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7 Tips for Reducing Dust in Your House

Leah Kennelly

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Household dust is a surprising source of contaminants, and we should all give it more attention. Allergens, mold, lead, flame retardants and a plethora of other things we don’t want to inhale all end up as dust in our homes (even if you don’t have this things in your house specifically, they are still being tracked in by your clothes from elsewhere.) Here are several ways to manage dust effectively, and you’ll have the double benefit of a healthier home and one that is also a lot cleaner:

1. Take off shoes before coming inside (I know I’m a broken record on this, but most people still ignore this massively important practice!).

2. Have a well-sealed HVAC system with appropriately high MERV filter.

3. Have Austin Air filters sufficient for the home (DM me for a discount and to know how many are right for you).

4. Use a HEPA-sealed vacuum like Miele C3 (a HEPA bag alone is fairly useless - if the unit is not HEPA-sealed, your vacuum is likely just dousing your home in whatever you are vacuuming up via air leaks in the unit.) Go to to the Homekeeping section on my web site to see which Miele I have.

5. Wet dust all surfaces (just a cloth damp with water only) at least weekly. Feather dusters merely spread the dust elsewhere.

6. Wet mop after vacuuming.

7. Keep an uncluttered home and don’t “store” stuff on the floor (this needs more explanation - a good post for another day).

We are fortunate enough to have cleaning help three out of four weeks every month. I use the fourth week as an opportunity to do super deep cleaning myself - including vacuuming all baseboards, window sills and under all of the furniture (yes, I move ALL of it!) It’s an oddly satisfying task and one I look forward to.

SHOES ON OR OFF? 8 TIPS

Leah Kennelly

Do you take off your shoes in your house? We started doing this many years ago now. Aside from how much cleaner it keeps things, the real reason we do it is that it significantly reduces toxins in the home—some studies claim by up to 60%Just by taking off your shoes! What could be easier or more effortless? And if Dr. Sanjay GuptaGoop and the Honest Company are all on board, the concept is definitely gaining popularity. And toxins really are no joke—especially for children and pregnant women. If you need an extra nudge, check out this very compelling article from The Atlantic.

I will admit it takes some time getting into the habit of taking off your shoes, but the trickiest part is asking guests to do the same. For a while I felt very badly asking, almost embarrassed. So here are eight tips if you’d like to consider implementing this in your house:

1. Leave a basket at the front door. And have a place to sit if you can. We pile all of our shoes in this basket when we come in (if they are nicer shoes, they get set next to the basket). When we are tidying up at the end of the day, I take the nice shoes back to our closets (gym shoes, boat shoes and flip flops all live in this basket).

2. When a guest arrives, you can say something like “Oh, you can leave your shoes here, if you don’t mind!” No one has ever put up a fight.

3. Offer socks or slippers. We offer clean pairs of socks, especially in colder months.

4. Carry your shoes to the front door. Once I’m dressed and ready to leave the house, I get my shoes from my closet and carry them to the front door and put them on there. At first it seems a little kooky but it doesn’t take long to forget you ever wore them in the house.

5. Have a pair of slip-ons. When you need to run out to the car really fast (or water the plants etc), it is helpful to have a pair of slip-ons at every major door.

6. Have disposable shoe covers for workmen. It would be a major pain for them to take off their boots so much.

7. Roll up the rugs for parties. Fortunately, we have wood floors throughout the house, so for really big parties, we just roll up the rugs. Everyone can keep on their shoes and the floors are just thoroughly washed afterward.

8. Accept the exceptions. There are some people who should not have to take off their shoes. My husband’s 94-year-old grandmother was one of them. I just couldn’t ask!

MAJOR MOM BONUS: You always know where your kids shoes are!! And your house is seriously so much cleaner.

I know this is a touchy subject for some people. I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but ultimately my family’s health will always trump awkward moments. In other counties throughout the world (Sweden!), it is considered rude to not remove your shoes. Get with the times, America!

Cleaning Stainless Steel: A Non-toxic Solution

Leah Kennelly

When transitioning to non-toxic cleaning products, a common complaint for the newly initiated is that they don’t work. Usually I find this is simply a result of using the wrong product. For example, stainless steel appliances require an easy but possibly surprising solution: olive oil. Really any oil will work, but I’d stick to organic olive or refined coconut. Just add a few drops to a rag, and then rub and polish into the stainless steel until the smears are gone. Add more oil and move around the surface until the job is complete. Super fast, and couldn’t be simpler. (And yes that is a cloth diaper cut in half—my favorite thing to use for rags!)

