sustainable living - Olive's dresser

I think easily 80% of my home has been purchased secondhand, and then either upcycled, recycled, or the focus of a DIY project. It’s not just a matter of frugality (although being able to makeover a whole room for less than the cost of a night out is a huge perk), it’s also about sustainable living. When we make do with the products that already exist and reuse them instead of purchasing new items, we lessen our impact on the environment and reaffirm our commitment to well-made, quality products!

These are my five favorite finds. Share yours in the comments!

5 sustainable living finds

Olive’s Dresser

When I was pregnant and in extreme nesting mode (anyone who has ever been eight months pregnant with their first child or one within 4 ft of any woman who is, knows exactly what I’m talking about) I had very specific idea of what I wanted my baby’s nursery to look like. I didn’t know if it was a boy or girl and I’m not into gendered products and clothes so my plan was gender-neutral, involving a simple design, vibrant colors, and items that were sourced secondhand whenever possible. Sustainable living suddenly seemed so much more important with a little one on the way – I didn’t want to start this baby’s young life with a trail of unnecessary waste!

One of my favorite pieces in the room ended up being the dresser. I scored an old beat-up dresser with great lines from a local secondhand store for the sweet price of $50. On the hottest day of the year (of course) I spent a few hours in my backyard sanding it, priming it, and painting it a gradient of gorgeous blues.

The baby was a girl, I named her Olive, and she still has the dresser in her room today. It’s a fantastic, sturdy, one-of-a-kind piece. I absolutely love it and have received so many lovely compliments on it. Not bad for a grand total of $60 and a few hours of elbow grease!

sustainable living finds

Gallery Wall

I was a few years late to the party on this one, but I still loved the look. I’d always wanted to put together a gallery wall but curating the pictures and arranging them in a design that didn’t look ridiculous really intimidated me, as did the cost of buying so many frames – those suckers aren’t cheap, especially if you’re buying good quality like I prefer to do!  Sustainable living means choosing things carefully – even when you’re chasing after a hot design trend.

On a trip to Value Village, inspiration struck. Wandering down the aisles I stumbled on a treasure trove of picture frames – tons of them! I was able to buy all the frames I needed in a variety of shapes and sizes to create a cute, mismatched boho look, for under $25 total.

The best part of doing things this way was that I had the space and freedom to lay all of the frames out on the floor right in Value Village – ignoring a few strange looks from other shoppers, of course. This allowed me to play around with layouts and frame shapes before committing to an arrangement. I found some in natural wood tones and spray painted others gold to tie the gallery together. I added in a few found objects like an eagle feather and a handwritten letter from my sister to complete the grouping.

I filled the frames with pictures of my daughter and I, a little illustration reading “Olive you”, some of her drawings and one of my favorite writing quotes by Hemingway: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” The gallery wall sits above my writing desk and is a perfect source of inspiration.

sustainable living finds

Kitchen Table

This table was one of those run-of-the-mill numbers you see in basically every big-box furniture store. I bought it sans chairs for $50 from a woman’s garage. It was beat-up and filthy, but I had big plans to turn it into something gorgeous.

I sanded the top right down to bare wood and then stained it a rich medium-dark brown with Minwax Special Walnut. Then I made homemade chalk paint (using this recipe) and painted the pedestal base a brilliant crisp white. I had the white paint left over from touching up trim in my house and using homemade chalk paint meant I could save money while also avoiding the tedious task of sanding in between and around all the curved parts of the pedestal base.

The result was a chic, modern table that I paired with mismatched wooden chairs ($10/ea) painted a bright coral. A cute dining set for around $90? Damn, sustainable living looks good!


sustainable living finds

Coffee Table

This is my most recent secondhand DIY project, and it was easy as pie. A friend was moving out of the country and getting rid of most of her possessions. I was in desperate need of a round coffee table and had been stalking my local online classified ads for weeks with no luck. She was selling an IKEA coffee table for $10 and it really appealed to me. From the moment I saw it, I knew I’d be breaking out the paint.

Warm gold isn’t a finish typically used by IKEA, or any large-scale retailer really – most mass-produced furniture is still stuck in the brushed-silver phase. So giving this table a quick coat of warm gold paint (leftover from the gallery wall frames – sustainable living win!) turned it from a nondescript coffee table to a really cute conversation piece. It suddenly looked like a quirky garage sale find – and the fact that it’s on wheels means it has quickly become a major player in my daughter’s games of make-believe.

sustainable living finds

Secondhand Samsonites

Who doesn’t like to travel in style? I have collected a few vintage Samsonite suitcases over the years and I absolutely adore them for both their form and their function. The suitcases are relatively compact, forcing me to edit my choices and not travel with my entire wardrobe, and their distinctive appearance means I’ll never pick up the wrong suitcase from the baggage claim. Best of all, these babies have been in use for 50+ years by the time they get to me and they’re in incredible condition, which means I know they’re made to last.

I also appreciate that their fantastic looks mean I don’t have to find space to stash them when not in use – a good thing because I have a teeny tiny closet! Sustainable living often means small-space living, so I love that these suitcases can do double-duty as cute storage containers stacked at the end of my bed holding shoes, seasonal clothing, and jewelry.

sustainable living finds

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.