I Decorated with Only Zero-Waste Furniture—Here’s How it Changed The Way I Think About My Home
I’ve never really been into interior design. Thankfully, I’ve been able to dodge confronting that reality because I’ve always lived with roommates who’ve taken on decorating our spaces. This past year, however, I finally got a place of my own. I’d started a zero-waste face lotion business that had enough success that I got the privilege to move into a space of my own.
When I finally arrived in my new home, I sat on my floor and looked at the nothingness of my place. I had a few mirrors, way too many clothes and a long wooden side table in front of me. The inner dialogue started. What are you doing? You don’t know anything about how to set up a space. You don’t know what items could be good together. What if you make your place look like a bad version of a waiting room in a doctors office?
I immediately started looking at couches, chairs, and everything else online—I could buy so many affordable, nice-looking things with the tap of a finger. The first purchase was something brand-new: a bed frame. It was a sterile design—no scratches, no bumps. Just a simple and very clean wood frame without a headboard, where I just needed to manually screw in everything and it was ready to go. I bought it in a rush of wanting my space to look good and desperately trying to create anything close to a home. Around the same time that I bought it, I found a few things on the side of the road and visited an antique store. The bed frame box arrived in the mail. I read the directions, assembled it accordingly, and put my mattress on the top. I felt very little emotion in the entire process.
However, the items I found on the side of the road and at the antique store felt like finding messages in a bottle. You release the note, untwirl the paper and you have part of a story. You can dream up this story for days and the best part is that you will never get it right or wrong. Take the antique table: Where did it come from? Who owned it and what did they use it for? Oh, the food they must have made and the ones they loved that sat around it! The old magazines that could have been on top, the spills they could have had, the long notes they wrote to lovers on that table. The stories are endless. I realized that this whimsical notion of a furnitures’ old past was everything I could ever need in creating a space that meant so much to me. I compared this emotion that I was feeling about the antique table to the lack of emotion I was feeling about the bedframe and had my answer on how I wanted to create my space.
As I continued filling my home with furniture, I was still tempted to buy new items, but each time, the streets of Brooklyn or a second-hand furniture store would somehow provide me with a more exciting alternative. Not only was choosing hand-me-downs beneficial to my romantic imagination, but there are zero new resources being utilized, there are no potentially compromised ethics, it’s way more affordable, and I’m saving items from going into the landfill. With more than 9 million tons of furniture going into landfills every year, I find new items even less appealing.
This process brought me to the concept of an entire zero-waste lifestyle that extended beyond just my business. The zero waste mindset, at least the way I see it, mimics the natural system in which everything that exists can be either composted, recycled or reused for something else—there’s a special purpose in everything. It’s redefined the way I step into the world every day by making me rethink things I thought I so badly needed—including the things I thought I needed to turn a house into a home. It was the process of moving into my own place, something that starting my own zero-waste business allowed me to do, that made me truly embrace transforming a blank space into a sustainable home.
My zero-waste lifestyle isn’t just a way of moving about in the world, it’s changed my understanding of what it means to be a symbiotic part of it. When I go to the grocery store, I bring my cloth produce bags and jars, and I make sure to buy items in packaging that is not wrapped in plastic. I compost all my food scraps to avoid methane output and landfill usage and to ensure that my food is getting turned back into healthy soils, and I pick up trash at my local parks daily to make sure they don’t consume our plastic and trash. Applying this entire ethos into decorating a home makes it truly feel like mine—with no guilt about hurting our planet.
With a great deal of help from friends and discovering the world of old treasures, I no longer dread finding items and dipping my toe into interior design. What began as finding items to take up space in my home morphed into a beautiful journey of finding things that reflect back who I am: someone who values history and the planet we live on. When I wake up in the morning and I look around at the items that make up my home, it almost feels like I am looking at myself. I can feel the stories, the humanity, and the gentle character in every piece.
The pieces in my home don’t feel like things I own. Instead, it feels as though they are letters being written. I’ll work on them until they need to be rolled up and placed in a bottle for another person to find and continue the story.
Stevie Van Horn is a sustainability activist and the founder of YAYFOREARTH.