switching to cloth diapers: a love story?

Note to my fellow parents: diaper your baby in whatever is right for you. There is no perfect answer. No judgment. Whatever gets you through the day 🙂

IMG_8535

A fellow mom once told me that she loved and missed the diapering phase of life.

We sat next to each other on a park bench, me hunched over a wildly fidgeting baby as I tried to secure the side of a fresh diaper. My son twisted hard, knocking over the precariously balanced package of baby wipes next to him, nearly following it onto the cement below. I scooped him into my arms with half his diaper hanging off and gave that other mom what I imagine was my most incredulous look.

She just smiled and said “you’ll see”.

Switching to cloth

Cloth diapers are not easier than disposable ones.

Let me be clear. They are not easier to “dispose of.”  Sure, cloth are easier to purchase; just a one time thing, no need to repeatedly buy more. No need to worry about running out, being left in the miserable situation of having no diaper for your baby who is demanding more nourishment – which you give while calculating the time it will take your baby to digest vs. the time it will take your partner to return from the closest store, where diaper prices are typical highest per diaper.

However, when it comes diapers overall, cloth are more difficult. I’m not going to tell you that it’s easier to wash and reuse something, than to throw something away.

Actually, I might tell you that.

It’s not easier for you and me, it’s not easier in the moment, but it might be easier on the planet. There’s a meme I came across years ago of unknown attribution:

spoonMeme

This riff on plastic cutlery holds true for diapers as well. But like all memes, it WAY over simplifies the issue.

Is cloth even better for the environment?

I may not love diapering, but I love the planet. I love the wild and complex wilderness. I love the meticulously manicured urban green-space. I love to live my principals, so I had to ask myself “is cloth really better for the environment?”

What the spoon meme lacks is a Life Cycle Assessment between plastic and metal spoons.

Life Cycle Assessment

“an objective process to evaluate the environmental burdens associated with a product process or activity by identifying and quantifying energy and materials used and wastes released to the environment, to assess the impact of those energy and materials uses and releases on the environment, and to evaluate and implement opportunities to affect environmental improvements.” (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.)

While evaluating and comparing environmental consequences is very complex and challenging, a Life Cycle Assessment is the best data-driven analysis tool available. And in the spoon case, metal is the clear winner. Cloth diapers on the other hand, are not so straight forward.

The most comprehensive open access (Springer has a 2013 assessment for $39.95) Life Cycle Assessment I could find was conducted in the UK, commissioned by the Environment Agency,  and published in 2005 based on 01-02 data collection.

I like reading Life Cycle Assessments. They are a proverbial smack-in-the-face reminder of just how many resources go into the things we so casually purchase. Consider a disposable diaper: there is the pulp fluff, the elastic, the Calcium carbonate, the polymer-based adhesives and the polyester (just to name a scant few). Then there is the electricity and water that goes into extracting and manufacturing the raw materials, the transportation packaging, the transportation itself (both to the retailer and to your home), the individual packaging, not to mention the disposal itself.

Consider that the cotton in a cloth diaper has to be grown (with fertilizers and pesticides), then trucked to a cotton baler, and then to a textile cotton-spinning manufacturer, which consumes lots of electricity manufacturing the cloth. It has to be packaged and shipped to your home, where the diaper continues to use copious amounts water, detergent and electricity being repeatedly washed.

Sensitivity Analysis

The 2005 UK Life Cycle Assessment compared disposable and prefold cloth diapers. Prefolds have largely been replaced by pocket or hybrid ones (at least for at-home washing). Disposable diapers have also improved their environmental impact in recent years. So as I read the report, I kept thinking, “Okay, this looks accurate, but it doesn’t pertain to my situation.” Then I found…. an updated addendum! (published in 2008). This update takes the Life Cycle Assessment one step further and considers Sensitivity Analyses. A Sensitivity Analysis is necessary when there are a number of scenarios with different variables that produce different outcomes. Or, to get more technical:

“Sensitivity analysis is a process where key input parameters about which there may be uncertainty or for which a range of values may exist are deliberately varied in the modelling and shows the effect that such variation could have had on the results of the assessment.”

What are some different scenarios?

For disposables these include what brand you buy, and what the practices of that brad’s manufacturer are. Do you buy in bulk, form a local store or order online?

