 10: Elimination Communication, AKA “EC”

EC, or early potty training, is often thought of as a weird fringe practice that isn’t practical in real life. As it turns out, before disposable diapers became the norm, babies were often potty trained by 18 months. EC is still common in many countries where diapers are extra expensive or unavailable.

Our family started using elimination communication principles just before William’s first birthday. If you’re wondering, “What the heck is EC?,” check out the book The Diaper Free Baby or the Go Diaper Free website.

Do you have other ways of saving money on diapers? Please share them below! Here’s to fewer, cheaper diapers and more funds for date nights.

william’s birth story

I never thought I would be posting a birth story on the internet. Having read several stories in preparation for my own birth, I knew that most were a dissertation-length recounting of every single detail I didn’t need to know. Being pregnant and exhausted, I would make it through a few paragraphs before concluding that I’d rather be in bed sleeping than reading about a stranger’s vagina.

Then a few things changed my mind. First, I learned about the unnecessary loss of life associated with birth in the U.S.—both babies and mothers. NPR has a great series of articles on this topic. When we educate ourselves about birth and how to advocate for ourselves and others, we are more likely to have safe and empowering births.

Second, I had a labor that was unlike any I had heard about before. Part of me is honestly curious if there are other women who had similar experiences. Third, my baby just turned one and I’m feeling sentimental. I also plan to train as a doula in the coming year and have accepted that the details of birth will be a steady part of life from now on. But really, I promise not to drone on about my sacred connection with the placenta. You’re welcome.

I will also apologize in advance, because it is really hard to tell a four day birth story in brief.

Monday

I went to bed early, as usual. I was only 38 and a half weeks along, betting on another week to finish a last few thank you cards for baby stuff. While in bed, I started feeling small, painful spasms in my pelvic area, though I assumed they were just another weird pregnancy symptom.

Tuesday

I woke up feeling good despite waking several times to the same shooting pains. Like any good millennial, I posted about it on one of my facebook mom groups, asking if anyone knew what was going on. Within an hour or so, internet mom wisdom (and my doula) had confirmed that I was experiencing pre-labor. For reference, many women experience pre-labor that starts and stops in the weeks leading up to birth.

Because life is funny, I had scheduled two much-overdue appointments that morning. Just as I started to experience contractions every 5-10 minutes, a nurse arrived for my life insurance physical. Then a couple electricians showed up to replace our bathroom heater. I remember asking them to hand me the Tylenol from the medicine cabinet because our bathroom could not fit two grown men, their tools, and a giant pregnant lady. My contractions were very distracting at this point, much like bad period cramps. I took deep breaths and pretended everything was fine, knowing that rescheduling house visits with a newborn would be worse.

My friend Martha and I had planned to get pedicures that afternoon. After almost backing out, I decided to go—might as well distract myself, right? For the record, pedicures are much more relaxing when not in labor. We had fun nonetheless, and I spent the rest of the afternoon admiring my pretty (swollen) feet while using my phone’s contraction timer to decipher what the heck was going on with my body.

A great piece of advice from our doula is to rest as much as possible once you experience labor symptoms. Per that advice, my husband arrived home and ordered us teriyaki takeout while we vegged on the couch. The contractions continued. By midnight, the pain was intense and lasting longer—I would grip the closest piece of furniture every time one would begin. After a quick phone call to my doula, we headed to the hospital.

Wednesday

Our hospital was small and dark, so our arrival was quite anticlimactic. We pushed a little buzzer so that someone would let us in the front door, but no one came, so we drove back to the ER entrance. The guy at the desk gave us directions and we hobbled through the dim, deserted halls until we reached the birth wing. This took a while because we were pausing every 20 steps to breathe through contractions. They set me up in a room and put a couple monitoring devices on my huge belly. I opted not to have an IV placed so that I could be more mobile. Instead, I ate a protein bar and drank water.

It is important to note that, as a patient, you get to choose what drugs you receive, who examines you and how often, and so forth, even if it goes against typical hospital procedures. Our hospital happened to have a great record and respected my wishes, which I had typed out and gave to each nurse we met. I suggest bringing a list of questions to ask when you tour a hospital or birth center early in pregnancy. This way you have time to choose an alternate location if you don’t feel comfortable and supported there.

