a diy or zero holiday season

Christmas is on the way; some of my Facebook friends have been reminding me of this fact since, oh, I don’t know, JUNE.  It is a special time of year for my family (though I really don’t like to think about it until it’s actually close…like December…23rd..).

Twenty two years ago we immigrated to Canada, and every year for Christmas we have returned home to Germany to celebrate with our family.  There are certain traditions that we follow each year too; I’m not sure if they are so much traditions as they are that my family feels the need to do the same thing over and over again.  But it has become part of Christmas and it wouldn’t feel right without it.

When we arrive at my grandparents’ house, it is already mostly decorated.  There is a candle pyramid in the window, Poinsettias on the window sills, and window stencils in the shapes of stars and snowmen.  There is a lit-up shooting star in the dining room window, and a lit-up paper star in the living room.  There is a beautiful glass ornament hanging from a glass stand.  The Advent wreath is on the dining room table, with some of the candles already shrinking depending on what day we arrive.

We go buy a Christmas tree.  We never chop down our own because we have always just gone to purchase one with our grandparents, and if they aren’t going to wield an axe, then neither are we!  For many years we would carry the tree home, our Opa on one end, directing us where to go, and my sister and I complaining about the pokey needles at the other end.

We spend an afternoon struggling with the tangled lights, and then decorating the tree with ornaments that my Oma has saved for decades.  It always seems mega stressful, but when the tree is finished it really looks and feels like Christmas.  In the new year, we take the ornaments off carefully and put them back in their boxes for next time.

We visit Christmas markets.  Not to buy things, but just to get that festive feel, take in the lights, sounds, smells, and walk the golden decorated city while hearing Christmas music from street performers or ringing out of speakers.  There are mountain-cabin like huts set up all around the city, and we always stop at one that serves all the wonderful hot beverages of the season: hot chocolate (plain or with various shots), and mulled wine.  These are served in REAL mugs; there is a deposit on them, which you get back so they can be washed and used again.

The radio stations never stop playing Wham!’s “Last Christmas”.  Ever.  And at home, we play Christmas records on my grandparents’ old record player to get us into the festive spirit.

Christmas Eve we get dressed up and eat a meal together.

That is what Christmas has been about for decades.  Yes, it is on repeat every year, but it wouldn’t feel like Christmas without all of these things, but mostly the time we get to spend with our family; since an ocean separates us, we cherish those days.

It was never about presents.  Presents were always a by-product of our Christmas traditions.  But since my lifestyle has changed, so has my view on material gifts.  I have tried to convince my family on a no-gift Christmas, but some members have been relatively reluctant (AHEMsiblingAHEM).  I understand the feeling of giving a gift to someone, watching them open it, and living their reaction.  It is a special moment, yes, but it is not exclusive to Christmas.  Christmas, to me, is all those other things.

Now a lot of my family members have agreed that presents are relatively redundant, so our agreement has been to go and do something special, or to simply enjoy each other.  Last year instead of gifts with my aunt and her family, we watched “Rock The Ballet”.  Instead of things, my mom made us some really yummy treats.  I gave some DIY gifts that were really well received, like a mint sugar scrub, and lip balm.

So instead of material gifts, make Christmas into what it should be about: being together, and creating lasting memories and traditions.  Or think deeper about your gifts; make something for someone, or give them an experience gift:

  • spice mixes in little jars that can be reused
  • “Gifts in a Jar”; there are also endless cookie versions on Pinterest
  • something knitted or sewn or crafted by you
  • diy bath products, like lotion, lip balm, or scrubs
  • food gifts
  • any experience gifts: yoga classes, movie or theater tickets, spa certificates, or get cheesy and old school and make your own COUPONS so the person you are gifting gets to spend time doing something awesome with one of their favourite people: YOU!  Or offer to clean their bathroom or something… My sister totally did that once and I LOVED IT.  Acts of Service can be a gift!

Happy Winter to all, no matter what your traditions.  Feel free to share some of your favourite traditions, or ways you gift or non-gift!

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it’s not a minimalist wardrobe, BUT…

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No, I did not tidy it for you!

