When life gives you lemons…upcycle your skills.

Imagine being a happy freelancer, doing what you love, and then from one day to the next, all contracts stop and you have no idea when work will pick up again. Yep, it happened to many this year, as we all know. Ryan Godwin was one of them, a theatre set builder from London, now living in Valencia. Like everywhere in the cultural sector, all work suddenly disappeared when Covid arrived, and not just in the UK but across Europe. How does a theatre set builder reinvent himself in times of a crisis?

From flipping burgers to West End shows

“I always liked making things, being creative,” Ryan says, as we sit down in his big rough and ready workshop in the area of Cabanyal, near the beach. “I actually ended up as a set builder in the theatre world totally by accident. I was flipping burgers at an event, and got annoyed by stuff strewn on the floor of the van. So I just built some shelving to tidy it up. Turned out the owners of the burger place were West End actors. They were impressed by my carpentry and introduced me into the theatre world in London. That was the start of a 10-year career. I since worked as a set builder for many West End shows, major TV/film productions and events, including the London Fashion Week and the X Factor. It’s been a fascinating job.”

Upcycling business Valencia

“In 2019 I fancied a change though, and with set builders from the UK having a good reputation across Europe, I managed to secure some big jobs in Spain and Italy for 2020. So I was looking forward to continuing my trade, but now based in Valencia. Unfortunately the pandemic threw a spanner in the way.”

“I was faced with a sudden harsh reality of sitting at home, in Spain, with no work, a loss of identity and feeling quite depressed as a result, to be honest. I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was no work for any of us in the industry. I heard of colleagues back in London being contracted to build coffins instead. It was grim. It’s only been a few weeks or so that I am beginning to pick up the pieces.”

Upcycling business Valencia

Spice racks and bedside tables

This Autumn, Ryan decided to go back to his trusted carpentry skills and start making things for fun. Usable stuff for the home, made from scrap wood, which he finds in the street. First just some shelves, but people like his work, and he has already been commissioned to make a set of bedside tables. He is now making coffee tables, spice and wine racks, bookshelves and other unique pieces of furniture, from his Cabanyal workshop. In a corner of the large brick, industrial looking space, stand a number of cool looking pieces of furniture, made out of recycled wood. One of them a coffee table made from slats, on top of an old metal single bed frame.

Upcycling business Valencia

Upcycling old wood and telling its story

“It feels good repurposing old wood, it balances things out for me.”, he explains. “You wouldn’t believe how wasteful the set building industry is. I once worked as a set builder at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and remember being horrified by the sight of four articulated lorries stuffed full of wood that had been used for the food stalls. None of the material could be reused, and was taken straight to the dump, only because it was covered in some food or oil. There are companies who take stuff away for recycling, but half the time it just ends up in the incinerator.”

Ryan finds usable wood and other materials left next to bins and in skips in Valencia, on the streets, anywhere, and keeps it from going to landfill. He takes stuff apart, cleans it, cuts it to size, sands it down, finishes it, and turns it into beautiful designs. “It’s fun creating things. I am a big fan of history and love the fact that something has a past. I try and leave the patina, so you still see some of that history in the wood.” He is slowly expanding his collection, trying to find out what people need and like, and then making it. An online shop is in the making too.

Ryan decided to name his new venture Made in Valencia. But perhaps it should be called re-Made in Valencia. After all, it’s not just the wood that’s been given a second chance.

You can find Ryan’s upcycling business in Valencia currently on Facebook.
His set building work can be found on his website.

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Interview with Rockin Cushions: cool covers for Ikea chairs

As a big fan of sustainable design, reducing landfill and creative upcycling, I was excited to recently speak to Michelle from Rockin Cushions, in Los Angeles. Michelle contacted me to collaborate, and I was very keen to feature her on my blog. Her creative buzz, amazing ideas and energy are contagious. I asked her about her business and plans for the future. Slip cover vending machines at Ikea, being one of them! Let’s hear more about her work.

Beautiful solutions for ‘disposable’ furniture

Michelle, tell us about your business. What is it you make?

I design and manufacture slip covers for IKEA furniture. The fabrics I choose focus on current decor trends, such as Scandinavian, Farmhouse, Boho Chic, etc. We fill the gap between buying a new upholstered piece of furniture and the current IKEA cover offerings. We hope that a new slip cover will save your “disposable” piece of furniture ending up in landfill. I feel strongly about reducing waste and with my covers I aim to offer people a very easy and affordable way to stay current without a big financial commitment.

new covers for ikea furniture

What is your background? Have you always been creative?

My parents immigrated to Australia from South Africa when I was a year old. My dad was a self-taught leather craftsman. I was taught to sew as a child and worked in our family business, which grew into a small manufacturing company in Australia. I studied graphic design and fine arts at University, but was also acting in commercials on the side, and pretty soon the acting became much more interesting. I decided to move to LA to pursue my acting career shortly thereafter.

The old rocking chair that sparked my business

What made you start your Ikea slip cover business?

