Category Archives: Family

Why I’m shopping in Primark even though I hate myself for it

 

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People rescue a garment worker who was trapped under the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building (Reuters)

For many years I have boycotted the likes of Primark for their well-reported poor ethics, unacceptable working standards and cheap labour. I also detest the fast fashion trend that has emerged over the last decade; the throwaway lifestyle that is integral to popular culture and keeping “on trend”. Because there is a darker side to this level of wastefulness beyond the dirty workhouses and slavery.

Chemicals used in the clothing industry
What many people don’t consider is that most of the fabrics used in cheap clothing are made from plastic-derived fibres – that is, oil. Synthetic textiles such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, elastane (Spandex or Lycra), are energy intensive to produce and leave a legacy of non-biodegradable rags once you’ve finished with them.

There are also the chemicals used in clothing manufacture: highly toxic dyes, flame retardants, anti-crease solutions (Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen), endocrine disrupting anti-bacterial treatments (Triclosan), and Fluoropolymers as water repellents (Teflon).

All of these have an impact on our environment as well as our health; leaching into water supplies, polluting rivers and soil, potentially causing cancer, altering our hormones and reducing fertility.

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“Picture from Bangladesh shows purple river – depending on the colours used in dyeing operations in garment factories. Or rather, depending on the colours in fashion.” Photo: http://sahanasingh.com/

For all of the above reasons I have avoided buying new clothes for many years when possible. Most of our clobber is purchased in charity shops, on eBay or collected from Freecycle (though apparently washing doesn’t reduce the side effects of chemicals used in the clothes manufacturing process).

When I had children, this extended to buying organic bed sheets, mattresses, duvets, blankets and toys as I was so worried about what would contact their skin, absorb into their bloodstream or enter their new little lungs.

Pricing out the ordinary
Buying locally-sourced organic food, toiletries, clothes and furnishings is an expensive business, and unsustainable in itself, for us as a low-income family. These lifestyle choices have become a badge of the middle classes, yummy mummies or hipsters with a disposable income. They have left us financially uncomfortable eco-warriors with little more than a guilty conscience.

Not only is organic clothing out of the price range of “normal” people (£22 per baby sleepsuit is aspirational, to say the least), the adult ranges are usually ugly or transform you into an extra from Jesus Christ Superstar.

Just because I live my life by green principles and an ethical code, does not mean I want to present myself in rainbow pyjamas and hemp sandals, like some passive-aggressive New Age vegan fresh from a yoga retreat. And even when I was that guy, I didn’t choose to dress like that every day.

When I work out, I need reliable and durable active wear with comfortable, supportive footwear. If I’m popping to town, skinny jeans do the job and if I’m attending a business meeting then I need to dress appropriately to be taken seriously.

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All of this stuff can be found secondhand – I mean, “preloved” – but hunting it down is a very time-intensive process. I have spent many hours trawling through charity shops looking for a specific item or searching, bidding and waiting for postage from eBay.

My wardrobe is full of stuff I have accumulated since I was 14 years old. Yes, I still have tops and jeans that my best friend passed down to me in high school, vintage blouses and skirts I found in my mother’s wardrobe, shoes from my first retail job in 2000 and many charity shop gems since. But a couple of times a year I’ll have a good splurge in the sales to keep things current, and as lighter items of clothing wear out they need replacing.

Sometimes you just need what you need, when you need it. This is where Primark and the supermarket clothing brands have cornered the market.

Giving in to convenience
Sometimes you just need what you need, when you need it. And this is where Primark and the supermarket clothing brands have cornered the market. They churn them out pretty and cheap. They are actually employing decent designers and the styles are up-to-date, making it difficult to turn a blind eye to an oversized soft knit jumper or sequin Christmas party dress as winter approaches (and you had only popped in for bananas and milk).

Seasonal staples such as the black cardigan, blue jeans, top and vests have a shelf life and I have reached the point again where I need some basics. I need long-sleeved tops and the man needs t-shirts. Best bet for cute styles and basement prices: Primark.

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While I’m there I shall probably buy some vests, pants, socks and gloves for the children – because they’re cheap. And the fact is, whether I pay a premium for them in M&S, Debenhams, Selfridges, Boots or Mothercare, unless they are Fair Trade and organic, they have likely gone through the same manufacturing process and been sewn in similar factories. Check out this ethical consumer guide to see how your favourite high street brands rank.

I hate myself for giving in to the bullish capitalist consumer machine. I hate the industry more for allowing these standards to continue beyond awareness of all the consequences. I hate our government for prioritising business and economic growth over health and environmental welfare. That’s a lot of hate. Time for a cup of tea.

Giving up on principle
I’ve always preached about consumer pressure; supply meets demand; buyer power; collective responsibility. However the prices of everything are rising at such speed that it is difficult for a mum to feed a family from Iceland or Tesco, let alone Infinity or Whole Foods.

In our family, food comes first and that means something else has to give. If you want quality produce with high animal welfare standards, no GMOs, sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical additives, margarine or palm oil, it comes at a price.

