#53: Sharing the choice to cloth

playing in cloth nappies
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As the year begins, I’ve taken the opportunity to look back over the past year, to where this blog began, to where it is today, and to all the words of wisdom shared by families from across the globe as we bond on the quest to dress our children in cloth and to give the planet a better chance at a future. There’s been many queries about my own experiences with cloth and my motivation for sharing the message to choose cloth, so when @shoshannah.shand asked again recently for an interview with the lady behind the blog, I decided to comply.
Welcome, Tammy @makelaundrynotlandfill, with questions by @shoshannah.shand
Tell us about you, where you are from, where you are now?

For those of you who haven’t scrolled back to my first post or happened upon my introduction on the Make Laundry Not Landfill website, my name is Tammy. On my neglected private social account, I currently call myself a mumma, a dabbler and a realist. A dabbler because I have always been quick to take on (but never a long-term devotee of) any activity or project that comes my way, have completed three unrelated degrees (journalism, education and urban planning, if you’re wondering) and am up to my fourth career change. A realist because I am too frequently too fast to tell it how I see it.

Currently, I spend part of the week working to support public libraries, the largest part in the throes of parenting and other household duties, the tiniest bit looking for opportunities to escape, and the rest of it whiling away the hours on this blog. I live with my husband and two sons, aged 3.5 and 2, as well as four chickens and a proliferation of wild animals, including an overpopulation of magpies and a family of possums who like to sneak in at night. My sister-in-law and her partner are direct neighbours, so sister chats, child minding and shared dinners are always on the menu. 

I grew up in a small town in Queensland, but eventually made my way to Brisbane where I’ve now lived for (scrolls back through social media to find out) – about 13 years. The best part about living in Brisbane is the easy access to all the activities and facilities we could ever need, as well as the beach, the bush and any other part of the world (COVID permitting); the worst part is not having my Mum around the corner to lend a hand. My partner and I spend very little time commuting, so we have time most days to enjoy our own backyard or the many parks and open areas surrounding our home. 

I dream of a future where convenience does not trump all. It’s a mighty ask when it’s much easier and it allows us to maximise our time in a busy world, but I want my kids to grow up knowing they can be anything they want to be, and they can’t be anything without a planet on which to be.

If you could do anything at all, money no issue what you do for an entire day? 

If it was my last day on Earth, without a doubt, I’d spend it cuddling my family. If I knew there were still many good years to come, I’d be doing my best to give away that endless supply of funds. When I was 17, my Dad died as a result of inadequate healthcare in regional communities and I continue to see many examples of poor healthcare outside of the city today – I’d love to give the level of healthcare many people in cities receive to all people and communities who don’t have the means to access it.  

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve found on your motherhood journey?

Finding time to be alone to recharge has come to be my greatest challenge of motherhood. My partner started working in another state just weeks after my first son was born, so, in those early months, not only was I coming to terms with being a mum, I was coming to terms with being a FIFO (fly in, fly out) wife, which meant my partner was home only one third of the time. When he was home, my partner needed time to unwind and, with little experience with a baby, he wasn’t confident to take the lead. Throw in another baby less than 18 months later and there was even less opportunity to find time for myself. 

Thankfully, my husband now works away for only one week a month, with the rest spent working from home. For us, COVID-19 has allowed us to spend extended time together as a family for the first time and for that I am grateful, especially given the challenges the virus has caused for so many other families.

I am slowly finding ways to build space into my life for me. I am only at the beginning of my motherhood journey, and I know I can only give my children my best when I’m at my best. I know I need to ask for what I need, but I’m still learning, still navigating this new world that is motherhood.

What is the best part of being a mum?

The unwavering support and ready forgiveness from my boys. I know that, even on the days I make mistakes (and there are many), there’s always tomorrow to try again to aim to be the best person for my boys. 

What is something you would want your children to remember about you?

I want them to remember how I loved them. How I spent days cuddling them, reading and singing with them, playing with them, teaching them to be kind, encouraging them to be whoever they chose to be.

cloth nappies
And now cloth questions.
What is the best advice you would give on cloth nappies? Since you’ve asked this many times, now it’s your turn!

Approach it with an open mind. Know the good you are doing, but also realise when you need to take a break. It’s always going to be more effort to use cloth but, as they saying goes, nothing worth doing is ever easy.

The path out of overwhelm is forged one nappy change at a time. Like most aspects of parenting, you will find your groove with cloth nappies gradually, through the experience of using them. Don’t expect it to be easy instantaneously. 

Setting a goal can help. Whether it’s one nappy, one day, one wash cycle, one cute butt shot or something else, finding a focus will trigger your brain’s reward system and can help you break the path to cloth nappies into smaller, more achievable steps.

Remember, there’s no perfect way to cloth. Give up on the idea of doing it the right way. Wash how you want, fit how you want (so long as you aren’t getting leaks or causing injury), use all one brand or use multiple brands – it’s totally up to you.

I’d also say it’s good therapy to know you are making a difference.

Have you used cloth nappies while camping or on holidays? How have you made it work?