Throughout my life my father has bragged about owning, and still wearing, most of the same clothes he wore thirty plus years ago.  When he told us this as teenagers, my sister and I would roll our eyes and suggest he buy new ones.  Sure, they may not be the most fashionable items (at least they’re not bell-bottoms), but he has made them last and I never really appreciated that until changing my own mind about the fashion industry and consumerism in general.

About ten years ago I had a true shopping problem.  I’m sure it was related to other stresses I was experiencing, but either way, I took “retail therapy” to a clinical degree!  I don’t think I ever realized how bad it was until I moved out of the big city and out of my little apartment on the 9th floor.  My dad was there to pick me up with his truck, and all I could take with me was whatever fit into the box of his truck.  So I had to narrow down the essentials.  Do I keep my furniture?  Or do I keep my X number of shoes?

I ended up donating at least four large garbage bags full of clothes and shoes.  All that money spent on supporting such a wasteful industry, and I don’t even remember the items I gave away.  Fast fashion.  I supported that for sure.

I look at my closet now and it certainly is no minimalist wardrobe.  I do not do the “capsule wardrobe”.  But I can say with certainty that I wear every single piece of clothing in my closet.  I wear the shit out of my clothes!  There is no point to narrow down my clothes to a minimalist wardrobe now and send the rest off to second hand stores where they land in a mountain of clothing (I’ve seen the mountain!), never to be worn by anyone ever and probably eventually being shipped off to *GASP* the landfill?!
*or perhaps even getting burned in Sweden?

I respect my clothes and the environment too much to send them to the ‘fill.  Someone made those clothes.  Resources went into making those clothes.  I honestly can’t even believe that some people buy a top, wear it once, and then get rid of it!

So, perhaps like my dad, I will wear my clothes until I can no longer.  I’m no seamstress, but I have friends that are adept at sewing and mending, so I look to them when my clothes need a little TLC or altering.  I want to make the clothes I have last as long as possible; maybe not like my dad for more than 30 years, but as long as possible!

So what do you do when your sweater has a tear?  I can fix small holes by myself, but there were two items that had been sitting in my closet forever that I never wore; one a tunic that I didn’t like the shape of as a tunic, and the other a beautiful long floral skirt that left me gasping for air because it was so tight.  I contacted my adept sewing friend and she transformed the tunic into a cute skirt, and altered the long one so I could breathe.  Two pieces that can now function for me again.

And if there are things I do not wear anymore that just take up space and that I do not want to chance their fate at second hand shops…then I can:

  • give them to friends
  • give them to a women’s resource center
  • take part in a clothing swap
  • mend or alter them to make them into something I will wear again
  • take the piece apart and use the fabric for something else
  • if all else fails… here’s a new rag!

Let’s love our clothes and shop consciously.  Let’s opt for timeless pieces vs. fast fashion.

How do you love your clothes?

Blogger Recognition Award

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Recently The Zero Journey was nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award, which is not only AWESOME, but it is also a great way to recognize other people’s written work, validate their passions, and share their journey.  I love the online community that I am a part of because global eco-warriors not only inspire me, but also let me know that there is hope!  We give a shit!

A big smile and thank you to Yen-Van Tran from Design Life Hacks for the nomination!

How my blog started:

In 2013 I was given the opportunity to take on a project with the non-profit environmental organization, Wildsight.  As part of their waste reduction efforts, I came across the Clean Bin Project documentary.  One simple film based on a couple living in Vancouver (fellow ginger – what up!) who challenged themselves to create less waste created a snowball effect for me.

I began analyzing my waste habits and thought about where I could start to create less waste.  I started with my kitchen bin because organic waste made up so much of my weekly garbage!  Along came my soulmate: the compost bin.  That was my first big change and then I just kept on changing things along the way.

Cloth bags at the store, reusable water bottles and coffee mugs, buying bulk with my own containers, and all sorts of DIY projects… it just kept going.  I kept wanting to challenge myself to do better.  I knew there was still more I could do.

I also love to write.  It has been my passion from a young age.  Since I was inspired by a couple in Vancouver through film, I wanted to inspire others to change through writing.  So that’s basically it.  I started a blog to reach a bigger community, to spread environmental awareness, to share my writing and my journey, and to seek further inspiration because the educator in me knows there is always room for improvement!

