Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Air that You Breathe

Renter's have a special problem and that's air quality.  If you are a renter, the chances are great that you aren't the only person who has ever rented that space.  There have been others.  That brings up a multitude of questions.  Did the people before you own dogs or cats?  Just because your landlord doesn't allow pets....doesn't mean there weren't any living there. Also, just because a pet owner swears their pet NEVER has "accidents" in the house....doesn't mean they haven't.   Did the former residents smoke?  Again, just because the landlord says they didn't...it doesn't mean that's true.  Even if they didn't smoke, you can never be certain that their visitors didn't smoke inside the house.

Was the carpeting replaced before you moved in?  If it was, was the subfloor resealed? Was the space painted and if so what kind of paint was used?  Is there a chance that asbestos, lead based paint or oil based products were ever used in your space and that there might be a trace of it still?.  These are a likely possibility if the space you're renting is older.  How is the ventilation in your rented space?  If it's an apartment, the chances are you have fewer windows and the ones you do have are probably smaller and seldom opened.  

Bad air quality can not only cause a plethora of health issues over time, it can greatly aggravate existing health issues like asthma, COPD, allergies, even migraines and sinus infections.

How do you handle poor air quality?  The first thing to do is clean.....everything.  Maybe your landlord had the carpets cleaned before you moved in....maybe not...maybe they just vacuumed.  Best to err on the side of extreme caution and head down to the local hardware store and rent a carpet cleaner.  The thing to know about cleaning your carpets is that the water will soak into your carpet pad to some extent.  If that isn't allowed to thoroughly dry, mold will grow.  Now it's not going to be the horrible black mold that everyone is so afraid of, but it will be mold and any type of mold can cause an unattractive odor.  It can also aggravate your sinuses or asthma so the best thing to do after cleaning your carpets is to put out fans and make sure everything is dry.  

Once that's done, it's time to clean all the other surfaces no matter how clean you think they look.  Even if your landlord hired professionals to come in and clean it top to bottom, you still have to wonder what products they used.  Cleaning products like bleach and/or ammonia are super cleaning products in that they will kill about any germ that they come into contact with.  However, they are also not at all user friendly in that their chemical components can linger for days even weeks after they've been used.  While you're cleaning, don't forget the ceilings.  Remember smoke rises and the ceilings will collect it all.

Once your rental is spotless and you're feeling great about how clean it is, the next step to living a clean life is to get plants that actually purify the air.  Of course, you can buy an air purifier but how pretty is that?  

Plants are cheaper than purifiers, lower maintenance than purifiers, they don't wear out or break down and best of all, they're prettier than purifiers.  Some studies suggest that having plants in your house can actually help lower your blood pressure.

Let's look at some indoor plants that make great purifiers.

English Ivy

These plants are super easy to care for and control.  Because they're an ivy, they will trail. All you have to do is train them to trail where you want, or snip off the growth.  Kinda like giving your plant a haircut.  They don't require a ton of light or a ton of water.

The dense foliage of the Ivy absorbs formaldehyde - a chemical that is extremely common in the making of carpeting.  Formaldehyde is the most prevalent indoor pollution of them all and is present in glues, pressed woods products such as some flooring, kitchen/bathroom cabinets, pressed wood shelving, wall paneling and even some furniture.

Peace Lilly

Some people call this plant the funeral flower.  This is another easy to care for plant that requires little light, little water and little maintenance.  I would recommend whenever you dust your furniture, to dust the leaves of this plant, while you're at it.  A thick layer of dust on any plant will prevent it from breathing and from absorbing pollutants.  I recommend putting a large dollop of olive oil or pure vegetable oil on a clean cloth or paper towel, then using that to clean the leaves of your plant.  It not only gets all the dirt off your plant but give them a shiny appearance.  Warning:  some plants don't like to have their leaves cleaned with oily products so google before you oil a plant if you have any doubts. 

This plant is one of the absolute best plants to have in every room of your house.  This hard worker gets rid of VOC benzene which is a carcinogen found in paints, furniture waxes and polishes.  It also sucks up acetone, which is emitted by electronics, certain cleaners and adhesives.

Lady Palm

The  Lady Palm is a hardy plant that can tolerate semi low light.  It's best to keep this one near a light source.  I have one that I've kept beside a floor lamp in my not at all sunny living room and it does fine.  This plant can get up to 6 feet tall but it is a very slow grower so you have plenty of time to figure out where to put it once it's that tall.

