Are you a young mum striving to live a green, clean, non-toxic, sustainable life? We had ex-girly girl turned conscious parent Kara Ali share with us her journey as a modern mum looking to have a sustainable household for her baby and her.
As a young mum striving to live a green life, images of a women wearing a long flowy skirt and baggy t-shirt with no makeup and daisies in her hair might spring to mind. This is not Kara. On her journey to becoming a conscious parent, she looks no different to how she did two years ago – although she feels completely different. She shares with us how she went from girly girl to mindful mum, how she went on a toxic cleanse and her tips for going ‘non-toxic‘.
I don’t believe you have to be better than everyone else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be. – Ken Ventuni
The girly girl
My journey started unexpectedly. I have always been what some may call a ‘girly girl’. Never leaving the house without makeup, hair did, nails manicured and always keeping up to date with the latest fashion. My husband and I had moved to Hong Kong from London for work and we loved the fast-paced ‘work hard, play hard’ lifestyle of this Asian metropolis. We were living our best life with no responsibilities and excess disposable income – imagine consumerism on steroids.
After two years of marriage, we discussed starting a family and I googled ‘steps to take when planning for a baby’. I came across an article about baby proofing your life and part of this was de-toxifying your home, mainly of all the chemical filled cleaning products. How intriguing, I never thought of changing my cleaning products to help my fertility. One article led onto another, website after website, hour after hour of reading and research. Cleaning products quickly moved onto to toiletries and cosmetics followed by food, furniture, cooking utensils, and clothes – the list was endless. I was totally overwhelmed and outraged to discover that every day I was obliviously exposed to unnecessary chemicals in products I used as part of my daily life.
The toxic cleanse
Of course, it makes sense that what goes on your body, goes in your body but I assumed if a product was on the shelf of a store then it must be safe. I was wrong. Some of these chemicals had been proven to cause cancer, affect fertility, disrupt hormones and much worse! It was shocking to discover that only 5-10% of cancer is caused by genetics – so for the most part, it is a preventable disease. It was time to take action. I could not just forget this information and continue living as I had been.
From that day I started my “Toxic Cleanse”. Even though I quickly realised I could not do everything overnight, the controlling A-type personality inside me certainly tried. Much to my husband’s dismay, I did a full clear out of all the toxic products from our home. Starting with our bathroom and moving my way through each room in our apartment, before I knew it I had boxes full to the brim of unwanted products. These were given away to willing friends, but not before pre-warning them of the dangers lurking in each item. After conducting hours of research on alternative products to use – much to my surprise there were choices out there. There was no need to sacrifice my fake tan, hair dye, and nail polish after all. PHEW! Who knew?
Tips for going ‘non-toxic’
Below are my top tips for starting your very own ‘toxic cleanse’:
- Download the EWG Skindeep and Think Dirty Apps
Essentially these apps are cosmetic databases and they rate your products according to the ingredients
- Read your labels
It can feel like you need a degree in science to decipher some labels. These are a few of the chemicals to try to avoid when you’re starting:
- Synthetic Fragrance or Parfum
- Formaldehyde / Urea
- Petrochemicals (DEA, MEA, TEA, PEGs)
- Re-evaluate what you need and simplify
Simplifying my make up bag was very therapeutic. No, I don’t need 10, okay fine it was 23, lipsticks. (In my defense I used to work for a large beauty company). Start with your bathroom and cleaning cupboards as you will quickly realise these are the two places with the most chemicals. You can make many cleaning products yourself with lemon, vinegar, and bicarbonate of soda. And my miracle go-to-product is Castille soap. This can be used for just about anything.
- Avoid plastics as much as you possibly can
No more single-use plastics – straws, bags, cutlery, food wrap, containers, water bottles, coffee cups etc. There are many mainstream alternatives to these now and it has been well publicised the damage plastic can cause to the environment and our health.
- Avoid pesticides and go organic
Pesticides have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, ADHD, and even birth defects. Pesticides also have the potential to harm the nervous system, the reproductive system, and the endocrine system. I try to buy as much organic food as I can but if budget does not allow or it is not available I follow the EWG dirty dozen list.
- Be aware of what is natural vs synthetic
Essentially synthetic fibers are essentially made of chemicals, mainly plastics. Natural fibers come from a living thing. Natural fibers can be sprayed with chemicals during the growing process, for example, cotton fields are sprayed with pesticides. See the list below.
