SPACE DESIGN & ORGANIZATION
by a Professional Organizer and Interior Designer
A healthier and greener way to celebrate
by Sophie Gillet Castro
How about trying to be a bit more eco-friendly this year, and lower our carbon footprint a little?
Holiday decorations can get costly and it is a good idea to:
There is no question that durable items, with longer useful operational lifespan, reduce waste.
Another thing to keep in mind: anything that will end up not biodegrading in the landfill should be avoided if possible.
From the organizing standpoint, less (clutter) is better.
If you need new decoration this year, here are a few suggestions:
There is still a tree-cky debate around Christmas trees. The greenest alternative option seems to be getting a large enough plant or small tree that can be decorated, remain indoor the rest of the year, and can be used this way each year. The next greener option is a Xmas real tree, purchased in a local farm. They are biodegradable and can be mulched - even though the transport of all cut trees creates plenty of emissions, and pesticides sprayed on trees are harmful.
The least green choice is artificial trees because of their toxic chemical content, plus the pollution generated while producing them. They are made mainly from non-renewable plastics. Some of them even contain PVC. Many are made in China and not under Fair Trade standards. It's also hard to find a place that will recycle an old artificial tree. However, if you’ve owned a plastic tree that you will continue using for many years, congratulations!
Ideally, last year Christmas decorations were clearly labeled before stored away, and they are now easy to identify. If you do not have a system in place yet, you may want to plan your break down process ahead of time. Save a few cardboard boxes, or buy a few large plastic containers.
It will be so much easier to handle next year if all items are put away by categories, with labels, even packing lists in each box.
If some of your arrangements really uplifted you this year, and received lots of compliments, consider taking a photo and keep it with your stored decorations, so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel next Christmas.
Another product we all use a lot at this time are Christmas cards. About 2 billions cards are sent each year in this country. An alternative to buying more is to re-use cards – often the left end side is kept blank. Cut it and send it again. You may want to keep a box aside to store all the new cards you will receive this year.
Those green practices are not about sacrificing the joy of the Christmas preparation or feeling guilty. With a little effort and imagination, we can reduce our environmental impact and make a difference.
by Sophie Gillet Castro
Although the temperature has not risen much yet, nature is slowly starting to stretch and smile, reminding us that Spring is around the corner. That yearly cleaning, beloved to some and dreaded by others, will come soon enough. It is certainly not too early to plan how we’ll make our living spaces fresher, healthier and tidier this year.
One way to do this is by assessing our cleaning regimen. It is important
to be aware that many cleaning products are potentially toxic – from dish and laundry detergents to
stain removal products, carpet cleaners and chemicals used in dry-cleaning.
When you get a chance, take a good look at your current household products. It can be difficult to estimate the toxic characteristics from the label alone (and the health effects, however real, are still unclear.) Be aware of how your body feels using a particular product. If eyes are watering, skin is itching or reddening, and sneezing or dizziness occurs – even just a little – a healthier alternative is required.
Less toxic products are available locally in most grocery stores and health food stores. Ecover, Seventh Generation, EO, The Clean Team are reliable companies who provide plant based and bio-degradable products.
Collecting specific products for each job in your house can end up being costly. In most cases, a
good all-purpose cleaner (that can be used on all surfaces, including floors) and a glass cleaner may
be all you need. Even though earth-friendly cleaners can cost more than conventional ones, they're often more concentrated, giving you more for your buck.
Other substances harmful to our health are found in laundry cleaners. Whether you feel it or not, the artificial dyes and petrochemical ingredients contained in laundry soaps constantly brushed against our skin. They also end up contaminating our water supplies. If you are not ready to shift to a more eco-friendly laundry detergent, try using a smaller amount of your current detergent. And remember
that outdoor drying is a great option as ultraviolet sunrays are an antiseptic and kill bacteria.
In regards to dry cleaning, be aware that since most cleaners use perchloroethylene (a carcinogen substance), low levels of perc will be released into your indoor environment. To remedy this, remove
the items from the plastic bags and let them air outdoor for several hours first.
For shampooing carpets or cleaning upholstery with a rented carpet cleaner, know that you can use your non-toxic all-purpose product with it that will work as well.
Toxic cleaning products are not the only thing that can affect our health. House dust typically contains a variety of toxins released by common household products including plastics, electronics, furniture, garden soil and lead paint.
It has been linked to instances of high level of metals and chemicals, found in children in particular.
And clutter has had the reputation to add to our stress level and mental agitation.
So even though a thorough cleaning takes time, it is essential to the health of our homes and to our own. By taking care of your living space, you not only honor yourself, you also contribute to the global effort towards a healthy planet.
by Sophie Gillet Castro
Year round, our homes need to feel like a welcoming and cozy sanctuary. In the winter, this sense of refuge becomes even more important, as we often find ourselves home bound during this long gray season.
Yet, there might be times when it is no longer possible to be home and relax because clutter and piles have taken over. This is where winter becomes an ally – how about using some of this hibernation time and take a good look at the inside of our homes? How about easefully restoring some order?
Clutter adds stress to our environment. Besides increasing the risk of falls and the spread of germs, too much stuff everywhere creates a visual congestion. Ultimately, it can become like a low-grade infection that drains our vital energy.
I would like to share a simple visualization exercise that often helps me. Take a deep breath. Think of the words ‘order’, and ‘orderly’. Take another breath, and think of the words ‘chaos’, and ‘messy’.
Did you notice a change in your breathing? Now think of your home and of these words: ‘calm, relaxed, practical order’ – wouldn’t that be nice?