For cloth these include what type of diaper is being used (prefold? pocket etc.) and what it’s made of (cotton, organic cotton, synthetic, or bamboo). What temperature water are diapers laundered in? What efficiency does your machine boast? Are they line dried or machine dried? Are you using boosters or liners?

As you can see, there are a LOT of variables to add to an already complex analysis. The cool part of this is… there are potions. More on that later.

It’s difficult to compare different production and disposal variables. But let”s take a look.

Cons of Cloth

Cloth diapers require more water not only in their washing, but in their production. Cotten (arguably the most common material cloth diapers are made with) is a water-sucking plant, and one of the most pesticide-covered crops there is. I used to live in California, an incredibly drought prone state, which made the water demands of cloth even more environmentally troubling.

5216050019_d6885d2383_o

When a disposable diaper is done being used, it no longer requires electricity, which is a major source of CO2 pollution. Unless your home is sustainably powered, a cloth diaper continues to use fossil fuels over the course of its life – washing  and washing, and washing, and washing.

Cons of Disposable

While cotton is a problematic crop, disposable diapers are made primarily of highly-absorbent polymers and plastic fibers. In other words, finite petroleum extracted from the ground.

It is estimated a child uses between 5,000 and 6,000 disposable diapers before they are potty trained (assuming that happens around 2.5 years). And these diapers end up in landfills for… well let’s just say the ones your parents used on you are still around, and so are the ones your grandparents used on them. Gross to think about right?

landfill-879437_1920

Once in the landfill, these diapers emit the powerful greenhouse gas, methane. Landfills take up precious space, especially in congested communities where space is scares and trash is abundant.

Comparing the two

So what did the UK Life Cycle Assessment find is the better option?

For the three nappy [diaper] systems studied, there was no significant difference between any of the environmental impacts

Cue disappointing wahh wahh wahh sound.

I know, I was hoping for a clear answer, too. But based on the median scenarios studied for each –  disposable, at-home-cloth, and commercial-cloth  – each came out roughly the same in their cumulative total environmental impacts.

Specifically, the most substantial environmental impact from disposable diapers was their consumption of raw materials and manufacturing energy. For at-home cloth diapers, it was the electricity generated from laundering that had the greatest impact.

So why did I choose cloth?

For the UK Life Cycle Assessment, the researchers surmised that:

“The results … suggest that the focus for improving the environmental performance of disposable nappies [diapers] should be on the disposable nappy manufacturers and their suppliers whereas, with reusable nappies, it is the user who can achieve the most environmental gain through energy efficiency drives in the home…”

And there you have it.

Choosing cloth gives you options. It gives you some control over the environmental consequences. After all, who said you’re going to buy new cloth diapers? Where did I get my diapers? From my Buy Nothing groupIf disposable and cloth are comparable on a one-child-basis, imagine if you stretch cloth to two children, or three,or four or more? I’m the third user of my diapers and can vouch for their durability. There is a whole community of parents who gift or sell second-hand cloth diapers online, just type “cloth diaper” into Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

clothes-pins-984176_1920

Who said you have to buy regular cotton diapers?  There are organic cotton, synthetic, hemp, and bamboo options. Who said cloth diapers must be machine dried? I dry mine on a line outside (pro tip: sunlight is great at bleaching, so bonus: no bleach needed).

The good news is that both cloth and disposable manufacturers are competing to deliver more environmentally-friendly products (thanks to your consumer interest!)

Were there other reasons I chose cloth?

While environmental concerns were top of my list. I also love good health and saving money.

Safety

Ah, the never ending rabbit hole of researching a baby product’s safety. Another reason I chose cloth was the possible toxic properties of disposable diapers. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the human health effects of cloth vs. disposable. I wasn’t sure how scientifically sound some of the accusations against disposable were. However, I like to err on the side of caution. I didn’t want diapers with xylene, ethylbenzene, or other Volatile Organic Compounds known to be harmful to human health. Dioxin, a highly toxic material, and Sodium polycarbonate were also concerns of mine. The later was evidently used in tampons for absorbency, but removed to due its contribution to Toxic Shock Syndrome (note: some brands like Pampers do not use dioxins, but do use super absorbent polymers).

Sometimes understanding the safety of consumer products seems intentionally complex. Likely much of that is due to a lack of eduction on the consumer’s part (me) about common chemical properties. (Chemistry has never been a favorite science of mine).