Two pieces of advice for starting your blog:

  1. Find your online tribe.  There are thousands, if not millions, of people out there who share your passions and your vision for the world.  Find them!  This has been such a huge motivation for me, and also gives me ideas for content and other helpful hints.  Like I said – they let me know there is hope!  Support each other.  My tribe?  The Zero Waste Bloggers Network.
  2. Write in your own voice.  I like reading work that has personality.  When I can hear the blogger’s voice as I read their work, I connect much more with what I am reading and it makes me want to continue to follow their work.

My nominees and favourite bloggers:

When you are nominated, there are a few steps that you need to take to accept the award nomination.  These are the guidelines:

  1. Write a post about your award

  2. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog

  3. Give a brief story of how your blog started

  4. Give two pieces of advice for new bloggers

  5. Select up to 15 other bloggers to nominate

  6. Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them and provide the link to the post you created.

Nadine

The Zero Journey

A Plastic Ocean

The sky is a hazy gray outside and the sun is still at least an hour away from rising, so the world has not found its colour yet.  The houses are covered in a blanket of snow, the trees are frosted, and if I could see the mountains I’m sure they would have white, speckled peaks.  I’m sitting at the desk in my office with a thick knitted sweater on and the hood pulled over my head.  It’s cold in here.  My cat has just come in and is scratching at the carpet while the baby sleeps in the next room.  The furnace has finally just kicked on and is blowing hot air at my feet.  My coffee is still hot.

Last night as I fed the baby I watched the documentary A Plastic Ocean.

This morning as I fed the baby I read a post by Lindsay from Treading my Own Path about Plastic-Free Living.

Plastic free living…  I think it is probably impossible, but our habits need to change.  A Plastic Ocean left me far from hopeful.  Our plastic obsession is far worse than you can imagine or than you let yourself believe.  In the farthest reaches of the ocean, you will find plastic.  On the most remote islands, you will find plastic.  The smallest creatures in the ocean have plastic in their system.  Seabirds have stomachs full of microplastics.  Whales have ingested plastic that block their digestive system and kills them.

The images of nature being consumed by plastic is disturbing.  What have we done?  This is our fault.  And why was I so late to see it?  I only started living consciously four years ago after watching the Clean Bin Project.  But that was 2013.  What about all the years before that?  I have accumulated my share of plastic and put my fair share of plastic into our waterways and the earth.  For some reason I was never fully aware of the problem.

And now…?  Well, we have been obsessed with plastic since single-use plastics were championed like crazy in the 40s.  We see how detrimental plastic is to our natural world and our own health; do some research into remote villages on islands that began importing food goods.  Where are they to go with all the packaging?  They literally have built their houses on piles of plastic trash.  Then listen to their health stories.

We know plastic is unhealthy for us.  It’s made from oil and chemicals and all sorts of unpronounceable components.  Yet it is the main material for wrapping our food?  Packaging and distributing our water?  We have put convenience ahead of health.

Even sitting in this office right now I know that I am not living plastic-free as much as I wish.  The gray sky I see?  I see it through a plastic framed window.  The houses across the street?  Plastic is a major construction material; what do you think the material comes packaged in?  The chair I sit on?  Is leather, but the arms and legs are plastic.  The sweater I am wearing?  It’s only 60% cotton and 40% acrylic.  The carpet my cat is scratching?  It is probably synthetic and if I peeled it off the ground, what kind of plastics do you think I would find?

The scissors are plastic.  The marker is plastic.  My printer is plastic.  This laptop is plastic.  I just got a text from a friend who got a new phone – that’s plastic.

My point is our plastic use may not ever stop completely, but we can halt our single-use plastics.  We can do a lot to just REFUSE single-use plastics, DEMAND that other material be used, and PUSH our government to classify plastic as hazardous.  Because it is.  And guaranteed it is in our waterways.  Guaranteed it is in our earth.  Guaranteed you are ingesting it.  Guaranteed it is causing health problems.

Practice disciplining yourself to REFUSE.  Plastic drink bottles, straws, bags at the store, to-go cups, Styrofoam take-out containers, cling-wrap, quick snacks in plastic packaging.  You don’t need any of those things.  Refuse them.  And tell the company who makes them that you will no longer purchase from them until they change.  If more of us would say NO, companies will have to change.  If more of us would stop treating plastic like a disposable item, less would damage our natural world.  What is stopping you?

