Wanna be greener and live a healthier, more sustainable life but wishing it was.. well, easier?
Here on Design Baddie we believe in taking the smallest and easiest steps possible toward reaching goals. Making small but lasting changes today will increase the chances that they actually stick.
After all, what’s the point in making a healthy change if it just makes you miserable, or is impossible to do consistently? Let’s make this easy on ourselves and focus on the little things first.
Mission to ‘Green Launch’
Being greener is not always easy; in fact, sometimes it seems downright complicated.
Let’s be honest: you might not be in a position to construct a LEED-certified home from scratch, install a geothermal heat pump on your property, or replace your roofing with solar tiles this year. You also might not see yourself driving a Tesla anytime soon.
If some of these options seem about as likely as the next Space-X launch happening in your backyard, hey, it’s all good.
Incremental Change is Lasting Change
Since postulating the idea of “green hacking” (finding ways to be green that also enhance our quality of life) we asked, ‘What are the easiest and most stress-free methods to having a greener, healthier home that also make the biggest difference?
You could say we want the biggest bang for our green bucks (money, time and effort spent on going green)!
Our goal was to find ways to be green while making the smallest and most minimal effort at first.
Why? It started out when we wrote Interior Decorating 101 and encouraged those of us who have been dragging our feet about getting our homes up to snuff to get started by keeping it really simple at first.
We think that the real way anybody actually changes the world is by first changing our own beliefs about what’s possible for us.
By making small, incremental changes to our homes and neighborhoods, we can go on to finding our path to happier, healthier and more sustainable future for all.
Same Familiar Categories, Slightly Different Approach
It should come as no surprise that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
We reaffirmed four familiar categories (reduce, reuse, recycle and repair!) that experts believe are elementary to living greener.
To spice things up we also added one more category: “improve”. After all, if we are going to put some effort into doing our bit for the planet it makes sense to reap some rewards from Mother Nature.
Don’t worry, she’s got your back!
What follows are five key categories of green living with two examples of easy green hacks that you can pretty much start using right away. If it requires a lot of time or expensive replacements, it’s automatically not on the list!
Think of this as a list of green hacks that don’t suck. It also doesn’t include composting (not that we’re against it, just not for a first list!) or cold showers.
Another added bonus: These solutions won’t cost require an expert to implement.
Ready to green hack? Let’s dive in.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair and Improve
Four “Rs” with one “I” and a lot of ROI (return on investment).
Green Hack 1: Reduce Energy Consumption and Waste the Old Fashioned Way
Conventional wisdom: Reduce energy by skimping on air conditioning and heating or buy the latest energy saving appliances. Reduce waste by refusing plastic and composting.
Green hack: Use some good old fashioned methods for saving energy and creating less waste.
Reducing energy requirements in a home and producing less waste are key to creating a more sustainable living environment.
Conventional wisdom tells us that we should use less energy and buy more efficient heating and cooling systems and appliances. We’re not knocking that.
What if it’s just not in the budget this month, or implementable in the short term, though? Here are a couple of low-cost ways that can really make a difference.
A. Reduce Energy Consumption
Idea: Stop drafts in winter
It’s fairly straightforward. In winter we want to keep our homes as warm as possible, while in summer we want them to be as cool as possible. If we can do this efficiently before running air conditioning and heating, we can lower our energy needs and costs.
One of the greatest inefficiencies in any home’s heating and cooling strategy is energy lost through glass windows and through tiny cracks and gaps in the home that allow air to seep through.
Fixing drafts is as simple as looking for gaps under doors (especially external doors) and around windows. Sometimes floor boards that are not flush and badly installed HVAC units allow for cold drafts to come though. It is also possible to draft-proof your chimney, if you have one.
Some simple and common ways of doing this is to use draft-proofing strips. Metal and plastic strips with attached brushes are the best value and last the longest.
Find out more here.
Idea: Encourage cross ventilation in summer
Cross ventilation is all about opening the right windows in your home to encourage the breeze to flow through, naturally and easily cooling your home and reducing stagnation.
I was fascinated to learn that traditional kampung homes in Malaysia are designed to be cool even in a tropical jungle setting. This is accomplished manually though building airflow gaps into the home (no worries about drafts in the tropics!), but also by encouraging cross ventilation.
Ceiling fans are also a staple in the Asian tropics for very good reason.
Fun fact: Ceiling fans use ninety percent less energy than an air conditioner. They also don’t try out your skin the way air-conditioning does, so less money spent on expensive skin treatments to combat dryness. Talk about a win-win!
Idea: Use curtains to prevent energy loss
Window treatments are not just for decoration, I learned in design school. Whoa, what? Yep, apparently they have a more practical origin, as many things that have been around for a long time do. (Our ancestors were smart people with a lot less options than we do.)
