Mother Earth Living

Your Natural Home

Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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5/28/2015

The other day I took a critical look around my living room. To be honest, I’m not much of a decorator. My mother was, my daughter is, but somewhere that gene simply skipped right over me! I realized as I looked around the room that it was a pretty sad sight. Very little in the way of knick-knacks left the room less cozy than it could be, the pillows on the couch were saggy, and the curtains looked limp. As I stood in the middle of the room, I tried to decide what could be done—in a hurry—to bring some life back to this room.

I look at my pillows and thought, "I can punch those up and make them fluffy.” I even added a few more pillows without dragging my sewing machine from its hiding place. How, you ask? That's not even possible. Oh, but it is my friends—and this is how it's done!

refreshing pillows

The first thing I did was take the two old couch pillows and used a seam ripper to open a small hole at the bottom of each. Then, I pulled out two sweaters I had felted, trying to do another project (it was for felted dryer balls, but that's a story for another blog!). These sweaters had been laying around waiting for the perfect opportunity to be used because they had felted up just perfect, and I hated to throw them away. I took the sweaters and started cutting them into pieces. I took the pieces and stuffed them into the droopy couch pillows. Next thing you know two fluffy, like-new pillows. All I had to do was hand sew the small holes shut.

homemade stuffing

My second idea involved some placemats I had bought because they matched my décor and I was trying to spruce things up. However, I only used them once because I soon realized that I would be picking them up off the floor when hungry people sat down in a hurry at the table. I looked carefully at the mats and realized they were actually two pieces of fabric sewn together. At the bottom of the mat I ripped a small hole with my trusty seam ripper. I then took two old sheets and started ripping them to shreds. Talk about fun—boy oh boy, I never thought hearing that rrriiiipp of a sheet could cause quite so much laughter (or so many strange looks from dogs and children!). Once the fun was over and the sheet was in shreds on the floor, I started balling them up and stuffing the pillow. My old sheets were put to good use, and those unused placemats were magically turned into new, inexpensive pillows to add to my couch.

finished diy pillow

Now, I have two rejuvenated pillows and two new pillows. Both of which have brightened up the living room considerably, all because I dared to think outside the box when I didn't have any proper stuffing material. I saved money, reused something that might have ended up in a landfill, and taught myself a new trick for the future.

In my next blog, I will tell you the second surprising way I made my living room less dreary! But until then, I want to hear from you—when was a time you thought outside the box and did something totally unexpected that turned out great? Let me know in the comments below.


Amy GreeneAmy Greene is a wife, mother of four children and three dogs, and homesteader from North Carolina. She loves to learn about homesteading and self-sufficiency. Her family plants a large garden, preserves as much as possible, and has high hopes of someday fulfilling their wildest homesteading dreams!





5/19/2015

Spring is a time of promise and rebirth. The flowers are starting to emerge from their winter’s sleep and everything looks blissful. That is, until you take a look at the chaos that’s threatening to invade every corner of your home. The way to conquer this is to introduce some order into your life. Start getting organized with these simple goals.

home organization 

1. Out with the Old
In order to get your organizational mission on the right track, it’s a good idea to eliminate some of the rubbish that has come to occupy your home. Get the family together and create three piles: one for junk to be thrown away, one for items that you want to keep, and a third pile for possessions that you would like to keep but don’t have the space. Rather than keeping all your belongings in the home, seek out facilities, such as Alligator Storage,  where you can store your goods until you need them.

2. Don’t Add to the Junk
If your house is festooned with stickers, leaflets and other paper paraphernalia, ask yourself if you really need these items. Unless the design of the leaflet is really stunning and deserves to be kept, why not use your smartphone or tablet to record important dates and add a website link, if applicable. Once you’ve started this practice you’ll be amazed at how little paper you end up hoarding.

3. Start a Filing System
Despite the fact that the advent of the computer was supposed to herald a paperless society, we seem to hoard more paper than ever before. If you want to be truly organized, implement a filing system. Every time a bank statement or bill lands in your mailbox, you can place it in order by date to your file and easily keep an eye on the family budget. Any bill that’s over a couple of years old should be consigned to the shredder and then the trash bin.