After moving to LA, I encountered the Fashion District in downtown, and my passion for creating was reignited. There are so many people creating, making, sewing and producing there. It is really inspiring. At one point I was given a traditional rocking chair as a gift and decided to make a cushion for it, because I couldn’t find anything I liked. I put my design on Etsy and people really responded positively. The seed was planted. I then started getting a lot of requests for IKEA slip covers, and slowly things grew from there. Eventually about 5 years ago, I decided to ditch the acting and run my business full time.

What do you love most about your work?

I really love to source new fabrics and I definitely have a need to spend a few hours a week creating something. I just started my craft channel on Youtube, which I’m really enjoying. I also love receiving photos from my customers who are really happy with their purchase. That just makes my day.

How do you choose pieces and what is your creative process?

The IKEA pieces I choose to work with are simply the most popular ones. It’s a little tricky taking a chance on something new because you don’t know if it will stay in the catalogue for very long. And it costs a lot of money to create the covers in all the different fabrics, so that’s why I stay safe with the furniture that has been around for decades, such as the Poang and Ektorp sofas. The process is pretty simple – I either copy the original slip cover, or create a new design. My Poang covers for instance has been modified from the original so that it fits all the different Poang cushions universally. After we design the covers, it’s just a matter of getting it into production with all the fabrics we offer.

2020 has been a crazy, but incredible year for business

How has the 2020 lockdown affected your business? Did you have to adapt or work differently?

This year has actually been the most incredible year for me. In April, I made some face masks for healthcare workers and set up a FB donation page. I was interviewed on a local morning show and not only did we raise our donation target, we sold over 30,000 masks in a month. It was the most crazy experience! I was also able to get business funding and some grants, which had been impossible before.

And even though sales have been slower than normal for the slip covers, I’ve been able to focus on my Youtube channel and start a subscription box service, with six (gift) products that have been 100% upcycled from our waste materials, such as table / kitchenware, home decor items, fashion accessories and bags. I really believe there is more opportunity than ever right now for an entrepreneur.

How do you reach your audience, what do you do to promote yourself?

I have a Shopify store and we do email marketing. We’re also on the socials – Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Youtube and we’re about to start live streaming tutorials on Twitch. Content creating is a lot of work, but it’s the new normal for every business right now.

What is your biggest challenge in your business?

Right now I’m targeting the commercial market, such as “IKEA for Business” customers, so finding the right sales people is difficult. I’m not technically in the furniture industry, so I’m working on making those connections. Also cash flow is always a huge challenge. Staying on top of bills etc when times are slow is tough.

What is your next step in your business? Are you looking for world domination?

Lol, yes and no! I would love my brand to live alongside IKEA, I dream of being able to make a significant difference in reducing landfill. I have a crazy idea of having Rockin Cushions vending machines in the IKEA checkout /warehouse section! Designing covers for furniture rental companies to help keep their products in use for longer, is also something I’d love to be doing. And then I have another dream of hosting a DIY/ home makeover show because it would be so fun! But, at the end of the day, I really just want to have a financially secure future and time to do things I love.

Rockin Cushions is based in LA, United States. They also ship internationally, mostly to the UK, Europe, Australia. They support the non-profit DAYS FOR GIRLS by donating fabric and participating in sewing workshops in LA to produce menstrual kits to girls in developing countries, many of whom would otherwise not be able to attend school.

www.rockincushions.com

Yurt living in Spain. Meet Kausay eco community

Have you ever dreamed about leaving it all behind and moving into a yurt, in nature, far away from the madding crowd? That is exactly what a group of Dutch-American families did in the province of Valencia. Down a single track road 4km from the nearest small village, we find Kausay, a small eco community tucked away in a green valley in between the rocky hills of Enguera. The sound of crickets in the air; the smell of ripe carob fruit falling from the trees. We had the opportunity to experience first hand what life is like, living off-grid, eating straight off the land and ‘unschooling’ the children. Yurt living in Spain, it wasn’t quite glamping but it sure was a treat.

yurt living in spain
Yurt living in Spain: our beautful Mongolian yurt in the middle of nature

Freedom away from the covid madness

During the final week of the summer holidays we decided to go camping before the schools were back. After six months of having the children at home because of the pandemic, we were more than ready for school, but we wanted to escape the city one last time. I was searching for natural campsites around Valencia, but was put off by so many Covid restrictions. Then I spotted a post on Facebook by one of the members of Kausay community, offering a yurt as an alternative camping experience, and I booked.

