There has never been a more important time to consider your consumption of stuff, and how you live in your home. Home is not the same thing to everyone yet we all have the same basic need for home, for shelter and a place in the world that we call ours. Home should not be dictated by popular culture or driven by consumption or competition. Home should be based around love. It should nurture and hold those who live in it, and it should work with the environment in which it stands, not against it. Most importantly, home is about the people who live there. Your health and happiness are connected to the way you live, and the way you live is connected to the health of the planet. The fish who swim in the sea are eaten by birds who deposit their droppings under trees to feed them, which then give us shade, food, shelter, building materials and clean air - it is all connected. We are all connected.
There seems to be a loss of these connections. The different parts of our connected world are broken up into "portfolios" to be managed by various politicians more interested in votes than actually improving our lives. People buy food in sterile plastic containers from the supermarket with no connection to where it has been grown, who has grown it, or how it has been transported to them. They toss away the leftovers and the rubbish without any care for where it ends up. You can get whatever you want whenever you want and someone else will deal with the waste. Self has become more important than community, here and now more important than the future. We need to reawaken connection and the way that every action has a direct effect on another part of this circle. We need to wake up now while we still have a chance to make a difference, and I know many of you are fully awake and yearning to make change.
With the invention of social media, we have more and more ways to find and see beautiful images and information all the time, which can be inspirational. But it can also give you the sense that everyone else is living some kind of perfect life. This definition of 'perfect' is generic and driven by consumerism. This is not an authentic life for many of us and it generates and supports a throw-away society. If you allow it, all of this information, which is relentless and continuous, can increase your stress and add pressure to your life. You feel like nothing is ever finished. You worry that you are not living up to the "norm" and you think the answer is to buy, buy, buy.
It is important to keep everything in perspective and stay mindful in your own life. Watching colour trends to see what will be happening in fashion and design is fine, as long as you don't then think you need to change your couch because the colour is "so last season". If you feel like you should throw out stuff to get the "latest" thing, you are contributing to this throw- away attitude, which is not only bad for the environment, but also bad for your health.
Having a home is not all easy street. There are a lot of external pressures, particularly if you are living with a mortgage and a family to care for, like many of us. If your stress levels are increased by mess, clutter and chaos at home, by mounting debts, lack of space or pressure to make changes, learning to stay mindful and appreciate what you have, may help you to feel more clarity, peace and happiness and less need to replace things, or spend money on things you probably don't need. Or you may simply be inspired to make changes with the things you already have, to repurpose, or find ways to upcycle and create a new space in your home.
I think mindfulness needs to be part of most conversations. Mindfulness means you can engage fully in what you are doing at any moment, and when you are mindful, difficult thoughts and feelings have much less impact and influence over you. Here is an example of a mindful approach to your home: perhaps you have been going on and on with your partner about how you need to change a space in your home with an extension because there is just not enough room for your family to congregate together. Think about the values underlying this desire. Is it really about a bigger home? Or is it really about a more connected family? While being mindful, think about whether that extension is the solution to this issue. Can you really afford it, and is the debt worth it? Will the resources consumed to build it have an impact on the environment?
If the real reason you desire this change is to have a more connected family, stop thinking about an extension and get creative about how your family can spend more time together, without the need for a giant open-plan room. Perhaps you can make a date for a weekly picnic on the back lawn, or take it in turns to host each other in your bedrooms for a game of cards. Maybe you can go for a regular walk together after dinner and kick a ball in the park. Maybe there is another way to create more room in the existing home with some clever use of space and rearranging. If the value is about spending time with your family, where you do it, or how you do it, is not dependent on a new room-- it is simply dependent on you finding creative ways to do this and then committing to action.
Here are some tips on creating a more mindful and sustainable home
1) When playing on Pinterest or reading a blog or magazine, look for ideas you can really afford, or that you can save for if you decide it is important enough to purchase, or just use them for inspiration.
2) Try to take the 'buy once, buy well' approach and purchase quality items that will outlast trends.
3) If you love to make changes in your home, read magazines and blogs about how to DIY, craft and upcycle, to get the latest looks by doing it yourself. You can take ideas you see and have a crack at making something yourself, such as a DIY headboard, cushion cover, or painted furniture.
4) When shopping for new things to bring to your home, try to always include some second-hand, vintage and op shop pieces. It will mean you are contributing to charity, reusing items and saving money, as well as having a more unique style that is all your own.
5) If you shop new, shop sustainable, fairtrade and ethical -- check out the practices of the business to make sure they are ethical, and consider the environment and producers in their business.
6) When purchasing something new, always consider what you will do with it when you no longer want it. Upcycling is all about putting resources back into the life cycle of stuff. If you simply reuse it, but eventually throw it out, you have just delayed it's trip to landfill.
7) Consider whether you can reuse, give away, or turn it into something else, or whether the materials can be upcycled back into the system and be made into something again.
8) Mindful decorating also means don't max out your credit card; it is really not worth it. If you get stuck on wanting a particular item, take some deep breaths, stop and think about it, take some time out to meditate on what impact this will have on your life and then reassess whether or not to buy it. You will probably realise you did not really need it, or that there is an alternative way. If it is something you can afford and really can make use of, or just think it is really special, go for it; but consider where it will live in your home and life, and how long you think you will want it.
9) Always look at ways to reuse, recycle and renew rather than toss and buy new. For example, a vintage throw or cushion or two, can make a real splash in your lounge room and brighten up a current sofa, rather than getting a new one. Or you can recover the sofa and create an entirely new look. A piece of art or wallpapering a feature wall can bring new life to a family room. Vintage mirrors and upcycled painted furniture add a sense of whimsy and class to any bedroom.
10) To tune into your home, regularly take a slow walk around your property. Sit in each room. Breathe deeply and notice everything about it--the cracks, the kids' finger marks on the wall, the beautiful way the sunlight falls into your sitting room in the late afternoon. Remember all of the things that drew you to your home in the first place. Take time to light a candle on the mantle, have coffee on the deck, read a book in the reading nook.
11) Set regular organising times where you look through cupboards and drawers and either donate unwanted items to charity, pass on to someone else, or remember you own it and start to use it again, or keep in storage if you may need it again. You do not have to display all your cushions, throws and collectibles all at once. Changing things up makes you feel like you have new items!
Take time to notice the sounds and smells of your home. Take a moment to appreciate the sounds of the birds in the garden, the hum of the distant traffic, and the children in the next room. Smell the roses in the garden, the fresh sheets on the bed and your partner's warm body next to you at night. Create special places in your home -- somewhere to sit and think, somewhere to work, somewhere to play. Display special things that have meaning. Finally -- and most importantly-- enjoy the people who live in and come into your home. If you are lucky enough to have it, enjoy time alone in your home. Feel the enormous privilege you enjoy in having a home. Be mindful, be grateful, be happy and stop wanting more.
Helen Edwards is a writer, blogger and podcaster, helping you create a home and a life you love, while caring for your health, wellbeing and our planet. Find out more here - www.recycledinteriors.org.