How to think sustainably while decorating your home

 

When we think of overconsumption of resources at the individual level, we tend to focus on the harms of fast fashion or reliance on car travel. However, there are additional areas of consideration for US consumers — particularly how they decorate their home, with what, and how often they purchase or throw away items. While potentially less visible than other types of consumption, the impacts are massive. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, American consumers purchase more than 12 million tons of furniture annually — with more than 9 million tons ending up in landfills each year. Typically, these furnishing purchases are driven by “fast furniture” — online retailers like Overstock.com, Ikea, Wayfair, and others encourage shoppers to buy large volumes of cheaply made, flat-packed items that have life spans less than five years.

There has to be a better way, right? Consider these tactics for decorating your spaces thoughtfully, beautifully, and sustainably.

 

Shop thrifted, vintage, and secondhand for furniture and other large pieces

As you think about decorating your home, choosing existing pieces is almost always better than buying something brand new. Shopping at thrift stores and other secondhand options has numerous benefits for you and the planet; used furniture tends to be less expensive than buying from a producer, and also conserves water, textiles, wood, and other input materials needed to make home furnishings. Further, browsing vintage and thrifted goods allows you to find unique pieces that you may not otherwise find at furniture showrooms or big box retailers.

Find spaces for your favorite plants

Furnishing your living space doesn’t have to be about buying lots of ‘things” — you can also think green! Whether opting for a few small potted plants or going all in on a tropical tree, greenery will brighten up your home and add calming natural elements. Research shows that plants aren’t just pretty decorations — they have small, but measurable, positive effects on people, like “relaxed physiology and improved cognition” when included in daily activities and spaces.

 

Less is more — don’t feel pressure to redecorate seasonally or often

Whether you curate secondhand treasures or like to shop at big box retailers, the most sustainable decorating approach is almost always LESS. Fast fashion and consumerist attitudes encourage people to buy often and redecorate seasonally. This is expensive for most shoppers and also creates the unnecessary clutter that most people try to avoid — let alone wasting resources on low quality furnishings and short-lived fashion trends. Instead, choose a design aesthetic that is comfortable and functional, while also matching your personality and budget. Over time, you can carefully add and remove pieces thoughtfully, while being mindful of your environmental impact from start to finish.

 

Repair and rehome your furnishings as much as you can

In addition to buying less and shopping thoughtfully, it is important to maximize the lifespan of your home decor as much as possible. Large furniture and appliances often are not recyclable, and represent massive contributions to the waste stream if thrown away early in their usable life. Instead, learn how to repair your things whenever you can — mend ripped upholstery, repair broken furnishings, repaint sun-faded art, and discover other creative ways to express your style by updating your existing pieces. If you have to part ways with a piece of furniture, take the extra time and effort to make sure it finds a new home — not ending up in a landfill. Whether you give to a friend, donate to a non-profit, or list on an online marketplace, it is important to maintain responsibility for your consumption until an item finds a new owner.

 

Add special flourishes with fair trade and artisan goods

Even when you are buying less and decorating more thoughtfully, you still deserve to live in beautiful spaces. Investing in high-quality, ethically made goods can go a long way to brighten up your space and express your unique style — without giving in to cheaply made, mass-produced home goods. Shopping from retailers and artisans that are members of the Fair Trade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization ensures that you are spending your money wisely — taking working conditions, environmental sustainability, and cultural representation into consideration with your purchase. Whether you are searching for statement pieces like hand-embroidered linens, or curating a cozy space with earthy beeswax candles, shopping at fair trade companies will help you find the right items while protecting people and the planet.

There are numerous opportunities for individuals to reduce waste in their lives — get started shopping less, buying second-hand goods, and personalizing your space with select special touches.