Can a big family be sustainable?

5 SEP | BY JAYNE OLIVER

Can a big family be sustainable?

It may be unusual in this day and age to break through the 2.4 children barrier but we are proud members a club dwindling in numbers - the large family club. My name is Jayne and I have five children ranging in age from 4 to 16.

For the most part this creates a wonderful atmosphere at home and a tremendous environment for the kids to grow up in. There is almost never a quiet moment and – despite sometimes wishing for such an occurrence – it is strange when the house breaks into silence.

What can you expect here:

1. Recycling - teach the little ones

2. Transport - moving around done well for the environment

3. Plant Based Eating - it has so many benefits to our world

4. Sustainable Gardening - Learn more various hacks for you eco-friendly garden.

5. Reuse and recycle clothing - Tips and tricks for eco friendly wardrobe.

The big idea of recycling
- made easy

First of all, the obvious one: recycling, which we do religiously. We have three bins: one for general rubbish; one for glass and one for other recycling (unfortunately UK recycling is not as advanced as other countries) and all the kids know which bin to put their rubbish into, or if they don’t then they know to ask.

Moving around

Then there is getting around. We do own a car (finding the vehicle to fit us all in is one of those challenges mentioned previously) but only the one. I know for certain there are many smaller families out there with more than one vehicle and for our part we rarely use the car, averaging just a couple of thousand miles a year. Our car is for practical purpose and though it is large enough to be converted to seat seven as it has to, it is no bigger than the large status symbol cars we see other, smaller families, driving around in.

As a family though, we prefer not to drive. We live within walking distance of all of our schools and all the kids walk or cycle to school every day whatever the weather (and with their water bottles re-filled from the tap). We are also within walking distance of local shops & supermarkets where we buy the majority of our food and even the centre of our major city – Newcastle – is just a 45-minute walk away. A walk I happily undertake, especially when we get that rarest of sights in the North East of England – sunshine! Both Carl and myself work in Newcastle where Carl cycles into work daily and I use public transport on my working days.

Plant Based Eating

I mentioned food. Myself and all of the kids are vegetarian and whilst Carl does eat meat, it is now very rarely and being so heavily outnumbered by us veggies it is almost never at home. And of course, we all now know the environmental impact the meat industry has on our planet. Additionally, I have only drunk plant-based milk for many years now and Martha, our oldest daughter, now does the same. When we shop, we are always conscious of waste, only buying what we need and avoiding over packaged items. The individually wrapped croissants and packaged fruit are definitely ones to avoid.

The individually wrapped croissants and packaged fruit are definitely ones to avoid.

Sustainable Gardening

We also have an allotment where we grow our own vegetables – we are currently eating our way through a healthy- looking crop of potatoes, beetroot, spinach, spring onions, onions, leeks, turnip and various berries (Carl has just made a batch of blackcurrant jam) grown at the plot. Sadly, the carrots have been disappointing this year and the sweetcorn, pumpkins and tomatoes are not ready to harvest yet. We try to encourage everyone to join in and the three youngest recently discovered how much joy can be gained from weeding – much to Carl’s pleasure! Frieda especially needs no excuse to get her hands dirty.

The allotment gives us the opportunity to reuse and recycle in a multitude of ways. Cardboard is used to cover the ground during winter to kill off weeds before it eventually decomposes into the soil. Various old tins and juice cartons are utilised in different ways and plastic food trays are used to start the seedlings off. And when I mentioned earlier that we have three bins – in fact we have four. As we collect waste for that most magical of natural cycles: the compost bin! Skins, shells, off-cuts, peelings, cores and anything else is collected for compost ready to help fertilise next years’ crop of veggies.

Reuse and Recycle clothing

There are a lot of bodies to clothe in the household and also a constant turnover of clothes where we constantly reuse and recycle. The eve in our loft conversion is awash with bags full of myriad clothes and shoes ready to be passed down to a new, younger owner. A complex and dynamic system exists which consists of chucking ‘em in a bag then pile in every now and again to find what you’re looking for!

As well as hand-me-down clothes to younger siblings we are also happy to accept clothes from like-minded friends to wear and the oldest two have now started ‘borrowing up’ and taking our clothes – especially Martha who leaves her own personal untidy ‘footprint’ whenever she regularly raids my wardrobe.

We will happily shop in markets and charity shops for pre-used clothes and pay that back by regularly donating. Martha is a gifted seamstress and will make new clothes for herself and her younger sisters, Nancy & Frieda, out of old clothes and material. She can also do the same with jewellery & accessories. Sadly, this skill seems to have skipped a generation and been inherited from her Grandma.

A final thought on the size of our family and how some people may perceive it. I am an only child and Carl’s older brother – his only sibling – does not have children. Thus, our four parents between them have five grandchildren. If they had followed the socially acceptable norm and both had 2 kids each who in turn had 2 kids then they would have the larger total of 8 grandchildren between them. I’m not saying this to justify the number of kids and certainly we didn’t have 5 as an attempt to make up the shortfall but simply to point out that numbers don’t always tell the whole story and maybe our overall family isn't that large after all.

And who knows, with Isaac already excelling at school in science and Eli possessing a mind & imagination firmly planted in left-field, one of our children could in future contribute something highly significant in the challenge of sustainable living and the reversal of climate change.

Written by Jayne Oliver

I’m Jayne. Mother to Isaac(16) Martha(14) Eli(10) Nancy(6) and Frieda(4) and wife to Carl.

I love city living, travelling, music and all things 70s.

I discovered Alba when searching for a retro style anorak for my youngest girls. I found perfection in the Erica jacket and have been hooked ever since!

 


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