Money, honey

Does affordability matter to you? Any small amount of research will tell you that cloth diapering is substantially cheaper.

You can set yourself up with sufficient cloth diapers for about $300-$400. That’s assuming you buy NEW. Remember, I got mine for FREE. Let’s say you buy non-eco brand disposable diapers in bulk. Prices by brand, store, and package size vary, but let’s conservatively assume $0.20/diaper (if buying in small batches or buying eco, it’s more like $0.50 – $0.75/diaper). You finally potty train (both day and night), and throw that last disposable diaper in the trash, you have spent $1,100 (and that’s a conservative estimate!) Sure, there is the added cost of water and electricity in washing diapers, but it still doesn’t compare to the money spent on disposable.

Let’s say you buy and eco brand. You could be looking at a $2,750 price tag over your child’s diaper-using life (ouch!).

I used to employ a compostable service (If you want to learn more about it, let me know!), which was slightly more expensive than buying a disposable eco brand. So yes, switching to cloth saved me lots of money.

PINK DIAPER

My baby wrapped in cloth

I’ve come to love seeing by baby girl toddle around the house with just her diaper and a shirt. The diapers are cuter and more durable than disposables, so that, in this warm climate, she doesn’t need pants. I crinkle my nose as I dump them in the wash, but feel a sense of satisfaction when I hang the clean ones on my little clothesline.

No matter what, diapering a child (in any diaper) has a substantial environmental impact. I can’t say for sure, since I don’t have the original packaging, but I doubt my diapers are organic. My washing machine isn’t old, but I’m sure there are more energy efficient models on the market.

At the end of the day, unless you are one of those logic-defying Elimination Communication super-parents, you are going to need to diaper your baby, multiple times a day, every day, for years. As with any consumer decision, try to pick an option with love in your heart: love for your baby, your principles, your lifestyle and limitations. Love for the reality that is early-childhood caregiving, and love for the time you’re forced to spend with absolute focus on your baby 5-10 times a day.

Do I love the diapering experience enough to miss it?

Well, two years and a second child later, I have not had the opportunity to find out if that mom in the park was right. Check back in another year or so.

 

— Lavender

 

 

hiking Tepozteco (+vegan lunch)

Green to the point of garish. Cool and fresh. Humid like stepping out of a much-needed shower. Pure, lush, and quiet.

Tepoz_1

Except for 10 feet of narrow space as you slip between the edifice of two giant sentinel rocks, every step on the Tepozteco trail is a step up.

Up and up and up.

I climb and imagine the Aztecs making this trek to build the temple on top. I’m dwarfed by their genius and devout perseverance. I carry only a light backpack. In the misty quiet, it feels like this place is a secret.

It’s not of course.

Tepozteco is one of the most famous hikes in Mexico. Located in the beautiful and artsy town of Tepoztlán, the Tepozteco ruins are an archeological site managed by the Instituto Nacional de AntopologÍa e Historia.

Getting there

South of Mexico City, Tepoztlán is accessible via a smooth, well-maintained toll road. The trail head to Tepozteco is nestled in the north end of town.

Tepozteco

Driving with my parents in my bulky 2009 SUV, my Mom notes that Google Maps is taking us along a route she compares to traversing a mountain pass. A bit of an exaggeration, but I see where she’s coming from. The roads are very narrow and curve sharply. At times the cobblestone streets appear to drop off; and I’m left creeping up to the edge, neck outstretched to ensure there is in fact, a ramp and not a staircase. The locals around me don’t bat an eye at my obvious lack of finesse.

Their generosity reminds me not to scoff when I see foreigners in the Rockies, passing my parents’ home in rented Jeeps without the requisite acumen.

Thankfully the town in so distractingly beautiful in it’s flower-clad colonial style, that I don’t have the bandwidth to worry that I’ll come to a dead-end and be forced to perform a 32 point turn.

This hike caters to tourists both foreign and domestic. So once we get to the trailhead, there is plenty of parking and clear signs indicating where to go. Parking is only 40 Pesos (USD ∼ $2). Bathrooms are what you would expect.

Tepoz_4

It’s 9:45 am. A late start for my avid-hiker parents, but I wanted to nurse my daughter before we left her with my husband. I would not recommend this hike with young children. And though it feels selfish to say, I’m glad to be out in the fresh morning air with only the sounds of birds and running water; vendors calling back and fourth to each other as they unfold little stands along the road to our climb.

