Among other things, one quirk I inherited from my mom was my aversion to return lines. Sure, there’s really nothing to fear about going to customer service and returning a purchase that just didn’t work out, but somehow it made me uncomfortable. In most cases I’d rather just suck it up, consider it my bad for buying it, and call it a loss. Maybe I just felt wrong making the retailers deal with my poorly repackaged item or just preferred to avoid any debate over whether it met their policy.
But then I met Sherry, the self-proclaimed Queen Of Returns, and my relationship with those once dreaded lines completely changed.
Sherry has the exact opposite philosophy. If she buys something that isn’t quite right – because it doesn’t fit, doesn’t match, or doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to – she brings it back without blinking an eye. Maybe it comes from years of working retail on 34th Street in Manhattan and dutifully handing money/store credits to thousands of customers who nonchalantly returned items (even if they had no tags or receipt). Whatever its origin, Sherry’s no-fear approach to bringing things back means that our house is less cluttered with “oops purchases” and it also keeps us from settling on things that aren’t exactly what we want. It also means I’ve gotten a lot better at returning items over the last four years (like the flashcards we got from Barnes & Noble for the office clothesline- we later found cuter ones at Anthropologie so the lesser liked pack went back).
Needless to say that in the last half-decade or so I’ve gotten over my own hesitations about it. In fact, returning items has become an important part of our DIY process. After all, some things just need to be seen or tried in your space to know if they really will work. So whether it’s bringing home an armload of curtain options (like we did for our bedroom a few years ago) or bringing back a surge protector that isn’t Mac-friendly (like we did a few weeks ago) – having a “no fear” approach to returning unwanted items actually saves us a lot of time (instead of hours spent debating and guessing in the store as if whatever we buy must remain in our home forever). And on top of cutting down on unnecessary clutter, returning things that just don’t make the grade saves us money too. Yes we do spend time returning stuff, but we frequent stores like Target and Home Depot so often that we rarely have to make trips just to return things (and we figure that small amount of time spent keeping our house from filling with unnecessary, extraneous things is well worth it).
The goods news is that a lot of our favorite stores make returns easy. While we haven’t memorized every return policy out there quite yet, we can breeze through a Target or Home Depot line in no time because neither need receipts (Target can look things up on most credit cards- and Home Depot can do the same). This is also good news because it means we don’t need to hang on to those receipts, minimizing wallet clutter and all that pesky BPA that everyone from the Washington Post to MSNBC is chatting about (here’s where we first mentioned it back in April).
We can also tell you in our sleep that places like Michael’s do need receipts if you want money back (otherwise it’s a store credit for you) while places like Wal-Mart often have long lines. And Babies R’ Us won’t even look at you if you don’t have a receipt. But at least almost all places will take back items without much need for an explanation, even if they’ve been opened (assuming they’re not things like DVDs or medicine). And if any of them ask why we’re bringing something back, a “we didn’t end up needing it” usually suffices. So much for those elaborate and persuasive tales I once believed I needed to tell. Although Sherry’s a happy-to-chat-with-anyone-girl, so she often elaborates and explains things like “we bought a bunch of pillows to see which ones looked the best in the den, so now we’re returning the ones that missed the mark.” This usually brings on some banter with the cashier about how hard it is to make decorating decisions and sometimes ends in the person at the register declaring that they’re going to do the same thing so they’re sure to find the perfect pillows/lamps/fill in the blank.
So while I still feel a little bad when I see a team of red-shirted Targetians wrangling cart-fulls of returns, I now embrace the return line as an important step in our money-saving, clutter-minimizing design process.
What about you guys? Could you join Sherry on the Queen Of Returns throne? Or would you and my mom have a lot to talk about when it comes to avoiding returns at all cost? Perhaps you work in retail and that makes you hate making returns even more, or reminds you that it’s your hard-earned right? We’d love to hear any and all return-related musings. Spill it.
