Your home is a reflection of who you are. If you value the earth, it should definitely show in your home. Thankfully, there are several ways to create an eco-friendly home that treads gently on this planet. Here are a few tips and tricks to keeping your home as sustainable as possible.
Use Natural Cleaning Products
So many cleaning products are filled with disgusting, harmful ingredients. Who’d want to breathe those in on a constant basis? Not to mention most cleaning products on the market are packaged in wasteful plastic. Make the switch to natural cleaning products instead. They’re so much better for the environment and you can even make your own very simply. If you decide to make your own all-natural cleaning products, you’ll be helping the environment, your wallet, and your health.
Personally, I love using some orange peel vinegar cleaner. It’s so easy to make. All you have to do is save your orange peels, store them in a jar, then pour some white vinegar over them. Make sure the jar is sealed up tight, then store it away for two to three weeks to let the mixture infuse. When it’s ready, funnel some of the infused vinegar into a spray bottle. You don’t need to add too much (maybe a little more than 3/4 of the way), then fill the rest of the spray bottle with water. You can add some essential oil (I like adding a few drops of lemon), but it’s not required. It should smell nice and citrusy on its own, and the vinegar will be tinted a pretty orange color. You can also try this method using lemon or lime peels, if you have no orange peels in the house.
You can use this spray to clean pretty much anything. It’s an all-purpose spray I like to use to clean my room of dust, clean the kitchen, or even scrub the bathroom. It’s super handy and gets the job done. Pair it with a reusable rag and you’ve got yourself eco-friendly cleaning supplies.
For laundry, I suggest using soap nuts or making your own low waste laundry detergent from baking soda, washing soda, and a castile soap bar. It’s super simple to DIY your own and saves you a ton of money. Whenever possible, wash your clothes with cold water and if you can, hang them dry in the sun. You can also try reusable wool balls instead of single use dryer sheets.
Donate Items You No Longer Need (the right way)
Cleaning out a particular room? Noticing a lot of clutter? Don't just throw things out and think they’ll go away. There is no “away”. All items have to go some place. Instead, figure out what to do with the items you no longer want or need.
- Can we donate these items? Are they in good enough condition?
- Can we upcycle the items into something else and keep it, or give it away?
- Can we sell the items to someone who might want or need it?
- Once you figure out what to do with your item, be sure to identify the right course of action.
Generally speaking, I recommend donating any items like furniture, appliances, clothes, toys, jewelry, and kitchen utensils to a thrift store. Find a local thrift store near you by simply typing into google “thrift store near me” or “thrift store (your city)”. I found one in my area relatively easily because of this and was able to donate a whole set of chinaware and toys to them my family and I no longer needed. Just be sure to check the thrift store’s policies regarding what they accept donation wise.
There are some other options besides thrift stores. Have any old books or magazines? Look and see if your local library will accept them, or if there’s a book donation drive happening near you. Any clothes you no longer wear? Give them to close relatives or find a clothing bin to drop them off at. Find any feminine hygiene products you don’t intend on using? Find a local women’s shelter that will be more than happy to take them off your hands. Have a broken piece you cannot figure out what to do with? Contact local artists to see if they’d be interested in taking it to transform into art.
Place all the items you want to donate in a box and make a mental note to do it as soon as you can. It’s all about realizing no item should go to waste just because you can no longer use it anymore.
Have a Low-Waste Pantry & Kitchen
Pantries and kitchens are some of the most wasteful places imaginable. Between food waste and single-use packaging, there’s a lot to improve on. To keep your kitchen and pantry as eco-friendly as possible, I suggest learning more about low-waste living.
Low-waste living is a pretty straightforward concept: You try to reduce the amount of trash you make every day. To do that, you do have to make some adjustments. I suggest looking in your trash bin to see where most of your trash is coming from. A lot of the trash my family no longer makes came from food waste and plastic packaging around food. Now, we barely fill up the garbage.
Here’s how to have a low-waste pantry:
- Select foods that are packaged in paper and cardboard over plastic. For example, choose pasta in a cardboard box instead of a plastic bag. Plastic is so much harder to recycle, and the flimsier it is, the more likely it isn't recyclable at all.
- Learn how to shop in bulk via bulk food stores. Bulk food stores have a bulk bin aisle where you can use your own containers to fill up on food. I love taking my own mason jars with me to fill up on all sorts of dry goods like rice, pasta, popcorn, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. Then they weigh it at the cash register and I pay for it. So simple and waste free! Plus, it’s usually a lot cheaper (considering I’m not purchasing any packaged products, just the product itself).
- Store anything you get from the bulk food store in glass jars—you can use empty salsa or sauce jars—instead of plastic containers. Your pantry will look Pinterest-worthy and you won’t have to worry about toxins (from plastic) leaching into your food.
- Avoid junk food as much as possible. Most junk food is packaged in plastic or excessive packaging. Chips, granola bars, and crackers all tend to come individually wrapped. Try making your own snacks instead, or skip out altogether. Stick to healthier snacks like fruit, seeds, and nuts you can find in bulk.