And that means, as I inspect clothing and food labels, I literally have to choose what I care about more: cancer-causing foods and toiletries, animals dying in the rainforest, polluted water supplies, child labour, the list goes on. In many instances, it’s a matter of life or death.

That is a big cross to bear as an individual, especially when it sometimes feels I am the only person trying so hard. Meanwhile the world falls apart around me and I come full circle, wondering what’s the fucking point?

We’re all doomed, and now we have a climate change denier as US president, it’s hard to find hope for the future. So, although I’ve almost talked myself out of it, I’ll probably be shopping with the rest of them this Saturday and assuaging my guilt with a vegan kebab for lunch (I am not even vegan).

But don’t let me bring you down… Things are changing slowly, and the more documentaries, blogs and TED Talks there are about these issues, the more it should inspire people to petition, protest and lobby government and industry alike to demand they look at the bigger picture.

Do you feel under pressure to make the “right choice” as a consumer? Do you care what you wear or are you just happy to find a bargain?

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Filed under Consumerism, Economy, Fair Trade, Family, Green, Organic, Shopping

It’s my party and I’ll spend if I want to…

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Planning any party is a stress-filled treat, but baby’s first birthday takes it to a new level. For a start, you are marking the first year of your precious offspring’s life on earth. Secondly, you feel you deserve a trophy just for surviving this first year. Third, you want to show off (just a little bit).

There’s a lot to think about:

1) How much to spend. Most of us are counting the pennies these days so setting a budget crossed my mind, but I didn’t think it would really be an issue, as we were just planning to have a few close friends and family round for a couple of hours.

Wrong. By the time I’d purchased a few decorations, cake sprinkles and “thank you” notes to suit the theme, I was already well over the £100 mark and horrified. We hadn’t even got to the food yet…

2) Who to invite. I know a mum who has distributed over 50 invitations to every baby at every baby group she attends, and hired a hall with an entertainer. I know another mum who had a quiet day at home with her husband and baby to reflect on the year.

I was pitching for somewhere in between as I want to share the occasion, but don’t want to spend a fortune. We have gone for grandparents, uncle, best friends, a couple of colleagues who have been there for us, and eventually decided to include our NCT group.

3) Party theme. It started as a small gathering and has gradually evolved into a duck-themed extravaganza! We chose ducks because our boy loves them and after “milk” it was his first baby sign. Also, as his birthday falls close to Easter and it’s [supposed to be] spring, it seemed like the right thing to do. So with a firm mind not to overspend, buy any stupid plastic and avoid anything that we can’t reuse, I clicked over to eBay.

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And the can of worms was open; my inner party-planning goddess unleashed… Well, we will need duck invitations, duck “thank you” cards, duck tablecloth, duck balloons, a duck balloon weight, duck cake decorations, duck biscuit cutters, duck-shaped ice, duck candles, duck toys and, of course, bunting.

I convinced myself that only the theme colours will do and therefore ordinary paper plates would not suffice. My attempt to control spending meant I ditched the duck plates, duck cups and duck napkins, but instead went for the still-quite-pricey plain blue and yellow ones.

I tried hard to maintain my green principles but failed miserably – even caving in to a pack of 25 latex balloons for which I then had to purchase a disposable helium canister. On the bright side, the bottle can be recycled.

4) Entertainment. There’s no way I’m spending money on a children’s entertainer this time, but I do like the idea. The babies are too young for party games and we don’t have many older children coming, so it’s a pile of toys on the living room floor and funky music on the stereo. We have created an appropriate playlist of clean, well-known songs that should keep spirits lifted and appease most musical tastes.

I couldn’t help buying a bubble machine. Bubbles are brilliant, everyone loves them (including rubber ducks) and it’s a cheap way of bringing smiles to a lot of faces. I will be making my bubble mixture using eco-friendly washing-up liquid using a recipe I found here and will probably have the gadget positioned by the front door to delight guests as they arrive.

5) Food. Who do I cater for? The babies, the adults or both? It has to be both. So now to strike the balance with healthy, safe and tasty food. I’m sticking with finger food to avoid disposable cutlery and messier foods, cooking posh nibbles from scratch to avoid any added sugar or too much salt, and catering to a variety of dietary requirements (vegetarian, vegan and nut allergies).

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I want cake but I don’t want sugar so I’m baking honey and lemon cupcakes with lemon-lavender cream cheese frosting and another lot of spiced banana with pineapple frosting, using apple juice as a sugar substitute. I took my inspiration from this blog.

I’ve ordered a silicone ice cube tray (duck shapes, no less) but I thought I might try to use it to create some sugar-free pineapple jelly as well. Accompanying “ice-cream” will be frozen banana blitzed in my Vitamix. I may add some coconut cream and lime juice to give it a piña colada feel. To keep costs down we will only be offering beer or juice and have encouraged guests to bring their own if they want to drink. However, it would be wrong not to serve Duck’s Fizz.

A lesson learned

I got carried away. The urge took over – I wanted to do things “properly” and lost my mind. The guilt started to set in as soon as I checked out through PayPal and realised what I’d done. This is money that should be saved for his education, or more immediately to pay the bills.