There is art and jewelry. Souvenirs and bottles of water. Mist and the smell of freshly made tortillas.

Climbing the stairs

It’s not raining, but water falls from the canopy as though it were. Before we left the house, our friend came over to see my husband. “¿Vas a Tepozteco? Tenga cuidado de no resbalar” he says to me, gesturing to the wet, misting morning, warning me to be careful not to slip.

Thankfully, the trail is well maintained. Fortified with constructed stone steps through the majority; the remaining stretch a gentle scramble up what are either rminents of ancient steps, or the most amazing natural cascade of stepping-stones I’ve ever seen. Near the top, there is a small ∼ 20 ft vertical portion fashioned with metal stairs.

 

 

My hair is damp and the rocks are shining with water. Mercifully I don’t find the path to be slippery. We continue to climb up and up. Ascending with steady, labored breaths into the spectacular canopy, skirting cliffs. You might be wondering how my parents (both on the cups of 60 years old) are faring. I wouldn’t recommend this for every grandparent out there. But my folks, in their Chacos and Patagonia fleece, are no strangers to mountain climbing. They move competently over the jagged terrain, all but besting me with their speed.

“They would be handy, but it’s nice without safety precautions” my mom reflects. She’s right. Except for the metal stairs, there are no railings, no safety barriers or switchbacks. We free climb just like hundreds of people, hundreds of years before us. It doesn’t feel dangerous, just raw in a way that makes you appreciate the effort you’re expending all the more.

Reaching the summit

While the trek is steep, it is not far (∼ 1.25 miles each direction). We reach the summit within 1.08 hours according to my watch. We gain 5,533 ft of elevation and it shows. While not on the highest peak these beautiful mountains have to offer, we are far above the town, above the tallest trees clinging to the mountain side, above some of the clouds even. No wonder El Templo de Tepoztecalt was built up here.

Tepoz_2

At the top there is a small table where you purchase your tickets if you want to walk the temple ruins. At 50 Pesos (USD ∼ $2.50), it’s well worth the price. Bonus, they have discounted prices for Mexican citizens who are students, teachers, seniors, or researchers. And how fantastic that the whole hike is free for those of any demographic who might simply want the exercise.

The INAH staff member manning the ticket table is 65 if he’s a day. I ask him if he climbs up here daily. With a weathered smile under a gray mustache, he smiles and says of course he does.

Tepoz_99Tepoz_100

Open every day from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm, the temple ruins are believed to have been built in 1502 A.D. I feel lucky to get to walk them. To sit on the edge and take in the spectacular view.

While on at the top I spot a Coati, quite common on this hike given the plethora of signs devoted to this member of the raccoon (Procyonidae) family. My years of working as a terrestrial biologist had me watching him forage for food from a distance until I realized I too was hungry.

Tepoz_11

Vegan lunch in Tepoztlán

The decent is fast. It takes us 35 minutes and some serious thigh muscles to reach the town. My Dad’s had three knee surgeries, but finds it tolerable (if you’re likewise concerned about knee pain).

I read that many days the trail is packed and people have to ascend or descend most sections in single file, presumably maintaining the pace of the slowest hiker that day.

We are fortunate for the trail’s sparse population, but even more fortunate for the congeniality of everyone we DO pass. People smile and greet us as we hike down; ask how much further it is to the top; wish us well on our way. Not that you don’t find friendly hikers in the USA, but here, it is literally each and every hiker.

We arrive back at my car with grumbling stomaches and happily tired legs. My mom suggests a vegan restaurant, Corazon Sonoro, that she’s found on Happy Cow (a fantastic tool for finding vegan cuisine).

We find the restaurant, but alas, it is closed on Tuesdays. We wander the streets for a while, poking our heads into various cafe’s and restaurants, perusing menus and soaking up the smells of the local chocolateria.

Wandering off the main drag (if there even is one), we are about to call it a day and head home when we stumble across a vegan cafe the old fashioned way: without GPS, and by pure dumb luck.

Tepoz_68

El Milenio. If you are in Tepoztlán and looking for vegan food, I highly recommend it.