Fortunately, we have activists.  Fortunately, we have people that care.  Fortunately, these people create awareness campaigns that may inspire others to take action, or at least to change their own habits; i.e. Take 3 for the Sea, All At Once, Plastic Oceans, Surfrider, and 5Gyres to name a few.  Thank you to them!  Thank you to you if you have changed even one plastic habit this year!

A Plastic Ocean showed us the severity of the problem.

So what are you going to do about it?  Will you choose to help or to harm?

cloth diapering

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My pre-pregnancy self thought, “I will cloth diaper!  Most def!”  The reality was that we were far too overwhelmed becoming new parents and did not pre-prep a diaper system to start with our newborn.  It was easier, and yes, more convenient to use disposables until about week 2 or 3.  I did not feel good about it, but as I said before, that was what we needed to do at that time to bump our mental well-being.

I was excited to start cloth diapering though.  I had done so much research about different types of covers, brands, and types of inserts.  I had viewed videos on reviews and fitting and fixing elastics.  I had read FB articles on how to strip and blah blah blah BLAH.  Turns out… it is really not as difficult as I started to believe.  There is just an overwhelming amount of information and opinions out there on cloth diapering… oh, and look at me just adding one more blip!

I stand by the fact that YOU, the parent, need to do what is best for YOU and YOUR baby.  What works for me may not work for you.  I think most of the time the best thing to do is just stop and slowly back away from all that information!  Figure it out on your own.  Although I have to say Anna from made right (here) gave me some awesome tips on cloth diapering.  Momma friends are also a great resource.

My blee blah pieces of advice:

  1. buy second hand cloth diapers; save sooo many dollars
  2. get a collection of various brands to see which fit your bubbah best
  3. also get a collection of various inserts
  4. make peace with doing diaper laundry every other day, depending on your system
  5. once done laundering, pre-stuff your diapers for ease at change time

Second hand cloth diapers:

I found all of my cloth diapers (but one) on mom buy & swap pages on Facebook in my local region.  I got one lot for very cheap, and the other lot generously given to me for free.  I feel fine having my baby reuse another baby’s diapers.  Most of the inserts were in good condition – those that weren’t got tossed.  Ask around.  Share them diapers!

Various brands:

I was fortunate with my diaper lots because they included a variety of brands: bumGenius, SwaddleBees, Beilesen, AMP, Charlie Banana, Applecheeks, gDiaper, and a generic brand called Sweet Doll Baby.  I also bought myself one new cover and inserts from Kawaii.

bumGenius: I have both snaps and Velcro.  We had a few leaks with them in the beginning because baby was just not big enough (we did not get newborn sized diapers), but we doubled up on inserts and it mostly fixed the problem.  Now they fit well.  Do not use diaper rash cream with this brand.  It says so right on the tag, which I read after the fact.  I’m not sure what exactly it does, but the fabric did get a little ruined.

SwaddleBees: There was only one of these in the lot, so I am not sure if they are all made the same.  I found the fabric on the inside to stain very easily and it does not fully come out in the wash like the others.  I would not pass this diaper on to another person.  Fit was OK, but I had to use the thin liners to double, as it did not fit the others.

Beilesen: One size my butt!  They fit well in the beginning, but now are too small, no matter which snap adjustments I make.  And my baby is only three months old and is an average sized baby.  Not sure what’s up with that.

AMP: Again, one size my butt!  Opposite of Beilesen, this diaper was way too big in the beginning and is still too large now.  The Velcro strips also do not cross over to stick to each other, so there is no way to get a snug enough fit until baby is older/bigger.

Charlie Banana: Fits nicely and snuggly and is not bulky like others.  I like the diaper, though I have to use thinner liners because it is too small to fit the bigger ones.

Applecheeks: Oh, these are cute prints, but I was disappointed with these ones despite having heard great things from friends.  They fit okay, but we had leaks every single time.  I tried various combinations of liners, or just single liners, and still we had leaks.  I gave up with these ones *sad face*.

gDiaper: Okay, these are supposed to be a hybrid between a disposable and a cloth diaper.  They have biodegradable inserts that you stick inside a cloth cover.  Sorry, but I have to say…NAH.  These diapers did NOT work for me at all.  Leaks, explosions everywhere.  Liners bunched, blah blah, NEXT.