 

Children's Books Full of Lessons About Simple Living

Leah Kennelly

I find endless pleasure in re-reading the entire Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. To me, her writing is incredibly inspiring as a mother, as someone aiming for a simpler life, and as someone who occasionally tires of the daily grind of household and parenting duties.

The Ingalls lived a simple but hardworking life. From sun up to sun down, they cared for their home and family with very few breaks—and certainly no complaints. Their land, house and livestock were lovingly tended every day, with each member of the family playing a vital role in the upkeep. They took pride in their farming, gardening, sewing, carpentry, baking and other skills. The Ingalls saved for, invested in and then used and treasured beautiful heirloom items. After a long day of labor, they relaxed by reading poetry or hymns, singing together or listening to Pa play the fiddle. The occasional day of leisure might include riding horses, playing in a stream or picking wildflowers. Reading about their diligence and good nature is simultaneously inspiring and humbling. (It also sounds a bit far fetched, I admit, but I still love reading about it.)

The Little House books are so well written and with such interesting plot lines (yes, really!), I’d argue they provide just as much education and inspiration as books more formally discussing simplicity, time management and family life … perhaps even more so.

Have you read these books (I didn’t until I was a young adult)? If not, I encourage you to take a look, no matter your age or season of life. You won’t regret it.

Kitchen Workhorse

Leah Kennelly

I find an unexplainable amount of joy in tiny things that make my life easier. Humble, little items that are easily overlooked but provide an important service in our lives. Clothes pins (the spring-loaded kind) definitely fall into this category for me. We decant most pantry items into glass jars, but that doesn’t always happen (or it just isn’t practical), in which case we bring out a clothes pin. They keep bags tightly sealed (cereal, coffee, crackers, frozen berries, cotton balls), they are made of wood (instead of plastic), they aren’t garish bright colors, they are available at any grocer or online, and they seem to last forever. Easy to store and easy on the wallet. We also use them to clip notes to things—bags, lunch boxes, stacks of papers, etc. Once we started using them for everything, it made me wonder how we ever lived without them.

In my dream world, I also use them to pin clothes on my clothesline in the backyard, but that’s not happening any time soon.

Wintertime Skin Favorites

Leah Kennelly

Even in our part of sunny Florida, we still get our bursts of winter weather. Like many people, my skin is pretty sensitive to the combination of cold air outside and really warm air inside. The tricky part is choosing products that nourish our skin without harming our health. Here are the non-toxic products I rely on during the cold months:

Non-Toxic Postpartum Supplies

Leah Kennelly

FAIR WARNING: This post is real life, guys! While I am tip-toeing into TMI territory, it is with the hopes it will be useful for someone. I had to scramble after my first birth to get these things, and the traditional product offerings often contain ingredients I’d rather avoid. It is so much easier to buy these things ahead of time.

This is my (very!) personal postpartum list. Everyone does things differently, but if you’d like some ideas, I hope these are helpful. While some of this might seem like overkill, taking care of our delicate bodies after a birth not only helps prevent infection but also makes things far more comfortable … and more apt to heal quickly. I recommend corralling all of these items in a convenient place in your bathroom so it is at the ready every time you need it. Here we go:

 

Organic overnight pads and pantiliners. 2 packs of each. Traditional pads and pantiliners often contain questionable ingredients, including chlorine and fragrance. [EDIT: Since publishing this post many years ago, better products have arrived on the marketplace. I've updated the links to reflect that!]

Organic cotton rounds plus organic witch hazel in a glass spray bottle. These are to replace Tucks, which contain parabens.

Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Spray. This is to replace the Dermoplast numbing spray provided by the hospital, which feels amazing but isn't the best in terms of ingredients.

Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm. This is to replace a traditional hemorrhoid cream, which often contains parabens.

Peri bottle. Although plastic is best avoided, I wouldn't worry about it in this case. The hospital or birthing center will provide one, so definitely bring it home with you.

Earth Mama Angel Baby nipple cream. This is an alternative to lanolin. Although it has been used for generations, lanolin really is not a safe ingredient. The lanolin itself is not that bad, but the sheep are nearly always sprayed with toxic ingredients. Click here to learn more.

