By Jaime Mathews

Making the World More Beautiful One Walk at a Time

Healthy Living

The Sweet Life

November 19, 2021

While on a walk with my son, a lightbulb moment came up to me. Why not make our little walks more intentional, more meaningful and more deliberate?

I have never been the type of mama who loved to take my toddlers for a walk. Let’s face it, by the time they can walk, they want to walk! The days of them leisurely relaxing in the stroller have gone by the wayside and in its place is a slower-than-snail paced little human who wants to stop and look at everything, pick up small rocks and sticks, all the while giving me a near heart attack when they veer toward oncoming traffic. 

Then you have the obvious obstacles that many toddlers and parents alike run into on the walking trail, the sidewalk or the street corner: the oversized dog dying to come give them a lick, or the cyclist who is about to get tangled up in our stroller and tot menagerie. There’s a lot of pressure when our toddlers want to go for a walk. And for me, there is a ton of stress. For anyone who wants to walk for stress relief, I have to say that it seems a little counter-productive. 

So I turned my toddler onto the idea of making the most of our mommy-son strolls: doing a garbage walk. And mamas, let me tell you, it has changed the game for our time together… It’s become one of the most fun—and rewarding—teaching tools in my parenting arsenal.

How I Came Up With the Garbage Walk Idea

Well, let me start by saying that I’m quite sure I did not invent the garbage walk. But during our often stress-filled walks (see reasons above), my son and I began to see how much garbage littered our streets. Our walking days were often on Tuesdays, which is important for two reasons: 1) that is the day my son and I spend the day together, as it is his one day home from preschool, and 2) it is the day after garbage day, so there are often fly-aways from the trash-can dumping from the day prior. 

But whatever the reason, we noticed paper, plastic bottles, beer cans, and my son’s favorite, dog poop bags. Now, I have expressed this concern in prior articles, but I am still puzzled by the fact that dog owners take the time to bag up their pooch’s poop only to leave the bag of poop on the side of the road. These are the kinds of actions that make this mama’s head spin. But good for my son, because finding these camouflaged bags next to the bushes or hiding next to a mound of dirt is almost as much fun for him as finding his stocking chock-full of goodies on Christmas morning. It’s honestly his most exciting find!

All poop ranting aside, my three-and-a-half-year-old little guy and I started talking about all the garbage we saw. I told him how littering made our world ugly and that God wanted all of us to help keep our Earth beautiful and clean, which meant never throwing garbage on the ground … but it also meant helping to clean it up! It was at that moment, with my son sauntering on the side of the street with me, that I decided we should make our walks more intentional, more meaningful and more deliberate. And so our neighborhood garbage walking began!

What You Need For a Garbage Walk

As you can imagine, garbage walk supplies are rather simple. Since my son is as independent as they come, I knew that he—and only he—would want to do all of the garbage collecting. Being that we have been living in Covid craziness, our house already had adult-sized plastic gloves. But I did not have any tot-sized. So I ordered an XS box of them. 

We both wore gloves the first time we ventured out on our garbage walk together, but I quickly realized that I was the bag holder and the dog walker, nothing more. If I even so much as looked too long at a piece of garbage he wanted to discover and collect, I was doomed. Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit, but he got quite mad at my raining on his garbage parade. He wanted to see every piece and then he, not me, wanted to collect it and throw it in our garbage bag. 

So it became quite clear: I was to walk our dog while holding the plastic garbage bag, so that he could fill it with all of the discarded items he found along the way. I ditched my sweat-inducing gloves into the trash bag I was holding and from that day forward, I never wore those uncomfortable, powder-laden gloves again. But my son never leaves home without them. In fact, we now carry an extra set of gloves and a clean trash bag in our car (along with an extra leash), just in case he and I (and our dog, who goes pretty much everywhere with us) are out and about with a little time to kill where there is a lot of garbage to pick up. 

What Has Happened Since We Began Our Garbage Walks

It’s funny how we parents can instill something in our children and not really know the ripple effect of it. Since its inception in our family, all three of my children cannot drive, walk or bike by an area that is peppered with trash, and not notice it. When we drive to school and my kiddos see excess garbage on the ground, they notice. Last week we were on the freeway headed to school and it had appeared that an Office Depot truck had lost all of its contents, as 8 ½ x 11 white paper covered the entire side of the offramp. One of my twins noticed it immediately and said we should go pick it up. Now of course, sometimes these conversations turn into an important teaching moment, like how pedestrians should never, under any circumstances, be walking on the side of a freeway. But the desire to do good, to keep our world beautiful, is still just that—beautiful.

Sometimes I think we underestimate the power of suggestion. Suggesting to do something other than mindlessly meander on a walk with my toddler turned into an eye-opening experience for my kids. They are now acutely attuned to the mess on our planet. But now, they feel empowered to do something about it. They now know that they can contribute to the betterment of our world, the clean-up of our Earth and to restoring beauty back into communities. 

And here’s the bonus: people notice. Now I’m not saying this so that my children and I can get a Do Good button to pin on our flannels. I mean that I have been stopped on the street more times than I can count by people inquiring about our walks. I have literally had cars pull over to ask me what we were doing and I’ve seen people give us the thumbs up as they cruise by us on bikes. And why is that important? Because many of these people have kids and grandkids of their own and in my experience, good ideas are contagious. My children and I don’t do this for praise. We don’t do it for recognition or for a write-up in the local paper. We do it because it matters. We do it because it makes a difference and we do it because, at least for me, I am committed to raising my littles with a desire to make their world a better place. Even if that is one La Croix can or poop bag at a time.


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Jaime Mathews      Author

Jaime is a woman of many hats: follower of Jesus, wife, mama of three, homeschooler, business owner, blogger, writer and aspiring homesteader. Follow her on instagram @jaimeleemathews.

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