Creating an eco-friendly bedroom for your teen will educate her about living green. As you design the bedroom, try to choose items your teen will use for years to come, rather than growing tired of them quickly. Work with her to find solutions that please you both, and use the EPA's database of environmentally preferable products to assist you when purchasing new items (see Resources 1).
If buying new furniture, choose items made from recycled products or sustainably harvested wood. Better yet, take the opportunity to teach your teen about reusing waste. Visit thrift stores with him and purchase used furniture, and then lay it on a tarp in your yard and let your teen paint it in his choice of color and design. If he outgrows the paint, it's easy to paint the furniture again, which will keep the room's look fresh without much expense or waste.
Likewise, consider purchasing used carpeting for your teen's bedroom to cut down on waste. If purchasing new carpeting, choose carpeting with a high recycled or sustainably harvested content, as well as low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Provide good ventilation for three days after installation to disperse VOCs, which lead to poor indoor air quality (see References 1). Hit the thrift shops with your teen to choose an array of complementary accent rugs to place around the room. Mismatched sizes and textures within the same color scheme will create a funky look. If installing a new hardwood floor, use reclaimed lumber recycled from local buildings, as even sustainably harvested wood must often be transported over long distances. Choose a VOC-free sealant as well (see References 1).
Although your teen may want her own TV and stereo in her bedroom, limit the appliances kept in bedrooms. Have the family share a television in the living room rather than putting one in a teen's room, for instance. When everyone in the house follows this rule, your teen will be more likely to understand its purpose -- cutting down on consumption. Additionally, family members will be less likely to withdraw to their own rooms, encouraging more family time. Use a power strip to plug in any appliances in your teen's room, and teach her to turn it off when not in use so the appliances don't waste power. If purchasing appliances, choose used items or those with Energy Star certification (see References 1).
Bedding and Curtains
Buy organic bedding and curtains, or visit thrift stores to buy them used. Alternatively, make your own. Teach your teen about upcycling by creating funky curtains made of old blue jeans patched together, for example. Leave fraying hems turned outward if you want a grungy look, and decorate with beads, patches or embroidered designs. Like other upcycling projects, this gives old items a new purpose, making them more useful or attractive.
Choose VOC-free paint for the ceiling and walls (see References 1). Let your teen choose the color, but remind him it may look darker or brighter when covering the entire room. Encourage him to use a color block design, using two or three different colors on the walls. If he wants to paint a mural or stencil art on the walls, let him do it, as long as you approve of the basic theme. When he outgrows it, he can simply paint it again.
Add plants that improve the air quality and are nontoxic to pets. Avoid poisonous plants like common English ivy, mums and dumbcane (see References 3). Aside from cleaning the air, plants may lift your teen's mood and create a calming atmosphere that helps with concentration. Researchers have found that flowers in particular tend to act as a mood booster (see References 4). Choose pretty pots or let your teen paint terra cotta pots to complement the room's decor.
If you found mainly used items for your teen's bedroom, you probably saved a considerable amount of money. Splurge on two or three items at a local eco-friendly shop, such as beaded curtains made from recycled plastic. Use this time as an educational field trip, talking with your teen about how items in the store were produced. Then create decorative accent pieces of your own, like a papier mache jewelry box made from old newspaper or a dresser cover woven from strips of plastic bags.
Melanie J. Martin specializes in environmental issues and sustainable living. Her work has appeared in venues such as the Environmental News Network, "Ocean" magazine and "GREEN Retailer." Martin holds a Master of Arts in English.
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