Our homes are our sanctuaries. They’re where memories are made, lessons are learned, and bonds are tied. In my effort to be a conscious parent, I do my best to keep our home environment up to scratch so that it supports my family and our planet.
At the same time, living a clean, low-impact lifestyle comes with its own challenges. That’s why I always strive to make simple, high-impact shifts to make my home a healthier place to reside.
We’re all learning, and as I’ve made radical changes in our home along my parenthood journey, I’m always amused by the parallel—what’s good for our bodies and minds is almost always in alignment with what’s better for our planet.
We may not be able to control the way the world impacts our children or our planet, but we can create a respectful, non-toxic environment within our homes with a few basic and strategic shifts. Here are some that we’ve embraced:
1. Simplify what you own.
As a parent, one of my greatest realizations is that nothing is better for my mental and emotional health than embracing simplicity and minimalism at home.
I consciously opted out of a consumer-driven life and I have never been happier with this decision. There are many benefits of a minimalistic lifestyle for the entire family, and in an age of one-click ordering and technological devices for just about everything, children today need simplicity more than ever.
Inspired by the KonMari method—a life-changing, organizational framework developed by renowned tidying expert, Marie Kondo—I became devoted to quality over quantity and to protecting my children’s personal environment by ensuring it is unburdened by unnecessary possessions, chaos, and clutter. We’ve found that when our children’s senses are overloaded by too much, too many, or too loud, their nervous systems are adversely affected, which impacts just about every aspect of our lives...so we’ve decided to streamline our “things” so that home can be a nurturing refuge for us all.
If you’re new to simplicity, you can start small to make a big difference. Here are some of the items I rehomed:
• Clothing that no longer suited our senses or values (dizzying patterns and fast, cheap fashion)
• Excess toys, particularly ones made with unsustainable or toxic materials or that overwhelmed my children
• Unnecessary bedding and synthetic linens clogging up the closets
• Decorative items that had no value or meaning in our lives
• Toxic kitchen and bathroom hygiene and/or beauty products
• Things we don’t use, appreciate, enjoy, or value
2. Choose natural over synthetic when it comes to fabrics.
As with highly processed foods and personal hygiene products, we are discovering that when it comes to fabrics, the less synthetic, the better. This means thinking through purchases like your clothing, your bed linens, your mattress, and even the soaps and hygiene products you’re using.
Our bodies are mostly microbial and there are toxins hiding out everywhere that threaten our health at the foundational level. There are so many reasons to become more conscious of the materials that surround your body and your home. Here are a few things to consider:
• Natural fabrics are more sustainable. Formed from the same petrochemicals as plastic, synthetic materials don’t decompose easily, which means our discarded items will be taking up landfill space for decades to come. Natural fabrics, on the other hand, are made from plant and animal fibers and are easily recycled, so they can typically be reused without harming the environment.
• Natural fibers are kinder to the skin. Synthetic fabric production often involves chemically-intensive procedures, and we’ve unknowingly welcomed these artificial materials into our homes through our furnishings and clothes, which can irritate sensitive skin and lead to a host of unwanted health issues. Natural fibers such as cotton can be grown organically, (even better if they’re GOTS certified!), ensuring that the raw materials are free from potentially harmful chemicals and pesticides, and are gentler on our bodies.
• Natural materials are made to last. Have you ever noticed that most of your clothing made from natural fabrics lasts longer than their man-made synthetic counterparts? Synthetic fabrics can break down quickly causing them to wear more easily, especially if you wash them often. However, natural fabrics are known for higher comfort and quality, so you can be sure you’re choosing attire that is a better investment for you, and for our planet.
• Choosing natural fabrics supports conscious consumerism. By choosing natural fabrics we have more control over where materials are sourced from. The rise of fast fashion—inexpensively made, readily available clothing—has created a widespread dilemma for low and middle-income countries where waste in landfills, low wages, and poor working conditions are unregulated. Intentionally buying from brands that source materials consciously and ethically can send a clear message to change these practices.
I found that choosing natural materials for our home and clothing has helped us to minimize waste and prioritize our family’s health and connection to the Earth.
