I ‘ve neglected this series for a while, so if you’re just joining us, you can find The Low-Energy Mom’s Guide to Homeschooling index here. And if you don’t want to read all of that before you read this post, you should at least check out the health merry-go-round post so that you get a sense of what I’m talking about here.
If you’re wondering what this has to do with homeschooling, well … have you ever tried to teach when you feel terrible? Because trust me: the healthier mom is, the better homeschooling is going to go.
What people don’t tell you is that being sick is hard on your body. It seems like we should intuitively know this. When you are fighting an illness, your body is working. It’s pouring resources — energy and nutrients, for example — into trying to fight and fix whatever is wrong. Sometimes this translates into it not doing a very good job at other things that it used to do just fine.
One example is filtering environmental toxins.
Your body is designed to do a good job at filtering. You probably learned about the miraculous lungs, liver, and kidneys in your health classes in high school or college. You can inhale a whole bunch of exhaust from a car, for example, and yet you don’t die — even when it’s full of mercury, carbon monoxide, and more. Why? Well, your lungs protect you. They filter out the bad stuff. Or, if it’s really bad, your lungs have a coughing reflex that will help you get whatever got in back out. Sneezing can also do this.
But your lungs aren’t alone. Toxins can and do still get in, but your liver and kidneys take care of them. At least, that’s what happens when they are functioning normally.
Now, I’m not a doctor or a scientist, so I’m just going to speak from personal experience. During the worst points in my health history, I had some very strange symptoms. I developed bad reactions to things that I am not allergic to — potpourri, scented candles, cleaning supplies.
My theory is this: when you are healthy, you don’t really need to worry about every little toxin. It’s not a big deal, and your strong body is capable of handling it. But when you are struggling with disease, these little things can put your body over the edge. It can make things worse.
And, correspondingly, getting rid of the toxins can support your healing. At the very least, it can slow the decline.
Here are some things I have done in the past — some of which I still do now — to help clean up the air in our home.
1. Switch to “natural” cleaning products.
I put “natural” in quotes because I don’t necessarily think that cleaning products that contain chemicals like ammonia are bad, and lots of “natural” products are only mostly natural — whatever natural means. For our purposes today, natural is going to mean that, if it gets into your body, it’s not hard on your body. Depending on what it is, your body might even like it. (I have a lotion bar that, technically speaking, I could eat, for example.) I felt better once we stopped using the more toxic cleaners and soaps. I still keep Windex around, but we only use it when other things simply won’t work.
I learned to do a lot of my regular cleaning with simple ingredients like baking soda, washing soda, and white vinegar. Still, it’s nice to have bottles on hand that don’t require a recipe before using. In that case, the Environmental Working Group is my go-to website. If I’m thinking about buying a product, I check there and see what grade it received.
Here are some of my favorite products that received good grades:
2. Get rid of products that contaminate the air.
Do you wear perfume? Are you sick? If you answer yes to both, I recommend you stop. Get rid of everything you can that contains fragrances and perfumes. For a couple years, I felt like I had trouble breathing in my bedroom. I figured I had a hard time always, but only noticed it at night when there weren’t other distractions. Turns out, I was wrong! Once we got rid of a candle we kept — and often burned — in our room, I felt so much better.
This is especially pertinent to laundry. Check your soaps, softeners, and dryer sheets — chances are they are full of these things. Many years ago, I switched to Charlie’s Soap for laundry and it’s been faithful to me all these years, always doing a great job, and in a pinch I can add some water and use it as a cleaning product. I’m not super picky about dryer sheets — they just have to be unscented. And in each load of laundry I add either white vinegar, borax, or both.
3. Add house plants.
When I was doing research on indoor air a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that one easy way to clean it was to have houseplants. I manage to kill most houseplants, but my boys have one in their room that they have kept alive for years. If you can keep one alive, it might be a simple (and pretty!) solution for you.
4. Buy an air filter.
We live in one of the most polluted cities in the United States and so opening a window isn’t always helpful and is sometimes detrimental. Enter our HEPA air purifier. It’s large and somewhat unattractive, but it does the job. Using the handle, I can easily move it from room to room. I especially enjoy it during super dry seasons because it keeps me from having to dust quite as often.
Of course, regularly replacing the filters in your central air system is a good idea, too.
5. Use allergy covers for mattresses and pillows.
We’ve used both pillow protectors as well as mattress covers. This is the sort of thing you grow into. With us, we had a child with allergic reactions to his bed. At that point, I thought that maybe it’d be good for me as well. Turns out, it was!
Here are some things I haven’t yet tried that you might find helpful.
1. Test your house for mold.
I’ve read many articles where someone came down with a mysterious illness only to discover after years of sickness and numerous painful tests that mold was the culprit.
2. Keep your pets outside.
I don’t have pet allergies, but our dog doesn’t have full use of the house, either. (That’s just because I don’t want to clean up the hair he sheds all over.) However, comma, since we don’t have allergies, he comes inside for naps or when it is too cold, too hot, too windy or otherwise cause for complaint at the back door. He sleeps in his crate in the living room at night. All of this, I like. But, if I thought he was making me or someone else sick, I would reconsider it.
3. Use charcoal air purifying bags.
Let’s face it: these things are pretty cool. The charcoal is supposed to absorb air pollutants and also the excess moisture that can cause nasties like mold to reproduce. Some people keep air fresheners in their cars — um, that violates my no-fragrance policy. This would do the trick and be nontoxic at the same time.
I haven’t bought any yet because I just learned about them, but I plan to invest soon and keep one in my Suburban and another hidden near the dog’s crate.
Enlisting Outside Help
I said I was going to talk about this for each category. Here is how I see it in regard to clearing the air.
First, we are actually enlisting outside help any time we purchase a product. I have spent hours making cleaning products so that I can save my pennies. But if you are too sick, you can either get someone else to find recipes and make things for you, or you can simply buy a product. (That’s why I listed my favorites.)
We are also enlisting outside help when we buy a service, such as a company to test and treat mold contamination.
But let’s say you feel so bad that you Can’t Even. What I mean is, you can hardly read this post before your head starts swimming. It’s too many details and even if you understood all of it, it’s too many decisions to make and that takes energy you don’t have. This is when you call in a friend or a loved one. You tell them you think this might help you get back on the health merry-go-round and you ask for their assistance.
I have been there and trust me: if you think you need help, you probably do.
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