Natural Living- A Beginner’s Approach

May I just say that I love, love, love this gust post from fellow blogger Katie? When I read it, I laughed and nodded and completely, totally related. Why, you ask? Because this is exactly how I began my own natural living journey, over 6 years ago. Small steps, changing things little by little, knowing that I was still clinging to some things that were not the best, but believing that each change I made was for the better. This, my friends, is the concept of baby steps in action!

I am new to the natural living phenomenon. I still participate actively in a host of what, I'm sure, are entirely unhealthy and artificial activities. Just today, I highlighted my hair. I use swiffer cloths, I like the smell of fabric softener, my babies use sunscreen and I don't get enough exercise. I have about 15 pounds of college/baby weight left to shed and I have a counter top cleaner that is probably made of every harmful ingredient you can imagine. I unashamedly love coffee and I don't make sure it is organic. The list goes on and on, my friends. I made (and ate) jello last week. That's right, jello! I'm sure there isn't a less natural substance on earth. I mean, it jiggles for Pete's sake!

It's not that I'm not convinced that there is a better option. I know there are better options. It's that I'm overwhelmed with information. What's worse, I'm often paralyzed. And perhaps a little rebellious. I have limited time and resources. I'm sure you can relate. I'd be hard pressed to find one person out there who can't think of one thing they could be doing to be a better steward of their time, their finances or their home. I can personally think of a plethora of things I wish I were doing to be a better steward.

However, I've also recently discovered that the first step is so important. I can choose to be immobilized, or I can make small changes now. I probably won't ever be an entirely natural person. I am overwhelmed when I think of how enormously I would have to change in order to address every component of natural living. However, there are several steps my husband and I have implemented in the past few years that have really added up.

I am working very slowly to make small changes that last. I never make the changes out of a feeling of guilt, because those are the changes that doesn't last, and none of the changes were made simultaneously. Most of these took place over the course of the last two years. For those of you that are fellow novices to natural living, here are some of the first, easy steps we have taken to take better care of our bodies, and our wallet while we were at it. I cannot emphasize enough that we have taken these steps gradually so they don't impact our lives or inconvenience us in a major way.

  • We became convinced several years ago that the birth control pill was having a negative impact on my health. We have since switched to the diaphragm and charting, which I really like. Again, there may be more advanced people out there who don't think it's the healthiest way to go. However, I'm certain that it is healthier than hormones and it wasn't a hard change to make, once we learned how to use it. I also love knowing what is going on with my body, by charting. I purchased the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler and it was an enormous help in feeling comfortable with a form of birth control aside from the pill.
  • We started a garden. It is small, it has the same form of mildew that Stephanie mentioned with her squash and we've made a huge number of mistakes, but my daughter's baby food came from our very own organic garden this summer. Otherwise, I try to avoid packaged baby foods and just mash up frozen veggies or regular whole foods for both girls. This is a typical concoction that we called a banana split:  Breakfast cereal in bowlHealthy breakfast ingredients
  • I breastfed my girls.
  • We got rid of anything hydrogenated. We switched from margarine to Smart Balance. Since my family tends to have heart issues, I was convinced that this was crucial to my health.
  • I am currently working to cut out any artificial sweeteners. This mostly means cutting out diet sodas. When I get a carbonation craving (which I'm sure is another issue!) I drink sparkling water with a natural lemon-lime flavor.
  • We recently began cloth diapering. This was a big step for us, but finances motivated it and I really love it now. I use all the convenient gadgets, so I can't claim to be a crunchy granola mom, but it's still so much better all around. If you are new to it, I recommend finding someone in your area who can help you find the best form for you. I use little snappies to hold the diaper in place, a washable diaper bag so I can just throw the entire load in the washer without smelling it very much, and flushable biodegradable liners. I am just not that into scrubbing poop out of diapers, and that was the deal breaker for my husband. And let's be honest, for me too. Here are all the gadgets it took for me to jump on board:                                    Cloth diaper supplies
  • I am experimenting with some natural cleaners. I have been using vinegar and water to mop my floors and switched from Swiffer Wet Jet to a washable mop head. This is an area that I can see going completely natural in the future, but I'm not quite there yet.
  • I make sure to reuse our plastic grocery bags instead of throwing them away. My local grocery store gives me 5 cents for every bag I bring back. This is another area that I'm sure I could switch in the future, but right now I can't see shelling out money for cloth bags.
  • We are using more whole grains. I still have a bag of all-purpose flour, but it is unbleached. I make bread from half whole wheat. I have tried, and liked, whole wheat graham flour and whole white wheat. I can see switching entirely to whole wheat in the future, but we are working on adjusting our taste buds slowly.
  • I've stopped buy paper towels in favor of rags. I'm not sure why I resisted this one for so long – it was easy. And I've calculated that it saves us at least $40/year on the very cheapest paper towels out there.

Most natural living people are so far advanced beyond the things I've mentioned, but I'd venture a guess that they didn't just go radical one day. Whether it is the steps I've taken, or different ones that you are convinced you want to take, each little step adds value to your lifestyle and your wallet.

Katie Nuelsen is a 28-year-old stay-at-home mom in the Cincinnati area. She went from work in the corporate world to being a home economist and loves it. Katie's husband Eric is a video editor and they have two little girls, 2 ½ and 1.