How to have a low-waste kitchen:
- Compost all your food scraps. The ends of vegetables and fruits, vegetable peels, leftovers you can’t finish: All of them should be composted. Throwing them in the garbage sends them to a landfill where they’ll just produce methane gas.
- Buy your food as package free as possible. Whether you go to the farmers market or the grocery store, take reusable produce bags and tote bags with you to gather your fresh, whole foods. Grocery stores unfortunately put unrecyclable stickers on their produce and use twist ties a lot, but that’s unavoidable. Do your best to cut down on waste as much as possible whenever you go food shopping.
- Make sure not to waste any of your food. If you see an item that’s been sitting in the fridge for a while, use it up right away. Also, if you have produce you haven’t used all up yet, don’t buy more of it when you go shopping at the store. Use up what you have first, to prevent it from going bad. And if fruit does get past the point you want to eat it, find a use for it anyway.
- Avoid using single-use plates, cups, and utensils in the kitchen. Use real eatery whenever possible and load up the dishwasher if you don’t feel like cleaning it. Definitely better for the environment: Washing dishes actually wastes less water than it takes to make a pack of disposable dishes!
- Make your own non-toxic dish soap using water, castile soap, and baking soda. Store it in a mason jar with a soap dispenser top to keep things plastic free.
- Avoid using sponges to wash your dishes. They’re not real sponges—they’re made from plastic and artificial dyes. Instead, use compostable wooden brushes (like pot scrubbers), natural loofahs, un-sponges, or copper scrubbers.
- Swap paper towels and paper napkins for dish towels and reusable napkins. You can clean these with your regular laundry, and they’ll save you a buck, too.
Purchase Furniture Secondhand
Whenever you need a new piece of furniture, see if you can find it secondhand first. A new piece of furniture means those resources were just taken from the earth to be made into that item (and that’s not something you want to support). Instead, secondhand furniture has already been made and is still perfectly good to use. By buying secondhand, you’ll be keeping something out of the landfill, and supporting a more circular economy. Plus, it’ll be cheaper for you!
I recommend checking thrift stores for furniture pieces. You never know what you’ll find and might be surprised. Some other great places to find secondhand furniture are garage/estate sales, salvage/resale stores, or even your grandparents’ house. Get creative and learn how to find the best deals. Secondhand furniture may need a little refurbishing, but other than that, it’ll be good as new if you get it in good condition.
Water is not an infinite resource, though we certainly treat it like it is. Let’s protect our water. Cut back on your water usage in your home whenever possible. This can be as simple as taking shorter showers or not running the water when you lather your teeth. Or, it can be even more sophisticated, like creating or buying rain barrels to store rain water, installing a low pressure/water-saving showerhead, and/or fixing a leaky faucet—whatever you need to do to make sure water isn’t being wasted in your home.
Also, please avoid dumping harmful chemicals down the drain. This pollutes our waterways. Use dish soap, body wash, shampoo, and conditioner that don’t have any harsh chemicals in them. Always make sure to read the labels on every item you bring into your house, especially items that can get washed down the drain. I recommend looking into natural products whenever possible, so you don’t have to expose your skin, or the water system, to harmful chemicals. If you can’t find any you like to buy, try making your own!
Use Energy Wisely & Purchase Energy Star Products
Whenever you leave a room, be sure to shut off all the lights and unplug all the electronics. It’s important to cut back on the amount of energy your house uses up at all times. If you can, I’d suggest using energy star products whenever possible. Look for the little logo on their products whenever you’re shopping. This will ensure you choose a product that doesn’t take up as much energy to run and operate. I always make sure all my computers and air conditioners have this logo on them.
I also recommend you look into switching over to renewable energy, if you have the means. Solar and wind power are extremely popular nowadays. If you’re worried you can’t fit or afford solar panels on your roof, look into local community solar farms you could join. These “farms” are set up so that you can tap into the power of solar without needing to install anything on your roof. They’re perfect for people living in apartments who want to be more sustainable energy users!
Purchase Products with the Earth in Mind
Whatever you decide to buy for your home, be it a new carpet, magazine, or coffee pot, always stop to think about the Earth first.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before every purchase:
- How is this purchase impacting the environment? Will it affect it negatively?
- What is this product made out of material wise, and was it sourced ethically?
- Am I actually going to use this product, or is it just going to take up space?
- How long is the product built to last? Will it end up in a landfill somewhere?
- Can I easily recycle, compost, or reuse this product at the end of its life?
All these questions are designed to help you make the most sustainable purchases for your home. Stopping to ask these questions will also help get you out of a consumer mindset and help you save money in the process.
My advice is to wait a few days before purchasing a new item. If you forget about the product, or realize you don’t actually need it in the days that pass, it’s not worth going back for. Stepping away from a product can certainly demonstrate how much you truly need it!
If you are one hundred percent certain you want the product, double check you can’t get one secondhand or from a loved one. You’d be keeping something out of a landfill instead of wasting a new resource by doing this.