December 6, 2010

Part Three: The Bedroom (A List of Methods for the Non-Disposable, Low Waste Life)

Welcome to part three. Be sure to check out Part One: The Kitchen, Part Two: The Bathroom, and stay tuned for part four.

The Non-Disposable, Low Waste Life - List of Methods
(This is the entire list in simple form.)

- make our food from scratch
- buy loose tea, bulk items, and no single serving sizes
- reusable, compostable, recyclable packaging
- no paper, no plastic flatware, little non-reusable food storage
- no non-stick or plastic cookware, dishes, etc.
- we don't buy water
- reusable grocery sacks
- compost and chickens

- no make up or deodorant
- cloth menstrual pads
- recycled and recyclable razors and toothbrushes
- pee wipes
- cloth shower curtain
- solid shampoo
- homemade soap
- vinegar rinse
- if it's yellow...
- no chemical cleaners
- buy hemp

- salvaged furniture
- no VOC paint
- lighting choices
- avoid synthetic clothing
- durable clothes and shoes
- mattresses and linens  

- bike
- combining trips in the car
- cloth ribbon, upcycled packaging
- paper and cardboard as garden mulch
- sew and mend
- soap
- grow food
- wash in cold, dry on the line
- limit air conditioner and heater use
- the place for recycled plastic
- upcycling


  • Salvaged Furniture
Obviously this applies to any room in the house. You can buy furniture second hand (excellent green option) but it's amazing what you find out at the street for the garbage men to take away. Sometimes, like with the book shelf in our bedroom, the furniture is perfectly usable as is. Other times it needs minor repairs or even total revamping. If you're up for it, lots of ugly and damaged furniture has good bones and is worth a renovation. Check out Curbly for inspiration and instructions on everything from reupholstering to repainting furniture (there are also lots of before and after room renovations, holiday crafts, and handmade gift ideas).

  • No VOC Paints
Volatile organic compounds. That's the part of paint that smells. It's also the part of paint that is seriously bad for you even after it's dried on the walls. When we painted our house we used Harmony paint by Sherwin-Williams. It has no VOCs in its pure state but frustratingly, coloring it adds a small amount. There are other readily available brands of no VOC paints on the market. However, if you can afford it, there are some other options. Milk paint is very non-toxic stuff made from casein, lime, and pigments. There are a number of brands available, ranging from extremely expensive to almost as cheap as regular no VOC latex paint. Or you could use stucco.

  • Lighting Choices
When choosing light bulbs we now have three choices: incandescent which use a lot of energy, compact florescent which use much less but has that whole mercury issue, or LEDs which last for decades. Incandescents are incredibly cheap but clearly not the best choice for sustainability. CFLs are more expensive and LEDs are very expensive (although their price is slowly coming down). I think it's a "do the best you can" situation.

  • Avoid synthetic clothing
For one thing, it doesn't biodegrade so after you've worn it to death, refashioned it, and finally made it into rags, synthetic clothing ultimately has to go to the landfill. Also, synthetics are mostly made from petroleum, they're energy intensive to make, require pretty nasty chemicals to produce, and they mostly don't feel as good on the skin as natural fibers. We don't need synthetics when we have wools, hemp, silk, and cotton. For more on what is and what is not a sustainable textile, see this post.

  • Durable Clothes and Shoes
I can't tell you how many times in my youth I bought a cheap pair of shoes that I could never wear because they hurt my feet. Or how often cheap shoes fell apart before the year was out. Same with clothing - cheap clothing shrinks, stretches out of shape, pills, tears, and often isn't sewn or tailored well. I used to think I needed a lot of clothes but I've come to the conclusion I only need a few good pieces that last and I'll just wear them more than once a week. In fact that's what happens anyway. I have some high quality stuff that I wear over and over again and some cheap clothes which never get worn.

I've decided that from now on I will save up and buy better. Instead of buying three or four cheap cotton cardigans that won't keep me warm, are too hot when I wear them inside, and loose their shape after 6 months I'll spend the money on one wool cardigan that is well made and lasts for years. Instead of the 5 or so cheap cotton henleys that make up so much of my winter wardrobe and which don't keep me very warm, I'm going to save the money and buy a wool henley that I'll wear most days. Since it's December I have winter clothing on my mind but the same is true for summer clothing and shoes. Generally, the quality shoes I paid dearly for have lasted me 8 or 10 years.

** A note about wool: I came to this realization about wool a few years ago. Back then I was wearing cotton cardigans over tank tops to work most days. When it was very cold, I tended to be cold and when I came inside I tended to get too hot and start sweating. After a few months the sweaters would start losing their shape. Eventually they would lose their stretch recovery so the sleeves wouldn't stay pushed up and they bagged all around. I would get annoyed because they didn't fit well any longer and I'd buy more. One day I splurged and treated myself to a mostly merino cardigan. I expected buyers remorse because the thing was more expensive than any other piece of clothing I owned. Instead, I noticed that when I wore it in the cold, I was nice and toasty. One day I wore it to work and the day turned warm but the heater was still on in the building. Normally I would be wishing I could take the sweater off but in the wool, I was quite comfortable and not sweaty at all. This made me investigate wool. It's amazing stuff - both cooler and warmer than cotton depending on the situation. It insulates even while wet and wicks moisture away from the body.

  • Mattresses, Linens, and Pillows
Be careful when shopping for an eco-friendly mattress. There are a lot of claims and counter claims and misleading advertising. This is an area where you'll just have to do your homework and figure out what you think is best. But I think we can agree that foam, synthetic fabrics, and fire retardants are pretty suspect materials. Regardless of whether or not they off gas VOCs, contain phthalates, etc. they're made from petroleum and not biodegradable. The mattress is definitely an area where you could make an environmental choice but it's very complicated. Maybe by the time we're ready to buy a new mattress there will be some clarity on this issue.

Linens are less complicated. It is possible to find sheets made from all types of fibers. You can often find them used in thrift stores (even damaged sheets can be repaired or upcycled into pillow cases or a duvet cover). If you're going to buy new, the most sustainable option is hemp. It is, however, very expensive. Of course sheets can last a long time so it might be worth the investment. Mattress pads and blankets can both be found in wool or mostly wool blends. Wool breaths well, can be water resistant, and remains comfortable when wet so it is a favorite bedding material to keep you comfortable in humid climates.

Pillows are often stuffed with synthetic foam or polyester fiber fill but they are available filled with cotton, kapok, wool, down, and buckwheat. Comforters can be found stuffed with wool, down, or cotton instead of polyester fibers.

Anything I've forgotten? What sustainable choices are you making in your home?

Keep in mind, we've made a decision to be a one income household in order to have time and energy to do things the slow, sustainable way. For more on living deliberately and limiting income to limit consumption there are some books I recommend: The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living, Better Off : Flipping the Switch on Technology, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living   Better Off : Flipping the Switch on Technology (P.S.)   Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

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