Have you been waiting for this announcement?! DDL will be hosting the Flats and Handwashing Challenge once again this year and it is our 5th year. When the challenge began in 2011 it was a personal challenge I wished to take myself. At that time diaper need and the shocking revelation that families were using diapers for too long or reusing disposable diapers was coming to light. News stations and papers were discovering how real the need was for many families and the struggles faced when there was no money for diapers. Beyond there being no money for diapers, some families also had little or no reliable access to washing machines. If reusing disposables was their only option how could cloth diapers work for these families under the most dire of circumstances- was it possible?
I came across an inexpensive washing machine that could be made with a 5 gallon plastic bucket and plunger and from my personal experience with cloth diapers, I knew that most diapers wouldn’t air dry in a reasonable amount of time. The only diapers fit for this situation were flats. Flats had a pretty sour reputation at the time for being too difficult to fold and too old fashioned. I myself has never even tried flats! I was just as afraid as everyone else. I ordered several flats and also started looking for things called “flour sack towels” in local department stores which could be used as a flat diaper and was easily available for most families. The entire goal was the find the cheapest and most readily available solution that any family in the modern world could acquire and succeed with.
My challenge started before the official timeframe and I handwashed and used flats for about 2.5-3 weeks total that first year. It wasn’t easy, some days I resented the situation. Other days I woke up with a fresh purpose and knew my diaper laundry had to be done in order to make it another day. I learned the hard way that washing with latex gloves would save my hands from painful callouses, and that if I used too much soap I wound up spending more time bent over the bucket washer to agitate and re-rinse (and wasted more water). The lessons were hard won but it just meant that I could help teach others ways to make handwashing work, and ways they could work less.
The reactions to this event are always mixed and many who question the validity or purpose of the Flats and Handwashing Challenge are basing their opinions on the surface. We share our victories and struggles through social media and some people actually find the challenge part of the event to be fun! For some, the idea that anyone could have a good time participating in an event that mimics real life struggles is unsettling. I totally understand that and my intention was never for this challenge to be a game. However it isn’t a crime for people to enjoy themselves during the event, I am happy they do. What others don’t see is that not every participant is privileged or living in comfort- many were already handwashing and jumped in for that reason! Some used to handwash but their situation improved and they joined to raise awareness that it can be done (because they did it themselves and lived to tell the tale.) The important thing has always been that they learn from the experience, they share their knowledge, they educate others, and have empathy and understanding for those forced into this situation. I’ve received personal attacks for starting this event that called my own privilege into question. Nothing is ever as it seems, and I’ve lived part of my own life in poverty or near poverty before adulthood. While I won’t apologize for my comfortable lifestyle today it isn’t hard for me to relate to the struggles faced by the families we want to teach about flats and handwashing. No baby should suffer due to economic strife- they didn’t ask to be here and our job as parents is to do the best we can to meet their basic needs. Clean diapers, milk, and the closeness and love from other humans is all a baby truly needs in their first year of life.
When I had this idea for the Flats Challenge I was naive. Absolutely. The idea seemed simple and easy enough that it could work, and it did work! Simple- yes, easy-no. Regardless of the physical toll that handwashing can have, and the 30 minutes it can take per washing cycle, I still wholeheartedly believe this can be a solution for families willing and able to do it. The strict rules of the challenge are there to show that without the rules this option can save money and keep babies in clean diapers. Families can handwash and use flats when times are the toughest and when they aren’t, they can buy disposables. To ever tell a family they shouldn’t use disposables at all when they don’t have access to laundry facilities isn’t fair. To say that all poor families can’t use cloth diapers is the real crime! Poor comes in all shapes and sizes and there are plenty of families with home washing machines who could greatly benefit from using cloth diapers.
If you are passionate about cloth diapering, if you feel the need to advocate cloth diapering to families in need, if you live in a part of the world where the power frequently goes out, or if you just want to see if you can do it then you should participate in the Flats and Handwashing Challenge.
As we do every year there will be retailers who offer discounts for participants on flats, of you can consult my resources in place that show how you can diaper for super cheap or free using flour sack towels or t-shirts- all you need is a Snappi. I’m excited that this event is still going strong and that the cloth diaper community can put their money where their mouth is.
Sign ups will be posting closer to the start date along with the rules. Signing up will make sure you get email reminders and you’ll be emailed the conclusion survey where you have the change to share your experience and opinion on the challenge, the good and bad. Make sure to look back on 5 years of resources and information: Flats and Handwashing Challenge Archive in the mean time.