I'm a big fan of cotton, linen, silk, stone, leather, wood, paper, house plants, wool, and straw. These are a few of my favorite things. To decorate with. (I also like glass and metal, though these are generally artificially produced.)
Decorating and organizing with these materials in your home is a nice way to pay homage to nature and enjoy the comfort and luxury that nature provides, inside your home. Nature provides us with so darn much! [Sustainably] take what you are given!
Some things are worth spending a little more money on; consider these things an investment, whether it's in your home or your health... or both, really.
I will be the first to admit that buying natural ingredients for your home is not always cheaper. In fact, it is quite often a bit more expensive. But I'd liken paying less for unnatural ingredients like a pleather couch to paying under 5 bucks and eating fast food burgers and fries every day - neither is good for you or the environment.
Fake: Lots of Wind-Breaking... Excuse Me-- Off-Gassing
Fake leather is costly to manufacture. Maybe not in terms of dollars and cents, but its production is taxing on the environment. It also off-gasses into your home. Bring that pleather sucker across your threshold, and you've suddenly got formaldehyde (and/or ammonia, benzene, toluene, etc.) in your breathing air. No thanks. Plastics do similar things. (Plastics are admittedly useful, but not irreplaceable. I'm on a quest to rid our house of plastics. It is hard.)
Real: Less, Anyway
Leather, on the other hand, only needs to be tanned and cured, once it is taken from an animal that I hope has been thoroughly used (more on that at a later time). It may off-gas a little, but not nearly anything as much and as toxic as that awful pleather. Real leather actually seals in bad chemicals from padding and stuffing in cushions, and your leather sofa should off-gas whatever it will in around 6 months, so keep those windows open on nice days! (This sounds like a long time, but it's not nearly as long as unnatural materials, which can be 1-7 years.) Also notable: plywood off--gasses a lot, whereas solid wood doesn't, nearly as much. (I'm suddenly very appreciative of the solid wood cabinets our home's previous owners put in the kitchen.)
Leather may not be the most environmentally friendly material for your furniture, but if you have pets, I personally feel it is a must for at least the sofa that we will all inevitably share. If no pets are involved (or you can train them to keep off), wool or cotton canvas or linen upholstery are wonderful eco options for furniture. I am not saying natural materials do not off-gas, but their off-gassing is markedly less than manmade materials, and less harmful. Speaking of which, we are still suffering from a rather severe manmade off-gassing episode in our guest bedroom from a poly-foam bedding layer about a year ago. Though the room still has a distinct, chemically smell, I've now got some plants chugging away at the harmful chemicals left behind in that room to help mitigate what's left.
You can off-gas your new furniture items by letting them air out, out-of-doors for at least 48 hours, and the longer the better. Just be conscious of the fact that you're off-gassing those bad chemicals into the environment. In all likelihood, the plants around your home can handle it better than you, but maybe don't support the toxic furniture building industry in the first place by purchasing items that are more likely to off-gas worse stuff and for longer periods. Instead, use that investment strategy where you purchase well-crafted, solid wood frame furniture made with non-toxic glues, covered in other natural materials.
That said, it does not hurt to take a few safety measures to cleanse your home air. In order to off-set/absorb further off-gassing that will take place in your home, add some of the following plants to your spaces (recommended by NASA's Clean Air Study): dwarf date palms, Boston ferns, English ivy, spider plants, peace lilies, sansevieria (mother-in-law tongue), philodendrons, rubber plants, dendrobium orchids, and moth orchids.
Nature also proves to be harder working in the durability category than most unnatural materials. I credit this to the amazing features of design found in nature. Here, I will digress a little and direct you to peruse through Dandy Designs.
In particular, did you see the one about the "Beauty of Wood"? And on a random topic, have you ever wondered how birds don't freeze in the winter? (Hint: think of your warm down comforter... but in the case of birds, there's more to it than that. Take a look.)
Back to durability - just about everything we have owned in our home that was not made from natural materials has either had to be donated, recycled, or (sadly) trashed. It just doesn't stand up to wear and tear. Our leather love seat, however, has survived us and a cat and dog for 5+ years, and is still going strong. Similarly, we own some sturdy wood dressers, literally passed down from previous generations. A simple and quick update with some zero VOC paint, and they're suddenly made current.
I've also taken to buying (or finding on the curb) used, natural-material pieces from thrift stores (like our "new" dining chairs); I like this option a titch better than buying new, sustainably produced pieces because nothing new had to be taken from the earth to make them. Furthermore, they've likely already off-gassed what they need to, so you can rest easier on that front.
The Touch, The Feel
Natural materials also just feel better to the touch. There's a substance and heft to them that makes them appealing. Go on, drag your toes across that tufted 100% wool rug and notice how good it feels. Lean back on your cushion covered in smooth silk, and breathe easier as you gaze at your wonderful houseplants, knowing they're hard at work filtering out the bad stuff and giving you good, old-fashioned oxygen to breathe. Polish up those granite countertops, knowing they will withstand your heat and spills quite well. Nothing is absolutely perfect, but survey says that nature is better than manmade in so many categories.
Don't forget that one day, your furnishings will [hopefully after hundreds of years of handing down, reusing, and repurposing] fall apart and be chucked in a landfill. All the more reason to have furnishings made from natural elements that can biodegrade with fewer harmful by-products. Just thinking ahead.
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