Thursday, February 25, 2010

Green Decorating or Do We Really Need a Ceramic Rooster?

Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t easy, especially when it comes to shopping. Lately I find myself immobilized by indecision, blocking the aisle as I contemplatie a potential purchase. There are so many things to consider. I’m not talking about food shopping, that’s easy for me. I put a priority on the things I put in my body and there aren’t nearly as many factors for me to consider beyond how/where it was grown/made and whether I can afford it. Not so when it comes to home décor.

My first issue is that it pains me to spend money on something that is not useful. I’m sure there’s an argument somewhere supporting the need for a picture on the wall or ceramic rooster on the shelf, but I don’t think I can make it. Still, I realize the things that decorate my home inspire me and make our house feel more like a home. It’s just that when it comes to decorating, all the air goes out of me because I’d much rather spend that same money on mulch or blueberry bushes or horse feed or something much more useful that doesn’t require dusting. My true handicap is that I have no earthly idea how to decorate. I can walk into someone else’s beautifully appointed house and admire it, but when I look at my own walls I can’t picture what they need (besides a good scrubbing). I’ve never watched a home decorating television show (and I can’t imagine a worse torture) and the closest I’ve come to learning anything about decorating was thumbing through a Martha Stewart Coffee Table book at the dentist’s office. My living room walls were primered for seven years before I finally decided what color to paint them. And that would never have happened if an incredibly gifted decorator friend hadn’t told me what colors to paint. (My bedroom is still a beautiful shade of Kilz primer, but I’m getting dangerously close to picking up some paint chips)

My personal decorating issue aside, even if I knew that ceramic chicken was absolutely perfect for my living room shelf, I would still struggle with the purchase. I don’t know where it came from, how it was made, who was mistreated in the production of the chicken, or whether the glossy paint or metal feet are made with toxic materials. I’ve been aware of some of these issues on the periphery of my life, but now when I consider buying something I don’t need and has very little purpose and will cost me significant money, they matter a little more. I don’t want my callous purchase to further the mistreatment of workers or the planet and I certainly don’t want to pay to bring something in to my house that could potentially harm my family’s health. See why I get stuck in shopping aisles? Too much to consider.

We’re getting ready to renovate our master bathroom that is 6 x 6 feet and being slowly consumed by mold. This has led to great discussion on what kinds of fixtures to install and flooring and, heaven forbid, paint. In my initial fantasies about this future bathroom, I was hoping to use green, sustainably made products. That was until I saw the price. It would cost nearly ¼ of what our house is worth to truly make our bathroom “green”. Body & Soul magazine had a recent feature called, “50 tips for a Greener, Cleaner Home”. I couldn’t wait to read it. There were a few helpful tips like replacing paper towels with washable cloths and placing water jugs in your freezer to fill up the unused space (what unused space? My freezer is maxed out.). As much as I enjoy the magazine, I was truly disheartened by the bulk of the article. There were lots of great ideas for greening your home, if you happen to work on Wall Street and will be getting one of those $340,000 (average) bonuses this year. How about some Chrysalis Wall Flats (tiles) made from renewable bamboo pulp - $86 for 10 tiles? Or a chair constructed using FSC-certified wood with zero-VOC finish and upholstery colored with low-impact dyes – just $7,278? A cedar composter for only $300 or a dollhouse for your child that has a tiny wooden windmill, solar panels, a rain barrel and recycling bins for $240? To be fair, there were some relatively reasonably priced gadgets, but that’s just it, 40 out of 50 of the “tips” involved buying something. Is bringing something else in to your home making it greener?

Maybe the happy medium is replacing your things that no longer work with more eco-friendly ones (if you can afford them), but not throwing out functioning items just to have a greener version. I take issue with the idea of throwing out something perfectly useful that you already own (and probably purchased when you weren’t so enlightened) just so you can feel less guilty about owning it. It’s not very green to add to our overburdened landfills and probably cancels out all the good you do purchasing that new eco-friendly gadget – that means you still have to feel guilty.

Which brings me to the issue of price. I’m not naïve enough to think that our capitalist society isn’t going to figure out ways to make a buck on this green movement, but I think it is up to all of us to question their motives and look carefully at their products. Sometimes it truly does cost more to make a product more responsibly, but sometimes that eco-friendly label is simply an excuse to jack up the price. Don’t buy in to that. As I consider our new bathroom, I’m going to do my best to make it green, and I’m really hoping we can get some bamboo floor mats and the truly cool Evolve Roadrunner low-flow showerhead that saves eight gallons per five-minute shower ($40), but you can bet it will require a few more internal debates in the shopping aisle as I consider what my options truly are and whether I can afford them.

1 comment:

  1. As my father-in-law used to say, "Use it up, wear it out, make due or do without." Now I say "Just say "No" to buying!" I used to buy as a form of therapy but now I am stronger... First I went with the "Do I NEED it or do I just WANT it?" But now, I just get grossed out by the way our society buys gratuitously. The thought of someone making something from the Target $1 for just pennies... the thought of the natural resources used to produced said piece of junk... suddenly, that $1 item doesn't seem so cheap anymore.