When Jessica Eusebio and her partner, Phil, began renovating the bathroom in their 1950s Guelph home, her then-manager at Habitat for Humanity issued her a challenge:
“I bet,” he said, “that you can’t use only used materials for the job.”
To Jessica, now 35, those were fighting words.
She and Phil — who, handily, works in construction — were already committed to as low-waste and green a renovation as possible on their 900-square-foot home. That extended to things like sustainably harvested bamboo countertops, Energy Star appliances, a kitchen sink made in Canada, LED lighting, and even recycled, low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint. Wherever possible, they searched for materials at garage sales, on Kijiji or at the Habitat for Humanity Restore, scoring surplus or used insulation, fixtures, furniture and flooring for a song. They found the hardwood they needed for their bedroom floors on Kijiji, harvested from a house being torn down, ultimately selling what they didn’t use to a different set of renovators in the city.
They also bartered for work, trading Phil’s skills and labour for plumbing, carpentry and landscaping. “We didn’t have a lot of cash, but we had skills and time,” explains Jessica, “and bartering was great for that.”
So when it came time to get to work on the bathroom, Jessica — an event planner who now works for the City of Guelph — was confident that she could pull off the “100% used” challenge. “I’m a little bit competitive,” she says, laughing. “So, when he said that, I was all like, ‘Oh don’t you dare me.’”
Today, the master bath — all 25 square feet of it — is a tiny but luxurious oasis. The soaker tub, Kohler toilet, and marble tile, not to mention the insulation and even some of the drywall, all came from Restore, which sells new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, and building materials at a fraction of the retail price. Proceeds are used to fund the Habitat for Humanity’s projects in local cities. “The toilet was a reject from Home Hardware because it arrived without a seat, and the tub literally fell off the back of a truck and had a small crack in the enamel, so they couldn’t sell it,” says Jessica. “The tile was donated to the Restore by a plumber who worked on high-end jobs.”
In the end, the only item the couple couldn’t find used was a sink handle, because they couldn’t source one small enough.
Jessica loves the space, not only for how luxurious and how beautiful it is, but also because of how little time it takes to clean — which she does with a combination of baking soda, vinegar, and Norwex paste. “It’s done in 13 minutes, tops,” she says. In fact, the entire three-bedroom house is ridiculously easy to keep clean, which gives Jessica and Phil more time to spend with their three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son. “I will drop food on the floor and give it right back to the baby,” she says, “because I know that there aren’t any chemicals on the floors, just vinegar and edible essential oils.”
Jessica has always been passionate about the health of the planet, and that passion, she says, has only grown since becoming a mother.
“Because I’m leaving the earth to them,” she says. “I want to have a nice place to live, sure, but what I really want is for my children’s grandchildren to have a nice place to live as well.”
Even when her first child was in utero, she says, she was laying the groundwork with family and friends: her kids, she stressed, didn’t need any new toys or clothing. (Even her kids’ cloth diapers are hand-me-downs.) Gently used items (or just good wishes) were more than welcome. To family members who really wanted to buy something for the kids, she suggested a contribution to their Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP). “It was sometimes awkward at first,” she says, “but I’m lucky that my family really does listen to me. They’re pretty much on board now.”
The passion extends to Jessica’s work. She builds on Guelph’s strong green foundation when she’s planning events for the city. For an upcoming holiday event at the city’s Farmers Market, for example, she worked with Guelph’s forestry department to cut up a deadfall tree into seating around and outside fireplace, and its horticulture department to provide greenery for decorations from the ivy cut down from telephone lines.
It also seeps into her volunteer activities. She’s a former board member, active member, donor, and volunteer at Wellington Water Watchers, which is dedicated to protecting, restoring, and conserving drinking water in Guelph and Wellington County.
Jessica, Phil, and their kids are perfectly happy in what their real estate agent first considered a “starter home” that they now think of as a long-term nest. With renovations — including a basement playroom — complete, the house is efficient, modern, and unique. And it has plenty of space for the four of them. “Why would we move to something bigger?”
SUSAN GOLDBERG is a writer based in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families.
The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us.
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