I had no idea what to expect, other than that we were renting this great big Mongolian tent for three nights and would be spending some time in nature, with no Wi-Fi. But we ended up having much more than a random camping trip. We really felt part of the community for a short while, cooking and sharing meals, talking under the shady trees, picking organic food straight off the land and having a peek into a life that is so different from ours and that of many others.

yurt living in spain
The gorgeous interior of the yurt at Kausay community in rural Spain

Permaculture as a way of life

Most yurt rentals are advertised as glamping, as it appears a bit more luxurious than crawling around in a pup tent. It certainly felt very comfortable, having a double bed and bunk beds inside this large round living area. It even had a wood burner for the winter. But that is where it ends in terms of luxury. If you expect a jacuzzi and fancy on-site camping facilities, this is not your place. Luxury is the last thing that Kausay community is aiming for on their land: members Ellen, Jeroen, Inge and Brother and their children are working hard at building an eco village based on simplicity, trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, and producing very little waste. On their large plot of land we find one small cottage, five Mongolian yurts, and a couple of bell tents regularly used by visiting volunteers. A shared, fully kitted out kitchen shed and a large picnic table overlooking the vegetable garden, form the heart of the community.

A good part of the land is used as a vegetable garden, developed through permaculture. Permaculture is more than a set of gardening techniques, it is a way of living where you carefully think about the way you use your resources – food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs. Permaculture tackles how to grow food, build houses and create communities, and minimise environmental impact at the same time. The two families don’t tackle this big project all by themselves; a string of international volunteers visits and helps out year-round, adding to the community vibe.

yurt community spain
The shared kitchen shed forms the heart of the community
permaculture spain
A greenhouse to propagate seedlings

Compost toilets and how to use them

At Kausay community even human waste is recycled into compost. Compost toilets take some getting used to, as you don’t use water to flush, but instead sprinkle wood shavings to cover your deposits down below in the waste bin. Toilet paper goes in it as well, so don’t worry, you don’t have to wipe your behind with a handful of grass. A spray bottle with vinegar keeps the seat clean. Pretty easy, really. You do have to be patient when it comes to composting your own poop; it takes no less than two years before you can spread it out over your veg plot. Slow living and all that.

compost toilet how does it work
A compost toilet, how does it work?

Upcycling as a way of life

One of the things we loved at Kausay community is the creative use of materials, giving rubbish a new purpose. Large bathroom tiles as table coasters, old metal beds to elevate herbs that are drying in the sun covered by old windows. The women in the group, Inge and Ellen, together designed and built the almost temple-like building that houses two toilet cubicles. They found a pile of old kitchen cupboard bits and doors in a skip one day and made the solid wooden doors into decorative walls around the toilets. The outdoor wash basins and taps are new. The waste collecting bins are built underneath the building, and can be accessed from the back and removed once full.

yurt community spain
Compost toilets in the eco community in Spain
compost toilet design
Ellen building the roof of the toilet cubicles

A fancy outdoor solar-powered shower

The shower cubicles were another design that was very effective and well-thought-out. The rust-free metal sheets give the building a modern look, but are also preventing the cubicles from starting to look mouldy or dirty, like you would quickly by using wood for this purpose. On top of the roof coiled up black tubes are heated up during the day and provide a lovely hot shower. The shower tray, taps and sinks were bought new. A concrete base forms the foundation. The shower heads themselves are made from 5 litre plastic water bottles, placed horizontal, cut open at the top to collect the water from the tubes above and pierced at the bottom to give a rain shower effect. Genious! As the water gets recycled as well, you are only meant to use natural shampoos.

yurt community in Spain
Solar powered shower cubicles in the yurt community in Spain
solar powered outdoor shower
A pretty cool design! Outdoor solar powered shower. There is a gas bottle backup solution for the colder months.

From a corporate life to off-grid living

As we got to know the people who live in Kausay community a little bit over the course of our stay, we heard some fascinating stories. Career paths that many of us can relate to, but few ever leave. A busy corporate life, all about making money, managing people and businesses – making some rich and happy but most of us miserable and depressed. It takes guts, hitting rock bottom or a very strong calling, to escape the rat race in search for something else. Finding the thing you knew you were always going to do in the end. And then doing it.

Most of the residents in the community are now therapists or yoga teachers. Retreat leaders, mindfulness coaches, reflexologists, to name a few. But what they all do best and which binds them together, is just simply being. “Life here has really made me at peace with who I am on this planet. Close to nature, working with the land, appreciating being human.”, said Brother, who himself lives in a yurt with his young family. His presence oozes calm, and I can see how digging the earth, watching things grow and moving with the seasons, can be a real balm for the soul. Away from the fast-paced corporate world, fear-mongering media and consumerism. Our children played together all day with hardly a peep. Most of the time, we had no idea where they were. Educating themselves, I guess.

Family retreats and walking in silence

Except for bringing up their families and growing food, Kausay community also organises retreats on their land to share their way of life with others. Silent walking retreats, where you combine walks to waterfalls with meditation and mindfulness. Or you can go on a family retreat. This basically means you stay in the community for a week with your children. Doesn’t sound very peaceful to you, you say? Well, wait till you hear this: the kids do activities on a nature trail all morning while you can focus on your well-being during yoga and meditation sessions. Wonderful. I’m signing up. A bit of yurt living now and then will do me the world of good.