And now for a post that’s a bit more “living” than straight up “home improvement” related. When people ask what question we get here at YHL most often, they’re probably expecting it to be about paint or demo. Not so. It is, without a doubt, some iteration of the following:
How are you liking cloth diapers? How many do you have? What brand are they? Did you get the kind with the liners/inserts? Do they work? Does Clara like them? Are they difficult? Do you regret it? Is it annoying to wash them? Do they really get clean? Are there times when you don’t use them and opt for disposables? How long will they last? Are they bulky? What do you do when you’re out running errands? How exactly do you wash them? What colors did you get? How do you store them when they’re dirty? Does Clara have a lot of blowouts with them? Do they give her diaper rash?
Who knew Clara’s bodily functions (and how we tend to them) could be such a hot topic? But we’re happy to address the many (many) questions that we’ve received right here in this surprisingly exhaustive post. So fasten your seat belts and get ready to read the word poop at least once. And by all means, if you’re not a parent and have no interest in hearing about baby bodily functions, skip this post and stay tuned for more house-related fare tomorrow. You have been warned…
And here’s the beanette now in her very first cloth diaper ever (we love matching them to tops or dresses and skipping the bloomers since they’re so cute on their own):
After a lot of research and chats with family and friends who went the cloth diaper route, we settled on the Bum Genius Elemental One Size All In Ones - the ones that are organic with snaps instead of velcro. They’re so easy to use and should last us through multiple kiddos. We’ve heard that velcro can wear out after tons of washings but snaps are good for the long haul so that’s why we opted for that feature. As for inserts or liners, the ones that we chose don’t have them. We figured if we were going to have to wash part of the diaper we might as well get all in ones and wash them all (instead of dealing with liners/inserts). It seemed simpler and so far we have found them to be extremely easy. Plus we love that they’re one-size-fits-all, which will save us a ton of money (they adjust with some easy snapping to accommodate Clara as she grows).
The dozen that we purchased should not only last us through Clara’s potty training days but we expect to use the same dipes for future bambino(s) as well. We picked up 12 and have never needed more than that thus far but we wouldn’t mind 18, which seems to be the magic number for many other cloth diapering parents. We might grab six more someday, but we’re definitely getting by with 12 so far. Oh and as for diapering duty, you might be shocked to hear that John changes way more diapers than I do around here. He sweetly decided that if I would be feeding her multiple times a day, he could be the go-to diaper guy, which is such a big help and actually really cute to watch (Clara loves to pee on him from time to time).
And as for washing them, we’ve found that with a baby you’re always doing laundry anyway. So tossing in one big load of diapers every day-and-a-half or so is no trouble at all. Really, we anticipated the switch from disposables to cloth diapers to be waaay harder (Clara didn’t fit into her cloth diapers for the first 9 weeks so we had some time to get used to disposables and were shaking in our boots about making the switch). Thankfully it was really easy and fun. They’re just so darn cute on her, and she seems really comfortable and happy in them too. Speaking of the aesthetic factor, we got three orange ones (clementine), three green ones (grasshopper), three light blue ones (twilight), and three yellow ones (butternut). That way they’re gender neutral for any bambinos down the line.
How has our experience with cloth diapering been so far? In short: we love them, they’re no harder than disposables (the time we spend tossing them in the wash seems equal to the time we used to spend trudging out to the store to buy disposables before Clara could fit into her cloth dipes). Clara seems to love them more than disposables too (she sleeps longer at night, never appears uncomfortable, etc) and she has experienced 95% fewer blowouts and zero diaper rash since trading up from disposables (where those occurrences were a tad more frequent). Oh and the only time we don’t use them is when we travel overnight somewhere, since it’s more of a challenge to wash them while road tripping.
And have we mentioned that they’re hugely cost effective? Especially thanks to our Energy Star front loading washer and dryer (which make the cost of cleaning them negligible and keep our water/energy usage extremely low). We also often line dry our diapers out in the sun to save even more energy and keep them looking mint (more info on that in a minute). For around $265 (for a 12-pack of cloth diapers) we have unlimited dipes on hand for the rest of Clara’s diapering days. Plus we’re not sending tons of disposable diapers to the landfill so that makes us feel good. In retrospect, the only thing we would have done differently is purchase some newborn sized Bum Genius diapers as well. The one-size-fits-all versions are a bit loose on most newborns, so they also make cloth newborn-sized dipes, which we opted to skip since we didn’t know how big Clara would be at birth (the doc estimated she’d be 10lbs (!) but she was only 7lbs 10 oz in the end). So since we skipped the newborn sized cloth diapers, Clara’s first nine weeks were spent in Seventh Generation disposable diapers- and we learned just how expensive the non-reusable diaper route really was.