She is not only gracefully built and easy on the eyes, but she actually rids your air of ammonia which is a super villain of the respiratory system and is a major component of certain dyes, textiles and cleaners.

Boston Fern

The Boston Fern is such a beautiful plant.  However, it can be a picky plant and I've never had good luck with them.  I've known others who have tremendous success with them....but not me.  These plants have a need for constant moisture and humidity.

They are actually one of the best air purifiers known.  They remove formaldehyde which is present in glues, pressed woods products such as some flooring, kitchen/bathroom cabinets, pressed wood shelving, wall paneling and even some furniture.  There have been studies that show this plant even removes toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic.

Snake Plant (aka Mother in Law's Tongue)


If you can't keep this plant alive.....you don't need to have plants...at all.  This plant is so easy, it's crazy.  The only plant that is easier to keep alive is a plastic plant.  Once in a while dust the leaves and give it a small drink when the soil is dry.  That's it.

This is maybe the best plant for a small space.  It grows up - not out - and it tolerates low light or bright light.

This easy fella does his work at night.  During the night, he will absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the room.  He's one to have in every room of your house - including the bathroom.  Put more than one in your bedroom for a boost of oxygen while you sleep.

To make him even more invaluable, he also sucks in benzene and formaldehyde. 

Golden Pothos


Every live plant that I've ever received from a florist has this little ivy in it.  It's a medium growing ivy, it tolerates low light or bright light, it can go long periods of time without watering....it just likes to be dusted from time to time.  If you don't know whether it wants a drink, look at the leaves....when it's really thirsty, the leaves curl up and begin to look wilted.  Give it a good drink of water, and they will unfurl and look good as new. Like the English Ivy, you can trim it if it reaches further than you'd like and it's easily trained.

The Pothos suck in formaldehyde, carbon dioxide and Benzene.  Triple threat with this one!  This plant can be found anywhere that live plants are sold and it is the cheapest houseplant around.

Wax Begonia


If you have a sunny location and want some color in your plant choices, this is the one for you.  It has lovely leaves that look as though they've been waxed and the plant comes in a variety of colors.

This beauty cleans benzene and chemicals produced by toluene, a liquid found in some waxes and adhesives.

Red Edges Dracaena 



Beautiful plant that can actually get up to 15 feet tall, loves a sunny location and is compact enough to fit into most sunny corners.  Moderate to bright sunlight.  Requires little water and you will love the red edges on each frond.

This plant will take care of gases released by xylene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde, which can be introduced by lacquers, varnishes, and sealers.

Spider Plant


Another easy to care for plant.  You can use it as a hanging plant or in a pot atop a pedestal or table.  It is a prolific reproducer so if you want more of them, it's not necessary to go out and spend money on more plants.  All you have to do is wait until the plant grows "mini" spider plants at the end of it's leaves.  Pick one off and sit it atop some soil, it will root and grow.

This is a another plant that absorbs formaldehyde and benzene.  

Between the cleaning and these plants....you will have a super healthy indoor environment!

As always, enjoy your space!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Dark Boring Apartments....What to do?

You find an apartment in the perfect location at the perfect price and you jump on it only to discover after you've moved your stuff in, that's it might be a bit small, a lot darker and with far less storage than you'd remembered.  I think we've all done that a time or two.  Now you're stuck in a lease for at least a year....how are you going to make this work?

With just a little creativity and imagination, that small, dark apartment will work without breaking the bank.  Let's take a look at some great ideas from Better Home and Gardens as well as a couple from Pop Sugar.

Kitchen Storage

Kitchen storage is usually the first thing sacrificed when developers build apartments.  I guess they think apartment dwellers never cook anything more involved than a frozen pizza.  Depending on your sense of style and the style of your apartment, you have tons of choices in a free standing "pantry".  Head down to the nearest thrift store, garage sale..or if you're flush with cash...a big box store that sells shelving.  Keep in mind that closed in shelving such as bookcases with closed in sides and backs are heavy to the eye and tend to close in a space even more than it already is.  Ornate shelving does the same thing.  You don't want ornate moldings or ornate metal work on your new pantry.  You want clean simple lines preferable in a material that reflects light.  Chrome works best in my opinion.