To find out more about upcoming retreats or to rent a yurt for a few days, visit their Facebook page or website.

www.facebook.com/pg/Kausaycommunity
www.kausaycommunity.com

Where is this yurt community in Enguera, Spain?

eco community spain
The retreat yurt, where yoga and meditation sessions take place
Nina's Apartment blog

The best online stores for sustainable fashion

The clothes shops were shut the past few months while were all in the pandemic lockdown, and it was nearly impossible to buy even a pair of socks. Although my growing children ran out of clothes to wear after week 8, I myself enjoyed rediscovering old items I still had hidden in my wardrobe. I even upcycled and ‘reconstructed’ some old pieces. Now the shops are slowly opening up again, have you changed your shopping habits? Are you more conscious now in how you consume? Are you choosing sustainable fashion over fast fashion?

Retail therapy and the fast fashion trap

I am no saint. I will start by admitting that I bought a cheap summer top in a local boutique in my neighbourhood last week. Made in China. Nothing eco-friendly about that. Yep, guilty. But I supported a little local shop during the lockdown… At least I didn’t queue outside Primark before throwing twenty items in my basket without even trying them on, just because they were cheap. I know very well how tempting this is when you need a bit of retail-therapy. And when you are on a small budget and you need to dress your kids, you simply have no choice – I do not judge anyone for that. But a lot of people just buy for the sake of buying, because they are bored and they want something new every month. Fast fashion items often don’t hold their shape after washing them even once. Or you may regret buying something when you’re back home. But who is taking back a 3€ t-shirt? You’d pay more on the parking fee.

The ugly truth behind our fast fashion shopping habits. Image: pinterest

Let’s make sustainable fashion mainstream

A top costs little more than a take-way coffee these days. A pair of jeans less than a tenner in some stores. No surprise that fast fashion is so popular. Did you know that even in 2014, six years ago, because of this, people bought 60% more garments than they did in 2000? That Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. Worse even, 85% of all textiles or £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year. Even charity shops are becoming overwhelmed by the amount of cheap clothing and have to refuse a lot of donations. This cannot continue. We have to stop and change our behaviour.


For more reasons than one I am leaning towards buying quality over quantity and supporting sustainable and ethical fashion brands. Clothes that still look good after wearing them dozens of times and are made of natural materials that are nice for skin and planet. But are they not super expensive? Well, some are, but luckily, as it is becoming more mainstream, there are more and more options out there that don’t cost the earth – excuse the pun. Here are some sustainable brands and stores to check out when you next need something.

Eco-friendly Stores to check out:


El Naturalista, vegan shoes that are biodegradable

You know what I dislike about cheap shoes these days? That many contain plastic, or are even made from plastic instead of leather, and you just know they will end up in landfill forever eventually. I was very pleased to recently discover the sandals by El Naturalista, which are not only amazingly comfortable to wear but are also completely biodegradable! How is that for a feel-good factor. I ordered them online, which is always a bit tricky with shoes, but they fitted perfectly. If you are vegan, this brand is especially interesting as the ‘leather’ is fake, but looks and feels natural. They are a bit pricey when you buy them from the site itself, but google them and you may find the brand in other stores for a lot less.

El Naturalista


Wearth London: Ethical clothing by British makers

Many of the fashion pieces by cool online concept store Wearth London are made ethically in the UK, a number of which are handmade to order. The company helps to reduce waste, whilst also bringing British makers back into the fashion industry. They stock some very beautiful designer pieces, from bags to clothing to accessories, toiletries and even furniture.

Wearth London


Earth Wardrobe: sustainable fashion without the hefty price tag

Earth Wardrobe specialises in nice, every day basics such as tees, sweat shirts, men’s hoodies and kids wear, made from fabrics that are organic and sustainable, often made from recycled materials. When you first arrive on the homepage of Earth Wardrobe however, you notice the low prices. This immediately made me wonder how they can produce their clothes at such low cost. Well, they are quite open about it on their ‘Where is it from‘ page and the short answer is: Bangladesh. A country whose economy depends heavily on the textile industry. Their mission is to provide high quality organic clothing essentials at a price everyone can afford and explain that “In order to fulfill our mission (…), we must continue to use traditional supply chains.”. They claim they only use companies who have had their facilities certified by an appropriate authority such as WRAP or SEDEX and have a Modern Slavery Disclosure to comply with the UK Modern Slavery Act of 2015.

Earth Wardrobe


Smallable, swoon over sustainable design

The ‘Greenable‘ collection of the family concept store Smallable includes some highly covetable pieces for both women and children / babies. I have to admit, not the cheapest in the range, but the pieces just ooze quality and beautiful design, both the clothes, accessories and home decor products. And when something lasts, it is worth it.

Smallable


Planet Warrior Yoga Wear

Planet Warrior use plastic waste, eco-rubber and more to produce gorgeous looking active wear such as yoga leggings, bras and even yoga mats. It’s a small UK based company run by two sisters who love the beach, oceans and yoga and decided to combine this passion to combat the plastic problem. One outfit apparently uses 50 recycled plastic bottles collected from the ocean. Not only do they recycle bottles, their packaging is alse eco-friendly using tissue paper and biodegradable stickers and packing tape.