Back to the story…the nurse checked me for dilation and found that I was at 3.5 cm. I spent the next several hours working through contractions with Taylor and our doula. Bouncing on an exercise ball was my favorite coping strategy, though the shower was also nice. At 6am, the nurse checked me again. I was still at 3.5 cm. I couldn’t believe it. They told me that my best bet would be to labor at home and hope for additional progress. Because I had been awake for 24 hours, they consulted with my doctor and offered me a drug cocktail of strong pain killers plus something to induce sleep. And so a few shots in my butt later, I ended up at home in my own bed. It was all very confusing.

I woke up almost 2 hours later, feeling the contractions again as the drugs wore off. We were living a block from the WSU campus at the time, so I gathered up my motivation and started walking laps with Taylor—down the street, up the long staircase to campus, past the dining halls, and back through our neighborhood. Walking, especially stairs, is known to speed up labor. I was wearing the same ratty old tank top I would eventually deliver in, and looked a bit like a homeless person. I had also been using a portable TENS unit since the previous night; these are typically used in physical therapy and consist of several electrodes placed on the back, the wires running down to a remote that controls the intensity of nerve stimulation. So if you happened to see a disheveled pregnant lady waddling down the street with wires poking out of her shirt, clutching her husband and taking deep breaths, that would be me.

My goal this time was to stay home from the hospital until I felt I was near transition, the last phase of dilation before pushing begins. By dinnertime, I attempted another walk but could barely stand up the second a contraction hit. My doula had come over and we continued exercises to move labor along and turn baby into a more optimal position. (William was head down, though facing forward rather than posterior, which can stall labor and make delivery more painful.) By 10 pm, my contractions were at an 8 or 9 out of 10 on the pain scale, so we drove to the hospital again.

The first time we arrived at the check in desk, I was able to tell the staff, “Hi, I’m in labor.” This time, I couldn’t even get the words out and just clutched Taylor while they got the same room ready again. Now here comes the really great part…I was still at 3.5 cm. Two days of consistent contractions, zero progress.

I remember the people around me saying I should just try to make it another hour and then reevaluate. At this point, I could not imagine another hour of pain—maybe 30 minutes, tops. Feeling discouraged, I pushed through with Taylor’s support. I could tell he was exhausted and struggling emotionally because he had few ways of comforting me at this point. Still, he helped me move forward when I felt like giving up. He held onto me and prayed for me. The takeaway here? Find a support person who will build you up and be your voice when you can’t find yours.

Thursday

The nurse checked me around midnight. 3.5 cm, again. I want to die. They got in touch with my doctor and suggested that I try laboring at home again. This was a joke, right? I could not imagine my contractions getting any stronger than they already were. Aside from a single nap, I hadn’t slept since 6am on Tuesday. We asked for a few minutes to talk in private and concluded that there was no way we were going home. I was exhausted on every possible level and knew that prolonging labor would likely result in a C-section, as I would have zero energy to push when the time came. The nurse returned and I asked about an epidural. I was shocked to hear they would need my doctor’s permission, which would be hard to get, given that I was still at 3.5 cm.

Some explanation here: determining whether someone is in labor is typically a question of whether their contractions are getting stronger, longer, and closer together (check), coupled with increased dilation of the cervix (no luck here). In other words, from a medical standpoint, I was probably just in pre-labor, also called prodromal labor. In my case, generalized medical definitions failed to account for my experience. And so we pushed back. Taylor politely told the nurse that we were not interested in going home, and to please call my doctor back to ask for more options. We waited a few tense minutes until she returned to let us know that my doctor had agreed to a “voluntary induction.” See, because I wasn’t technically in labor (LOL), I would need an induction. Voluntary (i.e. not medically urgent) inductions are not allowed before 39 weeks, at least at our hospital. As it turns out, I was 39 weeks pregnant as of exactly one hour ago!

We breathed a collective sigh of relief. I wanted to pass out then and there, though the anesthesiologist was home in bed and needed to be called. He arrived just before 3am and was very friendly and professional. 29 hours after our first arrival at the hospital, I stopped feeling my contractions.