Helpful tip:  Keep all the less pretty items hidden in your cabinets and only put the pretty items on the open shelving.  Canned vegetables, boxes of pasta, your cat food really needs to be hidden away.  Instead free up valuable cabinet space (for the ugly stuff) by putting your wine glasses, decent dinnerware, colanders and the like on this shelving.  Anything that isn't super attractive can be placed in nice baskets or wooden crates and placed on the shelving to keep it handy but out of sight.  I think this is also a great place to store those pasta pots, roasting pans, mixing bowls and bakeware that never seems to fit into the cabinets of an apartment kitchen.



Windows/Walls

What about those windows?  Most apartments made between 1980 and 2000 have fewer windows which are smaller and without casings.  While this gives you more wall space to hang your prized artwork or photographs and it helps keep the utility bills down a bit, it also tends to make a room dark and feel a bit closed in.

One way to combat this problem is giving yourself a wall of curtains.  Now, curtains can be pricey.  Especially since you are putting them from one end of the wall to the other.  The solution?  Fabric shower curtains.  One shower curtain is the equivalent of 2 to 2 1/2 panels of curtains and usually cost about half of what 2 curtain panels would cost.  Nowadays fabric shower curtains come in a huge assortment of colors and patterns.  

The beauty of this trick is when you move, you take the curtains with you versus painting where you are out of pocket for the price of paint and supplies yet when you move not only will you obviously have to leave your investment behind but you just might lose your deposit as well.

Another beauty of this trick is the fact that fabric will add color, pattern, texture and movement to your room not to mention that if your tastes or furnishings change, it's easy to swap out.

Helpful tip:  Hand the curtain rods higher than the top of the window.  This will give the illusion that your walls are taller and the window larger.  Curtain rods can be pricey.  A cheap alternative to those rods are copper tubes usually used for plumbing.  Measure the length you need, head to the hardware store, have them cut what you need and then purchase the brackets at a discount store.  If you don't like copper, get aluminum pipes or even wooden dowels.  If all else fails....go to the dollar store, buy a few brooks with wooden handles and use those.  You're only going to see a few inches of the rod when the curtains are opened.  Otherwise the rods will be covered.  Last tip on this subject:  If you don't like the color of the broom sticks or pipes, spray paint them.  Problem solved.





Lighting

Some people are okay with dark rooms.  They like the cozy, cave like feel of it.  I do not.  I like light and bright.  If you like light and bright rooms what do you do if your room only has one window or maybe more than one window but they're facing shrubbery or trees or another building is blocking a lot of the light?

What you do is invest in lamps.  Table lamps, hanging lamps and floor lamps.  Lamps of all types.  In a previous post, I wrote about transforming ugly, garage sale lamps into gorgeous "new" lamps.  There's no need to break the bank buying lamps.  Head out to the thriftstores and garage sales and grandma's attic and redo them for a fraction of the price of new ones.  Here is a link to that post http://stagingdecoratingonthecheap.blogspot.com/2016/07/forget-paying-top-dollar-for-lamps-and.html


A floor lamp in a dark corner will immediately make a room feel larger.  To keep the electric bill down and prevent the room from being over lit, try to limit the bulb wattage to 40 or 60 watts per lamp.  You will still achieve a dramatic difference without making the room or a particular area in the room appearing overly lit while keeping the electric bill down.

Rugs

Lots of apartments come with standard, builder's grade, boring carpet.  Usually beige.  The best way to combat this is by investing in room sized rugs.  Again, this is a fix that you can take with you when you move so it's money well invested.



Rugs aren't the expensive luxury they once were.  The best thing about the price is if you get tired of the look or it becomes stained, you can throw it out and replace it without getting a second mortgage.

Texture, pattern and color aren't the only benefits to having a rug.  Rugs also offer insulation not only from the weather but also from noise which is a great benefit if you live above another apartment.

Mirrors

Mirrors can open a room almost as much as a window.  Well placed mirrors will bounce light around a room and will also trick the eye into thinking there's another window in the room.  If you find a mirror whose frame isn't really the color that you like....spray paint it.  There's precious little that spray paint won't improve.



Ugly Dated Bathroom Tiles

Sometimes you just have to wonder what the contractor's were thinking when you look at some of their "design" choices.  Especially when you see some of their tile choices.  An otherwise perfectly fine bathroom can become a real eyesore in the blink of an eye when you look on the wall.  

Ugly tile isn't something that you can easily remove or paint over.  BTW it can be painted over with the right technique and products.  But I doubt your landlord would allow it.