Ancient systems such as Feng Shui and Vaastu argue that keeping the energy flow unobstructed in the places we live in sustains our physical and emotional health. For instance, the area where one eats directly impacts one’s digestive system and one’s ability to be nurtured by food eaten.
Who would not enjoy a clutter-free home, where everything is cleaned, picked up, organized, and labeled? In reality, life itself overwhelms the system of order we may have initially put into place.
This is unavoidable, to a certain extent. But when our sanctuary ceases to be nurturing, it is time to take steps.
As spring reminds us of our yearly cleaning, winter invites us to take the time to re-evaluate: what can be simplified, reduced, recycled, stored away, given away, or thrown away?
As long as we are prepared to hold this vision of calm, relaxed, practical order in the forefront of our consciousness, it is only going to take minimal efforts. Here is how.
One good way to start the process is to write a plan: create a list of projects and break them down into tasks that will realistically fit into your schedule. No need to make this endeavor overwhelming, like blocking out your entire weekends from now through April in order to complete your project list.
So, one project may be the re-organization of the kitchen. And the various tasks to achieve this could be organizing the cleaning supply cabinet under the sink / sorting out the drawer’s content / downsizing the food pantry.
It is about doing one small area at a time, and finishing it before starting the next. This will provide a soothing sense of completion.
The tranquil and silent qualities of winter give us a chance to go a step deeper. As you go about your re-organizing, take the time to do it thoroughly. So that every time you will open that medicine cabinet, its practical order will remind you of balance. Because the information you will be looking for in your desk drawers or your file cabinet will be right there, easy to find, clarity of mind will ensue.
Sometimes it helps to imagine someone else searching for something in your closets. You may want to label shelves and boxes, create content lists for trunks, etc.
Lastly, since winter is a time to enjoy comfort and coziness, apply these to your selection process: give away shoes that hurt your feet, and the clothes that don’t fit and are too tight or the color you dislike. Throughout your house, only keep those items that are truly practical and uplifting.
A sanctuary refers to the sacredness of a particular place (it originally identified the area around an altar.) It is also a place of safety, a shelter, a retreat. It is comforting to relate to our homes in this way. So once organized, let us keep on top of it, with the intention to maintain our surroundings beautiful and nurturing…. Until spring comes!
“Every winter, When the great sun has turned his face away, The earth goes down into a vale of grief, And fasts, and weeps, and shrouds herself in sables, Leaving her wedding-garlands to decay…“
Charles Kingsley (1819 - 1875), Saint's Tragedy (act III, sc. 1)
Feeling the gloom and the boredom of the season? Feeling cold, frustrated, discontented?
Yet the experience of winter does not have to be disheartening. Those few chilly months are an invitation to make our homes cozier and more comfortable. Following nature’s lead, this is a time when it feels good to be home, slow down, and enjoy.
Here are some suggestions to inspire you to create a supportive and warm interior for yourself and your loved ones. Four uplifting words to remember for a warmth-filled winter!
Being housebound for a while calls for comfortable sitting. Make your sitting area inviting at any time of day or evening.
Bring in additional throw pillows if you need. Choose warmer and brighter colors (oranges, terracota, reds, fuschia, golds, teal, chocolate browns…) Select soft textures you can snuggle in. Have sufficient matching throws and blankets around.
Re-arrange the furniture a little so that several people can cozy up together while sharing a hot chocolate or tea. Maybe bring in one ottoman or two, so that everyone can lean back and put their feet up.
When the sun goes down, and it is time to wind down, dim the main lights and light candles (and conserve electricity). If you have a fireplace, use it – make it dance and sing!
Are there any drafts that make it feel cold when lying on the couch, sitting on the floor or reading in bed? Locate and fix them. Not only do they keep you from relaxing in your home, they are also drain energy.
Keep your feet warm at all times. Take off your shoes as soon as you come in and get into comfy thick socks or slippers. Warm up your bare floors with area rugs. You can also use floor pillows, great to rest your feet on if you’re watching TV or working at the computer.
There is nothing like the warmth of a wood stove or a fireplace. Create a wood stock-up area easy to reach, have all the supplies handy (matches, fire starter, etc.) so that lighting a fire is effortless.
In winter, your home becomes a refuge. Make it so that there is a place for you personally, where you can curl up with a book, sit quietly to reflect and do journal writing, or take a nap. It could be a comfy armchair, a soft bean bag chair, or an area on the floor where you can sit among cushions. Keep a book of uplifting quotes and wisdom nearby. Slow down.
Change into warm casual clothes, play relaxing music in the background and light candles. Take time regularly this winter to tune in with nature’s cycle. It’s not about feeling trapped or depressed, but about embracing a slow down phase and doing internal reflective work before the renewal of spring. It’s a gift to yourself!
No question that these long winter weeks of decreased sunlight can affect our moral. Although it is a time for inner hibernation, it’s also a great opportunity to be productive around the house.
Make a list of all those things that have been on your mind and need completing in an ideal world: closet organizing, sewing, filing, photo album arranging, toys sorting, etc. How about those Christmas decorations? Are they boxed and labeled properly, easy to find next year? Maybe consider hiring a professional organizer to help you.
Take the time to get to know what you have collected in your own house. Downsize if necessary, and organize, so that you can enjoy what you surround yourself with. Remember that your living space is a reflection of who you are.
Bring in additional plants and fresh cut flowers to brighten your home. Make sure to air out regularly also.
Feeling subdued and blue? Snap out of it! Let the snow fall and play some energizing music – perhaps some new tunes you’ve never heard before: Cape Verdean music, Puerto Rican salsa, Bahiana samba…Dance and gradually lighten your home. Spring will be here soon!