In addition to making delicious cuisine, they have a little grocery area where you can stock up on fare you typically find in a health food store. The proprietors did not appear to be expats, and offered me my first opportunity to hear the difference between veganism and vegetarianism explained in Spanish (to the patrons in front of us).

We share three dishes. they were all delish, although the veggie burger and falafels get my endorsement.

 

We drive home with full bellies and content feet. I know I will hike Tepozteco again. I foresee it becoming my version of the New York High Line; a beautiful destination you don’t want any out-of-town guest to miss. But unlike the High Line or SF Ferry Building, I foresee myself coming back to hike alone as well. To heave my way up the majestic stairs as a meditation. Among all the song birds, waterfalls and friendly faces.

 

— Lavender

oh my God, grant me patience in Mexico

Actually, please grant me patience everywhere; I just plan on needing it more in Mexico.

ZenFlag

“You’re doing it again,” my husband tells me from across the kitchen counter where I’m holding my water bottle, knuckles likely gone white around the stainless steel. “Doing what?” I snap back.

“Being an annoyed American.”

He’s right of course.

Every western-raised person is familiar with this scenario: you need a car part. You Yelp a local store. You check their website for inventory and store hours. You go pick up the part. It’s in the section you expected, or maybe you have to ask a clerk for help. You pay with a credit card and you leave the store.

Every western-raised person who is well traveled is familiar with an alternate scenario: You need a car part. You google “auto supplies”. Street-Viewing the ensuing locations, you realize not all are typical store fronts. You pick the one that is. There’s no website, but Google tells you they’re open until 6:00 pm. You get there at 4:30. It’s closed. Your blood pressure rises, you’ve come all the way here, it’s not a holiday. You come back the next day at 11:00 am, a sign says they’ll be back in five minutes, you wait twenty. It’s hot out. They have the part you need–hallelujah. But they don’t take cards. You find an ATM, it’s broken. You go further and find a bank. You pull out cash for an exorbitant fee. You rush back to the store, hurry, they’re about to close for lunch. Your blood pressure is truly high now and you’re pretty sweaty. You buy the part and leave the store.

Maybe I’m dramatizing the latter scenario. Maybe I’m romanticizing the former. After all, we all hate the DMV right?

But the two experiences don’t compare. I read that the Costa Rican phrase Pura Vida originated in Mexico. When I lived in Botswana the equivalent was Gosiame or Ga Gona Mathata (not coincidentally similar to the Swahili phrase Hakuna Matata, popularized by The Lion King). These phrases invoke the ideology that you should chill the F*** out and appreciate life.

Easy to say; but for those of us raised in an individualistic, efficient society, SO hard to live by.

Why do I love efficiency so much? It feels obvious, like “duh, who doesn’t want things to properly function in a timely manner??” But I need to slow my roll. Who said I get to define properly function? What is a timely manor? My perception of efficiency is colored by American sensibilities.

In Botswana, when I needed my visa to be renewed right away, the staff at the immigration office said “Ga gona matata, have lunch and check back after”. I didn’t want to have lunch, I wanted to get my visa so I could go accomplish the three other items on my list that required proof of visa. If I chose not to pay for my visa right away, would that be Gosiame? Of course not, and the double standard infuriated me.

But I did have lunch. With a glass of (in my mind) necessary and deserved wine. I watched the city move around me in rhythmic, unhurried patterns from the cafe’s patio, with nothing to do but wait and eat.

We talk so much about living in the moment in the Western world–yet we rarely accomplish it. Was my day improved by sitting and having a leisurely lunch alone? I think maybe (especially if I hadn’t been fuming for the first half hour). Efficiency results in wonderful things, and should be a goal for any society. No one will ever convince me otherwise. But there is also something to be said for saying “oh well” and enjoying yourself in the moment, regardless of the reason you might find yourself sitting at that cafe.

Mexico may never be “efficient” by my standards. And if efficiency is the measure of success, and thereby happiness (as it is in my scientific mind), then how is Mexico (like Pura Vida Costa Rica) constantly ranked so high on happiness indexes?

As I look at my husband’s sympathetic smile across the counter, I know Pura Vida will have to be my mantra if I am to truly learn, adapt and thrive here.