Sweet Doll Baby: This is a generic brand, and have been my favourite.  They wash well, fit nicely, and I have had the least amount of nighttime leaks with them.

Kawaii: I decided to try this brand because I had not heard of it and it’s Canadian.  This is the only one I bought new – fun print too!  It fits nicely, washes well, and is not that bulky.

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Pictured: SwaddleBees, bumGenius, Sweet Doll Baby, Beilesen, AMP, AppleCheeks

Various inserts:

I have collected inserts of various materials and sizes.  I have cotton, bamboo, hemp, and microfiber.  I also have long ones, short ones, some as big as your head!  I mean long, short, trifolds, and snap adjustable ones that can be long or short.  I combine these in different ways.  I would say the short cotton ones are my favourite, and the microfibers my least favourite.  I like the bamboo ones, but they sometimes bunch, versus the others keeping their shape.

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Pictured: adjustable, bamboo long, snap-ins, cotton long, cotton short

Laundry:

Special detergent?  Unnecessary.  Diaper stripping?  Didn’t do it.  Extra special stain remover?  I have only used once on the SwaddleBees, which didn’t do what I needed it to anyway.  I wash on hot with a pre-soak and use my normal detergent without perfumes, etc.  Seems to be working so far.

Pre-stuff your diapers:

Yeah, do this.  Watch a show on TV or something and stuff them diapers.

I also do not use single-use wipes unless we are out for a longer period of time and need to change baby on the go.  These are wasteful things and are super easy to make.  I found this recipe and use a stack of normal washcloths with them.  Baby’s skin likes it and it is far less wasteful than the normal store-bought wipes.

What’s your diaper system like?  What worked and what did not?  Do you swear by a brand?

 

online shopping and packaging

Online shopping is convenient.  You can find anything and everything, and often you are probably tempted to buy more than you need because of how the internet works nowadays, making all sorts of suggestions, recommendations, or “Others who bought this product ALSO BOUGHT…”.  However, if you are at all environmentally conscious then you will know (and expect) that your online purchase will come with packaging, or more often, excess packaging.

I am a firm believer of shopping locally, or as close to locally as possible, not just to support the local economy, but also to reduce the carbon footprint; why buy a Pink Lady apple in September that has been flown over from New Zealand when there are plenty of varieties in season where you live right now?  Not that I’m discussing apples today, but that’s just one example.  Back to online shopping.

This year we moved into our first home, and with that home came necessary, and probably some unnecessary, purchases.  I would have loved to buy local, however, there are many products I simply cannot get anywhere close to me.  What are my options?  Either I drive four to five hours to the next biggest center and spend my day looking for the items I need/want, or I purchase them online.  It’s a pickle.

Recently I have made online purchasing experiences with Evolatree, Kawaii Baby, Wayfair, and Life Without Plastic.

Evolatree seemed to have a philosophy of environmental friendliness.  From them I purchased a comb made of horn and wood, and one impulse buy.  There was a comment box, so I politely requested minimal or eco-friendly packaging.  The items were both wrapped in plastic after having already been packaged in a paper sleeve and cardboard box.  Both items were delivered in a plastic envelope.  I contacted Evolatree, encouraging them to match their environmental philosophy to their packaging.

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Having become a new parent this year, I was excited to start cloth diapering.  It was recommended by Anna from made right (here) to try various brands and styles of diapers to see what would fit my baby best.  I was able to get all of my diapers second hand, and they included brands like bumGenius, Swaddlebees, Charlie Banana, Applecheeks, and Sweet Doll Baby.  Then I discovered Kawaii cloth diapers that were made in Canada.  I decided to buy one cloth cover, bamboo inserts, and flannel washcloths.  Again, in the comment section I requested little or eco-friendly packaging.