I woke up around 7am and felt amazing. Taylor had gone home to check on our dog and sleep a few hours, and was flabbergasted at the sight of me sitting up in bed, talking as if everything was normal. Another nurse came to check me and I was now at 4 cm. Who knew half a centimeter could be so exciting?!

They had started me on an IV of pitocin to induce labor, though William’s heart rate dropped, so they kept me on the lowest dose for most of the morning. My doula helped me use a peanut ball (basically an exercise ball shaped like a giant peanut) to help William shift to a better position, with the hope of moving labor along as well. My water broke during my next cervical check, and before I knew it, it was time to push. My pain meds were turned down and I remember feeling that my body was expanding in a way it shouldn’t. Even with an epidural, I could still move my legs somewhat and feel a LOT of pressure—much like intense pain but slightly dulled. Our efforts to turn William seemed to have paid off and he was now facing sideways. After an hour of pushing, I knew I had little energy left. I gave everything I had into the last few pushes. Our nurse actually had to yell for my doctor, who was in the hallway, to come catch William as he descended so suddenly.

The next moments were filled with relief and the surreal knowledge that I had made another person with my own body. William was placed on my chest and immediately started breastfeeding (and crying a whole lot.) Within a couple hours, I was walking around and felt much better than expected.

I opted to stay in the hospital both Thursday and Friday nights, though could have left sooner. I enjoyed having time to focus on my new rhythm with William while the nurses brought me food and offered advice. We were at a small, rural hospital and were the only family in the birth wing at one point.

On postpartum life…

The three weeks after leaving the hospital were an uphill battle. William lost too much weight and we ended up back at the hospital every few days to see their lactation consultant. It was extremely stressful, though after several weeks we were able to transition William from pumped milk in a syringe to regular breastfeeding. After the first month, feeding and sleeping improved so much (at least until the 4-month sleep regression 😬).

In closing, a few things I learned:

  1. Do your research and ask plenty of questions before choosing where you will give birth. Evidencebasedbirth.com is a great site to reference. That said, don’t assume the doctors or nurses are out to get you. They can be your best allies at times.
  2. Discuss your birth plan and preferences with your labor partner. They will be your advocate when you are overwhelmed and unable to speak up for yourself.
  3. Hold plans loosely. I planned a “natural birth” but knew it might end differently. That said, I never expected to labor for so long! Know that your body is capable of much more than you know. Also know that the newborn stage can get ugly. If you feel depressed and anxious, don’t hesitate to call your doctor and ask to be seen sooner than your routine check up.

To those who made it this far without falling asleep, thank you. I hope you were able to find something useful in all the odd details. And yes, I would do it all again because I have the best baby around and he’s totally worth it.

our $1600 grad school + baby budget

As we transition to a new stage of life, I find myself wanting to document the past year before it becomes a distant, nostalgic memory. I also like turning our story into something that might be useful for others, so I thought I would start by sharing our budget from last year. My hope is that it encourages some of you who also find yourselves living on a small budget.

We based our budget on Taylor’s graduate stipend in addition to income from his summer job. I took an average and found that, with me staying home, we would be about $200 short each month. Thankfully, we had both lived below our means during our first 3 years of marriage and were able to pull this from savings, while still retaining our emergency fund.

We also received gifts from family and friends, as well as help from government programs (WIC, food stamps, and Medicaid). This is important to acknowledge because I would never want this to be a “we did it, so can you!” story. Not everyone has the opportunities, support, or education that we had. That said, I think we all can do something to live more simply, which is why I share this in the first place.

Some people might wonder why we chose to live on such a tight budget rather than have me go back to work. I have nothing against working outside the home, though a few things kept me in the stay-at-home mom camp. In order to make any significant income after childcare costs, I would have needed a childcare subsidy. In other words, I’m either accepting government assistance to stay home, or I’m doing just the same by going back to work. (Technically, we could have taken out student loans to remain financially independent, but loans likely would have made us more dependent on assistance in the long term.) All of which to say, I decided I’d rather spend time with my son. To each their own. 😉

Without further ado…

The Smith Family Budget – Grad School Edition

Rent – $635 (1 bedroom unit in duplex)

We were living in Eastern Washington, where housing is much more affordable than the rest of the state. We didn’t consider housing affordability when Taylor applied for M.A. programs, though it will definitely be a factor if he pursues a PhD. Grad school stipends in bigger cities sadly do not reflect the high cost of housing, which is why rural universities can be so attractive.

