Like most of us, in my twenties I thought I knew exactly where I wanted to go with my life. I had lofty dreams and big plans to create an incredibly successful life. But it’s always interesting how events in our lives and circumstances that arise end up changing our goals and adjusting our path. I’ve heard these little changes that influence our decisions called divine breadcrumbs: the common themes that keep showing up in our lives gently nudging us to a different path. In truth, I think this is exactly how I was led to a toxin free lifestyle. Green living wasn’t always important to me, but as I look back I see just HOW many small shifts I have made over time to get here. From one of my first changes to toxin free cookware to the most recent change of installing healthier flooring at home, they all play a role in creating this non-toxic lifestyle.
HOW MY GREEN LIVING ALL BEGAN
In my twenties the small community that I belonged to just East of St. Paul, Minnesota went through some major changes that shaped the way I looked at SO many products I purchase now. It all started with the discovery of contaminated well water for a number of homes in our area. If you’re imagining Erin Brokovich, I can tell you it’s not as exciting as the movie, but definitely along the same lines. The one big difference was the actual contaminant. For years families talked about the perfluorinated chemicals in the water supplies we once had for our homes.
As someone who’s always curious, I began researching what these chemicals were through newspaper articles, library sources and trying to locate information online (I’ll date myself and tell you Google was not the hot-spot it is now). The fact of the matter was that a large company disposed of chemicals used for non-stick pans and upholstery protectants improperly, which traveled through ground water to many of our wells.
It was the first time I realized that I couldn’t blindly trust just any company’s products. It was the first taste of knowing that I needed to research products and companies on my own before I bought them. And it started with getting non-stick pans out of my house and switching to non-toxic cookware.
Getting behind my community and seeing the damaging effects families had medically from this toxic exposure made me start to gradually shift my dreams to being able to help others in their homes minimize this type of thing.
While I thought the way to help initially was working in the legal field, I quickly found out desk work is just not in my blood, which sent me back to square one. Over the next ten years I continued to educate myself on clean water, which quickly led to the idea of healthy homes that are as toxin free as possible. Knowing that I wanted to focus on green living and non-toxic home spaces, I wondered how I could help families reduce toxins before they became life-altering problems. It’s this exact dilemma that led me to becoming a Building Biology Practitioner. It allowed me to take my knowledge and share it in a more professional way.
At the same time I began expanding my knowledge base to understand how the systems in a home work together, which is when I began my work as a home inspector for my community.
Pairing home inspections, which is the technical side of our structures, with the holistic style of building biology created the perfect solution for me to help others with toxin free lifestyle choices in a very practical way.
GREEN LIVING: MY LIFELONG JOURNEY
I say this often and I’ll share it here as well: My journey to create a toxin free home is ongoing. While I think that you can never have a TRULY toxin free home, you can use green living practices to create a low toxin living space that supports the human body rather than burdens it.
There really is never an endpoint with a toxin free lifestyle because it’s all about daily changes you embrace to make your space healthier every day. While yes, there are some green living changes that aren’t necessarily habits, the bulk of what I teach and where I think the drastic improvements come, is through changing how we think, shop and live every day.
For me one of the FIRST things to go in my house was non-stick cookware because I fully understood this toxin at a young age. And while I wasn’t able to find 100% pure ceramic cookware 15 years ago, I made due with other non-toxic cookware until now. And I think that’s one of the biggest positive lessons I’ve learned over my journey.
If you don’t have the ideal or perfect solution immediately (whether it’s not available or it’s not in your budget), you can make a small improvement and work up to the BEST solution over time.
I like to think of green living in the sense of a snowball. With each small change the snowball gets bigger and more pronounced. With each change you make in your home to reduce toxins, you also layer on another level of non-toxic habits. It also means that your toxin free changes will stick. There’s no sliding back to old habits when you layer them on slowly and one at a time.
HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN TOXIN FREE HOME
The great thing about reducing toxins at home is that you can really go about it in whatever order and fashion you want. If you want to start with toxin-free cookware, you can. If you want to begin by starting a no-shoe policy, go for it. No matter where you start, you just use the same principle of slowly adding more and more changes until you’re at a more sustainable spot.
These are some of the spots most of my families like to start at:
Get Rid of Dust: Dust contains toxins from the products we bring into our homes (cleaning, detergents and personal products) as well as tiny particles from plastics and textiles (flame retardants, PFOAs, formaldehyde and more). Dust sitting around the house will eventually end up in HVAC ductwork and subsequently spread throughout the house. And if you have small children who spend time playing on the floor, you can bet that they ingest more dust than anyone else.