The items were delivered in three separate plastic bags within one plastic envelope.  This is the feedback I sent to them:

Good evening! Just today I received my first order of a Kawaii diaper, bamboo inserts, and flannel washcloths. I love your selection, prices, and designs on your items. I also highly value our environment and our impact on it, which is why I switched to cloth diapers instead of wasteful disposables. I can feel good about using your cloth diapers and inserts. However, your packaging methods could use a healthier alternative. My items were individually wrapped in a flimsy, non-recyclable plastic that was unnecessary; the items could have been packaged into one bag or no bags and just in the mailing envelope. I think your packaging should match your product, so something more Eco-friendly would be fantastic. I’d be delighted to see this change for your company in the future so I can continue to support your business. Kind regards.

This is the response I got:

Hi Nadine.  Thank you for your order with us.  We really appreciate you taking the time to let us know about the packaging.  There is one thing you do not know, once the item is leaving our warehouse, many possible damages could happened during transit once the order reaches the customer. Common damages including truck driver throwing packages onto their trucks and onto the facility sorting belts. Custom officers open the packages for checking, they will not repacked the item properly. Potential rain and snow will damage the products if it is not properly packed. Although the exterior of the packaging is a bit dirty upon arrival but the diapers are clean and properly wrapped. I understand your concern but secure packaging can reduce the number of products that get damaged during shipping.”

I understand their point of cleanliness and all that, but this cannot mean that plastic is the ONLY option for packaging.  What about cardboard?  Or paper?  Or some other more sustainable product than plastic?  Also, instead of using three separate plastic bags, they could have used fewer.  And I really do not see how flimsy plastic will protect items from getting damaged.  It’s not even recyclable!  What do you think?

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I ordered household items from Wayfair.  One item came in a cardboard box with paper “stuffing” on the inside.  The item was made of metal, and for some unknown reason it was wrapped in a flimsy plastic bag.  I do not understand why the bag was necessary considering it was already padded with brown paper and cardboard.  And it was metal.  So how does flimsy plastic protect a metal item?!  There was no “Contact” option that I could see, but there were two options for me to leave a review, in which I stated the packaging would deter me from buying from them again.  Hey, you have to use your power as a customer, right?

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not the metal item from Wayfair…

One happy discovery I made was with Life Without Plastic.  I had been looking forever for a wooden toilet brush, and finally I found it on their site.  Again, I requested little or eco-friendly packaging.  And boy did they deliver!  The item arrived in a cardboard box with brown paper padding, and even the tape on the box was eco-friendly.  No plastic!  It is possible!  This I can compost.  This I can work with!

There is a lot that needs to improve when it comes to shipping and packaging, and I hope that when we voice our concerns or recommendations, companies listen.  All I can do as a customer is to speak up, and stop purchasing from them until they change.  If we all did this…

What wins and challenges have you come across with online purchases and packaging?

diy baby wipes

Soon enough you may notice I am getting into a blogging pattern…in that new life has joined our family so what is relevant to me now is how to ZW with a baby and how seemingly impossible it is to be completely plastic or waste free!  But, as always, there are better alternatives to what you are offered in the store, branded as being essential to raising your baby and claiming they are the only option.  Not so, Huggies!

In the first weeks of baby’s life we did use disposable diapers and baby wipes.  Bah!  We were overwhelmed with the mental demand of a newborn, so we decided to help our mental well-being by adding some convenient products into our lives.  I wasn’t happy about it, but I made peace with it because I wanted anything to be easier, and to me that meant not adding extra laundry onto my already overloaded plate.  Fortunately, we did not need this wasteful convenience long.

We are now fully using cloth diapers, and I have made a wash solution to phase out those wicked wasteful wipes (yes, I will continue to point out my alliteration wins).

  • 1-2 cups of warm water
  • 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid Castile soap
  • optional: essential oil; I use 10ish drops of lavender oil

Combine all ingredients and stir until coconut oil has dissolved.  Some people use paper towels to soak in this solution, but to me those are super wasteful, so instead I use washcloths – good old fashioned washcloths!  I found a plastic tub/container, stacked 10 or so washcloths in it, poured the solution over the top, and closed the container.  Done.  Since I launder my cloth diapers anyway, the washcloths jump in with them.

Baby’s skin is happy with the solution and has not shown any sort of reaction.  I find the packaged wipes to be quite wet, so I really like this DIY solution in that it leaves the washcloths damp instead of wet, and they are not as cold!  Gets the cleaning job done without the extra waste.