 

— Lavender

 

downsizing to upsize: how I went from a one bedroom to a five bedroom with half the stuff

The box in my arms is heavy. Heavy is good, it means I’m about to feel lighter. As I heft it onto the GoodWill counter, a woman politely asks me if I need a donation receipt. I smile and shake my head, beelining for the door, like a coffee addict who’s name was just called into a crowded cafe. I hit fresh air and wait for the ensuing endorphin high. I’m not kidding. Purging my things gives me a rush.

I know what you’re thinking, “common, giving to Goodwill is obvious, what’s the real story of how you downsize your stuff and upsize your home?”

Step 1. Buy nothing, get something

Have you heard of a Buy Nothing group? Well if I smoked cigarettes, this group would be the wholesale store, where the cigarettes come in cases instead of cartons. Where all you can see from the outside are dusty windows plastered with every faded brand logo in history, Joe and the Marlboro Man rubbing elbows like the cancer-peddling bros they are.

A Buy Nothing group is simple: a geographic community (typically using Facebook as a platform) gives to each other without expectations. Post anything, ask for anything, borrow or keep, it costs nothing.

What are some things I’ve given away on my Buy Nothing group?

 

  • a Baby Jogger
  • a high chair and play mat
  • cake ingredients
  • art supplies
  • costumes
  • toys
  • sports equipment
  • cook books
  • too many bags of kid’s clothes to count
  • life vests (so basically I’m a lifesaver right?

    😉)

What are some things I’ve gotten off my Buy Nothing group?

 

  • toddler shoes for my daughter
  • running shorts for me
  • a coffee thermos to borrow
  • a BOB stroller
  • moving boxes
  • cloth diapers
  • an Uppa Baby stroller
  • lots of new friends and a sense of community

You’ve bought something off Craigslist right? You know the curt efficiency, the lurking safety concerns, the mutual suspicion of being ripped off? Yeah, none of that is present in a Buy Nothing exchange. The mom I get the diapers from laughs in her doorway, her now potty-trained son on her hip as she gives me helpful washing tips. I can’t welch on her because I’m not paying. There is no urgency, just two parents with likeminded ideals yucking it up.

If giving to Goodwill is an endorphin rush, then giving to my Buy Nothing community is like biking to the top of Portola (big steep hill!). So much joy and excitement, knowing I not only get to dispose of something, but I get to do it in a way that gives new life to the item and happiness to a neighbor.

Is this all too California-egalitarian for you? Are you scoffing behind your screen? I don’t blame you, it sounds too good to be true. It turns out though, all you need is a culture for it. The San Francisco Buy Nothing group has over 7,000 members and thousands of success stories. Trust me, do yourself a favor and go find a group now, or start one of your own! Even if you’re not moving homes like me, this is a fantastic way to streamline your living space.

Step 2: A packable life

Is it becoming clearer how I went from an overstocked apartment to eight suitcases? Now it’s time to pack everything up. Moving internationally is the gold medal of Olympic packing. Well, maybe it’s bested by van life packing, so lets call it silver.

IMG_3688 (1)

How much stuff should you pack? Minimalism is in the eye of the beholder. From an outside view, my SF life might have looked minimalist: a one bedroom apartment, no car, no storage unit, ten pieces of furniture, how much could I really have to begin with? The answer for me is too much of one thing and not enough of another.

I had too many possessions but not enough space. Too many shoes and too many obsolete iPhone chargers but not a dinning room table, not a space for my kids to sleep that wasn’t also my space to unwind with my husband. So I KonMari’d my life (kept what sparked joy within me), and passed on the excess.

The mechanism of international packing is akin to spring cleaning: dump everything onto the bed or floor and start making piles. Unlike cleaning, there’s the added challenge of how to get your stuff from this country to that county. Some people ship boxes internationally or employ an international shipping company. These options are expensive and near impossible depending on your destination. Some people pack up their car and drive across the boarder (only available if your destination is over land, not sea). And then people like myself research the price of every major airline’s check’ed baggage fees. Spoiler alert, they’re all basically the same. It cost us $375 to move everything (for you math-whizzes, the extra cost was overweight luggage). It could have been less, but we chose to fly to LA for a few days first.

If you want to know exactly what I packed, let me know and I’ll post solely on the packing and flying experience.

Now, do I really only own what’s in those suitcases? Full disclosure, no.