What to do this case?  Try to tone it down.  That's really all you can do.  The picture below shows a bathroom with yellow tile that was toned down using a lot of green accents.    Pink tile was all the rage for a while.  Black, gray and white are all good choices to tone down that pink.  Ugly tiled bathrooms would be the one time that I'd beg a landlord to allow me to wallpaper and/or paint the walls.  Sometimes the tile simply has to be toned down in order to live with the bathroom.


Below is a pink tiled bath left alone and another of a pink tiled bath that has been accented with a nice gray upper wall and accessories. Notice how the additions of a gray upper wall and black accidents tones down the pink?



The following bathrooms are, in my opinion, beyond toning down.  They are too wild for any accessory to cure.



Apartment living can be frustrating in that you can't really make dramatic changes to your spaces.  However, you can make changes to how you live in those spaces through your accessories, furniture and lighting.  That can make all the difference in the world!  

As always, enjoy your space!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Never too early to get ready for mosquito's!

Practically every week I read about a new horrifying disease that is spread via mosquito's.  While I realize it's winter, it's never too early to begin planning for the inevitable "mosquito" weather.  Keeping yourself, your loved ones and your pets safe from these disease ridden creatures does not require dousing yourself with harmful chemicals or locking yourself indoors.
There are many types of flowers, herbs, and grasses that naturally repel mosquitoes due to the plants naturally occurring essential oils.  The oils are released into the air, particularly when a plant is cut or “bruised.” Higher temperatures also cause more of the oils to be released.  Coincidentally, higher temperatures are a mosquito's favorite climate.
Here are a sampling of plants that naturally repel mosquitoes:
Marigolds
The flower’s aroma not only repels mosquitoes, but marigolds are easy to care for and add beauty to your yard.  If you live in the warmer states of America, you can actually leave these in the pots outside all winter.  Once the weather begins to warm, most of the time these will regrow.  


Lavender
Many of us love the scent, but mosquitoes can’t stand it. Lavender is great for people who are lazy about watering since it is drought resistant. Crush the leaves and rub them on your skin and clothes for personal mosquito protection.



Citronella and lemon grass
These related herbs have a lemony scent. Lemon grass is widely used in Asian cooking.  The Citronella plant is sometimes called the mosquito plant.  If you have ever bought a citronella candle to put on your patio to keep the mosquito's away, you will be familiar with the scent of it.  Also many of the mosquito repellent sprays that you buy to smear all over you when you go outside contain this in them. If you buy citronella, make sure you get the varieties Cymbopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus. They work best.  Both of these plants are hardy and fairly fast growing.  they should last for years with a minimum of care.




Garlic
Contrary to popular belief, a 2005 study found that eating garlic does nothing to ward off mosquitoes. However, garlic plants do repel them. You can plant the edible form of garlic or try society garlic which is an ornamental garlic that is not edible but has pretty purple flowers that these insects hate.  Edible garlic also sprouts flowers just before harvesting time but they aren't as long lasting or as pretty.



Rosemary
The pungent pine-like scent drives away mosquitoes. It does well in the ground in warm climates. But if you live in the north, grow it in a pot and keep it inside in the winter. Use it generously in cooking. As a bonus, rosemary is a powerful antioxidant. As a bonus, this plant has been linked to improved memory functions.  This can be grown in any size pot or you can plant it directly in the ground and allow it to get as large as it wants depending on the size of your outdoor space.


Basil 
Bruise a few leaves on your basil plant to help repel mosquitoes.
Catnip
Mosquitoes can’t stand it and your cat will love you for growing it. It can be invasive and take over your yard. So restrict it to pots or plant it in between hardscape to restrict its growth.



Mint
Mint is another plant that is usually best grown in a pots because of its aggressive growing habits. There are tons of variations of mint.  Lemon, spearmint, peppermint, even strawberry.  For mosquito control, I would stick with the traditional mint.  This is a great plant if your yard is mostly shaded or contains a lot of pine trees because this plant if left to its own devices will become a hardy grown cover.  However, if allowing it to take over your yard isn't your thing, then you should truly plant these in pots in order to control their growth.  The great thing about having this as ground cover, is the scent you get from it every time you walk in the yard or mow your yard.  It's really heavenly.  If you have a bit of "lawn" between a walkway and the house or by your patio and a fence or wall, this would be a wonderful place to plant it directly in the ground.  Or you can use it to fill in the spaces between pavers or bricks and still reap the scented rewards.