4. Shop Smart
Shopping can be dangerous. It’s so easy to be persuaded that you must buy an item that’s on sale. But then you can end up with drawers full of unwanted, unused goods. A recent article in The Hull Daily Mail suggested that the pre-Christmas Black Friday sales are simply an excuse for the “I want culture” to proliferate and encourage consumers to indulge in spending just to obtain more stuff. Treat yourself, of course, but don’t buy things you don’t need or simply because others are doing so. 

5. Clean Regularly
If you are able to clean your house a little on a regular basis, you’ll soon notice that the dust won’t pile up, cobwebs will be swept away and you may even find that missing shoe you were looking for. Don’t leave cleaning the home for one mammoth annual occasion.

6. Don’t Forget to Socialize
Regardless of how tired you are after work, try to arrange at least one night a week when you can go out with your friends. Mark this in your planner and stick to it. Friends are vital, and you’ll soon find yourself organizing your life so that you can enjoy these relationships.




5/7/2015

The threat of global warming has forced many people to reconsider their lifestyle habits. The government has also made it easier to upgrade your home and create a more eco-friendly environment. It’s surprisingly easy to make your home a greener place and it feels like the right thing to do, morally. While a lot of green tips focus on the kitchen or the actual structure of the home, there are a few design ideas out there too. Below you’ll discover five great eco bedroom ideas you can easily take advantage of.

eco-bedroom 

1. Renovate Existing Furniture
If you’re looking to upgrade the bedroom, making the most of what you already have is one of the best green tips you can follow. Not only does it help the environment, but it also helps save you money. Giving cabinets a fresh coat of paint or a simple sanding and refinish often provides a fantastic transformation. You can even use existing items in a new way. For example, window frames that are no longer in use can be recycled to create shelving to provide great storage space.

2. Switch to Energy-Saving Lighting
It’s such a small step, but changing the lighting in a room can make a massive difference to the environment. Energy saving lightbulbs are an obvious example. Again, they can also help you to save money as they use less electric, helping to lower your energy bills.

3. Invest in Sustainable Bedding
The bed is one of the biggest investments you make for your bedroom, but many aren’t created from sustainable materials. Make sure your next bed is eco-friendly by choosing one made from certified timber, from reliable companies such as the Divan Beds Centre. You can also ensure the bedding you choose is eco-friendly by opting for polyester material made from recycled bottles which also helps to keep dust mites at bay.

4. Choose Thick, High-Quality Curtains
As mentioned on the UKTV website, high-quality curtains can help to control indoor temperature. Particularly in the winter months, heavy curtains can help keep your bedroom warmer. They prevent heat escaping through the windows, meaning you don’t need to use as much heating to keep the home warm.

5. Opt for Eco-Friendly Paint
Painting is one of the most common ways to enhance the bedroom, yet not all paint is eco-friendly. An eco-friendly paint won’t release toxins into the air. The color is also surprisingly important. Light paint colors will reflect light onto the wall, creating a brighter living space which means you won’t need to use your lighting as much.

These are only a few eco-friendly ideas for the bedroom. Investing in greener materials and following the steps above will really help you do your part for the environment, and also save you a lot of money in the process. As you can see, greener living is great for those on a budget and doesn’t cost very much to incorporate into the home, no matter what room you are focusing on.



4/23/2015

Whenever I travel, I notice a distinct difference between traditional homes and our new high-efficiency home. Because I have lived in older, less-efficient homes for most of my life, it required a bit of adjusting when we first moved in. Our new home is heated primarily from the sun, occupants and household appliances such as the stove, refrigerator and hot water heater. Despite living in Maine, our home has no furnace and just a few baseboard heaters that turn on periodically. After living in the house for over a year, I've picked up a few tips on living in a high-efficiency house.

South Facing Window 

Open the Curtains on South-Facing Windows for Free Heat

Our house has a solar orientation and relies on passive solar gains for heating during cool weather. With three very large windows and a door, most of our glazing is south-facing. It’s very important to have the curtains or blinds open to capture this free, clean and abundant heat source, especially during the middle of the day when the sun is strongest. Even during bright cloudy days, our home warms up without using the heaters. The windows also allow daylight to stream in, making supplemental lighting unnecessary most of the time.