Internet – $45

We thought about just going to campus to use free internet, though Taylor would have spent even more time on campus and it would have significantly limited our entertainment options (which are much appreciated when you spend half your day breastfeeding).

Electric – $65 (average)

Our home was about 62 degrees in the winter and only 500 sq ft, which helped.

Groceries – $20

We received an average of $200/month in food assistance and so the $20 was just for the occasional non-covered item, like beer or a spontaneous bakery purchase. After keeping a spending diary in the pre-baby days, I was amazed by how much we spent on groceries and committed to making $200/month work. I used the Safeway app for coupons, generally only bought items on sale, and we only ate meat about once per week (usually when I could find it 50% off for quick sale). I also tried to limit snack aisle purchases to items under $2.

Eating Out and Coffee – $70

Usually spent ordering take out on the couple days each month we were overwhelmed and tired and would have otherwise eaten granola bars for dinner. Or on a date night when our super great friends would babysit for free.

Haircuts – $25

Gifts – $35

Home Supplies – $15

For the occasional candle, mostly. We opted for reusable rags, napkins, and baggies rather than buying paper towels or zip-locks.

Baby – $45

We bought used whenever possible, used cloth diapers, and breastfed. Again, I totally acknowledge that these are not options for every single family. We also received so many great gifts and hand-me-downs. Of these items, about 50% were items like cute toys or extra clothes, 40% were practical and made life significantly easier, and 10% were essential items we would have needed to buy ourselves.

The $45 was usually spent on cloth diapering supplies, the occasional pack of disposable diapers, or a specific baby item we couldn’t find used. We needed a really specific high chair for our small space, for instance.

Hiccup – $40

For basic grooming and dog food. His annual check up came out of savings.

Entertainment – $35

Cell phone bill – $45 (for 2 people)

Have I mentioned lately how much I love our carrier, Ting? Here’s a referral link if you decide to sign up (we both save $): https://zteej835dk8.ting.com/

Clothing – $30

We bought about half and half new vs. used.

Hygiene – $10

For toilet paper and shampoo. I also seem to receive a steady supply of hygiene products every holiday. Before my pregnancy and breastfeeding days (yay, no periods!), I used a Moon Cup instead of buying tampons.

Grad school books – $45

Basic Car Maintenance – $20

Our shared car was 14 years old and still ran great, thankfully!

Car and Rental Insurance – $67

Gas – $30

Perks of living within walking distance to work.

Life Insurance – $45

Tithe – $160

We practice giving 10% of our income to the church we attend regularly.

Short-Term Savings – $75

Spent mostly on gas money for visiting family and miscellaneous grad school fees/expenses.

Miscellaneous – $43

Because stuff comes up.

Please let me know if you have questions! I only elaborated on these numbers when I felt it necessary, though I’m happy to clarify with more details. Thanks for reading and best wishes on your own budget adventures!

hello again

Oh hey, everyone—it’s only been, what, 9 months?

Well, I’ll skip the bit where I apologize for not posting and just say that raising a baby is hard work. At almost 1 year in, I finally feel like a have a few minutes to stop, think, and write. William is napping now and it is gloriously silent in the house. So this is what it’s like to have a break?

A few transitions have taken place in the past month. We packed up all our possessions in early May, right after Taylor graduated with his M.A. Then we bopped around Washington for a couple weeks before making the official move to Arizona. We still only plan to live here for a year, though we have no idea where we will move next. I admit I’ve grown weary of the mystery. Maybe we will stick around the next place for 50 years to make up for all the moving. Still, I know that God has given us this gap year for a reason.

I’m going to try writing more often, which is going to mean letting this blog get a little messy. Do you remember in grade school when your teachers had you write a “sloppy copy” AKA rough draft? It was the worst, in my opinion. I couldn’t stand having to create something that wasn’t yet perfect, full of typos and tangents. Well…if motherhood has taught me anything, it is that life is full of typos and tangents. Get used to it, Sarah.

