Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Irony of Natural Living

Green, natural and holistic living are things that are very important to my family. These mean different things for different people, but for us, it means, among other things, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, alternative medicine, pesticide free and organic eating, and chemical free cleaning, toys, and personal care.

Since "natural living" is now a trend, there seems to be no shortage of "green," "holistic," and "natural" foods and products on the market. That's no surprise--our consumerist society ensures that if there is a demand, manufacturers will supply. What is startling is just how much it can cost to "live naturally;" which seems counter intuitive, since one of the general ideas of living naturally is to use less; and one would think that natural products, whether they be toys, cosmetics, or cleaning products, since they are more straightforward in their contents, would be cheaper. Right? Wrong.

Before I begin, let me say that I'm in no way criticizing anyone who buys these products. After all, I've bought or buy many of them myself. I'm not denying that many of these things enhance my life or make certain aspects more entertaining and enjoyable, but if I'm looking at need vs. want, and I'm being really honest with myself, the vast majority fall into the want category.

This is a commentary on the consumerist trap that we seem to fall into despite our best efforts. Sometimes it feels like we're being brainwashed to think that we absolutely need all these different products as if our survival or happiness depends on it. Buy what you will, but do it because you want to, not because someone out there has convinced you that you cannot do without it.  It's also a commentary on the obscene mark ups on natural products and organic food. 

Speaking of food, it seems incredibly unfair that the organic stuff costs so much more than its conventional counterpart, almost every time. Just last week, I purchased organic frozen peas for $2.99 (10 oz box). That's a whole dollar more than the regular frozen peas. I paid $4.50 for one, one, organic red bell pepper.

I read a factual, sobering article on GMOs this past week, and it couldn't have come at a worse time for me. The new year has brought with it a need and a desire for our household to budget--and unfortunately that includes buying less organic food, because it's simply not feasible 100% of the time for our large family. We polish off things like grapes, apples, and berries at record speed around here. The unfair pricing of organic food seems even more unfair to me now, since eating organic is the number one way to reduce your consumption of GMOs.

As for personal care, a bottle of Burt's Bees Baby Wash will set me back $9.99 (and believe me, I know that Burt's Bees is not even the most natural wash out there). If I wanted to go really natural, California Baby would cost me a whopping $19.99 (for less ounces than the Burt's Bees).

When it comes to natural cleaners, I've found that the more natural they claim to be, the more they cost. I have a few favorite brands, but oftentimes my budget doesn't allow me the luxury of buying them. I ran out of dish washing liquid and I got one the natural brands at my local grocery store that cost me a ridiculous (overpriced) $4.99. That 99 cent container of bright orange Joy looks really appealing in those moments. Laundry detergent is also pricey, and with a family of five, those costs can really add up.

So what's a natural living gal to do? Well, a few things. First, I've limited my organic food purchases to the Dirty Dozen (for the most part, unless there is a really good sale on something organic that isn't on the list). This makes me incredibly sad, but it's the only way we can continue to eat healthily and not dip into our kids' college funds to pay our grocery bill (I jest. Mostly.).

I've also started shopping in bulk. I apologize, Mother Earth, but as there are four people using our commode (and will be five in a couple years' time), I simply cannot justify spending more than a dollar on a *single* roll of recycled toilet paper (which, I might add, is not the softest stuff around. No fluffy bouncing little bear on that packaging). I bought a huge bag of toilet paper from Costco that worked out to something like 30 cents a roll. Also at Costco are organic apples, organic carrots, and organic whole chickens. Who knew? They also have their own brand of organic pantry and canned items (a 9 pack of organic chopped tomato cans for around $6!!).