I love the challenge of making cloth work wherever we are in the world. I tell myself that if generations gone by could hand wash all the clothing needs of their often large families, I can manage a week or so in cloth without optimal facilities. In saying that, I occasionally pack disposables, for example, when we travel to visit my in-laws and their tank water supply is low, or I simply don’t have the headspace to consider it at that time.

My top tip for making cloth work while camping or on holidays is to not stress about ruining your nappies – they are hardier than you think, and a good double hot wash on returning home will work wonders in returning them to their former glory. I have camped for up to 5 nights with no facilities and no water for washing and the nappies I took are no worse for wear. On this occasion, I packed prefolds and covers, re-used the covers as much as I could, and simply dry pailed everything out of reach of ants and other critters until I got home. One caveat, however, is that I wouldn’t give your nappies such harsh treatment too frequently, especially if using night nappies; my recommendation is based only on travel being an infrequent occurrence. 

Research the available facilities ahead of time and plan accordingly. If washing machines are available, likely your only issue when travelling with cloth is finding space in your luggage to pack the nappies. Covers that can be wiped clean and re-used multiple times are a good space-saving option. Prefolds or inserts with few layers are good for quick drying times and easier wash penetration on returning home. Wetbags or mesh bags are good dry pail options that take up little space, can be hung out of reach of little hands and can easily be moved from location to location.

What washing machine do you use at home?

Today I use a Bosch front loader, but that wasn’t always the case. I started my cloth journey with a Fisher & Paykel top loader which was replaced when it could no longer be repaired. When transitioning to the new machine, a period of trial and error was needed to find both the ideal amount of washing powder and the best load size. I found I had to reduce the amount of powder used to prevent suds build-up, which can create a coating on the nappies that prevents optimal absorption. If nappies ever come out of the wash with stains, I can usually look back to find I have overloaded the machine.

How many cloth nappies are in your stash? 

Shoshannah, this question is not enough to convince me to count them.

My reservation to share the number of nappies in my stash is two-fold. 1. I don’t want to promote needing a large number to be successful with cloth. 2. I feel guilty about the size of my stash when I know the best thing for the planet would be to own far fewer.

For some time, I made the case to my partner that I needed lots of nappies because I had two in cloth and it meant less pressure to keep on top of the washing, but that argument has long since sailed and my destash attempts have been limited. Fortunately, I have an ever-growing number of friends and family lining up to take ownership of the nappies when I’m done with them, so any new nappy purchases mean I’m just long-term gift planning, right?

What’s the perfect number of cloth nappies to have full time?

It’s commonly recommended that 24 nappies is the smallest number needed to cloth full time, but I’d say I’d depends on your personality and lifestyle, as well as the age of your child/ren. A small stash of nappies often means you need to be doing laundry every day and, even if that’s possible for you, it might not be something you desire. The younger babies are, generally, the more nappies per day they will use.

To work out the perfect number of cloth nappies for you, you need to multiply how many nappies you use per day by how frequently you wash (number of days) plus number of drying days (depends on your climate). That is:

Number of nappies x (Number of days between washes + Number of days drying time) = Ideal number of nappies for you

If you are working on 6 nappies per day to be washed every 3 days, with 2 days drying, the equation works out to be 6 x (3 + 2), so 30 nappies is an ideal stash for you.

Of course, washing more frequently can be a perfect short-term solution while you find the funds or the right nappy brand or style to build your stash. It might take more or less time for your nappies to dry, or you might need to add in another day or two for stuffing/preparing the nappies for use. Ultimately, there is no perfect number of cloth nappies for full time use.

What have been the biggest benefits of using cloth nappies that you’ve found? 

The most functional benefit of using cloth nappies has been finding a greater desire to do the laundry, the most enjoyable helping others to make the switch. But, the greatest benefit of all has been in cloth nappies being a catalyst for making increasingly more changes for the planet.

Since starting with cloth nappies, I have made a greater effort to be more mindful of the amount and end destination of waste from our home and of purchasing decisions. I have made an ever-increasing number of plastic and single-use swaps, the most redeeming of which seems to be cloth napkins, if my Christmas gifts are anything to go by. I think my next purchase will be a safety razor for life, though I’m yet to use up all the disposables in my house which might yet take a year. 

Now on to blog questions.
What gave you the inspiration to start makelaundrynotlandfill?

The inspiration for Make Laundry Not Landfill, a platform to share stories of families using cloth nappies came from my own experiences with making the switch to cloth. I didn’t start using cloth nappies until my second son was nearly 9 months old, just over 2 years into parenthood. At that time, as I became more aware of the way we are treating the planet and that it cannot continue, I decided I just needed to give it a try. I bought some nappies secondhand and my understanding grew from there. I didn’t start earlier because I had limited experiences of others using cloth from which to draw and, broadly, I had put the idea aside as being too hard. I lament the decision not to choose cloth now, knowing how much easier it is than I ever imagined and knowing what an amazing community there is out there ready and willing to support those new to the idea.