Choose organic natural material when you can, and natural materials when organic materials aren’t available. You also have to consider the dye and finish. Look for textiles and furniture that are coloured with natural dyes and that do not have finishes. When you see words like “stain resistant”, “wrinkle free”, “flame retardants” just think chemicals and avoid.
- Start big, start small..just start
I did make drastic changes fast and this can be overwhelming but I could not continue living how I was once I knew what I do now. This way is not for everyone so do your research and map out a plan that works for you. Even if you start by simply changing your cleaning products – it is a change worth making and it is a start.
Pollution originates from human desire. As people have endless greed and desires, they keep wanting more and are never content. This has led to irreparable environmental problems worldwide. – Dharma Master Cheng Yen
From mindless to conscious
My awareness of what is in my products quickly progressed into an awareness of how I consume products. As an ex-mindless consumer, buying what I wanted when I wanted and throwing it away when it no longer fulfilled my needs, this was when I had my real epiphany. Excessive consumption will never deliver on its ‘promise of happiness’, it will only ever create a desire for more. Which is robbing us more than we realise. Whether you are an environmentalist or not, it is tough to argue with the fact that consuming more resources than the earth can replenish. Climate change is real and is a direct result of human activity. Yes, consumption is necessary, but excessive consumption is not.
By now I was a year into my journey and in the midst of pregnancy. As all mums can relate, we only want the best for our children. I was already on my chemical free journey and I could not fathom the thought that I could be harming my baby by putting her in a cot that had lead in its paint, on a mattress coated in flame retardants or by using big brand diapers full of harmful bleaching agents and VOC’s. Finding non-toxic versions of baby products was one thing, but trying to restrain my desire to purchase every single baby item I thought was cute was another. Trying to stop the instincts of a nesting mum-to-be was not easy but my consumer mindset had totally changed.
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Just as I was unable to forget what damage toxic chemicals were doing to us, I could no longer ignore these facts – glaciers and ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, 75% of the world’s coral reef’s have been impacted by bleaching, the ocean is more acidic than ever before, 8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every year, 90% of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. The facts go on and on and on and they are scary. They are the result of human activity – excessive consumption and all that it entails from production to disposal. I immediately started to implement the refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle method (courtesy of Zero Waste Home) into our life. Refuse what you do not need, reduce your consumption, reuse what you can, recycle the rest (there is also rot but I have not been brave enough to try this yet in the Asian heat).
Climate change is the single greatest threat to a sustainable future but, at the same time, addressing the climate challenge presents a golden opportunity to promote prosperity, security and a brighter future for all. – Ban Ki Moon
We were moving to Singapore after the baby was born so this was a great time to start de-cluttering our apartment and working out what we really needed in our lives. I also made a list what I really needed for the new baby and the most non-toxic versions. Going from excessive consumer to mindful consumer is not easy and I would still consider myself in the early days, but it is a no-brainer – with predictions that there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050 – every single individual has a responsibility to themselves, the future generations and our planet.
Quality over quantity & being a #workinprogress
Now, I try to only buy what I believe we need, to buy second hand as much as possible, to buy quality that I know will last, and sell any items we no longer need or give them to charity. In general, I am much more aware of the choices I make as a consumer and the impact they have. In our generation, we need to make significant and viable changes to slow down the damage we have caused. The most powerful way any individual can act is deciding how, where and when they spend their money. Purchasing power is our greatest tool in impacting change among businesses and governments. So what seems small for one family, speaks volumes if thousands are doing the same thing.
Today, nearly two years down the line and I cannot imagine living my life any other way. I am not perfect, nor do I claim to be. There are still things I want to improve on, things to learn and things to implement in our life (for example going totally package free, buying in bulk, buying more local and buying brands that help those in need, minimising our waste even further etc.) – this is an evolving journey. Those who knew me two years ago would never have believed I would have changed my life this way – but I did. It was the right thing to do for me, my family and as clichéd as it sounds – it is the right thing to do for our planet. We need to believe that every individual has the power to make a collective difference.
I look no different to how I did two years ago when my journey began – although I feel completely different. I am happier, healthier and empowered. And now, thanks to the choices made, so does my family.
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