Simple Home - Sustainability
Plastic consumption and fast fashion have been the hot topics in the news and on social media after the BBC aired two documentaries - ‘Drowning in Plastic’ and ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’. Both are available on the BBC i-player and I recommend watching if you haven’t already seen them as they share some eye opening and at times downright terrifying insights into these issues and the impact they have globally. One thing that I don’t see discussed enough though is sustainability in homewares and I think it’s equally important to address as it is another area where many of us over-consume.
I have made some big changes to the way I shop and what I bring into my home. Previously, I’d fill up my online shopping basket with cushion covers, posters, vases, you name it. If I saw something I liked in a magazine, I bought it. If I saw it on a blog, I bought it. If I saw it in a shop, I bought it. I had a shrine to Cath Kidston and then to Orla Kiely. Our tiny house groaned with stuff. Over the years I’ve been slowly decluttering each room, donating most items I wanted to part with and selling a few bits and pieces too. I’ve still got more to do and truthfully, I think our home will always be a work in progress, but I’m much happier with the amount of things I own and when I do make a purchase I spend time considering what I need.
If you want to make changes to your home then the most important one is to stop buying. When you pop into a homewares store like Ikea, don’t add lots of extras to the trolley. Nobody needs more picture frames, candle holders, cushions, plant pots or tea towels (unless you are specifically going to buy those items!). Write a list and stick to it. Do the same when it comes to online stores. I like The Minimalists approach to buying something new - if it costs more than $30, give yourself at least 30 hours to consider the purchase (I change this to £30). I tend to use Pinterest for this purpose - pin the item to a Pinterest board and let it sit there for several days. You may not feel the same way about an item if you give yourself some time to mull it over. And try not to be swayed by sale days or filling up the basked on your online shop to qualify for free delivery, these are selling tactics to get you to consume more but ask yourself if you really need it. Another good way to stop being exposed to products is to stop following people on Instagram who try to sell you more. Give yourself permission to press unfollow on the influencer accounts that make you feel the compulsion to spend and instead seek out accounts that inspire you in other ways.
Here are some other simple and relatively inexpensive ways to make your home more sustainable:
Furniture - in an ideal world it would be wonderful if more of us opted for vintage or second hand furniture. In reality, it’s harder as many of us live in flats, small homes or we move regularly. Getting that large period wardrobe or vintage sideboard through the door and into your home isn’t always practical and choosing to buy flat-pack furniture makes life simpler. We have twenty steep steps that lead down to our house and inside is tiny, so we have to resort to flat-pack furniture when we have to buy something large like a wardrobe, bed or bookcase. Not ideal I know but instead I shop vintage or second hand for smaller items like coffee tables, dining chairs, bedside tables and lighting.
Simple change - if a piece of furniture is looking a bit shabby think of how you could upcycle it rather than get rid of it. If you can give it a coat of paint choose more eco friendly ones like mineral, chalk or water based eggshell. Add some new knobs or handles to turn it into something new. If it’s a broken item, could it be repaired? In Leeds we have a local repair cafe where people can take in damaged or broken pieces of furniture or electrical and learn how to fix them. Look online for repair cafes near you by searching the Repair Cafe website.
Throws/Cushions - often an easy and inexpensive purchase when we think our sofa or our beds need some cheer and we add them to the trolley or the online shopping basket. Sadly, a lot of throws are made from polyester and usually are in the form of fleece. Polyester is essentially a plastic and when washed in the machine, tiny microfibres from the fleece can enter our water supply and cause irreparable damage. Cushions are also a purchase that we make and don’t consider. Like cotton clothing, cotton cushions will take a lot of water to produce and the crop will have been intensively sprayed with pesticides and herbicides.
Simple change - choose natural fibres like wool for blankets. Knit your own blanket using a kit from Wool and the Gang’s collaboration with Friends of the Earth - Heal the Wool. Opt for linen, hemp or organic cotton for sustainable options for cushion covers. Visit craft fairs to find local makers who design, sew or screenprint onto linen and other more sustainable fabrics. If you are in Yorkshire, visit the Hepworth Christmas Fair to find some of the best independent makers in the UK.
Paint - I do occasionally see people mention on Instagram or on blog posts that there is no difference between buying cheap paint and the more expensive brands. As someone who has used both, I can tell you categorically that there is. Yes, the more expensive brands are better and I’ve found them to be more durable so they are worth the extra money. Most important of all, is that they are water based paints that are low in VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and they have not been made with petrochemicals. Cheaper paint will have minimal VOCs (as is controlled by law) but they will release more toxins into your home and they can continue to leach those toxins for years.
Simple change - rather than popping down to the DIY store for some cheap emulsion to slap on your walls, choose a paint with greener credentials. I like Earthborn when walls and ceilings need a new coat of paint. I’ve been using their claypaint for my walls as it’s one of the most environmentally friendly products available. My living room is painted with St John, the ceilings are all white and the bedroom is Gregory’s Den, a sage green shade. I also use their eco eggshell for interior woodwork.There are lots of other eco alternative paints available including casein paint, but that should be avoided if you are vegan as it is derived from milk protein.
Candles - I’ve saved this one till last as it’s one of my greatest bug bears when it comes to green living and sustainability. Most candles are made from paraffin wax, a by-product of the petroleum industry. They are cheap to produce and often scented with synthetic fragrances. As paraffin wax burns, it releases fumes that are comparable with those of a diesel engine. Many of us light scented candles regularly, believing they will make our homes smell nice or that they will aid us with sleep or stress. Instead, we are actually adding to indoor air pollution and if you or a member of your family struggles with allergies or asthma, then lighting a candle made from paraffin wax can make them worse. Stores that sell candles generally use paraffin wax yet label them as ‘mineral wax’ and use the term ‘fragrance’ to describe the ingredients. Some makers don’t even declare what type of wax they use but if it was a natural plant wax, then they would have nothing to hide. And whether it’s a high end store that makes and sells scented candles with paraffin wax or a cheaper one from the supermarket, they are both essentially not good for the environment or the air inside your home.
Simple change - for scented candles make the switch from paraffin wax to ones made from soy, rapeseed or beeswax which are more sustainable and burn cleanly. Look for makers who use essential oils to scent the candles too. Plant wax candles are a little more expensive but are better value in the long run as they burn for much longer. Shop for soy wax tealights or have a go at making your own with this tutorial. These would make a fantastic Christmas present or a gift for a child’s teacher.
If you want to read more ideas on how to make your life and home more sustainable, consider pre-ordering my book Live Green published in January 2019. Thanks to all who have pre- ordered already!
Below are some of my favourite homewares companies who make or sell quality and ethical products. I haven’t been paid to talk about any of them (I don’t make any money from this blog), they are simply great companies doing good things with sustainability at their core.
Midgley Green - beeswax candles, scented candles, ceramics and cushions.
Essence & Alchemy - hand poured rapeseed candles made with essential oils. Made in Yorkshire.
The Future Kept - ethical and sustainable products for the home.
Celtic Sustainables - where I buy my Earthborn claypaint as it’s slightly cheaper and their customer service is excellent.
Weald Store - British made blankets, beeswax candles, handmade ceramics and artwork.