Stool softener.TMI, I know, but many women struggle with this after delivery. I hear Annie's Organic Fruit Snacks is a great organic option (I have not tried it personally).

Prenatal vitamins. Continue with these. I like the ones from Thorne.

Heating pad. Great for sore backs. This etsy seller did a custom cover for me in a plain natural cotton for no additional cost.

Underwear. And here it is: do yourself a favor and buy a pack or two of comfy white cotton underwear. These likely will end up in the garbage and that's okay. Comfort and recovery are the key here. (And then treat yourself to something beautiful and organic when things are back on track!)

There. Now we are really friends.

Not on the list but something to consider: pain reliever. Many women forgo pain relief altogether due to concern about the ingredients. Although I avoid medicine whenever possible, after something this disruptive to the body, I wouldn't hesitate to take Advil for a limited period if I needed it. For my son, I think I took it for two days, and with my daughter, I don't remember taking it at all. Just be sure to take it with food, and limit it to what is genuinely needed.

No doubt this list is incomplete—every birth is different. For example, I did not need ice packs, but I know many women do. Here is a recipe for making your own ... and if you use the products listed above, they will be even safer. If needing a sitz bath, Wellness Mamahas a great herbal recipe.

And finally, I was still learning about toxins when I had my first baby, so I used some ingredients back then that I now regret. This list, while not perfect, is a huge improvement. Sending love and comfort to all expectant mamas!

EDIT: Soooo I've gotten a lot of questions about the pain relief. Our bodies are all very different and by all meansI support however you need to cope and recuperate. If you need Advil for two weeks, go for it! If you need something stronger, I support you! I had epidurals with both deliveries, and I don't regret it for one minute and would do it all over again the exact same way. Everyone's experience is extremely personal and different. The goal is healthy babies, healthy moms ... however you get there is amazing!

On Relaxing and Guilt and Why They Do Not Go Together

Leah Kennelly

It is so easy to hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard. Trying to do it all can be a slippery slope, and one that often leaves little time for self care. The tricky part is, many women—especially mothers—tell me they feel guilty when they take time for themselves. Of course we shouldn’t feel this way, but that doesn’t mean the feelings don’t exist. One way to alleviate the guilt is to be sure we are spending our down time thoughtfully.

So how do we know if we are doing this? For me, it all comes down to how I feel afterward. Do I feel good/recharged/energized? Or even more drained?

This is the difference between actually relaxing and aimlessly passing time (aimless in a lazy way). After relaxing, we know we’ve done something good for ourselves, even if it has taken time away from our other responsibilities. We know it was time well spent. Absentmindedly flipping on the TV, pulling up Facebook or shopping haphazardly usually leads to a down, lethargic feeling. And likely that dreaded guilt.

Everyone recharges differently. But the important thing is that this time is used intentionally—maybe not always, but more often than not. This doesn’t have to mean extravagant trips to the spa, hours in hot yoga or deep conversations with friends. Sometimes a pile of magazines and a cozy bed is all it takes. Or grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend. Simple pleasures are often the best.

A Simple Addition for Cold Nights

Leah Kennelly

Colder nights mean layering up at our house. Even with the heat blasting, our daughter’s nursery is still cold at night. Wanting to keep her in natural fibers (sorry, fleece!), it took some researching to find the right solution. I discovered the Woolino Four Season Sleep Bag and so far we are loving it.

I finally landed on this particular sleep sack for a few reasons:
– 100% natural Australian merino wool inner lining and GOTS certified organic cotton outer (the wool was key).
– No flame retardants (because this is sleep-ware, many companies still put flame retardant chemicals on their sleep sacks.)
– Machine washable (It washes well. I hung it to dry.)
– Easy to snap on. It also has a zipper for nighttime diaper changes.
– The material is extremely soft and comfortable—far softer than I expected.
– Certainly least important, but there are several nice colors to choose from (we got the beige, shown above).

I started by purchasing the 2-4 year size since our daughter is just shy of two years and taller for her age. However, it was comically large. I exchanged it for the 2 months-2 years size and it is perfect, with room to grow (although it might be far too long for a two month old). I imagine by the time she outgrows it, she will be old enough to have blankets in bed.

On really cold nights, we dress her in two sets of long cotton pjs, two pairs of socks plus this sleep sack and never hear a peep.

