Ten Ideas for Going Green while Renting an Apartment.

by - Thursday, September 06, 2018


Some of the most repeated advice for living green- changing to green energy, buying in bulk, growing a garden- really only applies to homeowners. If you live in an apartment, you don't have the space or control to change some things, but that doesn't mean you cannot help fight climate change and plastic waste!

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!

You do have tons of opportunities to shift your shopping and redirect your energies to do good and change the world.

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. Let's do this:

1. First, 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 a generation ago 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! Look at the tiny houses popping up or people doing more communal living. We need less space than we are told, and having less is doing more. You are making a difference simply by going smaller and making your life about something else. Overconsumption is a key factor in Climate Change, and capitalism tells us we always need more, more, more. By living smaller, you are already thwarting this powerful stream of thinking.

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.



2. Secondhand 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. For most of our time in an apartment, holes in our kitchen stuff or storage containers were popping up, and we would just run to Target to find them. 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.

We all need things sometimes. In an apartment, since storage is at a minimum, those needs can pop up even more.

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? Buy Nothing Groups are hyperlocal groups where you can offer or request items as a gift. You can't ask for anything in return, so everything is free. They are growing quickly all over the country, so it is worth checking to see if there is one near you.

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).

Make a new rule of buying it used or buying it once. No more cheap Walmart junk.


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. That creativity can create a much more beautiful space anyway.


3. Green your Cleaning


 It doesn't matter if you own or rent; we all have to clean our spaces. Any chemical we use in our space will eventually end up in collective water sources. You can keep a house looking spiffy without using the harsh stuff, packaged in plastic and sold at the store. It can save you money and the world all at once~

You don't have to make it complicated. Switch up your basics. the simplest supplies from paper towels to garbage bags have green options. Check these two posts and see how simple it is:
Five Simple Switches to Make Your Home Eco-Friendly
Easy Switches to Make your Home Eco-Friendly (Part Two)

If you use paper towels, buy recycled ones. Even better, buy reusable ones! Some things are more possible than others if you don't have in house laundry, but if you switch up these things, you have made a huge difference. If you don't have room for bulk shopping, buy the smaller scale versions of these or really consider reusable!

We have tons of resources here for cleaning in a natural and chemical-free way, especially for kitchens and bathrooms. Here is a list of green alternatives to every cleaning supply you have or need. When it is time to replace something, replace it with a greener option.

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!

To use less resources: Waste less water, control your heat and air conditioning,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!

To make less trash: The next time you go to throw your trash away, take a look in the bag and see what is there. What is in there the most? That's your mission. Those things you do repeatedly that make the most trash will also make the most difference. If you have tons of coffee cups, it's time to switch to reusable. Have some water bottles? Sweet Jesus, stop. Just stop. Unless your water is unsafe, do not EVER buy a disposable plastic bottle again, because it is a waste of your money. Really take note of your biggest waste-makers and start there. Anywhere you can eliminate packaging is great!

5. Donate your clothes, Recycle your Electronics, and Offer What You Have


 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)! If you have packaging like boxes, consider offering them to neighbors on things like Buy Nothing Groups.

Treat your trash can like a last resort, and know an option doesn't have to be obvious to exist.
from amazon

6. Just Buy Less Stuff

Minimalism seems like a laughable concept when you live in an apartment. You aren't going to have that wide, white-walled expansive clean feeling that comes with every suggestion of adopting minimalism. Who the heck has space for that?

Then again, who has space for as much stuff as we all have? We know that clutter chips away at our happiness and only adds chaos to our lives. Studies show again and again that Americans have too much stuff, and that the stuff is making us miserable.

So, even if you are in a smaller space, if you can wittle it down to what is either essential for your daily life or deeply meaningful to you, you can improve your life. It can be tempting to keep things "just in case" but studies show that those situations rarely actually come up.

Even more important is to build up our skills at just skipping buying the things we don't need. I have trouble with this, and I can impulse buy like the best of them. We know that buying something new can actually send happy chemicals to our brain, but that high does not last. So how do you avoid it?

First, we make lists of things we need to buy (we use the app Wunderlist). Then, if I see something in the store I think I "need" I write it in Wunderlist instead of buying it. If it still seems true that I need it the next time I shop, I will buy it. It's a weird habit to set at first, but now it feels good to keep things under control.