I make as much of what we use as I can from scratch, from food to cleaners. As I talked about here, DIY cleaning products are dirt cheap and so easy to make. There are certain things, like dish washing liquid and laundry detergent, that I won't make on my own because I find that they don't clean as well as the manufactured stuff, but maybe it's just a matter of finding the right formula. I will keep looking! Making most of my own every day cleaners allows me to have the budget to splurge on the good stuff for my dishes and clothes (imagine--being able to use products not loaded with carcinogens is a "splurge!" Oh, the irony...). The Naturally Clean Home is a great book with 150 recipes for green cleaning.

As a family, we are consuming less. Not food, but everything else. We were once again blessed to have a happy, healthy, and bountiful holiday season. We all gave and received lovely gifts. And now, that's done. We've limited material purchases to must-have only (with an occasional blip here and there, we are human, after all!), and instead are focusing on things we can do. We've also made a commitment to purchasing and consuming less for subsequent holidays and birthdays. For me, having a budget has actually allowed me to become more creative and I'm rather enjoying coming up with ways to have a great time while being thriftier.

I didn't touch on toys above, but I adore cloth and wooden toys for my children. I do not adore their prices. It is an exercise in restraint and self control to go for the one nice toxin-free wooden toy than the five lead-laden made-in-China-ones. I took out my middle daughter's beautiful wooden toys from storage (which my youngest daughter is now using), and felt a great sense of satisfaction that though they are few, they are lovely and useful. I'm not against plastic toys and will certainly purchase them at some point. But I'm going for quality vs. quantity. 

Finally, I shop at discount retailers online. As much as I love going local and do so whenever I can, the online retailers really have the advantage on this one. Sites like Vitacost and Oompa Toys are instrumental in my being able to continue providing my family with products that aren't filled with chemicals and toxins.

These are a few of the things that have made a difference for my family. How do you live the natural life on a budget?


The Water Girl said... [Reply to comment]

All of this makes so much sense to me. I was laid off a year and a half ago and we've had to make a lot more compromises on "natural living" as a consequence. It's so frustrating. The only thing I do that I didn't see mentioned is that I buy second hand. Luckily this is something that is actually cheaper to do, and it's a way I can buy things that I wouldn't normally buy based on their source. In addition to buying green, we try to buy things that are ethically sourced...but that means nixing a lot of brands I love. If I buy them used I am recycling!

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

@The Water Girl Hi there, and thanks so much for your comment! It's such a shame that natural and green living isn't more affordable. And yes, second hand shops are awesome! We have a consignment store in the neighborhood and I have bought and sold many things. Thanks for adding that tip!

Rox and Joey Buckman said... [Reply to comment]

This has been a hard balance for us, too. We mostly either try to make things from scratch or just do without. The only "green cleaner" we buy is dish liquid, everything else gets cleaned with vinegar and baking soda. I can make a 5 gallon bucket of laundry detergent for about $2.50. I cut up our old clothes to use as rags for cleaning and in the place of paper towels so the only paper products we buy are toilet paper. We don't have TV or a home phone and cut back on utilities (bundling up in the winter, sweating in the summer)and hang our clothes to dry so we don't use the dryer. And we never throw out food. Even if its just two bites. I've had lots of lunches made up of 'two bite' assortments. And we rarely eat meat, which saves money. One thing I have found to be especially frustrating is that since I became pregnant I developed a gluten sensitivity. It is so hard to find foods that are both gluten free and not filled with junk and most of it is so expensive! So I have just given up a lot of things and just stick with whole fruits and veggies and lots of rice!

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

@Rox and Joey BuckmanThanks so much for your comment. You guys are amazing! I'm with you on the food sensitivity frustration--if it's not one thing, it's another!

Leillin Travertski said... [Reply to comment]

Natural cleaners are much more expensive than other brands that have lots chemicals. If you really want to clean your things using natural cleaners then you should try creating DIY natural cleaners. The affordable cleaner that can be found in our kitchen is vinegar.

-Leillin Travertski

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

@Leillin TravertskiThanks for your comment. If you read my entry all the way through, you will see that I talk about making your own cleaners, as well as link to a post I wrote all about making your own cleaners.

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