Like many people, our little family has been spending a lot of time at home lately. 

So much time that our furniture and walls and bric-a-brac seem to be blurring into nothingness. 

A few weeks ago, my wife decided to switch a desk in our workroom with a bookshelf in our front room so it would be easier for her to switch between online piano teaching and administrative work without disconnecting and reconnecting her laptop.

While we were at it, we switched around some of the books and ornaments on the shelves and filled the glass cabinet on the old secretary desk we inherited from my grandmother with a bunch of weird collectibles(1) we have gathered over the years.

What a breath of fresh air!

In the days after our little switcheroo, my eyes were drawn again and again to the bookshelf and cabinet in the same way that your tongue is drawn to the newness of a missing tooth as a child.  And each time that little spark of visual stimulus gave me a pleasant little buzz.  It was actually that pleasant buzz that made me realize just how much the constant sameness of my environment was wearing me down.  As I write this, several weeks after the switch, the buzz is wearing off a little, but I highly recommend moving a few pieces of furniture around as a little pick-me-up to get you through this pandemic February at ZERO monetary cost.

And why am I sharing this weird lifehack on my climate change website?

Because I had already been planning to write about the #lowcarbonluxury of a no-cut renovation even before the pandemic.  (If you haven’t read out Low Carbon Luxury series check it out – the mix of insights into both mindfulness and sustainability is the most valuable thing on this website.)

Before the pandemic, when my daughter was ready to move into her own room, my wife and I rearranged almost all the furniture in our little bungalow.  Our bedroom became a home office.  Our basement became a bedroom.  We decorated the walls of my daughter’s new room with vinyl cutouts of owls and squirrels and trees.  By moving our ficus tree, we brought new life to a nearly forgotten window. 

All in all, the house worked better and it felt like we had more space than we had before.  And we did it without ripping out walls or bathtubs.  No rubble was heaped up in a dumpster out front of our house.  No plastic drop sheets covered or furniture for even an hour, let alone weeks.  Our contractor didn’t go wildly over their estimate.  There were no strange people using noisy power tools in our house.

But more than that, the idea of the no-cut reno is useful because it reminds us of something many zero-waste gurus seem to overlook: Major purchases matter more than minor ones.  Renovating your kitchen once will completely outweigh the gains from a lifetime of using toothpaste pellets in cardboard boxes.  This rule is one that I have carried with me from a book called the ‘Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices.’  Don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead of making your own soap, use your time and mental capacity to decide whether or not to install an air-source heat pump.  Unless you enjoy making soap; in that case, dig right into that project and engage your senses!

Doing a No-Cut Reno also reminds us that spending money is rarely the best way to make our lives better — our consumer culture wants us to solve our problems and make ourselves happy by buying new things and throwing old things out, but there are immense gains to be made at NO FINANCIAL COST by simply using our imagination to find new ways to make use of the things we already have. Plus, using your own creativity is satisfying in a way that buying something is not.

As we wrote in Part 2 of our Low-Carbon Luxury series: “Mindfulness means appreciating sensations.  It means realizing that we can have more satisfying experiences just by paying closer attention to the things we love than we ever could from a frenzied holiday or an ear-shattering concert extravaganza.”

So if the pandemic and the isolation have got you down — that’s okay! Just remember, that you don’t need to go on a cruise or go shopping to get yourself out of your rut — you can use your own creativity to give yourself a little lift!

(1) If you’re curious, the cabinet includes tin wind-up toys, Hellboy and Tim Burton figurines, a music box clock from Italy, a mug from Prague, an old clay bottle from Norway, old glass utility pole insulators, Outkast and J Dilla collectibles and not one but two Dose Green toys!

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