But then I justified it again by filling my head with clichés about remembering the day for the rest of our lives and that it will only happen once. Blah blah blah. Basically, I was stupid, I should’ve thought it out more carefully, I should have set a budget and not everything has to match the theme.

Out in town and I saw ducks everywhere because Easter is approaching. Bad news. What did I do? Buy more bloody ducks! I figured now I’ve started, why stop? Again, I lost my mind. But what I have promised is that next year we will tone it down and keep it small until the next milestones (5, 10, 13, 16, 18 and 21).

Better start saving.

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Filed under Consumerism, Family, Green, Plastic, Shopping

Will I ever be godly?

20130227-152533.jpgIf cleanliness is really next to godliness, then I worry I will burn in the eternal fires of hell. Though a messy house can feel that bad, so perhaps I am already there.

It’s hard! I wonder how other people manage. I see them, with their children and their jobs and their clean houses. How and when do people find the time? While caring for my grandmother it’s surprisingly easy. I make a mess, I tidy it up. I leave her rooms tidy and kitchen spotless every day before I leave to come home to my pigsty.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating, but sometimes my house is so far from my standard of what I feel is acceptable that it makes me want to cry. But oddly enough, not clean up. How do people stay on top of it all and have any life left to live? I feel that I have failed as a woman (sorry feminists) to not be able to manage it all.

I have been known to cancel house guests because I’ve not had time to dust the skirting and polish the towel heater. I change plans with friends because I’m so scared they’ll judge the oil spattered along the back of my range cooker or cat hair on the carpet. Even having a “leccy” round to give a quote to fit a shower sent me into blind panic about the limescale around the bath taps and mess in the fuse cupboard.

Recently I got suckered into buying a steam cleaner plus all the accessories from a shopping channel. I used it once, the pad got caked in old dirt from a tiled floor, I panicked as I didn’t know how to wash it, and it’s been sitting in the dark ever since. Why, when I fantasised so vividly about the jet nozzle giving the grout a seeing to, have I not even used it yet?

I want to host, I want to welcome people into our home, but I worry so much about what they will think of how we live that I end up stifling my social life and avoiding so much as a cup of tea at mine. Surely this is not normal behaviour and I need help of some kind. Or I need to quit a hobby, watch less TV, go on eBay less, ping on a pair of marigolds and just get on with it.

The only time this strange obsession is put into perspective is when I visit other people’s messy houses and realise that it’s normal for a home to look lived in. In the way air-brushed cover girls wreak havoc with my body image, I expect my abode to resemble a show home and must have a distorted view of reality. It’s like anorexia but without the malnutrition. A kind of household dismorphia.

So, I have OCD but don’t do anything about it – what is wrong with me…? Maybe I’m just lazy. Should I hire a cleaner or is that failing? I fear failure more than all of the above. But that’s another post.

Please help.

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Filed under Family, Self-discovery

Caring for the elderly vs caring for the planet

reduce-reuse-recycleIn many ways my triple “r” habit was inherited from my grandmother: drying and reusing pieces of kitchen towel; double-dipping teabags; eating (perfectly safe) food out-of-date; using things sparingly; and making do and mending. However, now I am in a position where I am caring for her full time and I’m struggling to sustain my “green” habits in order to prioritise hygiene, safety and my sanity.

I find myself constantly throwing away once-used tissues, using worrying amounts of harsh chemicals to clean up spills and “things”, wasting uneaten food, leaving too many lights on and burning the central heating in mild weather. This is stuff I wouldn’t imagine myself doing at home or even at work, where possible. But while juggling my Nana with my eleven-month-old son, I have found myself taking certain shortcuts in order to meet both their needs while minimising risks in her home to them both.

So I’m challenging deeply ingrained habits that took years to perfect and it’s making me question what is more important. My usual stance is to consider the “greater good” and strive to do the right thing by our environment. Here, I am faced with a choice: the planet or my Grams. And for the sake of my survival, being able to continue in this role, the planet is losing.

She is constantly cold and refuses to layer up. My options are to manhandle and force her into more clothes or keep smiling and turn up the thermostat. Incontinence has taken its toll. My options are to spend half her pension on eco-friendly products or buy cheap, spray and mop in a flash. One minute she’s hungry, so I cook up a nutritious meal. Next minute she looks at me like I’m crazy and refuses to even take a bite. My options are to big_meatsleave and reheat or just prepare something cold that will last. Of course it’s unsafe to keep reheating or leave lukewarm food lying about the place. So what have I found myself doing? Buying cheap packaged foods like quiche, cheap deli meat for sandwiches (with questionable welfare standards) and biscuits – because sometimes that’s all she’ll eat.

I’m still recycling, trying my best not to be wasteful, turning off the radiators and throwing a blanket over my nan when she’ll let me. But it’s not easy. And it’s making me think perhaps I’ve judged others too harshly in the past, without considering their personal circumstances and limitations.

As I settle into this routine, I’m sure I’ll be able to improve certain things. I’ve already taken a step in the right direction and bought some bicarbonate of soda in bulk to freshen up the carpets as the little man is on-the-move, soon to be crawling. Phew! That’s when the trouble will really start…

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Filed under Caring, Family, Green