What sparked your interest in sustainability?
Since my childhood, I’ve had a deep appreciation for nature as my family always advocated for going out for beautiful hikes, camping, etc. – there’s nothing better than to watch a beautiful landscape, sunset, or billions of shining stars at night, and I knew that ever since I was young!
However, sustainability became personal when I got deeper into my studies in packaging engineering. I learned of the effects of our single-use plastic consumption on our health and environment, and also observed that there was a large disconnect between what we use and where it ends up.
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While I had a deep appreciation for everything that went into package design and manufacturing, people around me would throw it out without much of a thought.
I decided to go deeper into the environmental effects of our waste, and the more I learned about how my industry was affecting the planet, the more convicted I was to do something about it and bring this issue to light.
How easy is it to make your home more sustainable?
In my own experience, making my own lifestyle sustainable wasn’t too difficult because I was motivated and passionate about it. Yet when you start implementing changes in your home, especially if you have other housemates, the change won’t come overnight since people need time to adjust.
What I tell my followers is to tackle sustainable switches one by one in their household, which makes it more manageable. For some the switches can be quite simple, such as switching to a better laundry detergent or a bamboo toothbrush, other switches might be a bit more difficult, like planning out waste free grocery shopping trips.
If you have others in the home that are a bit hesitant to move forward, make sure you work it out with them first to make sure they are willing to make changes.
What’s the biggest change you can make in your home?
Simplifying what I need in my home has been the best decision I’ve made in my life. Instead of buying so many tools, knick knacks, and decor items for my home, I’ve learned to be as minimal as possible, simplifying the things in my home to only the things I need.
When I do need something, I try to see if I can borrow it, live without it, or find an alternative that won’t add clutter. Oftentimes we buy things without much of a thought and those products no longer become useful, and may end up being thrown out.
Are your family and friends on board too?
Many of my family and friends are now well aware of the issue of waste and the importance of sustainability, and I’ve had a handful that are always asking me questions of what they can do next!
For others, they may not have made as many changes in their life, but they are well aware and do try their best to always bring a water bottle, reduce their consumption, etc. It’s always funny when I get a random message from a friend about what they’ve recently done to be more sustainable.
Do you use any communities to connect with people with similar interests?
Yes! I love to connect with people through my blog, Snapshots of Simplicity, YouTube channel, and Instagram. I’ve also leveraged Meetup to get to know people in my local area that are also interested in sustainable living!
Read on to discover Christine’s tips for sustainable furnishing and how to declutter your home.
How to furnish your home more sustainably
Furnishing your home sustainably begins with a change of mindset
Having a basic understanding of the impact of your furniture on our planet will help you think critically about your next purchase. The following points will serve as a guide to becoming more environmentally conscious in your furniture consumption.
Question why you’re making the purchase, and repair or dispose of old pieces responsibly
If you’d simply like a new side table or reading chair, think carefully. Give yourself a few days to monitor how you feel without the piece before jumping towards the new purchase, and determine after the end of that time period if you’d be significantly better off with it – only buy what you need.
Did a piece of furniture recently break? Consider repairing it through a local repairman or doing so on your own, unless it is completely unsalvageable. Check your local government or waste facility to determine the proper disposal method for large pieces of furniture.
When you decide it’s time to make the purchase, consider shopping the secondhand market
Used furniture usually comes at an affordable price, and you can often find higher quality at a fraction of the original cost.
Vintage or used finds are also a great indicator of the quality of the furniture – the longer the furniture has lasted, the greater potential it has to endure.
Scouting out used furniture options can give you a sneak peek into the future condition and quality. If buying completely new furniture, support furniture companies with sustainable practices, and remember to invest in higher quality pieces that can be repaired in the long run.
Be on the lookout for responsible sourcing certifications from organisations such as the Forest Stewardship Council (which ensures that all wood is sourced from responsibly managed forests), and check if the furniture is being manufactured or transported with renewable energy.
An even better option is to opt for locally sourced furniture that will limit transport emissions.
Understand what your furniture is made of and opt for natural materials
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), found in many modern day furniture pieces, are chemicals which are offgased from synthetic solids or liquids.
Wood varnishes, chemical coatings, and other synthetic materials should be avoided, as these compounds have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, and cancer.
Upholstery made of synthetic fibres, flame retardants, and petrochemical foams have also been under scrutiny as they are in such close contact with our bodies – these chemicals can latch onto air particles and enter our bodies as we breathe. When these pieces of furniture end up in landfill, synthetic particles can enter soils and waterways, and are often too small for water treatment centres to catch.
Cheap plastic furniture, once broken, will not typically be recycled, instead sitting in landfill for hundreds of years.
If your furniture already has VOCs or synthetic materials, make sure they are kept in a well-ventilated area, and consider decorating your space with a few indoor plants to help filter the air. Otherwise, if you have the option to buy a new piece of furniture, always opt for natural or reclaimed materials for peace of mind.
How to declutter your home
Begin by taking a look at your space, or a pile of items which may have accumulated in a cupboard or closet. You’ll split your belongings into things you want to keep, versus items that don’t have much meaning or purpose in your life. To determine what you ought to keep in your home, make sure these things are:
- Meaningful – perhaps they were gifted to you by a close friend or family member.
- Useful – a good test of usefulness is to ask yourself whether you’ve used this item within the last ninety days, or whether you foresee using it anytime soon.
If not, there’s a likelihood that you were lured in by an advertisement that convinced you to buy a product without much thought, or perhaps you bought something to use once, but now you never do.
You’ll find that these items have little sentimental or practical value; most likely, they’re collecting dust in a closet or on a shelf. Instead of simply throwing all of these items into a bin, there are a few ways to responsibly rid yourself of unneeded products that are still in good condition.
If you’re looking to give away items in good to near perfect condition, consider:
- Offering them up to family and friends that live nearby; if someone else can find joy in or a use for your excess items, that’s much better than throwing otherwise good products into the waste bin! There is also the added bonus that they will be less likely to buy a new item of their own (which, as mentioned, would add to carbon emissions).
- Selling; you can do this through online websites such as eBay or Craigslist. Make sure to take clear, well-lit pictures and add a fair sales description to promote both the product and your reliability as a seller. You could also visit your local consignment, thrift or vintage shops to see if they will buy any of your items off you. Consignment shops typically look for branded, high value items, but you’ll be able to sell lower value items online or through secondhand shops. Perhaps your items look fairly used, or you’re simply looking to support a good cause:
- Donate; charity shops tend to sell used items at fairly low prices for lower income folks that are unable to afford new items. Some charity organisations also use their profits to help fund homeless programmes or provide career training for people with specialised needs. And finally, for all products that are broken or unfit for repurpose…
- Recycle; electronics are a product you should definitely recycle. They are often made with precious metals, so for every one million cell phones that are recycled, 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered and reused for future manufacturing. The company from which you bought the product may have a recycling take-back programme, or large electronics shops often have recycling drop off sites. Check all other material and product requirements with your local recycling facility – they should have information on what materials can be recycled. For tough- to-recycle products, I recommend taking the time to reach out to the company that manufactured the product regarding how to recycle it. The more we hold companies accountable for the products they make and where they end up, the more companies will begin to think of more sustainable design options and materials.
Extracts from Sustainable Home by Christine Liu, published by White Lion Publishing. Photographs by Christine Liu.