Both my aunt and parents are holding on to boxes of my stuff. If you’re already an on-point minimalist, you might ask “what could be worth keeping that wasn’t worth taking to Mexico?” The answer is unoriginal: my wedding veil, a few quality pieces of art that I love, my two winter jackets that I’ll wear again, old photos I haven’t yet digitized.

Is my new house only populated with eight suitcases? Yes and no. I may not own more than those eight suitcases, but I am using more than that. The home we rent is semi-furnished. I have a dining room table (a literal dream come true), mattresses and couches, a coffee table and night stands.

If you’r renting abroad yourself, I highly recommend picking semi-furnished over fully. Yes I will have to buy a few kitchen items (I brought the portable ones with me), and since I only packed sheets for my bed, I’ll need to buy ones for the guest beds, but all the excess stuff that a fully-furnished apartment boasts, is missing here.

No rugs, no art, no trinkets or lamps. Is it sounding bleak?😂 For me it’s tranquil. The empty spaces are fine just as they are, or they provide room for my own taste, for that one new piece of local art, or a DIY project with my kids. Go tranquil, go semi-furnished.

Step 3: Upsizing

Millions of families live in similarly-sized accommodations to where I was months ago. To say it’s an impossible living situation is to minimize their experiences. Of course you can make it work (I’m proof of that). But it’s tough. If you want to be a minimalist but dread the thought of living in a Tiny House, remember, minimalism isn’t a set of rules, but rather an ideology of reducing the excess that clutters your heart and mind.

I have a five bedroom house now. Is that “minimalist”? Probably not, (I’m still aspiring) but it’s my minimalism right now, and my eight suitcases fill this home in a barely-noticeable way that gives me peace. In SF my minimalism was out of necessity, here it is out of desire.

Here I sit on my lanai (veranda) watching my kids toddle about the yard (oh my God I have a yard!), and I don’t feel the need to fill the space. The space itself is what I needed, that it my minimalism, and I increased my home by five fold in order to get it.

 

— Lavender

 

why Mexico?

More time, more space, less stress, fewer expenses, more adventure, where should I go?

world-3350841

Moving first in your mind

There is a moment in the beginning of every expat’s preparatory journey. A moment after you’ve checked a bunch of countries’ exchange rates but before you’ve hit up the US State Department’s Travel Advisory site, when you think “wow, I could go anywhere!”

This of course, is not the case.

Not that you couldn’t or shouldn’t go anywhere, but that somewhere in this glob of beautiful languages and delicious cuisines, there is the best place for you to go now.

Perhaps the largest filter in your strainer is language. Are you interested in language emersion? If not, that greatly helps limit your destination to English-speaking countries. Are you interested in a language the the State Department rates as difficult (like Arabic) or easy (like Spanish)? A language that is spoken by many, or few?

Or perhaps language has little baring on your interests, so on to the next filter. Does a westernized locale with all the amenities that provides appeal to you, or is living in a vastly different cultural environment more your style?

Now continue a generalized, no-google-required filter. Do you want to be in the tropics? The mountains? A city? A village? Once you’ve narrowed down the general wish list, start looking at specific countries.

I chose Mexico. Is that the country for you as well? I’ve made a flow chart to help you decide:

Moving to Mexico_Flow3

Dig deeper

Flow charts aside, you do your research. If you’re like me, this means staying up past your bedtime, awash in the glow of your laptop, testing how many windows Chrome will let you open at once. I first believed Costa Rica was the country for my family; Latin American, ecologically rich, yummy gallo pinto, maybe too touristy, but worth the trade-off for safety.

So why Mexico? It checked boxes that Costa Rica couldn’t. When moving abroad, I find these framework questions helpful, especially when debating between two desirable countries:

  1. Does saying aloud “I life in (X) county” make me smile?
  2. How many hours in a plane is it back to my home country?
  3. Can I afford to live there? Or more specifically, can I afford the lifestyle I want there?
  4. Is it a place friends and family will visit me if I want them to?
  5. Would this place feel like a vacation or a home?
  6. Am I challenging myself enough? Or too much?

And if you have kids you can add….

  1. Are there schools or childcare options that work for me?
  2. Are there pediatricians that meet my needs?
  3. will my kids smile when they get to our new home?

Once you’ve answered these questions, the nitty gritty research begins.