Planet Warrior


Ethical Superstore: fairtrade and sustainable fashion

Ethical superstore is an online shop that not only sells groceries, cleaning products, homeware and gift items, but it also has a great clothing department, including shoes and accessories. Worth a look. They stock fair-trade fashion, organic cotton and eco-friendly hemp from brands like People Tree, Komodo, Marzipants & Thought Clothing. A great one-stop shop for all your eco products.

Ethical Superstore Fashion Collection


H & M Conscious: sustainable fashion in the high street

Eco-friendly clothing doesn’t have to mean spending a huge amount, nor does it mean wearing purple and looking like a hippy. High-street store H&M recently was in the news for raking highest in the 2020 fashion transparency index. Transparency is key to developing a cleaner, greener fashion industry, so consumers can make better choices. The annual report, now in its fifth year, ranks the amount of information companies disclose about social and environmental policies, processes and effects within their operations and supply chains.

H & M Conscious


Disclaimer: some of these links are affiliate links, which means you would support this blog as well as the sustainable brands, if you choose to buy from them, at no extra cost. They usually pay people like me a small percentage of the final price, as a thank you for helping them spread the word. So it would be awesome if you did, as I write my blog posts for free. As always, I only promote brands I like and (would) use myself. Nina x

Eco-friendly shopping: five simple tips

Eco-friendly shopping and bringing less plastic home, that has been a hot topic for a while. It is not always easy to be very consistent in this, even if you are quite fanatic. Many things are in plastic packaging and before you know it your entire trash bin is full of plastic foil and other non recyclable waste. You probably already recycle your glassware, paper and plastic bottles. However, you can do much more to contribute to the environment, if you do a bit of prep at home. What can you do to reduce your weekly plastic waste?

1. Avoid spontaneous shopping & bring reusable containers and bags

Spontaneous grocery shopping is disastrous for taking home more plastic waste. You probably don’t have a bag with you, so buy yet another € 0.05 plastic carrier bag. And if you normally bring reusable containers, pots and mesh bags with you for bulk items, chances are you don’t have those with you either . So keep random shopping to a minimum and prepare your eco-friendly shopping by making a list of what you need and bringing your own packaging as much as possible.

takeaways in tupperware

In health food shops and on the market, and increasingly also in regular supermarkets, you can simply take your own bags and containers to put in fruit and vegetables, flour, pasta, rice, muesli, spices or tea. Even if you go to a restaurant for a takeaway, you can consider bringing your own lockable tupperware instead of bringing your meal home in single use plastic or foam boxes. Because don’t you just hate throwing all this waste in the bin afterwards?. Maybe you feel a bit embarrassed or self conscious in the beginning, but you’ll be surprised how many compliments you get. And you can at least be proud of yourself! It’s a snowball effect. You’re bound to give someone else the same idea.

eco-friendly shopping

2. Buy in bulk

If you have an eco-supermarket or health food store in your area, it is fairly normal to buy in bulk. Large jars with pasta and rice where you can scoop out your desired amount, or large bottles or barrels from which you can drain your olive oil or detergent. If you have no possibility in your local area to buy from bulk bins, you can also try to buy large quantities of the product instead, which reduces the ratio between packaging and product. Don’t need that much? Go shopping with a friend and share the costs!

3. Eco-friendly shopping: buy fewer ingredients

You can do many different things with certain ingredients. Bicarbonate of soda for example. Very cheap and a panacea when it comes to cleaning, removing stains, unblocking the sink and of course you use it for baking powder in bread and cakes. Apparently bicarbonate of soda is even effective as a deodorant, just by making it into a paste with a bit of water and putting a little under your armpits (not tried it myself, so don’t shoot the messenger!). With a big bottle of tomato passata you can also go very many ways: soup, pasta sauce, as a basis for chili con carne, etc. You can probably think of many more simple, daily ingredients that you can use for multiple things, which means you throw away less. If you do not want waste, buy fewer items. Also good for your wallet.

homemade kitchen wipes

4. Limit your disposable items in the kitchen

Kitchen paper and plastic film are standard items in most kitchens. Used for mopping spills up quickly, wiping the counter or the dining table and covering your food before you put it back in the fridge. Alternatives? Replace kitchen paper with your old cotton T-shirts cut up into rags, after which you wash them at high temperatures. Regarding plastic wrap, you can also simply use a plate to cover a bowl. If you want something to pack a sandwich for lunch or keep veggies fresh, consider beeswax cloths as an alternative. These wraps are coated in beeswax and are therefore easily foldable for packaging food. You can clean them with cold water and a little mild soap. Find them in the eco shops or make them yourself.

5. Recycle as a last resort

When plastics are recycled, they are actually down cycled, meaning that even if reincarnated as toothbrushes, shopping bags or more plastic bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill at some point. This is in contrast to glass or metal, which can be recycled over and over again without loss of quality. It is therefore better to immediately make positive and proactive choices when you go eco-friendly shopping and to refuse the waste directly in the store.

