Cloth Diapering Series: Flats & Handwashing Challenge

The Flats & Handwashing Challenge is an annual event dedicated to raising awareness about the accessibility of cloth diapering. This year’s challenge is hosted by the Cloth Diaper Podcast. To learn more visit here.

I wrote about cloth diapering once before on the blog, but it’s not something I post about regularly here since this writing space is mostly made up of theology articles, cultural comment, and family updates. In recent months, however, I’ve been relaxing the structure and tone of my writing in order to make it more of a Journaling space than a formal collection of essays or rigorous ponderings of any type. There are countless blogs hosted by Christian women, even by Reformed women, that are virtually identical and I don’t know if I can write those kinds of articles half as well as some others who already have a larger readership. I’ve decided to leave the task to them, and do something a bit more casual and personal on the Hageman Home blog.

Over the past year, we’ve been slowly learning and implementing the principles of urban homesteading in our home and it is becoming a minor passion of ours. There aren’t many blogs out there that demonstrate what it looks like to bring homesteading philosophies and practices within the constraints of an apartment or other urban/suburban setting. I am especially interested in exploring how our theology impacts this way of life. (I don’t ever intend to keep a non-theological blog because, one, I don’t think those genuinely exist, and two, my faith colors every aspect of my life.)

Of course we will still feature longer theological ramblings on occasion, but I would like to write more often about how theology applies to normal, everyday, earthly life. I want to write about gardening and literature and bread making and child raising, not just as anecdotes thrown into the first paragraph of a theological treatise, but as the mediums in which theology finds existential substance and produces actual sanctification.

And I want to write about cloth diapering. So here we go.

Why Am I Doing The Flats & Handwashing Challenge?

Something I’ve heard from many people in the year that we’ve used cloth diapers is that cost is one of their biggest aversions. Modern cloth diapering systems can be very expensive, truly, especially if you get sucked into the collection community which often involves buying each new exclusive print or the latest and greatest innovation in liners (nothing wrong with that if you’re using them, of course, and can afford them). There are many different brands, absorbency options, detergents, wash routines, and so on in the cloth diapering world of today, whereas our grandmothers had the option of large fabric swaths, fasteners, and the infamous “plastic pants.” Just for the record, I shudder whenever I hear the term plastic pants.

In the industry’s effort to make cloth diapering more attractive and convenient for our generation of mothers, it has in some ways had the opposite effect. Cloth diapering is often perceived as only being an option for an elite and privileged group of moms who make their own kombucha and sourdough, and who can shell out hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars on the highest quality – not to mention the cutest – covers and inserts. Just to be transparent, I am the type of mom who at least tries to make her own sourdough . . . but has gotten sucked into the cloth diaper cult one more than one occasion and spent more than I had on cloth diaper items I could have lived without.

This leads me to explain why I’m participating in the Flats & Handwashing Challenge, which aims every year to raise awareness of diaper need and the availability of cloth diapering for different lifestyles and income levels. I was providentially taught a lesson a couple months ago, as most of my somewhat-expensive diapering stash was ruined past the point of my ability and would take me months to remedy. The cost of disposable diapering for this time – not to mention the amount of diapers I would contribute to the landfill – would surpass or at least match what I could spend on a cheaper and more versatile set of flour sack towel “flats” (a type of absorbency insert that most closely resembles the old fashioned swath of fabric) and cheaper, plain white waterproof covers.

After I got my bulk pack of flour sack kitchen towels in the mail, courtesy of the Amazon fairy, I was reading up on the benefits of flats when I came across a post advertising the F&HW Challenge. The Facebook algorithm had actually been helpful for once!

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that none of us are immune to the threat of diaper need. This awareness took me back to March 2020, when I was sitting at home, self-isolating from a new virus we had no data on, with a brand new baby who needed lots and lots of diapers. I recall running out of the last pack of baby shower gift diapers and pulling up my Target app only to find that not only could diapers not be picked up curbside due to demand, but that said demand had wiped out all but two packs of newborn diapers from the store’s entire stock. I remember the anxiety I felt as we hobbled into the store, armed with sanitizing wipes and protective glares at anyone who made a move toward the car seat in the shopping cart, to hunt down the one remaining pack of diapers.

Before this, very few of us members of the Western world would have ever thought we wouldn’t have access to necessities like diapers, shelf stable food, or toilet paper. The corporations and supply chains would never fail to provide us, their needy dependents, right?

Wrong. And I doubt the spring of 2020 will be the last time this happens.

Since then, I have been on a mission to identify less conventional ways of acquiring these kinds of goods. In the days after my diaper shortage experience, I spent hours researching cloth diapers while nursing my newborn, and sometime in March I charged our credit card with my first order of cloth diapering supplies.

This isn’t a conversation about the merits or demerits of consumer debt; but just for the record, we knew we would be able to pay off the card within the next month or two. And as insidious as it is on the part of the credit card industry, they know that many people rely financially on the ability to stretch out payments for bigger expenses like this. I love that many diapering companies (and even sources like PayPal) now offer interest-free six-week payment plans through Affirm or Afterpay that can make investments like cloth diapering even more doable than when I started our cloth journey last year. Anyway . . . The point is that not everyone has the income to support up-front investments with cash, even for purchases that will save them money in the long run.

This, my friends, is why simpler cloth diapering systems are so important. Even with the total broken up into payments, many families cannot afford the most sustainable, most stylish, most convenient $500 stash of cloth diapers. The “China cheapies” dreaded by so many cloth diaper elitists (well-meaning ones, don’t get me wrong) are often the only option for lower income parents who need diapers NOW and do not have the time or resources to treat detergent buildup or repair elastics on used diapers. And flour sack towels are arguably the most versatile, affordable, and easily-washable absorbency sources out there. (Seriously, argue with me all you want. You can’t beat $.50-$1 per insert.) To save even more, you can cut up 100% cotton sheets or tshirts into 28×28 inch squares for the exact same effect!

That’s what the Flats & Handwashing Challenge has its participants doing this week: Using only flats for absorbency, handwashing them, and line drying. Or just challenging them to try new diapering skills or use a smaller stash than usual. The goal is to promote some humble awareness of what is and isn’t a necessity when it comes to diapering, both in the cloth diapering community and in the disposable diaper community. Maybe you’re a cloth user who needs to evaluate and reconsider your lofty idea of what is or isn’t the right way to cloth diaper. Maybe you’re already a lower-income cloth user who can get ideas during the challenge for lessening your expense even more. Maybe you’re a disposable user who swears you could never make the switch, but you don’t realize how doable cloth might actually be. Or maybe you don’t even have kids in diapers but you like to learn new things. No matter what category you find yourself in, I hope you follow along this week as I talk about all things cloth diapering and share my experience with handwashing. Who knows . . . maybe I’ll continue to handwash even after the challenge!

Grace and peace,

Jessica

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