Pinterest is full of photos of modern spaces filled to the ceiling with lush, beautiful houseplants. I’ve tried on multiple occasions to capture this look in my own home – I love the idea of bringing the outdoors in, and just think how clean the air would be! But it ends up looking like this:
Not so beautiful. Not so lush. And definitely not thriving. Pretty sure if you are a forgetful waterer like me, you should not attempt the jungle look. And reality check – with that many houseplants, can you imagine the gnat problems you could develop (more for people who do remember to water their plants). Sure, the air will be clean, but you’ll be batting away tiny little bugs in your living space. No. Thank. You.
I don’t want to judge anyone who has managed to put together that awesome urban jungle look, especially if they have the gnat issue under control. But I do want to say out loud that most houseplants are not as easy as everyone seems to say, and the more you have, the harder it gets to care for all of them. I’d rather advocate for a really well curated collection of plants. Plants that you absolutely love and want to take care of. Plants you won’t forget to water for 4 weeks because you don’t like them that much, therefore it gets put on the bottom of the to-do list (ahem).
Let’s say you have a collection of plants. Some are doing okay, some have seen better days and some are on their way their door but you haven’t been processed through the stages of plant grief yet, so you’re holding on to it anyway. Let’s start with some advice from the queen of clean, Marie Kondo.
“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”
― Marie Kondō, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Does your plant make you happy when you look at it? It is doing well in your home? Is it thriving? If the answer is “ummm . . . well . . .” then you can safely put this plant on your “discard” list.
Look. No one is handing out grades for your houseplant skills. Plants that do well in my house may die at your house and vice-versa. Every micro-climate is different. Our windows face different directions, we can have single or double pane glass, we might have heating and cooling systems effecting the amount of moisture in the air, there could be trees in our yard that changes the amount of light coming in, and certainly the time of year and temperatures all play a part in houseplant happiness. Don’t forget that the minute you put a plant behind a window, you exponentially lower the amount of light they receive, light that is necessary for the plant to do its plant thing (namely photosynthesis). Some plants are going to do better than others, and despite popular opinion, the best way to figure that out is not to shop from a “top 10 easy houseplants” list someone else wrote.
The best way to know what grows well in your house is to experiment. Buy plants you like, see how they do.
The ones that don’t thrive? Maybe try changing up your watering routine (assuming it has some life left) or try it in a different spot. But when it looks like all hope is gone, when it’s not causing joy because it looks like death, then it’s time to toss it.
I toss my plants directly in the trash can, but a compost heap works, too. Just don’t reuse the soil – it’s probably depleted of nutrients and could harbor plant diseases.
I know that there’s a lot of guilt surrounding the idea of throwing things away. Especially if it was a gift, especially if you spent a lot of money on it, and especially if you feel like you failed your plant somehow.
Sure, there are plenty of articles out there telling you how to take care of plants, but the real classroom is the work you do at home (or at your cubicle). Part of that work will include not-so-successful experimentation, but you’re also going to start having some successes along the way. And those are the plants that should make up your well-curated plant collection.
Let go of the guilt! A plant is not a life-sentence. You are free to move on anytime.
An exciting and inspiring future awaits you beyond the noise in your mind, beyond the guilt, doubt, fear, shame, insecurity and heaviness of the past you carry around.
Hanging on to plants you don’t love or that make your house look like a plant cemetery will just hold you back from experiencing the true joys of indoor plants. So let it go and move on! You and your house will be happier for it.