Illustrations by Charlotte Shen
Many people, like me, have vowed to redefine themselves and their lives by making certain changes. This year is the one that I’ve designated as one that shall be a period of small habit changes that can lead to outsized results. Some of the things I’ve identified as areas of opportunity are diet, exercise, sleep and meditation. Pretty obvious right? Focus on yourself and your physical health first, and everything else will get a little better.
One area I’ve kind of neglected to consider though, as a life-improvement hack, is the physical space I live in. As a homebody, that seems kind of crazy! Next to the basics mentioned above, modifying the environment in which you eat, sleep and relax can have tangible effects on your life and sense of wellbeing. Next to some basic minimalist steps like cleaning out unnecessary clutter, one of the best next steps you can take is to add some life to your home, literally, by going green! Picking up some plants and strategically situating them around your home can have benefits both practical and ethereal, aiding in turn your physical health, your mind and your spirit.
Here are a Few Reasons to Have Plants in Your Home:
Plants Help Purify Air. Most people already know that houseplants make the best natural air purifiers. Just by being what they are and doing what they do, namely breathe – taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen. A note of caution though, is that plants don’t do as herculean a job of this as once believed, so you’ll need a lot of greenery in your space to have a meaningful effect. Are they contributing more to healthy air than burning cigarettes or a big paraffin Yankee candle scented with chemical fragrance oils? Heck ya!
Plants Can Help Ward Off Sickness: there are some suggestions that plants can prevent sickness and keep you healthier than living in a house without plants. While we still don’t have a cure for the common cold, having indoor plants can definitely help, because of the air purifying qualities described above, and they help soften symptoms like sore throat by increasing humidity levels in the home.
They Can Help You Sleep Better: Some plants, particularly lavender, have been shown to greatly help in the endeavor to improve sleep quality. Whether grown indoors or outdoors, harvesting the buds and keeping a bowl of them next t your bed, or making a satchet that you can put in your pillowcase, might just be that anxiety-reducing step to a deeper, more relaxing sleep.
Plants are a great way to Spruce Up Your Interior Decor and are a heck of a lot cheaper than hiring an interior designer! It’s amazing how adding a little green can make a cold space feel more livable, and the organic shapes plants add to your space help to disrupt the drab angularness of the place, with all of those walls, tables, cabinets, shelves etc. I think making your space more alive could make you feel more alive in a way!
Plants Can Reduce Stress. Feeling stressed out by work, child-rearing, relationships or just life in general? Get some plants! They can’t fire you, refuse to brush their teeth, or remind you of that anniversary you forgot 6 years ago. They just sit (or stand, or sprawl) there, still, quiet and peaceful. How can that not rub off on you just a little bit? This effect of plants to improve emotional wellbeing is illustrated (extended to great lengths) by the Japanese practice of bonsai.
They Can Give You Healthy Produce. With some plants, you can get not only the static benefits described here, but also the recurring benefits of edible produce, to add either substance or flavor to your dinner plate!
Basil, Bay, Cilantro, Thyme, Mint, Savory, Sage, Rosemary are a few easy to grow herbs that can keep adding flavor to meals again and again!
For more substantial fare, the more gung-ho can try tomatoes (look for dwarf varieties if space is an issue), or microgreens, which are popular healthy salad ingredients that can be grown on the kitchen table or counter. Chia, cress, mustard, radish and arugula can all be grown indoors in the confines of your kitchen. How handy is that!? A word to the wise, you should grow microgreens in fresh soil each time you start to make sure they remain free from disease or other unwanted nasties like salmonella. The tiny roots or mats of microgreens can provide safe harbor for these pathogens, so don’t eat greens that have signs of mold or decay.
Growing plants, especially edibles like microgreens, is a great DIY project for kids because they can be grown in almost anything, from a ceramic pot to a plastic yogurt container; also, we who are parents know about limited attention spans, and herbs and microgreens sprout up fast! The fact that they are loaded with vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients is a huge bonus we may care about more than they do!
Which Plants Should I Choose?
For those who don’t have the utmost confidence in the green-ness of their thumbs, I’d suggest starting with some of the more low-maintenance plant varieties below. Once you gained some heart by not killing them in the first week, you can move on to some slightly more finicky varieties.
Aloe Vera doesn’t need a lot of watering. Like some of the edibles we suggested above, aloe provides the great added benefit of being able to harvest the leaves for their wonderful skin soothing and healing properties, without killing the plant! Put it in a warm place with plenty of light, and let the soil dry out between watering.
Lavender. Lavender is beautiful and hearty. As described above, it can do double duty for its esthetic appeal and its mood soothing properties. Just put it in a sunny spot and water occasionally, when the soil feels dry.
Mother in laws tongue/snake plant. Snake plant or mother in law’s tongue is stylish and robust. It can tolerate low light and dry air.
Spider plant. Spider plants are popular hanging and potted plants. They just need light and water. They are easily propagated by placing the plantlets in water or soil.
Peace Lily. Peace lilies are stunning and come in white, pink or purple. They only need low light, moderate temperatures and moist soil.
Succulents. Succulents are versatile and lovely. There is an abundance of varieties and they need very little care. They are great for terrariums or as standalone feature plants.
Cactus. Just like succulents, cacti are adaptable, varied and strong. Just plant them and leave them alone, watering them rarely.