Change Filters on the Ventilation System  

Our house is virtually airtight. To maintain the indoor air quality, we rely on mechanical ventilation. Our home has a Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system that brings fresh air into the home and captures the heat before venting stale air out. These systems can recycle up to 95 percent of the heat and run by default, although occupants can boost the system to bring in greater quantities of fresh air when needed.

The intake air on our heat recovery ventilation system is filtered before it enters the home. We vacuum our filters every three months and replace them every six to 12 months. The filters are easy to access, making this a simple task.

High Efficiency Homes 

Use Higher MERV Filters When Necessary

Air filters have a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV rating) between 1 and 16. Higher numbers correspond with a greater percentage of particles being captured through the filter. Ventilation systems that have air filters typically have different MERV rating options.

For people with pollen allergies or who live in areas with considerable air pollution, it’s recommended to use a filter with a higher MERV rating. Our heat recovery ventilation system has a MERV 13 filter available, which can remove auto emission particles, mold, pollen, lead dust and spores.

Avoid Back-Drafting Flues

Many homes rely on exhaust fans to remove odors, moisture and fumes. Although they’re typically effective, they have some drawbacks. One potential issue is that they can create a negative pressure in the home because air leaves without the system, supplying intake air. Makeup air to equalize the pressure enters through cracks, holes and gaps in the building envelope.

In some cases, this can mean back-drafting your woodstove, fireplace and gas hot water heater or furnace. This causes fumes to enter the home, contaminating the indoor air. It’s most common with atmospherically vented combustion appliances. If your gas appliances are vented in this manner, follow these directions to test if it’s properly exhausting fumes.


Sarah Lozanova is an environmental and health journalist with an MBA in sustainable management. She lives in a net-zero house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.



4/13/2015

Rarely get to enjoy the outdoors? You're not alone. American’s spend 90 percent of their time indoors, as reported by the EPA. It may come as a surprise that the concentration of pollutants indoors are much higher than the outdoors. With so much time spent indoors, it's important to be mindful about what we bring in with us. Additionally, many common products and home furnishings are full of chemicals and toxins that could potentially cause health risks. But you can minimize the level of pollutants by decorating with natural fibers, solid wood and organic upholstery. You don’t have to sacrifice style to be eco-friendly. If you’re ready to take another green step forward, here are a few ideas.

Natural Decor
Photo by Shutterstock

Eco-Friendly Rugs

The number of companies distributing environmentally-sensitive products has grown so much that you'd be hard-pressed to find a product that doesn't have an eco-alternative...and that includes rugs. When shopping for rugs, remember:

• Natural fibers like organic cotton, jute, seagrass, sisal, coir and either untreated or minimally-treated wool are best
• Make sure the rug has non-toxic backing and underlay pads sewn (not glued) to the backing—wool, jute, or natural latex are recommended
• Even if a rug is made from natural fibers, it could have been treated with stain, insect, or flame repellents, so make sure the label says it is organic, untreated, minimally-treated or non-toxic
• Know about certifications that guarantee renewable resources were used

For more details, Apartment Therapy's guide "How To Shop for an Environmentally-Friendly Rug" outlines everything you need to know.

Natural Window Treatments

Design and architecture magazine Freshome explains that natural light and healthy living go hand-in-hand; natural light helps the human mind, body and spirit connect with the outdoors. Additionally, the Lighting Research Center reports that natural light can even improve health and increase comfort and productivity. Of all the places you should find comfort, your home is perhaps the most important. Instead of blocking natural light from coming through the windows with heavy, dark-colored draperies, look into green and eco-friendly shades that are designed with sustainable materials like bamboo and grass, which still allow natural light in, but reduce glare and heat absorption.

Sustainable Furniture

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, many commercially-produced couches and other upholstered items are filled with harmful toxins including flame retardants that can pose serious risks to health. But did you know that you can buy toxin-free couches, beds and other furniture? More and more furniture makers and manufacturers are changing their standards to make products non-toxic, but the changes will take time. If you're in the market for new furniture now, check out this guide from the NRDC to see where the recognizable brands stand (e.g. La-Z-Boy, IKEA) in their transition away from flame retardant use. To make the search for sustainable products easier, the Sustainable Furnishings Council website allows you to search for eco-friendly companies in four categories: materials, furnishings, stores and designers. Aside from upholstered furniture, anything made from wood should be either recycled or FSC-certified, which means the forest it came from was managed in a way that did not disturb the natural ecosystem.


