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Tips to help you make your small living space eco-friendly, simple and affordable

Erin Boyle, writer and photographer behind the Reading My Tea Leaves blog, answers questions about simple and sustainable life spaces.

Q: Do you have suggestions about how to work with a partner or housemate who is not as enthusiastic about the simple, sustainable and clutter-free life? I’ve reduced my belongings to mostly aesthetically pleasing necessities, but I feel bad pressuring another person to live a certain way.

A: Talking openly about this is the first step. Then it’s helpful to organise your space so it’s set up for success. If, for instance, someone leaves coins on the kitchen table, set up a central spot where the change can be deposited.

In terms of sustainability, the more folks know, the more committed they are.

Suggest a book, documentary or something you can do together that might inspire your partner to get on board.

Q: Most of the time it’s just me in my small house. Sometimes I think about getting rid of extra plates, glasses and such, but then guests come to stay and everything is in use, so I keep them. How do you balance what you and your family need every day versus what you need when others visit?

A: I believe in striking a balance between being prepared, and not feeling over-crowded. Maybe a full set of dishes works, but three extra guest towels and four sets of sheets aren’t necessary!.

Q: Let’s say you want to find something for your home, and you want it from an ethical source. Do you have specific search terms you use online?

A: I love starting with vintage, antique or secondhand sources. It always feels good to give furniture a second life instead of buying new. If you don’t have time to wait for the perfect vintage piece, try searching for fair trade, artisanal and ethical furniture. Going small in terms of company size is also good: a small workshop or single producer making pieces slowly is likely paying fair wages (or being paid directly by customers) so you’re better able to have a sense of where your money is going.

Q: I’m curious about your views on placeholder objects. When you’re starting out, is it better to have a gallery wall of pieces, or a sad and blank wall with just one or two items? Any ideas on how to fill a space inexpensively until you find forever pieces (couch, coffee table and so on)?

A: I always opt to build slowly rather than fill a space with things I don’t love. You don’t want your space to be sad. This is one reason why I’ve opted to buy secondhand furniture. A good example is my kitchen table. It’s not my favourite object, but it’s functional and practical and looks good enough until I find something I love more. I know I’ll likely sell it for exactly what I paid when I’m ready for it to find a new home.

We don’t have space for a bedside table, but we do have space for a small wooden crate. It’s not an expensive design object, but it serves a functional purpose and it matches my aesthetic If we ever find ourself with more room, it’ll be useful for another storage purpose.

Q: When moving to items that are more eco-friendly, sustainable and fair trade, they tend to be very costly. Any advice on prioritising?

A: Affordability is always a concern. Going slowly and getting comfortable with a house that might look a bit “undone” has been my biggest help. Who cares if your living room is missing a coffee table for a while?

Q: How do you choose the books you keep and what you give away?

A: My Kindle has helped. I generally keep books I think I’ll reread and pass along those I’m unlikely to read again. 

Washington Post

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