Lower your energy bill (and be good for the planet)

Do you want to lower your energy bill too? I live in Spain so you would think that all energy comes straight from the sun, but no. Unfortunately the big energy companies still have a monopoly on supplying everybody with electricity through fossil fuels, which means the monthly bill is not as low as we’d like it to be, never mind the impact on the environment. Only about 14% of energy in Spain comes from different renewable energy sources. Sun, we have so much sun here, imagine how much energy we could generate! Anyway, while I am waiting for a renewables revolution and the tides to turn (excuse the pun), here are some ways to lower your energy bill right now.


Turn off the standby button

I am terrible at this, leaving my laptop on standby, leaving mobile phone chargers dangling from sockets and keeping the coffee machine on all morning. Do you also leave your laptop or TV on standby when you’re done with it? Switch off all electricity. Always. A lot of power is lost by devices that are not being used, but are secretly still on.

save money on your energy bill

Use a multi-point extension lead to lower your energy bill

Use a multi point extension lead for several devices at the same time. Devices with an adapter or transformer also consume a lot of energy when they are off or in standby mode. If you have them in an extension box, then you can operate multiple devices at the same time with one button and you will noticeably combat sneaky energy consumption.

Air your home: good for health and wallet

Opening windows and airing your rooms: not only good for your health, but also for your wallet so you can lower your energy bill. Ventilate your apartment or house well: fresh, dry air is easier to heat than moist air.

Turn the heating down a notch

Turn your heating down one notch. Or two. Does that really matter? It certainly does! Every notch means a reduction of 7% on your final bill. Always feeling cold? Buy a nice warm cardigan for at home, some matching furry slippers. The lower energy bill at the end of the month will make you glow inside.

save money on your energy bill

Fill your fridge to lower your energy bill

Another thing that you probably didn’t know yet: a full fridge costs less energy to cool than an empty one. Make sure the fridge is full in order to lower your energy bill. If necessary, place empty bottles filled with water to fill the refrigerator. Handy to have spare bottles of cool water in summer and your refrigerator will use less energy.



Remove the ice layer in the freezer

In so many homes, the freezer doesn’t get cleaned regularly and soon a thick layer of ice appears around the drawers and the edges. Better be careful! For every 2 mm ice layer, the energy consumption of the freezer increases by 10%. It is worth defrosting it every once in a while.

Swap all your old light bulbs for energy saving ones

Most of you have probably done this already over the years, but you may find some old fashioned energy gobbling bulb sitting in a bedside table lamp. It may be an investment, but it is worth exchanging all bulbs in the long run. Energy-saving lamps require 6 times less electricity and last 10 times as long.

Change supplier

If you really want to lower your energy bill, maybe it is time to review your supplier. You can make the biggest financial savings by choosing the right energy company. Therefore, check whether you have a contract that suits you, your house and your usage. Make sure that you get a well-arranged bill, so that you have a better insight into what most of your energy is spent on.


The cutest eco-friendly Christmas gifts for children

Need some ideas for no plastic gift ideas for children? I’m with you. Birthday parties, Christmas presents, gifts brought by visiting relatives, children get a lot of stuff. And if you have young children like me, this stuff amounts to a lot over the months and years. Boxes full of toy cars, action figures and dolls and a lot of plastic you’d rather not have in your house. It’s messy and half of it the kids don’t even play with. I bet most parents would agree. Still, a child’s birthday or Christmas requires a gift as you don’t want to see sad faces. How about not adding to the heap of expensive commercial plastic toys, but bringing something imaginative instead? Here are some suggestions I love.


A Craft & bead box for creative little hands

Got a cute vintage tin or a wooden box with a lid? Or how about pimping up an old shoe box? A lot of children around the age of 5-8 or older love to make things like bracelets or necklaces, so create a beautiful treasure box for them! Fill a box with old beads, ribbons, buttons, scrap fabric and string and let their imagination do the rest. I know I would have loved to receive a box full of things like that. Not got anything lying around? For £16.95 you can buy a colourful, read-made wooden bead box from Etsy.

eco-friendly christmas gifts


Non-plastic gifts for kids: wooden Kapla construction sets

My kids love Kapla. It’s been around for decades, and it is such a simple concept; a box of small equally shaped wooden slats of the same size. You can stack them to build towers, use them to create large shaped on the floor, make houses, animals, bridges, anything. It’s wonderful stuff. Smallable sells a 100pc box for 30. One of the best, guilt free, eco-friendly Christmas gifts for kids. Go for it.