Lauren Topor is a multimedia journalist and alumna of Arizona State University. Her professional work has appeared in notable publications, including HuffPost Arts & Culture. When she's not writing you can find Lauren training for her next marathon or posting to her blog.



4/13/2015

picnic table
Photo by Raya Carlisle

Building a healthy home means living well indoors and out—and designing our spaces to support the lives we want. For example, many of us love spending time in nature, yet we haven't invested the energy to maximize our outdoor spaces. This season, identify a couple of lifestyle changes you desire—whether it's spending more time outdoors, banning plastics from your kitchen, making your own art projects or making your backyard more productive—and invest some time and energy into the fun or revamping your living spaces.

outdoor living space
Photo courtesy Nora Griffin

The Great Outdoors

Creating enticing outdoor spaces will make your family much more likely to drift outside on balmy evenings, and alluring outdoor rooms don’t have to cost a fortune. On her blog Just Make Stuff, Nora Griffin details how she transformed her backyard into a casual oasis by spreading 2 tons of gravel and building this bright, multicolored DIY brick fire pit. Now, she says, “I can’t help but be out there every day puttering around, trimming plants and sprinkling some water on something. We just go sit outside for no reason at all...which really is the perfect reason.” Find the project on Nora's blog.

DIY fire pit
Photo courtesy Nora Griffin

Living Al Fresco

Eating outdoors is an easy way to help our homes flow effortlessly into outdoor space. But a lovely idea can turn into a headache when you are stuck running between the kitchen and the table for every little thing. Streamline eating outdoors on a whim by stocking a tray with everything you need to dine. When the mood strikes, simply add a pitcher of water and the plates of food, and carry your dining caddy out to eat in the wild.

• Flatware
• Cloth napkins
• Salt and pepper
• Kitchen towel
• Citronella candle and matches
• Sturdy glasses

Indoor-Outdoor Living Projects

You can boost your daily time spent in nature by enhancing your outdoor spaces through changes big and small. Take inspiration from this list of potential projects.

DO IT TODAY
• Make your own insect repellent (see below)
• Add an outdoor rug
• Hang a solar lantern
• Rig up wind chimes

DIY Bug spray:
Mix 2 tablespoons each vodka and neem oil with 50 drops each lavender, tea tree and rosemary essential oils. Store in a spray bottle and spritz regularly, avoiding eyes.

INVEST A LITTLE
• Add pavers, gravel or large stone steps
• Hang a hammock or comfortable swing
• Install outdoor lighting (torches or LEDs)
• Build a fire pit

THINK BIG
• Install walk-out doors
• Build a small deck or patio
• Screen in your porch
• Add a large grill or masonry oven



4/13/2015

Our experts share some of their favorite natural cleaning finds.

Odor Eliminator

Odor Eliminator

Made with charcoal, the Bad Air Sponge is an effective odor-eater perfect for closets, gym lockers or cars.
To Buy:  $9, Bad Air Sponge

Dish Soap

Dish It Out

Ecover Zero Dish Soap is an all-purpose dish detergent free of harsh synthetic chemical fragrances.
To Buy:  $4, ecover

Hand Soap

All Hands on Deck

Grab Green’s Fragrance-Free Hand Soap is made with softening aloe vera, plus it’s biodegradable and made in the U.S.
To Buy:  $5, Grab Green

Bug Repellent

Bug Off

Orange Guard is a water-based insect repellent effective against ants, roaches, fleas and more—yet safe for pets and kids.
To Buy:  $18 for two-pack of 32-ounce sprays, Orange Guard

Pet Stain Remover

Pet Project

Packaged in bottles made of renewable sugarcane, Greenshield Organic Pet Stain & Odor Remover is made of sea salt, citric acid and orange blossoms.
To Buy:  $7, Greenshield Organic

Learn more about cleaning naturally in How to Solve Home Problems, Naturally.





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