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  1. Katie, I say you go girl. I raised four kids on cloth diapers and I hung them, and all of our clothes, out to dry on the line.(I still hang my clothes out). My mother thought I was nuts since Pampers were so convenient.I guess I was too much a child of the 60’s to fill up the landfills with disposables. I did them use them on vacations or for the nursery workers at church. If you run out of liners just use rubber gloves. It definately takes the yuck out of rinsing.I live in the Cincy area also if you need any other tips.

  2. I so can relate to Katie! I am just starting out myself and I totally see where she’s coming from. I don’t know if I’ll ever be totally “all natural” but I’m making small changes.Thanks Katie!

  3. i LOVE this post! I was just agonizing today over all that i KNOW to do and yet what I actually choose/manage to do…and how it doesn’t all add up. I feel like a walking contradiction. Then there are things i get enthusiastic about for a while but i fizzle out after a while. If only i could learn the art of consistancy. I have and like cloth diapers but am on a Huggies kick right now, and can’t seem to find the good reasons for going back. On the other hand I’ve switched all my cleaners to natural ones and every time i’ve tried to “compromise” (for a sale price or convenience) i’ve come right back to the good stuff because i can no longer STAND all those fake perfumes …i love the essential oils, even though the scent fades faster, it never gives me a headache or makes me sneeze. I could go on and on (especially concerning food choices) but i’ll stop here and just say that I enjoyed reading someone else’s journey!

  4. You’ve got a great start! And if you check out craft stores you can often find generously sized canvas bags for only $2-$3. Many grocery stores are starting to carry them, too, some for less than a $1 each, so you shouldn’t have to shell out too much money for cloth bags! Hope you find some that work for you. 🙂

  5. I can relate, only I was more at that place a few years ago. I was very overwhelmed. I started making changes about 9 years ago now. Now I have made more changes over time and it really does add up. A few changes each year and before you know it there’s not a whole lot left that I want to change. Now I am more working on finding better alternatives- meaning replacing things that are working for me with cheaper ones that work well, or a cheaper price on the same thing, or a better product in terms of quality etc. for example I joined a co-op and I can get my natural cleaners there for much less- even more on sale- than at the grocery store or health food store. It takes time to find and figure out all these things. Take it one step at a time. 🙂

  6. What a great post! I think you hit right at the heart of a lot of “natural journeys” including mine! We’ve ditched the Crisco and margarine for butter, are using more whole wheat and trying to use very few paper products. There are still some things that seem a little out of reach or cumbersome for me… Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. I can so relate to this article!! It is actually very encouraging and makes me want to do the same.

    I have to say that I DO want to live more naturally and I see great value in it. I already do many of the things listed above. But why do I hold back from trying more things? Mostly, I feel completely overwhelmed by all the info out there.

    Baby steps like those mentioned in the article are things i feel like I COULD DO!!

    Thanks again.

  8. I can relate! I’m trying to do better, but definitely get overwhelmed sometimes. 🙂

    Do you mix 1/2 water, 1/2 vinegar to mop? I want to try that.


  9. Thanks again for all the wonderful comments. I admit I was a little hesitant to write this. I was afraid people would be a little harsh about all the things I’m not doing, but how encouraging!

    Christy, I usually use about a cup of vinegar to a gallon of warm water. Depending upon the glossiness of your floors, you may have to go over it with a dry towel so there are no spots, but it will be a very clean and shiny floor. I have a few dull rooms where I use Murphy’s Oil Soap instead because it seems like it needs the extra moisture, but in the higher-gloss areas, I love the vinegar. I usually just put a large towel under my feet and shuffle through 🙂

  10. This is a great post. We too are on that same track. Making small changes regularly. Sometimes our grocery budget can’t handle all that I want to do but I still steer clear of the majority of nasty stuff!

  11. Personally, I’m just getting started with a lot of this natural stuff. I’m still figuring out how to plan for large “family” meals every other week on less than $100. I currently live in a rather different situation than perhaps most of the families that follow this blog – because of finances, my husband and I live in one house with another family and share rent, groceries, etc. My housemates and I do agree on doing things as naturally as possible – within our own comfort zones. We also try to follow FlyLady in our own ways. Our first little one is fairly soon to arrive (the end of next month actually) and I do hope to mainly cloth diaper. We probably will do disposables during the meconium time, but once I’m back on my feet, I definitely hope to do cloth a lot more. Unfortunately, I don’t know where a co-op in our area would be, so Wal-Mart and some local grocery stores are where we shop. The plastic bags are great for small trash bags and may get used in the diaper pail as well (when you shop without cloth bags you get a LOT of plastic bags). My husband wants us to wait on trying a garden until I will definitely have the energy to care for it (even a little four’ square foot garden) so that it’s not my idea and I wind up “making” everyone else take care of it for me. He also is better able to keep our finances in his head than I am, so I am respecting his decision. All in all, thanks for the encouragement from all the natural homemakers on here.

  12. I love these baby steps. It can be overwhelming to try to make the full natural way of living lifestyle change. I’m a work in progress. Thank you for the great tips of how to begin and to take it one baby step at a time=}

  13. I have a quick question to see how you get everyone on board who lives in your house. My mother in law lives with us and both my husband and her have a big sweet tooth. My husband and I when we first got married we moved away from both our families for the first 3 1/2 years of our marriage and he began to get on board of healthier eating but now that we are back close to his family and his mother lives with us it has seemed a lot more difficult to get them both on board and I really want to raise our kids to be healthy and live a more natural lifestyle….any suggestions?

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