Updating your home the sustainable way

Lifestyle | August 2020

Sustainability is one of the world’s hottest topics. The more we hear about plastics entering our oceans, increasing carbon emissions and climate change, the more we feel guilty about things we used to take for granted, like redecorating the house and getting cool new gadgets for the kitchen.

Becoming more sustainable isn’t always easy, especially when you’re being bombarded with ‘buy, buy, buy’ messages from the media every day. So rather than becoming an eco-warrior overnight, which would require an extreme lifestyle change, it’s better to focus on the things you can easily modify, like how you shop and get around.

Technically, sustainability means ‘avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance’, which means that doing things like biking or walking to work, picking up second-hand stuff on Trademe and buying clothes from recycle boutiques are all sustainable actions.

One area of life that’s quite easy to change is how you improve or makeover your home. And there’s a fantastic side effect to this behaviour modification – you’ll save money! Here are our tips for getting a better-looking, better-functioning home without feeling guilty.

1. Upcycle used furniture

Upcycling involves finding something vintage or second-hand, then making it what you want it to be. In the case of furniture, you can do this with paint, varnish or upholstery. Upcycling is particularly effective if you have a decorating theme like French Country, mid-century or 1970s.

  • French Country involves the colours of Provence – sunny yellow and soft gold, fiery red and burnt rust, bright grass green and dark forest green, azure blue and ocean turquoise. For punctuation you can use white, bright black and dull grey. Rough stained and painted furniture, time-worn wood, floral prints and woven baskets all belong to the French Country decorating genre.
  • Mid-Century refers to the design movement that spanned from 1933 to 1965. It’s really taken off recently, but you can still pick up bargains on Trademe. There’s nothing like a restored mid-century cocktail cabinet, tall plant stands and turquoise upholstery to make your home look super-trendy.
  • 1970s is an easier theme, as Trademe and op shops are full of it. You have to be a bit brave if you want to embrace this style, because there’s always the risk some people just won’t get it (and think you’re terribly out of date!). You’ll be using orange, yellow brown, purple and bright green, lots of loud patterns and bold wall art.

2. Get some house plants

House plants are an excellent way to bring nature indoors and give your décor an extra dimension. Ask friends and family members for cuttings of their houseplants or buy baby houseplants from your local garden centre or hardware store – they’re way cheaper than big plants. It doesn’t take long to grow little plants into impressive swathes of foliage, if you remember to feed and water them regularly. Popular varieties that are easy to care for include philodendron, umbrella tree, peace lily, spider plant, monstera, snake plant, bromeliad and anthurium.

3. Make your own shelves

Shelves can be both practical and decorative, solving two problems at once. To make bespoke shelves that you’ll never see in the shops, use upcycled and salvaged materials from old furniture and wooden boxes. At a pinch you can even use drift wood, although you’ll need to plane it to create a flat surface. If you’re not confident with power tools and saws, consider doing a course or roping in the skills of a handy-person friend.

4. Go opp shopping for decorative items

Hospice and opp shops are a great source of vintage items that can look incredibly cool, even alongside contemporary furniture. Rather than shopping for a specific style or era, let colour be your guide. So if your home is furnished in black, white and red, look for gorgeous red, black and white art glass pieces at opp shops. And if your place is decorated in the Scandinavian style (all neutrals), hunt for interesting wooden ethnic artworks and clear glass.

5. Buy used curtains

If you buy curtains brand new they can be wickedly expensive, but Trademe is full of used curtains; there are literally thousands of them. You’ll probably need to collect your purchase from the seller, so use the filters to find listings near you.

When you get your new (used) curtains home, they might need a clean. If you’ve bought polyester or cotton curtains, the washing machine might be an option, depending on how much fabric is involved. You might also need to do some alterations, like taking up hems. This is all part of the DIY experience - doing some hand sewing in front of TV will give you a wonderful sense of creative satisfaction.

6. Score some vintage crockery

If you're after some vintage crockery or china, then your local opp shops might be your best friend. There are two ways you can go here: shop for a full set, so you’ll eat off the same pattern at every meal, or buy items that are a similar shape and size, but all different colours and patterns.

Many of the coolest restaurants in New Zealand and Australia have embraced using a mish-mash of vintage fine china, rather than classic white. It’s a great way to ensure the contents of grandma’s china cabinet have an ongoing useful life.

Tip: Make sure that all your valuables are protected with the right contents insurance plan. Choose from either our comprehensive, full cover option where we'll repair or replace most items, regardless of age, up to the amount you choose to insure them for. Or the budget friendly Essentials option, Ideal for covering your stuff for specific events like fire or theft. A straightforward policy covering your contents for present value.

If you've already got contents insurance make sure you have the right sum insured, especially if you've downsized or been collecting new things - try out our easy to use contents calculator.

7. Change your lightbulbs to LEDs

Ok, this will involve shopping for new items, however the environmental benefits of switching to LED lights are enormous. According to LightED Magazine, “the use of LEDs to illuminate buildings and outdoor spaces reduced the total carbon dioxide emissions of lighting by an estimated 570 million tons in 2017.” [1] Making your home more energy-efficient by switching to LED bulbs is one of the easiest things you can do to improve your household’s sustainability and helps you save on your power bill.

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