For more of my favorite baby items, visit the baby section on this web site.

 

A Tip for Avoiding Impulse Buys

Leah Kennelly

My 3 criteria for all purchases (needednon-toxic and beautiful) are wonderful in theory, but sometimes they still aren’t enough to stave off an impulse buy. So then I ask myself another very important question:

Where am I going to store this?

If I cannot imagine where it will go or what I will get rid of to accommodate the new item, then I don’t buy it. Annie wrote about this a while ago, and called it “living within your spatial means.” Brilliant concept. And it really works. If I am unable or unwilling to make room for something new, I probably shouldn’t be buying it.

Usually this does the trick. More on keeping out the clutter here.

5 TIPS FOR KEEPING OUT THE CLUTTER

Leah Kennelly

While cleaning out the family car recently, I said out loud to no one in particular “where did all of this stuff COME from?!?” It is shocking how quickly clutter can creep into our lives, even when we actively avoid and remove it. But just like exercising and eating a healthy diet are ongoing commitments, so is decluttering. Prevention and maintenance are both necessary. And with that, here are five ways to keep out the clutter.

Sort at the door. I go through every bag in our foyer before it gets into the rest of the house. I’m ruthless about this rule. School backpacks, swim bags, shopping bags, my purse (a black hole for the family), mail and deliveries, etc. A lot flows into a house of four people. We have a garbage can, recycling bag and usually a Goodwill bag right there just waiting to be filled, and filled they are.

Remove the temptation to shop. Unsubscribe from emails and catalogs. If we don’t know a sale is happening, we can’t be tempted. (Double bonus: less mail and email!) And by not viewing shopping as a hobby, our leisure time can be spent doing something far more enriching for our lives.

Decline freebies. An obvious tip, but noteworthy nonetheless. My trick for avoiding this trap? I ask myself “would I pay my own money to own this item?” If the answer is no, I know to decline, no matter how generous the offer.

The old “wait 30 days” rule. The idea is to wait 30 days before buying anything other than the necessities (food, toothpaste, toilet paper). Put the items on a list (I use Evernote) and if you still find you truly need it in 30 days, then maybe buy it. When I follow this advice, it is incredibly effective (but easier said than done!).

Know your Achilles heel. Amazon is/was my downfall. I realized it was a problem when I would receive boxes with no clue of what was inside (please tell me this has happened to you). Recently, I placed a moratorium on Amazon for two weeks, and it did wonders to break the habit. If one store plagues you (Target is often a culprit for my clients), then avoid it to see if you can cure the issue.

A SIMPLE, NON-TOXIC NURSERY

Leah Kennelly

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When creating a nursery, I like to think of it as a calm, soothing little cocoon. Our nursery is made of varying shades of white and cream with natural fibers (seagrass, wicker, cane) added for texture. Both our son and daughter used the same room and if we have any more children, I don’t anticipate it will change very much for them. We keep the room comfortable yet spare—limited furniture, decorations, and toys. Like many parents, I also strive for it to be as non-toxic as possible (easier said than done!). If you are looking for ideas for your nursery, here are some suggestions:

Crib. We are not co-sleepers, so a crib is center stage in the nursery for our children. Ideally this would be made from non-toxic materials. Ours is from Ikea, but if I was doing it all over again, I’d get this one from Land of Nod. It is made by El Greco and seems to be wonderful.

Crib mattress and mattress pad. The mattress is the one serious, no-compromise-must-be-organic item in the nursery. Ours is from Naturepedic. If I was doing it over again, I’d get this one from Naturepedic without the waterproof cover (the waterproof layer is supposedly safe, but I’d still rather be more cautious. We have a waterproofmattress pad anyway, so there is no reason for the mattress itself to be waterproof.) This is our organic mattress pad.

Crib sheet. Preferably GOTS certified organic cotton (companies can say the cotton is organic and then still treat it with chemicals). We like these from Magnolia Organics.

Chair. A comfortable place to sit, feed the baby, read books, etc is paramount. Unfortunately nearly all conventionally upholstered gliders/rockers contain excessive amounts of flame retardants. We had a very comfortable but very toxic glider. I’ve replaced it with a vintage, solid wood rocker with a cane seat and back. The caning makes it surprisingly comfortable (it has more give than solid wood).