We’re actually happy we experienced life with disposables so we have some point of comparison. If we hadn’t relied on them at first, we never could have kept track of the money we spent on them (and the money that we would thereby be saving moving forward). After nine weeks of disposable diapering we had spent more than $180. That’s only a bit less than we spent on our entire stock of Bum Genius diapers that will easily last through the end of Clara’s diaper days and hopefully through future babies’ as well! And by our $180 for 9 weeks estimation, we could have easily spent another $3000+ on disposable diapers to last her until she turns two. Crazy, right? We also hope to make the change to cloth wipes sometime soon for even more savings in the future (we’re currently using Seventh Generation ones, which we like a lot).
As for our dirty diaper system, we have a pail for dipes and a smaller pail for wipes in the nursery (we snagged both pails at World Market). We rinse the dirty (read: not just wet) ones with the diaper sprayer that we mentioned a while back (pictured above). Some people say that you don’t need to spray dirty diapers when a baby is exclusively breastfeeding but we have found that a quick spray helps them come out a lot cleaner and less discolored so it’s worth it to us (and for what it’s worth, our friend Katie Bower also had the same experience). What can we say, we’re pro-spray kinda girls. And it only takes a second. It’s kind of fun too (but I won’t get into that as I’m probably one of the weirdest people on the planet since I get an inordinate amount of joy from cloth diapering).
After spraying the dirty ones, we place them in the larger pail, while only-wet ones go right into the same pail without a spray. The dirty wipes go straight into the smaller pail for disposal (both pails are lined with “recycled” plastic bags that we have laying around from places like Target when we mindlessly forget our reusable ones). Note: we hung the pails off of the hard-to-see corner of the dresser with coat hooks and anchors, which keeps them much easier to reach than placing the pails on the floor. Then we added small strips of weatherstripping on the bottom edge of the pails (where they meet the dresser) to keep them from scratching the wood.
We haven’t experienced any issues with odor thanks to the lids (of course we hear that things can get stinkier once we transition to solid foods but we have a few family friends who still use the pail method so we don’t anticipate having a problem as long as we continue to wash our diapers every day and a half or so). Which brings us back to dirty diaper laundering. As recommended by Bum Genius, we prefer to launder them at least every other day. We usually wash 11 of them in one big load every day-and-a-half while Clara wears the remaining 12th diaper- that way we’re not washing just a few at a time.
And as for our detergent, we use Seventh Generation Free & Clear (update: we learned our diapers would last even longer thanks to Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder so that’s now all that we use) and we just wash them once on the warm heavy duty setting and either machine dry them or lay them out in the sun. We have heard that you can do a cold pre-wash before the warm heavy duty wash, but so far that hasn’t been necessary (possibly because we pre-spray the dirty diapers into the toilet as soon as they come off).
Oh and we learned that occasionally one may come out of the wash with a slight orange tinge (very rarely, this isn’t an everyday thing). The good news is that it’s 100% clean and sanitized, sometimes one every few weeks is just a bit discolored from breastfeeding poop (since the pure organic cotton liners are awesomely absorbent). It’s kind of like how old tupperware containers can get stained from tomato sauce and even if you run them through the dishwasher and they’re totally clean they can still have that tint. Luckily we learned if you lay them out in the sun while they’re still moist from the washer it bleaches them white again- it’s like magic! Seriously, you might want to cross your fingers for that tinge every once in a while just for the fun of seeing the sun undo it in a few hours. We wish Clara was old enough to watch in wonder like we do. She’d probably make this Zoolander face:
Oh and they’re also pretty easy on the go (we only use disposables when we’re traveling somewhere overnight, but for day trips and errands and things we stick to cloth). If we have to do a diaper change while we’re out – at Home Depot for example, haha – we just slip the dirty cloth diaper into a plastic bag and rinse it when we get home. We hope to upgrade to a reusable zippered wet bag for dirty diapers while we’re on the go (we currently just reuse Target bags and stuff that we have laying around) since we’ve heard those work well and contain everything nicely (no smells or leaks).
