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3rd Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge- Day 7: What did we learn?

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flatschallenge2013buttonToday is the very last day of the Flats and Handwashing Challenge.  

Starting Monday May 20 all participants (over 400 of them!) swtiched to only using flat cloth diapers and handwashing those diapers for 7 days.  They will continue to do so until their baby goes to bed tonight.  For our last blog post and link-up the topic is “What did we learn?”  This is a chance to reflect on this experience, offer hard earned lessons, and share our opinions on whether this is really an option for other families or if it just isn’t possible in a modern world.

I know that many who started this journey ended it for various reasons.  Many were valid- their families caught a stomach virus and everyone, including the mother, was too sick.  Some were recovering from previous surgeries and the physical activity of washing caused more pain than they could manage so they wanted to go back to using their machines.  Others were just “over it” and wanted to go back to using their machine and modern diapers.

Then there were those who found that handwashing and using flats were easy, fun even.  I’ve heard chatter from people that handwashing is “relaxing” and gives them some time to reflect on their day.  Others love flats so much that they are going to stick with them and get rid of all of their other diapers.

For myself I found this year, when I was fully participating (my son potty trained earlier this week!) to be very manageable.  I just didn’t look forward to washing the diapers.  It was a chore that had to be done and that I dreaded.  Knowing that I had to wash to have enough clean diapers ready for when my other diapers were soiled, and needing to allow plenty of time for them to dry in this humid weather, gave me the motivation to just get it done.  And when I would wash each morning it jump started my day and put me into a productive mood.  There is something nice about having to do manual labor because it sets the tone of the day that you are doing things.

I have the luxury of staying home with my kids and I work from home so my schedule is more forgiving than someone who works out of the home.  Would I wake up 30 minutes or an hour early to wash diapers before work?  Not likely.  If I worked then I would probably end up washing diapers very late at night before bed, after the kids were asleep.  That is just the way my body works.  I am sure I could do it and would get the diapers clean since it takes only 30 minutes a day.  Even during the challenge I would prefer to do something more relaxing or anything other than washing diapers for that slice of time but really, 30 minutes isn’t terribly long.

It becomes more difficult when your child is ill, or they are younger and soiling many diapers a day.

My son gave me a run for my money by pooping 4 times in one day.  That never, ever happens.  The only reason he potty trained this week is because I decided that he had used too many diapers that day and I was running low so I let him go diaper free for a bit and suddenly he was interested in using the potty!  If he hadn’t trained I would have ended up washing a second time that day.  Those are the challenging times and can be a real problem for families relying on a small number of diapers in their rotation and who don’t have the time to wash diapers several times a day.  30 minutes once is good, but an hour, or 2 hours a day is a lot.

The rules for the challenge are strict for a reason; it forces everyone involved to be aware of what a challenge this really is.  It is very difficult to sustain this lifestyle when there are no “outs” and you have to get those diapers dry before the morning because otherwise, you have NO diapers.  These are harsh conditions and we all know that if we had to, most of us would be able to toss the diapers in the dryer or wash a load, or even grab a pocket diaper from the stash of diapers we stopped using for the week.  For the people who really could benefit from this method (flats and handwashing) we also have to be able to offer advice to make this option work.

I’ve always had the opinion that this is a way to supplement a disposable diapering system or the other way around.  For most participants, just throwing the diapers in the wash would solve their problem and catch them up or give them a break.  For people without a washing machine that option doesn’t exist, but if they have a few disposable diapers they could use them while the diapers dried or when they were too exhausted or to crunched for time to handwash that day.

I’ve heard from many commenters this year that this event is cruel, that it makes light of a situation that I couldn’t possibly understand from my privileged lifestyle, that I’m not helping and that this is not a solution for poor families because it asks too much of them.  

I take care to make sure that this challenge is not “fun” and not a “game” because it is not.  I hope all the people who participate feel the same way.  It is a way to raise awareness that there are babies out there without clean diapers, who are potentially in unsanitary conditions because their parents can’t buy clean diapers.  When things are that bad then they have to know they can do cloth diapers no matter what.  The concept of reusable diapers is one that is unknown to a lot of people.  Reusing disposables just isn’t OK.  If that is the only solution to their problem then we aren’t doing a good job of presenting their options and the media is doing an even worse job.  As for my life of privilege… that is an assumption people have made that is not accurate.  

The babies deserve better than being left in dirty diapers.  They deserve the best of everything because they can’t do anything to help themselves and they didn’t choose to be here.  Our job as parents is to do whatever we can to keep them healthy and comfortable.  If that means handwashing diapers and using affordable cloth diapers then do it.  Do it when you have to, don’t do it when you don’t and can afford other ways.

How can you help?:

Each year I hope that this event will spark a fire in others to do more about the diaper need problem.  So what can you do to help families facing this struggle everyday?  Educate:  Educate others using your online or local influence.  Donate: Donate your used diapers or make a monetary donation to the national cloth diaper bank Giving Diapers, Giving Hope.  They are a non-profit that send cloth diapers to low-income families for the cost of shipping if they meet the requirements.  Share: Share the information about affordable cloth diaper solutions such as this post and video: Cheap and Easy Cloth Diaper Solutions.

All of the blogging participants will be linking up today with their thoughts on the challenge and what they have learned.  Everyone has something valuable to add because each of their experiences is unique and their opinions will likely be different than mine.  If you participated in the challenge your input is needed in the completion survey.  You have 1 week to take it.  Thanks everyone for making the 3rd Annual Flats and Handwashing Challenge another successful event.  


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Kim Rosas began Dirty Diaper Laundry in 2009 out of a desire to help more parents understand modern cloth diapers. She lives in Florida with her husband of 5 years and her two boys. Even though none of her boys wear diapers anymore she is still just as committed to promoting them. In her spare time Kim enjoys video editing, photography, and coffee.
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  • Lesa Browning

    It was a good week. I appreciate you Kim for the work you do and for all of the effort you put into this flats and hand washing challenge. I participated because I see a great deal of value in raising awareness. I am annoyed when I hear that some feel the need to suggest you don’t understand the situation because you are privileged. What difference does it make where someone might be in their lives now? (or where they may have been in the past?) What is important is that we are all trying to make a difference for babies in need. I will admit that using flats for a week was easy for me, I have many and I like them. I don’t even mind the hand washing. I have a large box of diapers all set to send to Cloth for a Change and I plan to also send a check. If that makes me “privileged” then so be it. I think it just means that I do indeed understand just how important clean diapers are and I hope I can contribute in some small way. Thank you for encouraging all of us!

  • Jessica

    Amen, mama! It really is too bad you have to defend yourself like this when you are doing this for such a good cause! I too found this challenge easier than I expected & I can’t help but think that the biggest hang up in making this a real option for so many families is education. Not just on the what & how, but also to help push past the stigmas.

  • purpleflower

    I did not participate in the challenge, but after reading this have made some big changes in our routine. My daughter is getting used to Flip trainers, and I started hand washing those. After estimating water usage we will save 200 gallons per month, and in the desert that is a lot. I have also ordered the Wonder Wash just for her trainers and other small loads and began to hang dry. Thanks for bringing this awareness to light.

  • Amber

    I live at the 60% poverty level for America and I hand wash occasionally for my two in diapers when I need to. I do not know anything about your financial situation, but from someone who is one of those people that has to hand wash diapers, I think what you are doing is awesome. You turned something that seemed unthinkable into something fun especially by having all the linked blog posts that gave tips to make things much easier. :)


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