Check out their other beautiful wooden toys here.

eco-friendly christmas gifts

Eco-friendly Christmas gifts for kids: Colouring posters

Colouring books, always a winner. This super cool street art colouring poster would go down very well with my boys, that’s for sure. At 10€ a perfect stocking filler too.

eco-friendly christmas gifts

Wooden Board games and other family fun

I must admit, I’ve never really been one for games, but being a parent I kind of had to get into it. Snakes and ladders, Ludo, Memory, Uno, you name it, my kids love it. I don’t know whether it’s the game itself or the fact that you are playing it with them and they can beat you, but I sure score some brownie points when I get on the floor or around the table for a board game. We were given a great wooden Snakes and Ladders/Ludo combo board a few years back and it gets used every week. Definitely not something that will end up in the forgotten toys corner any time soon. Charity and second-hand shops usually have games in stock, so worth checking. If you rather invest in something high quality and new as a gift for the family to enjoy together for years to come, then Etsy is a good bet for eco-friendly Christmas gifts.

eco-friendly christmas gifts for kids

Toys for motor and balancing skills for younger kids

How cute are these cats? Your toddler will love trying to stack them on top of the mummy cat and see how they tumble down. Bored of stacking? They’ll easily turn the figures into a play set. Find these and other stacking sets over on Smallable. This set costs €19.

eco-friendly christmas gifts for kids

Gorgeous Montessori rainbow stacking set

This may just look like a set for early learners, but I was surprised to see my six-year-old playing with a similar set over a friend’s house the other day. Instead of only stacking them, he turned the blocks into tunnels for cars, flipped them sideways to make them into little toy car parking spaces and upside down to find they make excellent ramps and sea-saws for play figures. No instruction book need, just let their imagination flow! This set is €25 over on Smallable.

eco-friendly christmas gifts for kids
eco-friendly christmas gifts



Product review: Abeego beeswax food wrap

The beeswax food wrap is a great alternative for cling film or foil. I have been meaning to try these types of wraps out for ages, so I was very happy when the Ethical Superstore asked me to do a review for them. I am pleased to say, they are not only pretty easy to use, they also smell great! As I want to cut down on the amount of plastic waste in my home, I’ll definitely be using these from now on.

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Product review Abeego Beeswax Food wraps

I am reviewing the Abeego beeswax food wraps from Ethical Superstore today, which come in different packs. I am reviewing the pack that contains three Abeegos – small (18 x 18cm), medium (25 x 25cm) and large (33 x 33cm), priced at £15.00. They have other sizes, a pack of six and larger packages too. The Abeego is a sustainable food wrap made from certified organic cotton and hemp, and keeps food fresher for longer. Another big plus? They come in a recyclable cardboard box, rather than plastic wrapping (you wouldn’t believe how many ‘eco-friendly’ products do!)

Antibacterial properties to keep food fresh

Although the idea of reusing something to cover your food may sound a little unhygienic, the Abeego beeswax wraps are in fact coated with tree resin for its natural antiseptic properties. In addition to that they contain jojoba oil which is anti-fungal and of course the beeswax which is naturally antibacterial. All good and natural! As Abeego is made from a cloth material rather than plastic, it will allow the food to breathe and naturally age, preventing mould and keeping leftovers fresh.

Beeswax food wrap review

What do you use beeswax food wraps for?

The Abeego beeswax food wraps are great for wrapping sandwiches, fruit and veg for picnics or lunch. If you have leftover dinner or salad, the wraps are also perfect for covering your dish or bowl before putting them in the fridge for next time. Basically, if you would use cling film for it, you can use a beeswax wrap.

How to care for your beeswax food wrap

Don’t use warm water when cleaning your Abeego beeswax food wraps! Just wipe clean with cold water and a little bit of gentle soap. Using warm water could cause some of the beeswax to rub off. When cared for properly, your Abeego wraps can last for at least over a year. After a while the wraps can contain some stains, as it is a cloth material and staining is likely but this will not affect its performance. Please note that tree resin and beeswax are soluble in alcohol so use alcohol free dish soap to wash your Abeego. Dry them with a towel or hang over a dish rack. Abeego is not suitable for the dishwasher, microwave oven, direct heat or high temperatures.

Make your own home scent with this Christmas potpourri recipe

Stove top potpourri, ever heard of it? Forget the chemical scented candles and expensive room scent diffusers, just put a load of fresh fruit and spices in a large pan and let it simmer on the stove. Just a wonderful scent filling your home, with only natural ingredients. The perfect welcome for your guests on Christmas day, before they sit down for their Christmas dinner. Or just to get you in the Christmas spirit the days before.

How do you make it? Here’s the Christmas potpourri recipe for this lovely DIY home scent. Merry Christmas!


Christmas potpourri recipe for stove top

Just check now and then if it still has enough water so it doesn’t boil dry and let the heat do the work. Enjoy your own homemade Christmas potpourri!

Artificial Christmas tree or real tree: the pros and cons

Real tree or artificial Christmas tree? What’s in your home? I am going to warn you, I am biast. I have always preferred real Christmas trees over fake ones. Just because I love authentic, nice things and a plastic tree just never fitted that picture. Still, I wanted to look at the options more closely, because more and more people have them nowadays for various reasons. Some claim it is in fact a more eco-friendly option than buying a real tree year after year, only to throw it outside after a few weeks. But a plastic tree…environmentally friendly? Not sure. By the way, did you know the fake tree was invented by a U.S.-based toilet bowl brush manufacturer, the Addis Brush Company? This company created an artificial tree from brush bristles in the 1930s, acting as the prototype for modern artificial trees. Interesting little bit of history, right?