Personally I’m a Venetian blind lover, but curtains totally have this going for them. Not only can traditional curtains combat drafts if you do have them, but they also offer insulation. This is especially true if you have thick curtains that are lined or you have the traditional layers (glass or sheer curtains as well as light-blocking drapes).
Heavy curtains were used around beds in medieval times, and between rooms to keep heat in. Rugs and tapestries were not confined to floor, but were frequently hung on walls and doors.
I first saw a rug on the wall in Belarus in our landlady’s apartment and my mind was blown.
When the weather is hot use sheer curtains to keep harsh sunlight out and prevent solar gain. Yes, another great way to save money without cranking up the energy use.
B. Reduce Waste
Idea: Keep appliances clean
We’re moving to the kitchen for our next two hacks.
We all know that appliances are bigger ticket home investments. Buying the latest green star appliance is a good move, but before you make the switch, did you know that just wiping down your existing appliances regularly can extend their life expectancy by several years?
Check out the average expectancy of common household appliances and how to make them last longer.
If you’re able to keep appliances neatly tucked away when not in use that keeps damaging dust and grime off them, too. Something for all you sleek, modern and minimalist kitchen lovers to appreciate!
Idea: Bulk buy and cook in batches
This is a time saving hack, but it saves money and energy too!
When I first started studying after working my day job, and then later began a side hustle, I needed to free up time. Most families I know in this part of the world (I live in Taipei) rely on buying take out food for dinners, as it is cheap and convenient.
However, I’ve always felt it was healthier to prepare food from scratch and I wanted to cook more western meals for my kids at home so they could grow up with two food cultures. Thus, I didn’t want to sacrifice actually cooking for them; I just needed to make it easier and quicker.
One day at Subway I noticed how all the sandwich ingredients were prepped and ready for assembly, and I reflected on how I don’t really enjoy the task of washing and chopping vegetables.
That night, instead of cutting up the vegetables for one meal, I prepped enough for several days. When my kids came into the kitchen the next day looking for a snack while I was still at the stove, I opened the fridge, retrieved zip lock bag and gave them some carrot and celery sticks to munch on. This became a ritual for them while watching TV before dinner, and never spoiled their appetite.
Building on this model for success, I started to prepare more foods in bulk, especially things like pasta sauce. I always had several ready-to-heat meals in the fridge and freezer, and meals took way less time to make.
I was working smarter by working ahead. Buying in bulk also saves money and makes sense if you have a family.
If you don’t already bulk buy your food or cook multiple meals ahead, you might consider giving this one a try.
Green Hack 2: Make it Easy to Reuse Items by Buying High Quality
Conventional wisdom: Turn every yogurt container and cardboard box in your house into a plant pot or storage organizer. Shop only vintage clothes and skip the latest fashions.
Green hack: Don’t waste your money on inferior products that are not worth recycling. Think more long term.
Idea: Buy with the container in mind
My daughter and I both have a minor obsession with beautiful tins. It began with a couple of cute English tea tins and grew from there. We have cookie tins and vintage tins from garage sales that we’ve picked up over the years and each has been converted into a storage container for loose photographs (we still like to print our favorites out!), cards, notes, and other items like sewing kits and art supplies.
I’ve talked before about improving the overall aesthetic of your home by minimizing plastic storage containers and kitchen ware. Next time you have the choice, buy that product that costs a little extra but comes in a container so beautiful you won’t want to throw it out! It’s these little touches that give your home personality, and it’s helpful to the environment too.
If you really find you have more than you can use, make a beautiful tin or box what you use to wrap the next gift you give rather than buying wrapping paper or gift boxes.
Idea: Buy higher quality to begin with and from reputable brands
This tip comes from my great grandfather; an unassuming, gentle man of Lithuanian Jewish heritage who had a wry, wicked sense of humor and was always well dressed. He believed in only ever buying the best quality that one could afford. My Oupa grew up on a farm in the Free State in South Africa and had a very modest budget, but he wore the finest quality shoes buffed and shone to perfection, and had a tailored suit for special occasions.
My brothers have almost all adopted this philosophy. Buy high quality items because they last longer and are easier to care for and repair as needed. Think about it, you aren’t going to repair that fast fashion item that is looking rough after a month of washing. A gorgeous knit in a natural or blended fiber will be a joy to wear and care for.
Rather have a small capsule wardrobe of high quality items, than a closet stuffed to the gills with cheap clothes. Buying cheap quality is short term gain and long term loss. Remember the concept of lifetime value assessment.
Green Hack 3: Save Money and Up Your Creativity by Recycling 1-5% Yourself
Conventional wisdom: Let the government take care of the recycling. Go zero waste and plastic free overnight.
Green hack: Take charge of a small subset of materials and make that your recycling focus.
Idea: Make one material ‘your’ problem
Yes, you can use conventional recycling programs and you should! This is actually an exercise in thinking more sustainably. How is it done?