Now for the bulkiness question. They’re definitely a bit bulkier than disposables but nothing too terrible. In fact we think they’re super cute! Clara can still fit into a few newborn sized outfits with them on and she’s almost three months old! So they can’t be that huge, right?
So there you have it. Over 2,000 words on cloth diapering. Can you tell we’re enthusiastic? Of course this is a completely personal parent-how-you’d-like-to decision, so we’re just sharing our experience when it comes to diapering. And we’re not anti-disposable by any means! Tons of our family and friends opted to go that route because it worked best for their household and we still rely on disposables when we travel. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in three months of parenting it’s that there’s no right way to raise your wee one, and it’s all about sussing out what works best for you and your family. So go forth and diaper your beans and beanettes any way you’d like with a smile on your face. Or am I the only weirdo who grins every time I snap a fresh diaper on those cute little buns?
UPDATE: We switched from diaper tins to wet bags a while back (since they’re super easy to toss into the laundry with our diapers too keep things smelling fresh – here’s that info for ya). As for how cloth diapering is going, we still love and use the same 12 cloth diapers that we purchased over a year ago! That’s it (we haven’t purchased any more or tried any other brands). They still look mint, work well, and don’t smell or anything. Best money we ever spent.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Our cloth diapers are still holding up really well two years later. Check out the update post here.
John’s dad’s nickname is El Cheapo and he truly is one of our money management role models. It’s not like he wears shoes with holes in them or lives without creature comforts- he just saves for what is truly important to him (like a family-sized vehicle and even a vacation home for us to gather) and forgoes things that don’t mean as much to him (like fancy meals on the town and a room-sized flat screen TV). Of course deciding what matters to you and being frugal in other areas is truly a personal decision (so if a flat screen TV will give you more joy than a minivan you should certainly follow your heart and save up for that!).
But the point is that Tom literally squirrels away moolah for years to put towards a new car, buys it after extensive research, and then drives it until it has record breaking amounts of mileage (which averages much less cost per year or per mile than most people would ever think possible). True story: he still drives a fully functional 1998 Nissan Quest with over 300,000 miles on it (!) while his wife drives a new Honda Pilot (they saved up for that but the Nissan still works so his thoughts are “why not drive it until it dies?”). In short, the man knows what he wants to save money on and he knows what he wants to spend it on. And he’s not afraid to divert funds from one area to attain something that will bring him and his family great joy- which is always an honorable quality.
In fact we referenced both him and my father when we answered the big “how do you budget and afford so many DIY projects?” question a few months back (see more on that subject right here).
And after reading that post, he sent us an inspiring and memorable email that we just had to share (note: we’re always astounded when our relatives email us to say that they read our blog). So without further ado, the wise words of Tom Petersik:
“Loved your frugal blog post! Funny thing: I was just “admiring” that puffy painted tie from John yesterday. But onward to the main point: too often frugality is incorrectly viewed as “giving up,” when the real point of frugality is “getting what you really really want.” Many times I think the main point of frugality isn’t in “not buying;” the main point of frugality- and perhaps life- is to recognize what brings you the greatest rewards and to go enthusiastically for those things. When Kathy and I got married, buying our first home was a biiig stretch, all $27,500, but we loved every minute of it. And buying our current home was a bigger stretch, but it has been a great blessing. And they were both “frugal” decisions. The point is, if you as a person truly derive great pleasure from something, the frugal behavior is to “go for it” – enthusiastically and whole hog. Who cares if you’re not going out to dinner if the money you’re saving can afford you the things you really want? What is given up means little compared with the pleasure of the better choices.” -Love, Tom/Dad
So we thought we’d share those inspiring words with you guys since they meant so much to us- and because so many of you seemed to relate to that original money management post that he’s referring to. And while we’re on the subject of great parental advice, have you guys ever been taught something by your parents (or another wise-beyond-their-years family member) that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear what legacy your relatives are passing down and inspiring in your household.