So what’s the truth? What are the options and what are the pros and cons of real versus fake trees?

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Real Christmas tree: Pros

The smell

You can’t beat the smell of a real Christmas tree. The fresh smell when you brush against the branches. It fills your home with Christmas!

You support local business

By buying a real tree from a local tree grower, you support local business. These businesses spend all year caring for their trees so that you can take one home and enjoy it during the Christmas holidays. Some vendors make it into a whole experience: getting you to pick your favourite tree, wrapping it up, selling hot chocolate and coffees on site to warm up. It can be a lovely trip out for the family if it’s somewhere picturesque in the countryside, on a frosty December morning.

It is natural. And biodegradable.

If you hate plastic, you want a real tree. A real tree from nature. Falling needles and all. No point trying to convert you, as a fake plastic Christmas tree will not enter your house. Real trees are authentic. And they will not sit in landfill forever.

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Real Christmas tree: Cons

Needles

Some are worse than others, but all real Christmas trees will at some point lose their needles. Central heating is the main cause and then there are kids and pets brushing against it. You’ll be sweeping up and hoovering almost daily and if you’re really unlucky, your tree is not looking great anymore by the time it is Christmas day.

It gets thrown out every year

I don’t know about you, but I always feel sorry for the Christmas tree the first week of January. Decoration taken down and off it goes, dragged through the hallway and out the front door onto the pavement. All bare and needles brown and dropping. It’s done a good job, but poor tree.

They cost money…every year

Real Christmas trees are pricey. And on top of gifts, food, drink and maybe travel, it is an extra cost in December you could maybe do without.



Artificial Christmas tree: pros

They look perfect

Look at the image above. Perfect. No lop sided trees with one side thicker than the other. Or funny looking tall ones with a long thin top which makes the topper bend down. A fake tree is perfectly shaped in a perfect shade of green and with perfectly even spread of branches.

You can leave the decorations in

If you’re really short of time, energy or are just plain lazy, you can get a ready decorated fake tree. Job done. Fold it up, put it in a bag and store it away for next year. Boring and uninspiring? Perhaps. But convenient it sure is. And not everyone loves being creative and crafty.

You reuse it every year

No need to shop around for trees, just get it down from the loft and put it up. It saves money for sure. If you buy a high quality one, you’ll be using it for many years. My own parents-in-law apparently have had their artificial Christmas tree since the 1980s. That sure is a durable solution.

vintage advert for artificial christmas trees

Artificial Christmas tree: the cons

It still ends up in landfill

No matter how many years you use your tree for, it still is plastic and at some point in the future will end up in the bin. I wonder how many of those sold in the 1960s are still taking pride of place in the living room this December. I know, you say, but what about all the other plastic household things you use that will break at some point in the future…kettles, light shades, garden tools, buckets, bins, toys, etc… Yes, you are right. But perhaps next time you need to replace those, it’s worth looking for non plastic, more durable alternatives too. In case of a tree, it is easy to make that decision right now. But if you already own a plastic one, keep it forever!

There is no smell

Nothing beats the smell of…plastic? I suppose you could light a fragrant candle in the room to add some seasonal smells, but they sure won’t come from your artificial Christmas tree. If you like the smell of nature, a fake tree won’t do the job.

Toxic ingredients

Fake trees are questionable in terms of human health. Today’s artificial trees are typically manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic. In addition, many older varieties may contain lead, used as a stabilizer in the manufacturing process.


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Conclusion

The artificial Christmas tree is non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, meaning they will sit in a landfill for centuries after disposal. An artificial Christmas tree will last on average five to seven years, meaning you’ll eventually have to dispose of it, and many secondhand stores will not accept them. There’s also no guarantee the LED lights will last the whole time you own it, and they can’t be removed and replaced like with a real tree.

I believe it is a good idea to choose natural materials over plastic as much as possible, so you can guess what I am supporting.

Alternatives

Buy a tree in a pot

Don’t like the thought of sad dead trees on the doorstep after Christmas? You can of course opt to buy a fresh Christmas tree, in a pot. You can then plant it in your garden after Christmas is over and dig it up again next year. The question is always whether it survives after having lived in a heated living room for a good few weeks, but it is worth a try. Don’t forget to water it!

Adopt a tree!

How about giving it back to the grower? You enjoy it over Christmas and then it goes back ‘home’, where it gets looked after for another year. Not a very mainstream option yet, but it does exist. Find out more on Adopt a Christmas tree schemes or do a Google for your own local area.

Go Minimalist

Don’t want a tree at all? Decorate a large house plant. Or collect a few nice branches from the forest on your next walk and place them in a large vase for a minimalist look. Ideas plenty.

kreative-Weihnachtsdeko-Ideen-Weihnachtsbaum-basteln

Go radical

I will just leave this here. Merry Christmas!