3. Consciously purchase non-toxic personal products.
My personal journey with hygiene products started several years ago. When I discovered exactly how our bodies absorb the personal care products we use, I took a good look at the many harsh chemicals and artificial ingredients hiding out in my very own cosmetic products. I started to read every label, taking care to avoid exposure to the questionable ingredients in most traditional products.
I was shocked at how many ingredients I couldn’t understand and deeply concerned when I realized what’s been hiding in my family’s hygiene products. I felt so frustrated that many brands claim to be natural, and then when you read the label, you realize there are hard-to-understand ingredients and other toxic, hidden additives that can have a negative effect on your health.
The good news is, just like you’ve likely learned to read food labels, it’s fairly easy to learn to identify these sneaky ingredients and find safer alternatives so you can be sure that what you’re putting on your skin doesn’t compromise your family’s health.
Here are some tips:
• Get rid of anything in your bathroom cabinet with these ingredients that can harm your health.
• Take a good look at your children’s soaps, toothpastes, lotions, and creams and replace them with natural alternatives or even with single-ingredient oils sourced from botanicals or consciously crafted hygiene products that don’t contain artificial preservatives.
• Clean out your laundry room and under your kitchen sink and trade out traditional cleansers and dish soaps for those made with naturally-derived ingredients you can understand.
4. Make plants part of your life.
Filling your space with plants can do wonders for your family’s health and your environment. Given the amount of cleaning products, synthetic and/or treated furnishings, paints, and other common household items that can release harmful compounds into the air, it’s easy for the microenvironment we live in each day to need a little boost. That’s why I’ve become slightly obsessed with bringing the outside into our home with some much needed greenery.
Often recognized for their air purifying qualities, many indoor plants absorb pollutants and help us breathe easy by creating oxygen. Furthermore, studies indicate that green leafy plants can help boost our mood and improve overall well-being, helping to create a happier and healthier home.
Now I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve had my fair share of leafy green failures. So, if you haven’t yet adopted the “jungalow” mentality and are still new to indoor plants, consider starting with small, low maintenance, and inexpensive plants like these, and gradually grow into that green thumb:
• Boston Fern
• Aloe Vera
• Banana Plant
• English Ivy
• Barberton Daisy
5. Play with your children.
I believe that raising our children in a happy household where they are respected in their journey is true activism: it’s a sure way to bring up a generation of emotionally-intelligent humans capable of peacefully resolving conflict and solving problems that will benefit our world.
And, the simple yet radical act of getting down on the floor and playing with your children every day can transform your home into a space filled with laughter, joy, and the spirit of well-being.
Playing with our kids (rather than encouraging them to play with each other while we watch) allows you to prepare them for life by nurturing and challenging them in a way they inherently understand; a way that never compromises your love, but instead intensifies it. If you’ve had moments of frustration or upsetting interactions, playing creates a loving opportunity to engage and level the field, so you can reset and build a strong relationship with your child. Play is indeed the language of childhood, and sometimes in the midst of our daily lives and the age of lessons, sports teams, iPads, and television (all of which we tend to opt out), we forget to communicate with our favorite little people in the language that they speak.
Here are some ways I like to engage in play with my kids:
• Have a fun wrestling match. All young mammals partake in roughhousing and for good reason! Getting physical with your kids is a great way for them to get out their aggression, test their strength, and build confidence. It’s a different, yet equally important type of connection.
• Share a giggle. Nothing brings you closer than a shared, delightful laugh or giggle. It’s a basic way to connect with your children and show them that we enjoy being in their world. This reiterates to them that they are safe, loved, and capable.
• Let them lead you into their world. Allow yourself to be transformed into a doctor, a flower, a horse, or firefighter based on your child’s whims. Ride with them on a rocketship made from living room pillows or rescue their imaginary kitten from the tree. When we let our children lead the way, we show them that we trust in their wisdom and ability to see their world with their own eyes.
Those are my top five shifts that can help transform your home so that it’s healthier and happier on multiple levels. I’m endlessly inspired by our Instagram community on the different ways we can foster joyful environments in our homes.
What choices are you making for a happier, healthier household?