Dresser. I don’t need to tell you that dressers are the perfect multipurpose piece of furniture. We use ours as a changing table, as well as a place to store diapers, creams and supplies, clothing, bedding and blankets. Ours is an old family dresser that will grow with our children and hopefully one day live in their homes (it was tested free of lead).

Changing pad. This is another item that really needs to be organic. Conventional changing pads are made of polyurethane foam and contain flame retardants. Naturepedic makes an organic version (which is what we have). Here is the changing pad cover we use.

Bookcase. The shelves can house books and toys, while the top is a surface for a lamp, white noise and a plant (plants help filter the air. Peace lilies are great). Avoid pressed woods and MDF—ideally it would be made from a solid, hardwood with a non-toxic stain or paint.

Window coverings. Whatever you choose, make sure it adequately blocks out the light if that is a goal. We have cotton black-out curtains that I open and close for nap time and bed time.

Rug. Toxins are incredibly sneaky and rugs are often an overlooked haven for these guys. The ideal solution is hardwood floors (with a non-toxic finish) with a natural fiber rug on top (wood floors without a rug could be very loud and echo-y). Wall-to-wall carpeting is nearly always chock-full of toxins, which is why I strongly suggest steering clear from it if at all possible. (Side note: Do not ever remove wall-to-wall carpeting yourself. Ripping it up releases tons of toxins into your house and lungs. Have it professionally removed by someone who specializes in non-toxic removal).

Minimal art and decorations. I prefer to keep things simple and clean in this department. No need to go crazy and feel pressure from Pinterest to bedazzle every aspect of the room.

Mirror and clock. I like having a mirror in the room so I can see if that sweet little baby has dozed off or not on my shoulder! A discreet yet illuminated clock is vital during those nighttime rendezvous.

White noise. Indispensable in a creaky old house like ours. We use an old ipod on a dock far from where the baby sleeps (no wifi is used with this).

Baby monitor. Brace yourselves: we’ve given up the monitor. Once I learned that video monitors actually run on wi-fi (What did I think they used? Magic??) I removed it from the room. It wasn’t close to our children (probably five feet away), but I still felt uncomfortable. If we have another baby, we will use an old-fashioned noise-only monitor. The pros of the video aspect are not worth the risks to us. (Talking about wi-fi being toxic definitely could make you think I’ve gone off the deep end. Unfortunately, it might not be as safe as we think. The CDC recently issued a warning about it, and I imagine it will become a much more mainstream concern in the coming years. On that note, we’ve never allowed our children anywhere near our iphones, ipads or laptops, and we keep our wireless turned off in our house most of the time. We—the adults—also only use our phones on speaker or with a headset—never against our heads. No doubt your eyes have glazed over by now!)

A small selection of books and toys. Preferably all non-toxic (no plastic, no batteries, etc.). Fewer is always better when it comes to toys. I promise your children will not be bored! More on this soon. Here are some of our favorite baby toys.

Paint. This must be VOC-free (primer, too!) We use Natura by Benjamin Moore for all of our paint. [EDIT: I used Natura MANY years ago. I would now suggest Ecos brand paint.]

MUST-READ: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO NON-TOXIC LIVING

Leah Kennelly

A question I am often asked is “what should I do to live a less toxic lifestyle?” Such a wonderful question, and I so appreciate any interest in the topic. The tricky part is the vast quantity of things to consider. I admit it might feel overwhelming for someone new to the subject.

My best suggestion is to start with this fabulous, comprehensive, free PDF guide from Healthy Child Healthy World (or free e-book version here). While it is targeted toward pregnant women, I think it is highly beneficial for everyone to follow their guidelines. Though there are some things it has left out, for the most part, it is pretty all-encompassing, rock-solid advice. It might seem long at first glance, but it is a quick, easy (free!) read. Two important things the guide leaves out are the Skin Deep (cosmetics and personal care items) and Cleaners databases from EWG (Environmental Working Group)—key parts to finding the best, safest products available. Combining EWG and HCHW, you are on your way to an extremely healthy lifestyle.

Healthy Child Healthy World also has some really helpful guides herehere and here on DIY/ remodeling, which is always important and particularly important while pregnant (all of you nesting out there, proceed with extreme caution and care).

More to come on living a non-toxic lifestyle. I hear your requests and appreciate the interest! :)