The toxins present in dust contribute to hormone disruption, asthma, allergies and some even lead to an increased risk of cancer. The remedy for this is simply getting rid of the dust at home. Some ways you can reduce dust at home are:
- Dust with a wet cloth or spray once a week
- Vacuum on a regular basis
- Change your HVAC filter every 2-3 months
- Clean vent grates every few months
- Wet mop smooth surface flooring every 2-3 days
Ditch Plastic in the Kitchen: Plastic contains a wide range of toxins from phthalates to polyvinyl chloride and other plasticizers. The most harmful place plastic is found in a home is right in the kitchen. Plastic dishes and storage containers and bags have the ability to leach toxins and chemicals into food that comes into contact with the material. Anything warm, acidic or oily has the ability to leach the most amount of plastic toxins into food.
Toxins in plastics have been linked to poor development of children, alter hormone production, cause hyperactivity and reproductive issues. These toxins have also been known to suppress the immune system in both adults and kids.
Some healthy materials to replace plastic are:
- Food Grade or Platinum Silicone
- Stainless Steel
- 100% Pure Ceramic
Change Cleaning Solutions: The cleaners you use at home could actually be doing more harm than good. While cleaning your home is an important part of green living, you have to do it the right way. Toxins like ammonia, bleach, dioxane and toluene are just the short list of toxins present in our everyday cleaners and detergents. These toxins have been linked to an increased risk of asthma or allergies, kidney and liver damage, central nervous system damage as well as negative affects on the thyroid and reproductive systems.
You might even think that you’ve got nothing to worry about because you’re found a non-toxic cleaner that is safe for your family. The bummer is that there is SUCH a huge issue with products claiming to be healthy, that really aren’t Watch out for terms like: green, all natural, eco friendly, chemical free, and even non-toxic.
To find truly safe products, be sure to check EWG, ThinkDirty, MadeSafe for your cleaning products. Another alternative is to mix up your own at home.
Reduce VOCs: VOCs, or volatile organic compounds has become such a buzz word synonymous with green living. But, they truly are a huge part of our homes and oftentimes there are really simple ways to reduce them, we just don’t know about it. The variety of toxins that create VOCs can contribute to neurological problems, behavioral changes in children, human cancer risk, liver damage, nerve damage, respiratory issues, and kidney damage.
VOCs off gas from a variety of products in our home. Anything from personal care products like shampoos and lotions to the plywood that makes up the subfloor in our home can contain VOCs. Because they’re so many places in our homes, it can be nearly impossible to eliminate them all together. This is why I think it’s so important to change our habits to change our environment instead. VOCs off gas at a higher rate in warm, humid environments. Changing this in our homes as well as adding plenty of ventilation is key in reducing VOC exposure. Here are some things you can do at home to help:
- Allow proper ventilation through windows and HVAC units as often as possible
- Keep humidity indoors between 35% - 45%
- Keep temperatures comfortable, but do not exceed 73 degrees
- Use an air purifier that filters small particles down to .1 microns
The Smarter Smart Home: We have SO many electronics in our homes today. And while most of them emit toxic EMF (electromagnetic fields) and EMR (electromagnetic radiation), I am of the opinion that it’s not necessary to remove all electronics or sources in your home.
I think that we have to be practical and due to our society norms, electronics usage will never go away or even decrease. Electromagnetic radiation comes from things like Wi-Fi routers, bluetooth devices, laptops, baby monitors, smart home devices, dimmer switches, microwaves, televisions, hair dryers, fluorescent light bulbs and refrigerators.
And while we’re still learning more and more about EMF and EMR exposure, what studies have shown is that it has been linked to sleep disturbances, insomnia, headaches, depression and childhood leukaemia. It has also been shown to alter the function of the brain and how it deals with stress.
Some practical ways you can reduce exposure at home is:
- Put down your cell phone instead of carrying it in your pocket
- Use a toaster oven rather than a microwave
- Keep electronics out of your sleeping space
- Hardwire your internet or computers
ALL CERAMIC COOKWARE AND HOW IT FITS IN
With all these positive green living changes, one of the natural changes was to swap out pots and pans with 100% pure ceramic cookware. The way we prepare food has a huge impact on our health and wellness because we’re consuming and ingesting our food with any toxic chemicals.
Going toxin free in the cookware world can be a little tricky. There are so many products that look appealing and toxin free - like ceramic coated cookware - but when you start researching or looking deeper, it’s unclear if the materials used are non-toxic or not.
One of the best lessons I’ve learned in my journey to a healthy home is that the fewer materials used, the easier it is to determine the health of a product. Simplicity is key here. This is why I was SO excited when I did find high quality 100% pure ceramic cookware. It is not only a healthy option and toxin free, but this non-toxic cookware is truly authentic in that there aren’t layers upon layers of different materials or hardware that adds an element of toxicity. Xtrema's all ceramic cookware is not only safe to cook in, it's also dishwasher safe and super easy to clean.
This means that food can be cooked and served in dishes free from toxins and harmful chemicals. It’s just another place where we can reduce toxin exposure and improve our space to be as healthy as possible. A healthy living space that is free from as many toxins as possible will not only support your immune system, but also creates an environment that supports your overall health and wellness.