10 Tips for an Environmentally Friendly Apartment

by - Thursday, March 24, 2016

My sage cousin Paige has rightly pointed out to me that some of the suggestions I have for making more environmentally-conscientious choices aren't all that accessible if you live in an apartment. So true- it can be harder to buy in bulk or control how you get energy or even to recycle if your complex isn't on board.

Like so many of these things, we have two choices- let those areas where we don't have control define our decisions and make us feel powerless (and apathetic- why even try?) OR see all the potential in the choices we DO have and observe the power of our small changes. Guess which one I like!

Ah youth, and chemistry cookies in my first apartment
As a side warning, I moved into my first apartment at 20 and moved out of my last one at 27. A lot of my time spent in apartments I barely made ends meet and was learning all sorts of general adulting knowledge. If my advice leans that way, I apologize, because I do recognize lots of people of many lifestyles, ages, and demographics rent. So hopefully I am just regular levels of condescending, which I generally am sorry for, but not extra, which crosses right into serious douchey.

The key here is that we can make the world a little better with literally every purchase we make (or choose not to make), so there are plenty of cool ideas on how to approach apartment living differently. Chime in with your own too! Let's do this:

1. Pat Yourself on the Back; Living Small is a Kickass First Step- Do you know that one of the top reasons younger generations are more stressed and busy than our parents is because we live in much larger spaces than our they did? Almost twice the size. The average home was 1400 sq feet, and now its more than 2300. How many of us actually need that space? That means more furniture and filler to buy, more things to clean, more to maintain. I think the next generation will move in the opposite direction, choosing smaller spaces so they can make more ethical choices- so congrats, you are the wave of the future! You are making a difference simply by going smaller and making your life about something else.

Living in an apartment comes with it's own challenges because you don't always have control over utilities or space to grow things, but you also have already taken a huge step by limiting your space and, thereby, the possessions and time spent on your home. Keeping it to a scale you need (not the epic mcmansion scale we are all supposed to want) is huge.

About a third of our Goodwill's selection in baskets. Really, consignment stores have so much good stuff!
2. Goodwill before Target (Always)- When we first move into an apartment, we were constantly realizing all the grown up things we needed but didn't have. I can remember so many trips to Target to get a lamp or measuring cups or whatever small thing we needed but didn't have.Not only did we get those things, but that magical Target thing happened, where you go for one thing, and leave with a hundred dollars worth of stuff. Every time.

One of the biggest green changes you can make is to fill those voids with secondhand stuff. Used is the new "new," and you can't do better for the environment (and your pocket).

Do you have a Buy Nothing Group in your neighborhood? It might be a great way to pick up what you need for free (or check with family members- I know our home is 50%+ hand me down furniture from my Mom six years in). It's amazing how many people have old toasters and dining room chairs sitting around that they might be happy to share. And it's all free.

If not, I highly recommend making Goodwill your new Target, especially for small furniture, glassware, lamps, and kitchen tools. There are so many things you should always get secondhand- any glassware, mugs, wood furniture, lamps, and even kitchen tools. You can save SO MUCH MONEY shopping this way, and then you can redistribute what's left to get good stuff that will last you (glass over plastic, Made in America, handmade and personal over mass-produced, etc) instead of filling your apartment with cheap junk you will just be replacing a year or two from now (this happens. I would not lie to you. We are replacing all our first round junk now). Think of it as buying it used or buying it once.

You may be saying "But Barbara, my mom's old table is not our style." or "But this couch is a million years old." First, if the couch is really that old, sell it to a museum or something. Second, little fixes like repainting a table or putting slip covers on a couch can give something more years of life, save you money, and still work with your personal style. Before writing a hand me down off, think of it as a challenge that you might just be able to tackle.

3. Green your Cleaning- It doesn't matter if you own or rent; we all have to clean our spaces. Here are a few ideas to switch up your cleaning:

Try using washclothes and cloth napkins instead of paper towels and napkins. When you are cooking for a small number, the mess should be pretty manageable too, so try to make one roll of paper towels last a Very. Long. Time. Oh Little Rabbit has some of our favorite napkins, and I think the simple silkscreens

Switch to a zero-waste laundry soap like The Simply Co's. It's more expensive up front, but one package has at least 65 washes in it. It will last you twice as long. And you aren't putting more plastic into the environment. We have it and love it, and we would never go back, ven if we changed our eco-friendly ways.

Give up toxic cleaners! I did a list of more environmentally-friendly cleaners here. It may not be quite as cheap, but if you want to save money, you could make your regular cleaner 4 parts water, one part white vinegar. So cheap, so effective, just make sure your vinegar is diluted enough.