So despite my best efforts, this blog will not be a streamlined, focused image of perfection and productivity (not that it ever was, lol). Instead you’ll find a few thoughts churned out between diaper laundry and chasing William down before he tries to eat the dog’s tail. Enjoy.

Since William is still napping (THANK YOU, LORD), I’d like to share a bit about my recent introduction to suburbia. I was raised around enough hippies and anarchists to develop a general disdain for cookie-cutter homes and usually assumed that they were built on what used to be lush wildlife habitats. Here are my initial observations:

1. Having lived near Greek Row for the past two years, this place is SO QUIET. In fact, I’m pretty sure the reason suburbs exist is that people like us had kids and were tired of fishing beer cans out of their yards.

2. Our neighborhood is surprisingly walkable, unless you want to go somewhere. In this case, “planned community” translates into “planned for people who have cars and like driving.” Nevertheless, I’m thankful for the distinct lack of trash in my path most days.

3. All told, I still wouldn’t want to settle down here, though I understand the appeal.

My tiny tornado of a son is up, so I’ll have to continue this anthropological study another day. Have a good week, everyone.

baby registry for 500 sq ft

Okay, I promise I’m not turning into a mom blogger. However, I did feel the need to take a break from my politics series and write something fun, and I just so happen to have a 3-month-old. So today I bring you evidence that it is indeed possible to fit a baby and his associated stuff into 500 square feet.

This is not a comprehensive list so much as a supplement—a “things I wish I knew,” you might say. You’ll find plenty of registry guides on the internet. Babylist.com, the site we used to create our registry, has a few dozen great sample ones. I created this particular guide as an example of what it looks like to trim down the “must-haves” to fit into a tiny apartment. If you’re looking for more specific product recommendations, or wonder why I left something off, please leave me a comment!

3 simple rules to get us started:

  1. Focus on what you will need for the first 6 months. With limited storage, you may need to wait until you have stuff to give away (e.g. newborn clothes) before buying what you need for the next stage.
  2. Ask for consignment funds or gift cards. Never buy new what you can (safely*) find used, and make sure gift givers know you’re okay with secondhand items. Some items are harder to find used for cheap, so put those at the top of your registry for friends who would rather order off Amazon.
  3. If you’re not sure whether you need something, leave it off. You can always change your mind and buy it later with those gift cards!

*Use common sense, check for product recalls, and buy carseats new unless they’re unexpired, were never in an accident, and you really trust the person.

Baby Gear

Lightweight, compact stroller – Some people say to forego the stroller and just wear your baby all the time. I am not one of those people. I found it super refreshing to be detached from little William for a change, especially in hot weather and as he got heavier. We have a Baby Jogger City Lite stroller and we like it a lot because it is a) easy to lift and maneuver, b) folds small enough to fit under our bed, and c) can be used from birth.

Things to hold and entertain baby (bouncers, carriers, play gyms, etc.) – Look for a couple items that fold flat, are compact when assembled, and can be thrown in the laundry easily. We ended up with a Baby Bjorn bouncer, a Skip Hop play gym, a K’Tan wrap, and a Lillebaby structured carrier. I can grab William in one arm and move the bouncer with the other when I want to take a shower or wash dishes. Think of it as your portable baby holder and avoid those bulky plastic ones at all costs.

Carseat – According to our local carseat consultant, the latest studies show that infant seats become unsafe in less than a year. (Long babies = much greater chance of hitting their heads on the driver or passenger head rest upon collision.) Many convertible seats work for newborns, so I suggest just skipping the infant seat altogether.

Clothing and Accessories

If you have friends, family, or co-workers with kids, you will probably end up with more used baby clothes than you know what to do with. I would leave clothes (and blankets, while we’re at it) off your registry, but do take some time to scope out the local thrift and consignment shops for future use. Take time to get to know your baby and routines before you get them a whole wardrobe. William honestly wears the same 3-4 onesies on rotation and used ones are super cheap.

Consider registering for a couple easy-to-use swaddlers and sleep sacks. We rotate between two SwaddleMe velcro swaddlers, and will soon transition to a couple larger sleep sacks.

What you’ll really need, if you plan to breastfeed, is a few good nursing tops. Clothing without 2-second access to boob will soon become dead to you. As will anything you don’t mind getting milk or pee on regularly. (Motherhood is great, really.) And when your friends inevitably buy the super cute baby clothes instead, know that many children’s thrift shops have a maternity/nursing section.

