Most of us can agree that 2020 was … not great. But the arrival of a new year provides an opportunity for a fresh start, particularly at home, where we continue to spend a great deal of our time.
To get your 2021 going in the right direction, we asked local home professionals for a few organizing, decorating, maintenance and energy resolutions to create a healthier, happier and homier house.
1. Deal with your mail immediately.
Seattle-based interior designer and home organizer Sara Eizen suggests opening mail right over your recycling bin and letting all the junk mail and other unwanted arrivals fall right in. “Any kind of clutter is a decision postponed,” she says, so best to be rid of it right away.
Next, file mail that requires action in your “command center,” often a kitchen corner, where you can stash and sort the household’s incoming paperwork. Eizen has a folder for each family member that she keeps in hanging wall pockets. There, she stores kids’ forms that need signatures, unpaid bills and other assorted papers.
2. Get one small home-maintenance project done monthly.
All of the less-than-exciting chores around the house need to get done, says Dylan Chalk, owner of Orca Home Inspection, author of “The Confident House Hunter” and president of the American Society of Home Inspectors Washington. Skipping tasks could lead to expensive or dangerous consequences down the road, such as fires or water damage.
Chalk suggests beginning with this basic checklist that includes a task per month:
• Stain the deck
• Caulk and paint your home’s exterior
• Clean the gutters
• Replace the filters in forced-air heating and cooling equipment
• Clean and replace water filters
• Clean out the chimney
• Clear the dryer’s exhaust duct
• Repair any water leaks
• Test all smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
• Have your gas appliances serviced
• Weatherize exterior plumbing
• Remove leaves and other debris from the roof
3. Get one big maintenance project done during the year.
No matter how much maintenance you perform, a house’s larger systems are going to wear out after around 15–20 years, Chalk says. These areas include the roof, furnace, water heater, appliances, paint, flooring, and kitchen and bathroom finishes.
“Smart homeownership involves picking one of these things off your list every year, so you don’t fall too far behind,” he says.
4. Switch your bulbs.
Replace indoor bulbs as they burn out with LED lightbulbs, suggests Judith Wright Sentz, a Seattle-based interior designer. But make sure they’re no brighter than 3000 kelvins (the unit of measurement of a lightbulb’s color temperature).
“Daylight is typically around 5000 K and looks like an operating room indoors,” she says. “You don’t want that.”
Sentz says a traditional home may feel cozier with 2700 K, similar to incandescent bulbs, while 3000 K is better suited for contemporary homes. You’ll find the bulb’s kelvin measurement noted on the packaging. Bulbs labeled with “warm white” can give off a very different cast than “cool white,” she adds.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs are more environmentally friendly than incandescent or CFL bulbs throughout their product life cycle. Switching to energy-efficient LED light bulbs can also save the average household about $75 each year, Seattle City Light estimates.
5. Take a decor risk.
Wallpaper has come a long way since the 1970s (stripes!) and ’80s (foil roses!). More sophisticated styles have been introduced, in a variety of textures and colors, including abstract designs, florals and geometric patterns. Sentz suggests starting with easy-apply and removable varieties.
“The wall behind the headboard in a bedroom is an easy place to add a striking focal point [with wallpaper],” Sentz says. She suggests a powder room or closet if you prefer to begin with a baby step.
Eizen suggests painting a “pop of bold color on a wall, ceiling or door — who said ceilings have to be white?”
Or experiment with your space every month or so by moving furniture around.
6. Prep for quakes.
If your risk-averse nature makes you scoff at No. 5, you might be drawn to this resolution. Good homeownership includes emergency preparedness, Chalk notes, “especially in the Pacific Northwest where we’re awaiting the Big One.”
Try adding one prep step per month, whether it’s learning to shut off the gas or adding to your stash of freeze-dried and shelf-stable food. The City of Seattle offers tips on earthquake-proofing your home, including how to safely secure items such as your water heater, wall hangings, cabinets and the contents of your garage.
7. Get smarter with water.
Resolve to pay attention to your daily water use. Seattle City Light has some suggestions for using less water, which has the added benefit of lowering your monthly utility bill.
• Wash only full loads of clothes with cold water to save up to $124 a year. Up to 90% of the energy used by a washing machine is for heating the water.
• Run full loads in your dishwasher, too, and skip scraping the dishes under running water.
• Shorten your showers. If a family of four each shortens their daily showers by three minutes, they could save about $300 a year in water, sewer and electricity costs. And installing an efficient WaterSense-label showerhead could save 2,700 gallons of water per year.
8. Keep your entryway organized.
Tired of tripping over a pile of sneakers, slippers and boots every time you walk in the door? Perhaps face masks have found their way into the mess, too? Set up a system for the entryway, Eizen says. Start with a home for those shoes; she suggests a large basket or shoe cabinet. Pegs and hooks near the door are great for masks, as is a small basket.
9. Choose to make one big energy-efficient change.
Control your indoor heat usage by being smarter with your home’s thermostat, or by upgrading to a smart thermostat. According to Seattle City Light, turning the indoor temperature down by 10–15 degrees when you’re sleeping or not at home can save an average household up to $180 per year.
You’ll be less likely to crank up your thermostat if you draft-proof your home with weatherstripping around doorways, or by covering windows with insulated drapes.
Even easier: Check the house for plugged-in, unused electronics that are “vampiring” standby power. By unplugging them, you can reduce your annual electricity use by up to 10%.
And using a microwave, crockpot or toaster instead of a standard oven won’t just save you time in the kitchen — it can also save as much as $70 per year in energy costs.
10. Clean up your work-life spaces.
With many homes pulling double and triple duty as workspaces and virtual classrooms this year, our dinner tables and kitchen counters can easily become buried by books, laptops and assorted accessories.
“Have a simple way of packing up your work into an office tote bag or bin, so work isn’t sitting out, creating clutter,” Eizen says. Bonus: Your laptops, notebooks and paperwork are all together and organized for the next day.
“School, work and life are blurred together right now,” she says, “and it’s not healthy for anyone to have all things happening in the same space.”