4. Control what You Can- Being a tenant, you can't always decide how your apartment gets energy or if recycling is an option. This doesn't mean you can't control how much energy you are using or how much garbage you make! Waste Less Water, Control your Heat and Cool, Try weatherizing. to optimize the efficiency of your windows. Don't use your dishwasher or the laundry machines until you have a really full load. It's procrastination for Mother Earth!

5. Eliminate Overpackaging and Needless Plastic- Reusable Bags! Reusable water bottles! These can actually take up significantly more room in your home (those huge packs of bottled water are a real space suck. A water filter is barely any room at all- just make sure your water is safe).  No matter how much space you have, you can make a huge impact by just removing plastics, especially one-time use plastics, as part of your regular routine.

 And no matter where you live, reducing (or eliminating) one time use plastics like those bags, water bottles, and coffee cups is one of the biggest and best impacts you can make. Bring a water bottle or coffee mug with you if that is part of your routine! So much of it is just being prepared when you leave the house, and everyone has the power to do that.

6. Donate your clothes, Recycle your Electronics, and Minimize your Trash- I get it, you may not have a regular recycling option in your apartment complex. Bummer (no seriously, that sucks). But do not give up! You still have way better options than the dumpster. Anything that you can donate (anything fabric, even if it is beat up) can be donated. So much can be, so if you want to get rid of it, give it to someone else. You can recycle electronics at various venues near you (no there is something near you if you just do a little research- stores like Staples and Best Buy even have recycling)! And avoid food that comes in a lot of packaging, so you aren't creating quite so much garbage. Treat your trash can like a last resort, and know an option doesn't have to be obvious to exist.
from amazon
7. Make a Some Simple Switches- It can feel like if you can't go big, you can't do much, but you actually have a great opportunity to start small and where it counts. A few ideas:

Bamboo (here's a 4 pack of another brand- there are PLENTY) or recycled toothbrush instead of the plastic one.

Garbage bags- If you live in a place with things, you buy garbage bags. Only buy recycled ones! They usually don't differ as much dependent on how many you get, and you can fit that business under the sink.

I could go on and on, but you know what you use everyday. What could you change about those items?

8. Buy (One Thing) Local, Buy (One Thing) Recycled, Buy (One Thing) Eco-Friendly, Buy (One Thing) Organic- Start with this simple formula. You can't do it for everything (seriously, who can?) but find a local seller you love and commit to one thing they sell. Or look at what you buy the most, and you can commit to one thing to always buy better. Don't feel like you have to do everything, but look for ones that just feel (or taste) better, and start there. Pick one food, one drink, one household item, or one soap. Any little change you make consistently over time makes way more difference than one grand gesture.

9. Bulk Share- I can remember my Mom always trying to talk us into Costco (not particularly for environmental reasons- she is just their unofficial spokeswoman), but in our apartment, we didn't have room for a big bulk pack of paper towels or the freezer space for meat we wanted to keep for a long time. We just didn't have the room to buy bulk. There was either room for us, or a lifetime supply of toothpaste. Not both. So alas, another sad story of being a Costco disappointment to one's mother.

I figure this has to be one of the biggest problems you face when trying to go green as an apartment-dweller. Buying bulk makes recycled tissues and toilet paper affordable, and it can way cut down on packaging, Two huge benefits. But they both take up a lot more room than the six pack.

So I am going to suggest something I have never seen suggested, but seems just simple enough to work. Make a shared shopping list and buy some of these products in bulk split between yourself and other friends living in apartments. Split two or three ways, the purchase would be much more affordable and storable. Talk to friends who are in similar living situations, and get strategic about how to do shares like these. Even if it doesn't time out perfectly, a roll or two to cushion between Costco trips is still way more than what you would be buying otherwise.

10. Turn off the TV- I won't begrudge anyone their dirty pleasures, but at the very least, minimize their impact. Why? TV sends a constant and relentless message that we don't have enough, that we aren't enough, and that we should want more. Boo. So cut the cable and listen to that tiny voice that says you eeed more starts to disapear!

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  1. Yay! I think it's almost easier to live green in an apartment when you have less to spend. It's a fun creative puzzle- cardboard boxes with a fabric cover it made a very proud dinner table, and sewing my parent's old couch back together makes it feel like MINE now.
    The bulk shopping with a friend is a little more difficult since I don't have many in the area, but I have started using my car as storage more and more-- now that the weather is getting milder, I could keep more in my trunk I bet.
    My biggest struggle is in the summer- I have not found a good way to get air conditioning from my living room (where the unit is) to my bedroom, and being on the 3rd floor means I'm getting a lot of my neighbor's heat (which is nice in the winter!). I tried hanging those energy-saving curtains around, but I still waste a lot of energy cooling everywhere else in the apt. Dad suggested a portable air conditioner to put in my room, which I think I might try this year.