Lantana
Lantana just may be the best mosquito-repelling plant of all. Researchers in Africa found it was so effective that it helped control malaria. Scientists planted lantana outside 90 homes in Tanzania. They used another 231 homes as a control group. The lantana-planted homes had 83% fewer mosquitoes.  All of these plants will thrive in most parts of the country in the summer months when mosquitoes abound. An excellent strategy is to keep pots of them near doorways to keep mosquitoes out of your house. And plant them in high traffic areas throughout your yard.  Some states such as Florida have labeled Lantana as an invasive species so planting it directly into your ground may be prohibited in your community, so it's best to check on that prior to planting.  However, I'm not aware of any community that has forbid this plant from being kept in a container.  Lantana comes in many colors so the hardest part about having them is deciding which color to buy.  They are hardy plants that thrive in most conditions/soils.  Another great thing about lantana is the fact that butterflies, hummingbirds and all manner of wonderful creatures love their flowers.






Perhaps the most important part of mosquito control is standing water. This is the most common breeding ground for mosquitoes.  It doesn't take a swimming pool worth of water for these creatures to call home.  Things as shallow as your pets outside water bowl, an empty flower pot, birdbaths, your house gutters that have become a bit clogged thus creating small pools of water, anything that is thumb deep will suffice and these horrible things will lay their eggs and grow more mosquito's before you know it.  If you are vigilant about ridding your property of standing water and plant some of the above plants near your windows and doors, you should have as mosquito free environment as possible.

As always, enjoy your space!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

No money in the budget for Holiday decorations?

The Holidays can be enormously expensive.  There are presents to buy from a long list of friends and family.  There's the food.  There's the holiday clothes.  None of these things are cheap.

What about the decorations??  Uh oh.  No money left for that!


Try some old fashioned DIY decorations!  I've shown a few below just to get your creative juices flowing.  You know my motto.....there's no case of ugly that a can of spray paint and some glitter can't cure!


A beautifully decorated home is simply a home that feels comfortable as soon as you walk in the door.  In my book, there is no right or wrong to it.  If you smile when you walk in, it's a winner.

Tree skirts really make or break a Christmas tree.  The last one that I bought cost $40.  It lasted a couple of years before the colors faded and I tired of the look.

Below are a couple of cheap ideas that look amazing.  The first one is just cheap felt that has been cut into strips and sewn together.  If, like me, you don't want to sew....staple them together.  Nothing easier than that.  The second one is an old quilt that was cut to size and a couple of strips attached to act as a tie fastener.  If you don't have an old quilt laying around, head for the thrift stores.




Every year I head to the nearest pharmacy a day or so after Christmas and snap up all the cheap decorations.  I say pharmacy because I don't have the nerve or patience to head to a larger store.  The pharmacy's generally don't have the parking issues, long lines and crowded stores like the larger stores do.  It doesn't really matter if the ornaments are glass or plastic or even if they are pretty.  A can of spray paint and a bottle of glitter later, they will be gorgeous!  Ornaments aren't just for the tree you know. 



Nature's bounty!  I love walking in the woods or the park in the fall/winter.  I always carry a bag with me and pick up all the pine cones, nuts and interesting foliage that I find.  Then when I get home, I use them for decorations.  Pine cones are so great!  You can glue them together (regular old Elmer's glue will work just fine), you can sprinkle glitter on them or you can just leave them natural.  They add to any Holiday decorating.




Faux presents are another way to bring Christmas cheer to any room.  All it takes are empty boxes and either paper or even fabric.  Wrap it up and show it off!



I love stockings hung by the fireplace!  I do get tired of the same ones year after year though.  My solution?  I go to the thrift stores and find sweaters that have an interesting color or pattern.  I then cut off the arms and make my own stockings!  I use the body of the sweater to wrap some of my faux presents.  This can cost as little as $1.00 per sweater.





Don't forget outside!  My front door has a full glass storm door and the space between the wooden door and the glass door is very very small.  I can't really have a full thick wreath because of the space issue.  I don't want to put the wreath on the outside of the glass door.  I want it protected from the elements...and any thieves.  Wreaths are expensive.  So I say, make your own!  The picture below is nothing more than a very decorative hard plastic plate that was spray painted, a hole cut out and hung.  Whole thing might have cost $1.00....Christmas over?...toss it in the trash.

Catch some great deals on plain wreaths last year after Christmas?  Using twisty ties, affix them together and create a snowman for your lawn!  Super cute!


Jars...I love jars.  Pour an inch of so of salt in the jar then sit a votive candle in there.  Instant walkway lighting.


So now you have a few very inexpensive and super cute ideas for your Holiday decorating!  Merry Christmas!!