Back in San Francisco, as I was gleefully clicking through Trip Advisor accounts of various waterfalls, and blogs about hiking the cloud forest, I came across the term border run. What is a border run you ask? It means crossing the border (in Costa Rica’s case every 90 days) in order to renew your Tourist Visa.

Two kids, carseats, stroller, diaper bang and at least one suitcase across the border every two months?? “What a great excuse to explore the neighboring countries” the optimist within me chirped. “I’d rather sit on a  chair of thumbtacks every two months” my realist shouted back.

If you’re thinking of moving abroad, visa viability is a big concern. Mexico’s visa process was much more amenable to our life situation. Unlike other Latin countries, you can get a visa even if you’re not a retiree (Pensionado) or don’t own property. And if you choose to live on a tourist visa and do border runs (which I do not recommend), at least you get 180 days. The irony of Americans doing border runs to stay legally documented in Mexico is not lost on me.

Interested in visas? let me know and I’ll do a post on the topic.

Picking Mexico

Of course Mexico had far more appeal than just legal practicality. Mexico is massive. Imagine a foreigner moving to Florida and saying they understand US life. What about NYC? What about Rural Wyoming? You cannot box Mexico into one ecological, social or culinary experience. The ability to travel the country, to transition climates and cultures really appealed to me. The proximity to the US (4.5 hours direct to the Bay Area) was a selling point too.

street-3172873

But mostly, as a native of Southern California, I felt like Mexico was a neighbor I needed to know better. After all, I was born on what was once Mexican soil.

Still not sure where to go? This may sound too “vision-board-y” but do it anyway. Make yourself a list of words that currently represent your life (e.g. fast, convenient, fun, repetitive) and a list of words  you want to represent your life. Do you see a pattern? A theme? I’m guessing you do. Somewhere on this planet is the best place for the life you want now.

 

— Lavender

welcome to lavenderless

 

Less is more. Toxics are bad. Why do I own six pairs of heels but only wear my nude pumps? How can I get more space for my kids and more sleep for myself? Veggies are good. Mexico is warm. Mosquitos love me and I hate them. There are over 410 ppm of CO2 in the air right now, what am doing about it? Organic is delicious. I have a budget. Dancing is invigorating. Biking is joyful. Billions of people in the world drink polluted water and and apply toxic cosmetics. Research is addicting. Yoga is calming. Community is creative. I forgot where I put my phone again. Most people live with a lot less than I have. There are two beautiful lives that I’m responsible for, plus my own.

Come try to live a cleaner, happier life with me as I attempt to be a minimalist, explorer, vegetarian, toxic-free, hopefully pretension-free parent abroad in Mexico.

 

Where was I?

 

ggb
from SF …..

I hold two children in my arms. A hand-me-down Camelback slung over one shoulder, an umbrella stroller slung over the other, a loose baby shoe in my left hand, with a toddler hat precariously looped around my pinky. On the crook of my elbow I balance a Micro Mini scooter, relying on friction between my shirt and the scooter’s rubber handlebar to keep it from falling. There are three floors and four doors between me and my apartment, I’ve already made it through one.

I take a deep breath. The kind parents take about forty seven times per day. One of my kids is crying. The old Victorian staircase is narrow and spirals.

“Two more weeks,” I tell myself. Relief is accompanied by a slight pain in my stomach. It might be my toddler kneeing me, but no, it’s the same ache I always get when I think about leaving. Because hard as this moment is, I’m in love with this city.

In fact, I’ve had a love affair with San Francisco for the last nine years. Ever since the first hidden staircase I found, since the first $14 acai bowl I had blew my mind, since the first time I road my bike down upper market at night.

Even if the average one bedroom in my neighborhood rented for less than $3400/month, it would still be time to leave. Latin America is calling me. Or maybe that’s just my husband rattling off in beautiful, rapid Spanish to his father on the phone most nights.

Maybe it’s the wold at large calling. Whispering to me across salty pacific air that there is so much more to be experienced.

Between the ages of seven and fifteen I lived in eight different houses in four different states. I lived in another three before I graduated college (not including dorms). I studied abroad, once in high school and again in college, so I’m satiated right? I’ve seen a lot?

Nope.

There is so much else outside the US. While I count my years in Hawaii among that geographic group, and sure, I’ve traveled abroad more than most, I know that until you live it, you can only begin to understand.

So let’s begin.

 — Lavender

 

cathedral-1582544
…. to Mexico