The next helpful tip is to always be thinking of how you can make what you already have work. We tend to have fast turnover in our life, looking at how we can keep older clothes in the loop or reuse a piece of furniture that doesn't quite work where it is. Making things work (and intentionally buying things to last when you do buy them) can cut so much waste out of your life.

Buying something creates a temporary high like a sugar rush, but a cleaner, less cluttered home actually gives a greater sense of peace and clarity, like a good meal. And on that note...

7. Buy More of Your Food Locally and Buy Less Meat


American diets are one of the key places you can see class division in the population. Poorer people eat less healthy, more packaged food. The working poor don't have time to prepare food, and now there are tons of options for things already prepared or super easy to make. Some of it is actually faster, lots of it isn't, but you can't deny that the less healthy the option, the more unhealthy it is.

It turns out the more healthy the food, the less packaging it has. The healthiest way to shop in a grocery store is around the outside, where fruits, meats, and generally less plastic lives. The healthier someone can eat, the less packaging they (generally) produce.

This is a tricky one to pull off, especially if you aren't exactly rolling in money. I have a few suggestions for keeping it cheaper.

First, buy less meat. This is huge. Meat and animal products are THE most environmentally damaging things we consume. They use a huge amount of resources and create terrible waste. Beef alone is one of the top contributors to climate change (and heart disease... just saying). Meats are also probably one of the more expensive things on your grocery list. Eat more meatless meals or cut your meat portions in half. Cut as much meat as you can cut (and replace with other plant-based proteins like beans). This will save you money and have a hugely positive environmental effect!

Second, grow things like herbs yourself. Even a little window garden can work for growing basil. It will make your space smell amazing and even leftovers feel fresh with a little fresh parsley on them.

Third, buy seasonally. Look up what is good where you are and when you are. If it is good local now, your food is less likely to have traveled far and wasted fuel.


8. 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 and biggest fan), 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.


9. Turn off the Cable


I won't begrudge anyone their dirty pleasures, but at the very least, switch all of your tv watching to Netflix or Hulu. Why? TV advertising 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 need more starts to disappear!

This is a change that will save you money, but bigger than that, it gives you a newfound freedom. No matter what our living situation, we let ourselves fuel this machine that blows through resources and create unbelievable amounts of waste.

Trying turning it off in one part of your life and see how good you feel. Because you really are enough.

10. Get Involved and Get Fighting


You send companies a message every time you shop about what you will tolerate and what you won't. Make that message to the market and to politicians by getting involved more fully and fighting for our environment. You may not have a lot of money or a lot of time, but you can sign a couple of petitions and show up for demonstrations now and again. But the only way to get your voice heard is to really join up with others.

How do you do this? Start joining groups that are already out there fighting. Here is a list of some of my favorites, but look into who is speaking up where you are. Just join their facebook group and start getting a sense of the battles being fought right where you are:

350- This beloved (by me at least) global grassroot movement's name stands for the uppermost safe level of CO2 in the air (we have surpassed it at 400).

The Arbor Day Foundation- This group plants trees around the country and promotes the planting of trees by individuals.

The Audobon Society- Fighting for bird species and their habitats.

Greenpeace- Yeah, you have heard of it. This organization is all about political activism, stepping up to fight injustice where it is happening and lobbying to protect the environment, fight big oil, and step up against injustice. 

The National Wildlife Federation- This group aims to protect American wildlife, maintaining biodiversity on our continent.

Natural Resources Defense Council- This coalition between lawyers, scientists, and members has created and continues to fight for vital legislation for clean air, clean water, and the protection of our natural world. Vitally important at this moment in history.

The Nature Conservancy- This organization is conserving a huge number of vital, yet at risk parts of our natural world.

Sierra Club- A huge grassroots organization that fights on many fronts to protect the environment, focusing on pipelines and the banks that fund them.

The Story of Stuff- This book and film transformed into a movement. They fight on multiple fronts, focusing on packaging and overconsumption, but you might also be interested in their fight against water privatization.

World Wildlife Fund- This organization protects animals- especially the most vulnerable.

So many choices, but be sure to look at what groups and events are going on near you!

eco-friendly and zero waste strategies for renting


No one can do everything to save our world, but we all can (and should) do more. Consider looking into these

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2 comments

  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.

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  2. I never thought of apartment living as "living small," but it actually sure is!! Good point from the start lol. Love this tips and mindset to keeping it green no matter where or how you live!

    Addie // Old World New

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