“Nursery” Furniture

We live in a one-bedroom, so William’s space is our space too!

Mini Crib – A crib that converts to a toddler bed is another good option, though a mini crib will still last long enough that you can switch straight to a twin mattress that will work for their entire childhood. We found a used Delta mini that easily folds flat for storage or transport.

A Dockatot baby lounger/sleeper is worth having if you want to co-sleep, or if you’re worried baby won’t feel cozy in their crib. You can also use it for travel and lounging around the house.

Storage Furniture – IKEA for the win! We love our Kallax shelf with storage bins that we can use for both our clothes and William’s. You can find similar shelves at Target, Kroger, etc.

Rocking Chair – I found a camping rocking chair at REI that I enjoy…but not for nursing. I honestly just sit on the couch with my feet propped on the coffee table.

Feeding (for breastfed babies)

Bottles – Breastfed babies will just use 4 oz. bottles in most cases. I’m staying home right now, so we only use one bottle for the feeding my husband does each night. The Phillips Avent bottle mimics the breast fairly well and we got one for free for registering at Amazon (pro tip: you can register at several stores privately just to get the completion discount and freebies). We also have a Mason Bottle.

Breast Pump – It is pretty hard to avoid pumping altogether, plus your insurance will likely pay for a pump. Alas, they are ugly and bulky. I’ve thought about buying a bread box or something similar to disguise ours (which currently lives on the dining table), though I’ve also been able to use it less thanks to these silicone manual “pumps” which I use to collect milk while nursing on the other side.

Breast Pillow – These things are bulky and annoying, and I always feel too hot in mine. But ours did help us in the first weeks when we had breastfeeding issues, so they are probably a necessary evil. I would get a cheap used Boppy if I could go back, so I wouldn’t feel bad barely using it.

Diapering

If you use disposables, avoid the temptation to stock up. Register for a pack each of newborn and size 1 and ask for gift cards for later.

Wipes – Seventh Generation wipes work well, though cloth wipes are the BEST. I would use them even if I didn’t cloth diaper. We have 36, which is just enough for 4ish days.

Changing Table – IKEA should start paying me for how much I recommend them. We have the Sniglar table and I can’t imagine life without it. It is too small for most changing pads, so we use a folded quilt with a waterproof, travel-size changing mat on top. The IKEA Onsklig bins clip to the side to hold a few onesies, diaper cream, etc. and the lower shelf holds a diaper pail, extra clothes, and our wipe warmer (I know these are frivolous but I love mine!). We also use a cute laundry basket on the floor underneath to store cloth diapers, burp rags, and blankets.

Diaper Pail – Turns out babies living in small spaces still poop just as much. Avoid mini pails if possible, and get a large Planet Wise wet bag for overflow between laundry loads/taking the trash out.

Diaper Bag – You might be able to get away with using a large purse or small backpack with several pockets to avoid having too many bags around the house. I use my sister’s hand-me-down Skip Hop bag and really like it, though sometimes just use my purse for quick trips.

Toys and Books

Reading to your baby will make them smarter, though tiny babies probably don’t know the difference between Goodnight Moon, a New York Times article, and your favorite novel. A book of high-contrast images is worth asking for, otherwise wait until Christmas or their first birthday to build your stash of kid’s books. And don’t forget to use your public library!

Like clothes, baby toys are fun to buy and you will likely end up with plenty without asking. Most of ours are stashed away until William is old enough to appreciate them. At almost 3 months, he likes anything he can grab (blankets, tiny stuffed animals) and his bouncer’s toy bar.

Hygiene and Safety

We had no space for a bulky bath tub, so we just fill our own tub with a few inches of water. It works fine for now, since we only bathe weekly for a few minutes. If you want baths to be part of your bedtime routine, the Puj Tub is a good option, though even collapsible tubs require space to dry out.

Most bath toys can be replaced with old plastic Tupperware or cups. You should probably get a baby bath towel because they are so darn cute; a couple wash cloths are nice to have, too.