Rather than trying to turn your home into a recycling plant, just see if you can find a way to recycle a small portion of your recyclable garbage. What is a material that you could find another use for? Make that your baby. For me it’s high quality cardboard.
Studying interior design gave me a new appreciation for raw materials. As an architectural design enthusiast, I became interested in making physical models and watched a lot of YouTube videos on the subject. Architectural students are always talking about how expensive materials for model making are. The funny thing is, we throw out exactly the types materials we need for those projects almost every day in a regular household.
Whenever I am given high quality cardboard, I get out my Stanley knife and cut it into smaller, usable sheets. The next time I want to make a physical model I won’t be making any last minute trips to a craft store.
Idea: Start an arts and crafts hobby
If you’ve always wanted to do more arts and craft but just haven’t gotten around to going down to your local arts and crafts shop to get the materials, here’s another way you can use your own recycled materials!
I have a large arts and crafts box that I continually add raw materials to and it reminds me to take the time to start on my new creative hobby. Sometimes with too many options it can be difficult to know where to start, but having certain materials on hand that you’re committed to using presents the challenge and opportunity of finding the best way to use them.
See if you can find one tiny category of waste that you take full responsibility for finding a use for. It’s empowering to realize that you actually have the power. You are more creative than you think!
If you are interested in the future of recycling and 3D printing that is already here, check out this amazing lab in Greece that is doing an incredible community recycling project which turns plastic waste into public furniture through clever design.
Green Hack 4: Repair Stuff Because It’s Worth It
Conventional wisdom: Repair everything that needs repair.
Green hack: If the item is of a material of low quality, cut your losses and just recycle or discard it guilt free. If the item is good quality, it is worth fixing.
Idea: Take the fix-it challenge
Is it actually easy to fix your own appliances or other home items that need repair? It might actually be easier than you think. In this day and age knowing how to fix things is almost a super power, as sadly it’s become more and more common to simply throw things away.
I should add that buying quality ties in here as well, naturally. Cheap products are made to be disposable and often can’t be repaired. Support brands that are made to repair, not to be thrown away. Bonus points if the company does their own repairs or encourages recycling of their products in store.
Is it worth the cost of gas to take it somewhere to be fixed or could you resolve the matter with a simple google search?
Want easy? I did the googling for you. Try:
Idea: Support a local repair business
If all else fails, it might be time to support a local business. Just as we “cast our vote” when shopping using the concept of ethical consumerism, we can keep ethical business in business by using them. Simple enough!
Show some love at your local repair places and don’t forget that you can donate your old electronics, such as phones to charity. Let’s keep working to make sustainable practices the default natural and cool thing to do.
Green Hack 5: Improve Your Air Quality and Your Aesthetic
Conventional wisdom: Buy an air purifier.
Green Hack: Say hello to air purifying plants
Having a greener home should translate to a healthier environment for its inhabitants.. you! Improving your air quality is a really important consideration for the overall health of your home.
Idea: Ditch the VOCs
This comes down to the principle of “first do no harm“, attributed to Hippocrates of ancient Grecian fame. The idea is that before needing to fix or repair anything, basically undoing the damage that has already been done, we should attempt first to cause no harm.
While it’s argued how well medical practitioners are actually able to use this principle, when it comes down to what we put in our bodies and how we limit the toxins in our environments, this makes a ton of sense.
Did you know that VOCs (volatile organic compounds, which are toxic molecules released into the air when off-gassed by building materials, paints, primers and textiles) are ten times higher indoors than outdoors? This is especially true in new constructions.
You’ve probably heard it before, but do make a point of buying natural alternatives to common household products. It does not need to cost more. White vinegar and baking soda are excellent natural cleanser and they are cheap as chips.
Next time you paint your house, choose the low VOC paint alternative. It’s only marginally more expensive, it doesn’t reek, and you won’t need to compromise on color choices.
Your future health thanks you.
Idea: Harness the power of air purifying plants
I saved my favorite point for last. Remember how I said Mother Nature has your back? If this is not he ultimate green hack, I don’t know what is.
All it requires is adopting some little green friends and learning to care for them. I’ve stated before and I’ll state it again, plants make any space look better. Plants are the new “rug that ties the room together”. Only, most rugs don’t improve your air quality, and plants totally do! Especially if you invest in the right ones.
Need some help choosing the right plants? Head over to our like-minded friends at these great, totally free and expert internet resources here:
Thanks for joining us for our exploration on the five easiest hacks for a greener home. I hope you discovered at least a couple of new things today.
Want more easy tips and advice for how design can improve your life and how to get started learning the basics? Our awesome new newsletter “Baddie Bite-sized” is a super brief and to-the-point summary of three links each week from my own reading and research that will enrich your life and help you to be more creative.
Let’s make a greener and happier world, one home at a time!