As I found my confidence with using cloth, I had the idea of starting a blog; I felt it was a way of using my skills to foster the idea that cloth is often easier than you think. In my early research into cloth nappies, I found so many information sources that offered tips, advice and recommendations for brands, styles, absorbency, wash routines and much more (and, initially, got very overwhelmed), but I didn’t find evidence of family life with cloth more generally. I wanted to see families using cloth; I wanted to see it was the right choice to make the switch to cloth. I thought that, if I was feeling this way, then probably many others were too. I think the blog is evidence that many others do feel this way.

I hope that sharing the stories of families who happen to use cloth nappies gives others a whole heap of suggestions for finding a way with cloth, but the aim is not to tell anyone how to do it, for, there’s no one way to cloth, and only you can decide what works best for you and your lifestyle.

What’s been your favourite cloth nappy design/brand?

At first, I had a love for pockets – for being able to stuff inserts, knowing they would stay in place. Now, I prefer laying inserts, so any cover is fine. I particularly gravitate towards wipeable covers for their reusability, even if I don’t use them that way much of the time.  

Laying inserts has become my preference because I find it easy to be able to just tip the inserts out rather than having to pull them out, and because I appreciate the time saved not stuffing or snapping. While I love a good stuffing session (especially if it’s coupled with a cold brew and a good podcast), it was becoming quite the chore when I had two in cloth. And, now that I’m back at work, every minute saved can count up to more time with the boys. 

modern cloth nappies
How did you come up with the name?

Make Laundry Not Landfill came from seeing the phrase pop up as a hashtag on posts about cloth nappies. Of course, there are many hashtags that circulate alongside cloth posts, but Make Laundry Not Landfill particularly resonated with me for being the reason I had long wanted to give cloth a try.

Did you expect the blog to be such a big hit in the cloth community?

The families I interview are sharing wisdom that isn’t always easily accessible in the more isolated way of life we live today, and they are adding voice to the movement to do better by the planet at a time when our actions are committing the Earth to failure, and I think people have really embraced that.

What inspired you to start using cloth nappies?

Despite doing so for two years prior, it was not being able to see the sense in or need to readily throw away disposable nappies that was my motive for making the switch to cloth. And my action, when it finally came, was immediately evident in the weekly garbage output – with two in nappies at that time, we went from easily filling the wheelie bin every week to it being less than half full at rubbish collection time.

What is a typical day for you and your family? 

A typical work day for our family sees my partner and I rise at the same time, then he heads straight into the study to start work and I begin the wrestle with the kids. I drop the kids to daycare on my way to work and collect them again on my way home, always aiming for an early as possible pick up so I can spend some time with them before the whole dinner, bath, teeth, book, bed routine begins. When time and weather permits, I walk to and from daycare and it’s one of my favourite ways to spend time with the kids – there’s always so much to talk about, to look at and to learn. My partner loves cooking (lucky me!) and takes responsibility for the dinner preparation every night of the week (even luckier me!).

A typical non-work day for our family sees a much slower pace. We take our time to have breakfast, get dressed and start on any chores that need to be done. I try to get out of the house as much as I can because boys are always much more gentle with one another if they aren’t cooped up inside. Plays in the garden and walks to the playground are common.

What are your favourite hobbies aside from the blog? 

Reading is my long-time, most loved hobby – I’ll read most things in any format, but I’ve always been a sucker for a well-written romance novel that lets my brain slip away from the real world. I usually intersperse novels with a non-fiction read because I start to crave a deeper mental stimulation. Fun fact: I can never remember the title or author of any book, movie or song, but if I start reading, viewing or listening to something I’ve seen before, I’ll instantly be able to recall the plotline or lyrics. 

Having children has given me the excuse to develop a sizable children’s picture book collection that we delve into every day. I’ve always admired the skill of those who can craft a picture book that is the perfect symbiosis of words and pictures to tell a story and, in my teaching days, I enjoyed creating middle years lesson plans around picture books. Now, I love nothing more than sitting down with my boys and a picture book and, together, learning about the world around us. I don’t mind reading the same books over and over again because I know what they’re doing for my children’s development.

I also love taking photographs and wish I had the attention span, time and wherewithal to study photography at greater length, and I love running for what it gives me in terms of better mental health and a more slimline shape if I keep it up often enough (I don’t), and I love hiking and camping and just being outside … I need to get this finished so I can join the rest of my family who have already headed off camping for the weekend.

What has been the biggest obstacle in starting this blog?

Time. Isn’t that always the way? Especially if it’s not a paid gig. On starting the blog, I quickly came to realise how much time it takes to source, interview for, edit and upload the blogs to the website, not to mention the time it takes to manage a social media account. I unleash most of my creativity at night, after the children are in bed.

Have you got a favourite interview?

Everytime I interview a new family, I am awed by the wisdom they have to offer. It is never difficult to pull from their words a quote to share with our community.

And lastly, where do you hope to take makelaundrynotlandfill in the future?

With the new year, I have been brainstorming ways to bring new content and ideas to Make Laundry Not Landfill, but that obstacle of time I spoke of above often stands in the way. I still very much call myself a novice when it comes to social media and I’m thoroughly enjoying the process of learning new ways of sharing content. If you have any ideas for where you’d like to see the blog go in the future, I’d love to hear them; my DMs are always open.

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