You’ll get several free samples of baby lotion and diaper cream if you take advantage of registry goodie bags. A bottle of tear-free baby shampoo/soap is worth adding to your list, though.

A Little Remedies New Parent Survival Kit and a Nose Frida nasal aspirator are both useful if you’re looking to lengthen your list.

Treats for the Parents

Because you’ll have less stuff on your registry, think about some non-traditional items or experiences you can add. Perhaps you want to start a Babymoon Fund or ask for free babysitting. Universal registries like Babylist and So Kind Registry allow these options so get creative!

For items left on your list after your shower, check out:

The VarageSale app
Craigslist
Buy Nothing facebook groups
Buy/Sell facebook groups
Item-specific facebook groups (e.g. cloth diaper swap)
Local thrift and consignment shops
Etsy.com
Local co-ops and farmers markets​

Jesus for the politically weary – part 2

Looking for part 1? Click here.

Day 2 – Some Thoughts on Submission
Submission is frequently talked about within the church in reference to husbands, wives, or political authorities. But today, I want us to talk about Jesus.

As Christians, there is someone we submit to above and over any other person, the one to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth” was given (Matthew 28:18). What does this mean for us? To me, it means I will disobey those in authority before I disobey Jesus. It means that, if my husband asks me to sin, I will say no, regardless of how much I respect him. For some believers, obedience to Jesus will mean jail time, or worse. Consider the Chinese churches who choose to meet illegally in secret rather than censor the gospel according to government policy. Consider the person who must leave their spouse after experiencing the effects of deep-seated sin. There comes a point where each of us must swear our allegiance to either another human or to God.

I don’t say this to negate what the Bible says about respecting rulers or your spouse. As Romans 12:18 says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” But even this verse comes out of Paul’s strong desire to see the gospel reach all nations. This is what I love about Paul. No matter what he writes or preaches, it all comes from a heart so deeply passionate about the gospel that he would sacrifice anything for others to know God (see Romans 9:3). He extends this expectation of sacrifice to those who claim to follow Christ, giving the early church a long list of principles to live by, so that the gospel message would be above reproach or criticism.

– Have you ever had to choose between obeying Christ and your government? What did this look like?

– If not, what sort of scenario might force you to make this decision?

As an American Christian, I have the luxury of practicing my beliefs without government interference. Though I might not agree with the decisions of our leaders, I am more likely to get arrested for protesting an issue I care about because of my faith, rather than for my faith itself. I realize there are Christians in America who feel persecuted…but I’ll save that for another post. 😉 Again, let’s turn back to Jesus.

Jesus tells us to obey his commandments. He says, in his final words, to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Submission to your king, prime minister, president, husband, or wife is secondary to submission to Jesus, and always will be.

I believe the best way we can submit to Jesus over our nation or political party is to ask, again and again, how do my words and actions move the gospel forward? And, the scarier question, how has my desire to bring about a certain political reality hindered the gospel message?

– Think about your political activities over the past 6 months–letters, phone calls, Facebook posts, discussions with family, etc. What effect do these political activities have on the gospel? Positive? Negative?

– Have you ever alienated someone because of your political beliefs? Could you have communicated differently so that you might have had the opportunity to share the gospel with that person?

– Could you see yourself letting go of certain political convictions for the sake of building relationships for the gospel? Why or why not?

Pause for a minute to pray about your answers to the questions above. You might also look at Romans 12:18 in context (lots of good stuff in there).

I find myself trying to strike a balance between two truths these days. First, that the love of God will move forward in spite of the most corrupt worldly powers. Whatever your nightmare scenario of government might be (fascism, socialism, take your pick…), our futures are still secure and the gospel message will move forward as we obey God over men.

The second truth, however, is that sin, death, poverty, and oppression grieve the heart of God. We cannot use the first truth to justify our removal from political activity, because political acts affect real people–God’s children. The expression “I don’t care about politics” comes from a place of privilege. It means that you can continue living your life reasonably well without having to get your hands dirty in the political mess. We all understand the sentiment, but we must remember that it is our duty as Christians to look out for the oppressed and forgotten.

As you think about balancing your faith with political action, what questions come to mind? I would appreciate hearing your thoughts as I prepare the next several posts, so we can consider together how we might fight for justice without just fighting with each other. 🙂